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Olio (Oleo?)


Olio or oleo? The two are staples in crossword puzzles, and I can’t keep them straight. One is a butter substitute, the other a melange, a potpourri, a miscellany. This wonk of course will be the latter, but which word applies, you ask? Hey, look it up. I can’t be doing everything for you. But Happy New Year. We have survived another one. And I promise that if this is a retrospective, it will be only accidentally so.

***

According to the Mayan calendar, or certain of its interpreters, the world will end before 2012 is up. The pity of it is that the world will not end until after the election. But a friend of mine thinks it’s all hogwash: the Mayans simply ran out of stones.

***

The previous wonk, “Dear Me,” was of course pure fantasy, if only because of the old time travel problem involved. You remember that one from scores of science fiction stories: you can’t change the past without changing the future, and since the future that you are in is one you have always known...you get the idea: you can’t change me at 16 without changing me at 69, so the script has to be followed with absolute fidelity to the original. This is determinism up close and personal. If the time theorists are right, I can give my younger self advice until I’m blue in the face and he is still going to drift into that disastrous marriage, for example. There he is—there the new, enlightened, me is—in 1968 again as the marriage approaches, but knowing now that it is a looming disaster and that there is not a damn thing he (I) can do about it or the long fallout from it. If such a letter really could be written, I think I would take a pass. I am many things, but I hope a sadist is not one of them.

***

Among the many outrageous things that Newt Gingrich has said recently are words to the effect that he would ignore any court decision that he disagrees with. In fact, he would haul recalcitrant judges before Congress and make them explain their problematic decisions. (They already do this, usually at length. We call such an explanation “the opinion of the court.”) This is one of the most appalling things I have ever heard, stunning even by the Gingster’s generous standards. But I’m sure he knew that he was tapping into some deep resentments in society. Are you still as steamed by the Roe v. Wade decision as I am by the Citizens United decision? Wouldn’t it be satisfying to take those nine black-robed lifers down a peg? So appalling but so appealing. Let’s just absolutely not go there, ok?

***

With Diana at my elbow for moral and technical support, I finally tackled something that has been dogging me for a month. UNM periodically demands that faculty and staff take some on-line “courses.” What this means is that I study—actually I skip the study—things like workplace safety issues and, my favorite, sexual harassment issues and then take a 10 or 15 question multiple choice “exam.” What a waste of everybody’s time. If I am a jerk around the ladies, will this “course” turn me miraculously into Alan Alda? If I am a decent guy to begin with, I know how to behave myself around the ladies without this patronization. If I refuse, do they pull my spring course? If I flunk, will they send a guy named Horst around to break my legs? Call me a cynic, but I’ll bet somebody’s brother-in-law is making big bucks out of this pc scheme.

***

The Iraq War is now officially over. Halliburton won.

***

My New Years Eve this year was literally funereal. My Aunt Virginia died in Rhode Island on the 28th of December, so I flew east for the funeral on Saturday, the 31st. Gin was 94 and in failing health, so while there was sadness there was also relief, almost happiness, for her release after a long and good life. And funerals are impromptu family reunions. My brother, whom I hadn’t seen in a decade, came up from Pennsylvania, and I hadn’t seen some of my Quinton cousins in twice that long. So there were tears but there was also much hugging and laughter. There we were on the threshold of 2012, the future, but also looking back on Gin’s life and on our own growing up and growing old. The god Janus, whose month is January, would have approved that gathering on that day.



Meet Your Macinstructor

Jerome Shea is an emeritus professor of English at the University of New Mexico, where he still teaches his classical tropes course every fall and his prose style course every spring. He has been the Weekend Wonk since January of 2007. His email is shea@macinstruct.com.


 
                          





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