Sunday, September 14, 2003

The Sunday Five
Five Things Every Person Should Be Able To Do

Once again, I was out of town on Friday itself, and once again my "Friday Five" is tardy. I suppose that my fans are about to become fed up with my inconsistency and will desert me for some other blog.

Another great topic this week, this time from Melissa, based on the following quote:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher
a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts,
build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders,
cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch
manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die
gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
- Robert A. Heinlein

I think that Heinlein is right on all counts, which may be the first time I've ever vigorously agreed with him. So I'll cross those off my list and add another five.

1. How to seriously disable or kill a human being in self-defense. Sometimes, people of good will are confronted by violent people who will not be deterred by any form of talk, whether due to inebriation, rage, or that quality that St. Thomas Aquinas called "simply being an a**hole." At those times, all people should know how to defend themselves.

This topic wasn't intended as a course, but my black belt training taught me two simple principles. First, aim for soft connective parts, not hard bones. The old-fashioned Gary Cooper punch in the jaw is a good way to break your hand, while a slug to the neck works much, much better. (Other good spots: the eyes, the soft part of the nose, the elbow and knee, the instep, and the always-good-for-a-laugh groin.) Second, no matter how skilled you think you are, your best strategy is to kick out your attacker's knees and run like hell. Remember, as Mr. Miyagi said, "someone always know karate more." Try to kick the knee in a direction it would not normally bend, like sideways.

2. How to shine your own shoes, hem your own pants, and launder your own clothes. A good case can be made for letting other people do these tasks, if you have that luxury, but there is no excuse for being unable to do it. And a vague understanding of the process is not enough, such as the belief that shoe-shining is merely applying polish and wiping it off again. Everyone needs to know how to perform these tasks to a level they would consider acceptable in others.

3. Willingness to change a diaper. It's not so much that every human should know how to change a diaper. As the clerk says in Raising Arizona, "it's self-contained and fairly explanatory." No, I have no tolerance whatsoever for people that won't change a diaper. They tend to be the sort of deluded people that have no connection to humanity as a race of defecating, micturating, vomiting bags of flesh, and no one can be truly human unless he or she has that connection.

4. Describe the basic scientific principles underlying the tools one uses. That is, I frown on humans that drive a car but cannot explain the principles of the internal combustion engine, use a computer but cannot use the operating system efficiently, ingest a drug without understanding the effect that drug has on the body* or vote without being able to locate our enemies on a map.

* Sadly, some of our most powerful drugs work for reasons not entirely understood by the researchers that refined them.

People that use tools that they don't understand are willful slaves, pure and simple. It's a principle explained much more thoroughly in James Burke's The Axemaker's Gift: with each new technological development, society becomes stratified into Those That Understand and Those That Are At The Mercy Of Their Own Tools. I believe it was Benjamin Banneker that said that "knowledge is power." No, wait. It was "Schoolhouse Rock."

Bonus points to those that can explain why you can't put metal in a microwave, why it's hard to make a flat television tube, or why the Wankel rotary engine did not replace the standard camshaft engine.

5. Efficiently bring about orgasm through oral sex. I think this is pretty self-explanatory.

 12:55 PM

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