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Everyone knows what senior civil servants are like. They're all grey in colour; they read summaries of books that discuss how to team-build effectively through inspirational PowerPoint presentations; if they once dreamt of anything else, those sweet dreams of youth are now long dead.

Now an exciting new item out of the States knocks those assumptions into a cocked hat. It seems it is possible to hold on to the passions that define you extracurricularly even while haunting the corridors of power (who knew they had those in Michigan?).

CNN reports that, "For nearly six months, Andrew Shirvell, an assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, has waged an internet campaign against college student Chris Armstrong, the openly gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor." And not just an internet campaign, really, when you consider that Shirvell has also picketed Armstrong's family home. Primarily, though, Shirvell has conducted what he calls his "Chris Armstong Watch" through his blog.

Shirvell has decided to spend his time targeting Armstrong rather than, say, dragon-boat racing or playing competitive Scrabble, because he feels that Armstrong is "Satan's representative on the student assembly." He claims it's within his rights to identify Satan's local representative because he is acting as a private citizen. Wouldn't you start a blog if a minion of Satan were agitating for extended cafeteria hours at your local post-secondary institution?

And anyone who thinks that politics and loyalty are incompatible is in for a pleasant surprise. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has made no move to remove Shirvell, although CNN's legal correspondent assures me that it is entirely within his rights to do so, regardless of the First Amendment. It's possible this lack of action has something to do with the fact that Shirvell and Cox share many strong Conservative values and that Cox is interested in retaining the support of the evangelical Christian voting bloc. 

So all in all, a lovely and heart-warming tale with a couple of important lessons:
1) Civil servants don't have to choose between personal interests and taxpayers' money; and,
2) Even in politics, you can still count on your friends, as long as you all hate Satan.


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
 
 
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We are the first generation of Facebook users. Even if you refuse to use Facebook because you have, unaccountably, no interest in discovering whether your grade-six crush got fat, you know people who do use it (which means you can just use their accounts to check up on that girl who told you your one-act play sucked in grade twelve without appearing to compromise your anti-Facebook stand). 

Some of you even have to suffer through drawing-room-farce-like internet antics because your parents have gotten themselves Facebook accounts. They start friending all of your friends and then asking why you look like such a slut in all those photographs.

That's all very well, but what's going to happen as we age (which we will, alas, insist on doing)? Facebook will undoubtedly prove to be a great comfort to many older people because it will allow them to remain in casual contact with friends once they're no longer able to go out because they're so completely infirm. It will mean, however, that it will be impossible to keep using that one flattering photograph from your 20s because you'll be undeniably in your 80s and it would just be embarrassing.  

And if you're morbid, which is the way all right-thinking people should be, you'll already have considered things like which of the people you know will die first. Everyone you know, every single person you know, will die eventually, but in what order will they do so? Because we're the first generation of Facebook users, the people who receive memorials on the site tend to be ones who've died tragically and prematurely. But as they years pass, all those with Facebook profiles will die. 

What will happen to the Facebook profiles of people who've died? For the first while, they'll probably be makeshift memorials. People they knew will post on their walls and express sadness. But after the initial shock? After the mourning period has passed? Will Facebook keep those profiles up or will they be made to disappear? If they remain visible to others, we will find ourselves with a virtual graveyard. Instead of gravestones, we'll have profile pics and an archive of posts about parties and obscure political movements. Our children and grandchildren, instead of just searching Facebook for lost flames, will use it as a genealogical resource, combing it for insight into their forebears. 

And then when whatever's better than the internet is invented and all the kids are accessing it through cyborg-like attachments implanted in their flesh, a few nerdy types will use computers to look up Facebook to find photos of their great-great-grandmothers much as researchers today use microfiche to scan old newspapers for items about ancestors. 

I, for one, am going to start being even more careful about looking svelte in the photos I post to my profile. After all, it's possible that profile will one day be the property of posterity.




Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
 
 
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As anyone who's ever read this site (or run into me casually at a dinner party) knows, I'm terrified of dying. It doesn't matter how much I try to imagine it's like sleep, or like the time before I was born - it scares the crap out of me (as do aging, penury, the limitless expanse of space, any limited expanse of space, and Lloyd Robertson).

However, because I don't like to play favourites, not dying scares the crap out of me as well. It would be kind of like not ever having to sleep. There would be no end. There would be rampant overpopulation. There would probably be no really meaningful vows of marriage. 

Besides, immortality might not mean no death; it might just mean no natural death. If science devised a way to prevent aging and inevitable death, one would not be guaranteed an endless life. Imagine living in society that has banished death by natural causes and then one day getting hit by a car. Well, you say, maybe medicine can now regrow human beings from tiny strands of DNA (my knowledge of science, admittedly, is shaky). Emergency personnel could drag you from a fiery wreck and reconstitute you. Undoubtedly, though, there would be some unfortunate people who would be murdered and then buried. Or otherwise hidden. Really mean or really crazy people would find some way to make sure that dead people never came back. And if you were in a position to live forever, your chances of meeting someone who'd want to kill and bury you would certainly increase exponentially.

It's like any vampire movie. In any vampire movie, a vampire dies. Often many vampires die. Some lucky and now soulless individual thinks "well, it's immortality for me now" and then before two hours have elapsed, he or she has been staked. From immortality to dust. Imagine being immortal and then getting staked by some smart-talking upstart four-foot-tall high-school student who used to cheerlead.

But maybe knowing you were immortal, even if you could be killed by decapitation, would at least make you less afraid because there'd be a chance, at least a chance, that you'd sidestep death. Or maybe it would make you more afraid, because there'd seem to be so much more to lose.

And if death is ever vanquished, there will be a number of poor bastards who expire the day before. I frequently think about the young men who were killed on the last days of the First or Second World Wars. So close. And I fully expect that I will pop off moments before the eternal life serum is unveiled.
Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.


 
 
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Various Important Lessons that can be conveniently illustrated thanks to a cursory examination of CNN's website
1. Trouble Doesn't Save You From More Trouble.
Some sadly inexperienced and unimaginative people believe that once they have been burdened with a terrible weight of pain, the world will somehow see to it that they are given no more of it. It might make is less likely that you will suffer great hardships after already having suffered great hardships, but that doesn't make it beyond the bounds of possibility. Never, ever, believe yourself to be safe from additional tribulations.

Case in Point: Fires burn across Detroit as high winds knock down power lines.

2. Sometimes Hollywood movies aren't far-fetched; or, death from above.
This morning, a "small" (still very large) asteroid passed "very close" (still very far away) to the earth. Another is slated to do so later on today. NASA is calling on people to care about astronomy beyond just taking one undergraduate course in it and arguing there is a need for "closer monitoring of near space for Earth-threatening encounters". This is all very disturbing, as A) we could all at some point be killed by objects from space, and B) NASA could be on the verge of admitting we are all "harvested beings" living in a facility, but way less attractive than Ewan McGregor and Scarlet Johansson.

3. Your position is never unassailable.
No matter how successful, gorgeous, and rich you are (and if you are any or all of these things, I refuse to believe you visit this website), you must never consider yourself immune from the nasty tricks Fortune has a tendency to play. 

Case in Point: Just when Texas thought it was a shoe-in for the Craziest State in the Union title, who should come of nowhere but Florida? Texas spent all that time changing its text books so that the slave trade would now be referred to by schoolchildren as the "Atlantic triangular trade" (not kidding) and trying to get approval for the Institute for Creation Research to offer a master's degree in science education (not kidding), and now it might all be for nothing. The Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainsville, Florida, plans to hold "International Burn a Quran Day" on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre. If you are unable to make it to Gainsville, never fear. I'm sure there's still a way for you to purchase one of the church's "Islam is of the Devil" t-shirts or mugs. Don't think, though, that combatting the spread of radical Islam (by which they mean plain old Islam) is their only occupation. They also make time to condemn Craig Lowe, the openly gay mayor of Gainsville. A sign on the church's front lawn reads: "Aug. 2 Protest, No Homo Mayor, City Hall."  

4. If you have no obvious talents, you don't have to become a serial killer to garner media attention and win your place in history.
At minimum 56 episodes of Criminal Minds feature some unfortunate white male in his 30s who concludes that only by killing numerous young women in a particularly gruesome way can he ensure he will be remembered after his death. If you have always wondered what small animals look like "on the inside", but don't yet own or rent a storage locker, never fear: there are other ways to catch the attention of posterity.

Case in Point: "11 Students Stung by Yellow Jackets in Dover."
Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
 
 
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Dear Catastrophizer -
A concerned query: is it possible that pessimism could be seen as merelyapotropaic --i.e., unconsciously intended to ward off evil by imagining the worst (whereas optimism could be seen to be hubristic--i.e., asking for it...)?

It's absolutely and entirely possible. In fact, I think it might be unavoidable, especially now that I know it has such an impressive name. All the kids will be doing it ("Johnny, come down from your room right now and stop being so merelyapotropaic!").


It's also something that must be guarded against. Catastrophizers must sincerely and unremittingly expect the worst. They must not go unconsciously doing anything in a doomed attempt to safeguard themselves. No amount of negative thinking can protect you from all the terrible things that will undoubtedly happen to you.

If you wish to remind yourself that the worst really is bound to happen, just follow the following simple steps:

1) Watch any movie by Bergman.
2) Drink a pot of coffee.
3) Go to bed and cuddle up with Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych.
4) Remind yourself repeatedly that while optimists and pessimists may disagree over the likelihood you'll be killed in a plane crash or struck by lightning while falling from the 23rd story of a high-rise and suffering from small pox, no one, no one can argue that you're not going to die. Nope. Even if you miss every car crash and disease, you'll be dying at some point. You will no longer BE. Of course, it's also possible that your self-awareness will be compromised by senility before you die, so that might take the edge off.
5) Sweet dreams.

It's in fact imperative you do this, even if you are a devoted and dutiful Catastrophizer. As any PBS special or old person will tell you, our culture tries desperately to deny the fact that we're all going to die. We try to hide our wrinkles and our old people as best we can. We obsess over life-prolonging treatments and diets as though a acai-berry smoothie will cancel out mortality altogether. We avoid confronting other people's deaths by natural causes by, as I said before, shuffling off our elderly to old-person ghettos (unless they're wealthy, in which case they may be lonely and un-visited, but they at least get to play golf on a Wii). 

Our popular culture provides us with no memento mori art. We have Beckett's Pozzo saying, "We give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more" in Waiting for Godot, but who reads that past college? Who actually reads that in college? 

It's possible there will be more open discussion about everyone dying when the Baby Boomers get even closer to it. If they haven't already, they will soon be realizing that their generation is going to be dying en masse in the very near future. 

And unless or until you have a human skull to stare at, keep this idea in mind: you won't be far behind. 

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.