Category: - THE CATASTROPHIZER
 

I recently received the following letter from a reader:

I am only two years short of being an official senior. My fingers are arthritic and gnarly. My hair is thinning. I have one or two chronic illnesses. My best friend is dying of cancer. My old house has never been renovated and it is falling apart. My dog is very farty. I don't have any savings. Do you think granite countertops would give me a much needed boost? If so, do you know where can I find someone who would be willing to pay for my new countertops in exchange for my "friendship" (wink. wink.), or something else that I can afford to swap (maybe the farty dog????)?

This letter presents me with an unusual challenge. For the most part, I spend my time transforming seemingly insignificant things into promises of future disappointments, disillusionments, and tragedies. I focus on how one unimportant decision can result in totally unintended and appalling consequences, or how one stupid, selfish butterfly in Brazil can flap its stupid, selfish, flappable wings and cause me to make an unimportant decision that then results in totally unintended and appalling consequences.

What I find it difficult to do is to respond in a flip, glib, or hyperbolically pessimistic way to someone already well aware of life's hazards and griefs. It's the people who burble on about how you should always be positive and how I should really read The Secret I'd like to trick into watching anything by Ingmar Bergman, followed by anything by Lars von Trier, followed by Up

So, because I can't make snarky, negative comments about much of this, and telling someone her life might be really hard at the moment, but her sense of humour and her use of "farty dog" in such a manner as to make it sound like a euphemism for something naughty and distressing should really be a great source of comfort is trite and unconvincing, I'll focus on the one thing I can in good conscience catastrophize: the suggestion of exchanging sex for kitchen renovations.

It's entirely possible that granite countertops would bring you a much-needed and well-deserved boost. I also think it's entirely possible you could find someone who'd provide you with some countertops free of charge if you subjected him to your feminine wiles. The problem is, such a man would undoubtedly be either a) a dangerous pervert, or b) desperately lonely and vulnerable and dull and interested in you for more than your wiles. Either way, you'd find yourself resenting those granite countertops that initially promised so much pleasure and delight.

I have found, though, that feeling smugly superior to other people can also inspire sensations of pleasure and delight. So I recommend the following: visit the houses of people you know who have beautifully-renovated kitchens and bulging savings accounts. Then, concentrate on how boring they are, how much less funny than you they are, and, if they leave the kitchen for a moment, encourage your dog to fart on their counter.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

 
A concerned reader brought the following concerning news item to my attention: "Moins de chasseurs à cause des mères monoparentales, dit le sénateur Boisvenu".
As my French has gone the way of my regard for Tom Selleck (as a man - as Magnum I still regard him frequently) and my youthful idealism, I turned to Google Translate and discovered that that jumble of delightfully nonsensical-sounding words means something along the lines of: "Fewer hunters because single mothers, said Senator Boisvenu". 

As you know, I have always believed that single mothers have a lot to answer for. They threaten to unravel the moral fabric of the nation. They are obviously an affront to all decently-married people. They also often have to work really hard to raise children alone, making the more morally-upstanding and decently-married of us appear shiftless and lazy. 

I have to thank Conservative Quebec senator Boisvenu for alerting me to this latest threat, and to Google, for translating this alert: "Noting the presence of more and more of mothers in society who are single parents, Senator Quebec has stated that 'hunting is no longer a tradition handed down from father to son,' adding that now, 'who is 14-15-16-17-18 years no longer have the reflex to purchase a firearm.'" "'We see that the number of hunters has made dramatic,'" he concluded.

Senator Quebec, though, is not simply mourning the loss of a tradition; he is bringing attention to a new menace. "He said that if the deer are not slaughtered in the Eastern Townships, there are good times and bad, between 5000 and 8000 collisions between animals and cars. 'It leads to other problems in terms of mortality,' he said." So single mothers, then, by not passing down a reflex for the purchase of firearms to their sons, are directly responsible for road fatalities in that it is through their negligent mercifulness that the deer remain alive to kill.

We can only hope that single mothers, now aware of this situation, will take responsibility for it, defend tradition, and save lives by purchasing weapons for their sons and teaching them to stalk and kill.

 
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 axident. 
 
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Dear Catastrophizer,
   I recently and unexpectedly ran into an ex girlfriend that I'd not seen in 3 years. She seemed very pleased to have seen me, we had a very pleasant chat and parted amicably with a brief peck on the cheek and an embrace.
   I left with the feeling that that was one relationship I could be proud of, that we had both conducted ourselves like adults and despite having had an unsuccessful romantic relationship we were still able to interact warmly and cordially with all thoughts of bitterness and jealousy buried deep in the past.
   Surely this can't be right?


You have good instincts: of course it's not right. I like a good catastrophizing challenge, being given a scenario that appears rosy so I can apply my intellect to its sullying. Alas, this is not such a challenge or such a scenario. It's like shooting grim fish in a depressing barrel.

1) "...that was one relationship I could be proud of..." The quiet pathos of this sentence would be heartbreaking if I hadn't developed an immunity to quiet pathos by exposing myself to it continually over the course of thirty years. Do we really need to catastrophize this particular encounter when it's clear your life likely already boasts enough catastrophic material to power hundreds of obscure blogs? If a brief, unplanned chat with a woman you're no longer in contact with constitutes one of your few sources of interpersonal pride, you might want to just go off and live on a pillar in the desert and give the whole other people thing up (click here for artists' renderings of the kind of beard you would have to rustle up in order to do so).

2) I am now going to pull off a bravura interpretive performance by linking your unexpected encounter with the current popular revolt in Egypt, in the process cheapening both. People, like nations, behave warmly and cordially for a number of different reasons, the least likely of which being that they are genuinely fond of one another. It is far more likely that people, like many nations, are polite with one another because they don't want to cause a fuss, they don't have time for a lengthy airing of hidden grievances, or they're afraid of destabilizing the region and jeopardizing their relationship with one of Israel's few local allies. One of the things about "thoughts of bitterness and jealousy" is that, as they're thoughts, you can't see them if they belong to someone else. It's all too possible that your ex's head is teeming with malignant thoughts, but that she, like many nations, has decided to protect her own interests by pursuing a non-interventionist foreign policy.


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I 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.
 
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Dear Catastrophizer:
I am 62 years old and retired. I keep adding up the numbers of my budget to see if I am likely to outlive my money. Until yesterday it seemed safe to assume I would make it through my dotage without having to eat cat food, even once. But yesterday when I added up the same numbers I discovered an error in logic that I'd been making all along. Can you tell me where I can buy discount cat food? Would pellets for rodents deliver the same nutritional punch at a lower cost? 

Thanks, in advance, for your advice. 

Yours truly, Aging woman. 

P.S. I know you're too young to be worrying about this kind of stuff

I've said it before and I'll say it again: you're never too young to worry about penury, infirmity, and death. That said, those fortunate enough to have lived for a while in consecutive years might be in a better position to appreciate how nice money, "firmity" and life are, and to suspect that they are probably not now or ever going to be discovered on Johnny Carson.

Allow me to answer this while also getting to talk about something else that's been thrilling me and to do so by discussing a scene from The Golden Girls. In a scene more bizarre than any shakily-filmed drug-using sequence from a motion picture, the girls host a talent show at which Bob Hope makes repeated jokes about Ronald Reagan. I was, of course, appalled, because no one is permitted to make light of Ronald anymore. He is a conservative icon, even though it turns out that the very conservatives who venerate him today would probably colour him red for commie if he were still around. He was in favour of reducing the number of nuclear weapons kicking about, after all. Hippie.

But let's get to the whether-to-eat-pellets portion of this entry. I mention The Golden Girls because their example could well prove to be instructive. Why did these golden girls ends up rooming together? Not because they wanted to giggle girlishly and pretend they were undergraduates. It was made clear intermittently on the show that Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia, and Rose lived together because they could not afford to live on their own. They were forced into cohabitation by the reality of an empty wallet. One of the earlier episodes features Rose desperately trying to find a job and finding it difficult to do so because she's old and has no work experience. 

A side note: when Rue McClanahan started on the show, she was 51. When Kim Cattrall starred in the last Sex and the City movie, she was 54. I know that only because I checked imdb.com and not because I saw the film. Even though the idea of three lovely white ladies going to Abu Dhabi and acting like great big sluts is HILARIOUS.

So here's my advice: find a woman who's sex-loving, a woman who's dizzy-headed, a woman who's sharp-tongued, and another woman who's sharp-tongued AND extraordinarily tall and move in with them. With all of you splitting costs, it should be possible to survive not by eating pellets of any kind, but by sharing beans from cans.


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, 

I have recently rented a new apartment in a downtown neighbourhood of a major North American city. The neighbourhood is mostly populated by the city’s vibrant gay community and known for its bon-amie and joie-de-vivre. Earlier this week when visiting the building to sign my lease, I noticed that instead of the standard rainbow-coloured “Pride” flag, the balcony of the unit next to my soon-to-be new home was adorned with a “Gadsden” flag (named for the American revolutionary figure Christopher Gadsden) which bears the motto “Don’t Tread on Me”. I have since read that the Gadsden flag has been recently adopted by Tea Party movement in the U.S. 

My question is: what sort gesture of hospitality should I extent to my new neighbours? I initially thought I would prepare them a basket of vegan baked goods, but now I am uncertain. Any guidance you can give me in this pursuit would be greatly appreciated. 

A Faithful Reader 
I'm not going to lie: you're in an unenviable position. Allow me to explain (at length). 

You may be aware that various French men from the 1970's had adorable theories about how things like the clothes we wear are actually systems of signs invested with profound social and philosophical significance. We "read" the outfits of other people and then use those readings as the basis for invariably harsh, albeit fancy, judgements. 

And it doesn't just have to be clothes. Think of the posters you put up when you were a teenager. They defined you; they were outward manifestations of your taste; they were like a mating call that might be answered by a like-minded individual if you'd ever been fortunate enough to have such an individual in your room.

So your neighbour's flag is important. That flag Says Something. The problem is, what? What, so help me Wikipedia, is that flag supposed to be saying?

The Gadsen flag has indeed been adopted by the Tea Party movement. However, it has also been adopted by a number of other suspicious and rebellious groups. For example (and I quote, as is my wont, directly from Wikipedia):
  • Athletic apparel company Nike uses the image of a snake coiled around a soccer ball for an ongoing, patriotic "Don't Tread On Me" campaign in support of the United States men's national soccer team. The phrase has become a rallying cry for American soccer fans and the Gadsden flag can occasionally be seen at national team games.
  • The Boy Scouts of America frequently fly this flag at campouts, ceremonies, and jamborees.
  • The flag appears in the Disney animated television series Recess, raised above the home of the character Gustav, whose father is a Marine. It is seen in the first episode's segment titled, "The New Kid," which addresses individuality and tyranny.
  • Metallica later used the flag on their self-dubbed "Black Album" as a song name ("Don't Tread on Me"), and on the cover of the album, the snake from the flag is in the lower right hand corner. 311's eighth studio album is titled "don't tread on me" released 2005, and also of significance is the Cro-Mags' track of the same title. 
  • The New Jersey based punk rock group Titus Andronicus features one on the cover of their self-titled album, and the flag is frequently seen with them on tour. 
  • The flag has also been used as a critical prop in several movies and TV shows, such as in the final episode of Jericho, where it was flown to signal the titular town's independence. The flag also hung on the wall of Sam Seaborn's office in the television series The West Wing. Inspecting Sam's flag carefully, you will notice the prop was constructed in error. The bottom stripe is white instead of red.
So. What do all these bullets I couldn’t figure out how to double-space tell us about your predicament? Your neighbour could be: 
1) a rabid fan of American men’s soccer 
2) a proud and public supporter of the Boy Scouts 
3) a rabid and public fan of a Disney child named Gustav 
4) a lover of a) Metallica b) 311 c) Cro-Mags d) Titus Andronicus (hope for this one - they’re really good)
5) a worshipper of the West Wing, or 
6) one of those people who sent all those peanuts to the TV networks to prevent the cancellation of Jericho

If the flag-hanger next door is 1, 4d, 5, or 6, there’s a good chance your vegan treats would be greeted with heart-felt gratitude. If, though, your neighbour is any of the other things, vegan treats would enrage him/her. Boy Scouts and Gustav hate hippies. 

I am ready to speak decisively on this matter, having made lists involving numbers AND letters. Be sly. Manage to run into your neighbour and be spy-sneaky when conversing. Say things like: “It’s funny - that terrifying blond woman from CSI: Miami was really good as a Republican on the West Wing” or “Some Kind of Monster was the reason I started going to therapy” or “I love boy-scouts” (which could backfire, given). Watch your neighbour’s response carefully. If you suspect you might learn to like this person, give him/her vegan treats. If you suspect you'll learn to desperately try to avoid this person, give him/her vegan treats. There. That was easy.



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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I got another write-in question. That's right. And this time it's from someone who is not in the least related to me. Not by blood, at least. It's a very sensible question about whether children should have friends.


The NYT helpfully informs me that "best friends" for children are, in fact, bad for them. Is this just more overprotection? I figured if anyone could see the downsides of having (or not having) a BFF, it's the Catastrophizer.

In "A Best Friend: You Must Be Kidding", Hilary Stout discusses opinions held by various professionals about whether children should develop close attachments to other children.

"I don't think it's particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend," says Jay Jacobs, director of Timber Lake Camp in New York State. "If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child's ability to explore other options in the world."

However, as Stout notes: "The last people who should be considered credible when it comes to childhood psychology are camp directors." No, she didn't say that. She said: "Many psychologists believe that close childhood friendships not only increase a child's self-esteem and confidence, but also help children develop the skills for healthy adult relationships - everything from empathy, the ability to listen and console, to the process of arguing and making up". 

So what should one do, or think behind other people's backs while they do?

1) If a child has a close friendship, it will undoubtedly end badly. Childhood friendships are grounded in things like a shared love of the colour orange or a shared hatred of the colour orange. When children grow older, and they will, they'll realize that friendship is more complicated. Based more on whether one likes or dislikes Wolf Blitzer, for example. Of course, the fact that the childhood friendship will inevitably end badly could be seen as a good thing: adult friendships are also inclined to end badly, or at least to become trapped in a defeated, passive-aggressive stalemate, so early experiences of interpersonal failure will prepare him or her for the interpersonal disappointments of later life. 

2) If a child has multiple, less serious friendships with other children, he or she will probably never develop whatever skills are necessary for forming and maintaining healthy, grown-up relationships. He or she will always be lonely in a crowd, overly thick-skinned (or overly thin-skinned) and sociopathic.

3) Don't get worked up. I can testify to the fact that this is not an either/or proposition: it is entirely possible to be a child and not form either one unhealthy, intense friendship or a number of superficial friendships. I'm sure it will bring you great comfort to know that it is likely that neither of these problems will ever be yours, nor those of any children of yours. 
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.
 
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The Catastrophizer isn't simply good for realistic and dispiriting relationship advice. Read as I do what Scientific American couldn't: provide a reasonable answer to the following question.

Where will the U.S. get its electricity in 2034?

This question needs to be rephrased. It should read: "Where will those in the U.S. still able to afford electricity get their electricity in 2034?" For by 2034, American society will have become even more dramatically and irreversibly stratified. From their fortified mountaintop aeries, the wealthy (employed either by aerie fortification service providers or a CSI spinoff) will gaze out over a landscape dotted with melting ice caps and adorable baby animals that are the last of their kind. 

The poor will live largely underground, partly because their eyes can now function only in near-darkness and partly because the baby animals are hungry.

Oil reserves will have been exhausted and natural gas will have been ruled out as too obvious. So the question remains: where will the rich get their energy?  The answer is proof that innovation will not be extinct in future times. The engineers of the future, now gripped by Bieber fever but soon to be gripped by the terrible, terrible cold, will have devised a way to power their remaining luxury devices by harnessing the energy produced by the burning of other countries. People the world over will still want to move to America, because they will be on fire.  


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I 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.

 
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The Brits are so deliciously degenerate. Who has the guts to field their desperate queries? Miriam Stoppard. And, of course, the Catastrophizer.

Dear Miriam,
I had an affair with my husband's father a few months ago. I know you will think I was mad. I ended the fling as soon as I came to my senses and realised I did love my husband.

I haven't been married that long and my husband would leave me if he found out about the affair.

I truly regret what I did and I've told my father-in-law I feel guilty and ashamed. However, he says he'll tell his son about it all unless I carry on sleeping with him.

The worst thing is, I find it very difficult to make love to my husband because of betraying him and I don't know how to cover things up. What should I do?

Beth

1) I only regret the fact that you cannot break up with yourself. Leave yourself. Reject yourself, pack your bags and go. You get the idea.

2) "I ended the fling as soon as I came to my senses and realised I did love my husband." It's THAT realization that threw cold water on your fiery ardour? Not the realization that you were sleeping with your husband's father? 

3) This will be very similar to 2). "The worst thing is, I find it very difficult to make love to my husband..." THAT's the worst thing? Really? The worst thing isn't that slept with your husband's father?

4) I understand your attraction to your husband's father. I really do. Everything you say about him indicates he's a really great guy. You know, the sex blackmail thing. Awesome.


5) If you tell your husband, he'll probably leave you. After all, you've been doing with his father what his father did with his mother to make him. It's odd. If you don't tell him, you'll be obliged to sleep with both him and his father. That's also odd. I would recommend that you begin judging your judgement, but you SLEPT WITH YOUR HUSBAND'S FATHER, so I suspect that analyzing yourself would not result in much in the way of analysis. 

6) If you want to avoid such situations in the future, either remain celibate or have sex only with fatherless men. Although sonless men would probably be more plentiful.

7) But why try to put a stop to such hard-to-believe depravity? You are truly a catastrofabricator! You are not content simply to wait for the nastiness that life will inevitably throw at you - you actively court such nastiness. And by creating catastrophes in your personal life, you help other people (e.g. your husband) to become catastrophizers, so I am eternally in your debt. 



Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I 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.

 
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I am going to attempt to respond to a bizarre and confounding question. A REALLY bizarre and confounding question. A question more bizarre and confounding than any I ever expected to receive. Here goes.

I am confused: who is more pretty, Michael Jackson or My Fair Lady?

Well, it depends. Am I to compare Michael Jackson to Rex Harrison? To Audrey Hepburn? To the spirit of the film as a whole? I will try to do this and more. Well, maybe not more. But certainly this.

1) I think when it comes to Michael Jackson vs. Rex Harrison, Michael comes out on top. He had about eighteen chiseled cheekbones on each side of his face, and Rex just looked plain severe all the time. And 87 years old.

2) Need I say who would prevail in a prettiness battle between Michael and Audrey? Doesn't matter. I will, whether the need is needed or not. It's Audrey all the way. She makes the rest of us look like strange, half-developed, crawling, grey creatures. Michael might have tried to graft images of Audrey at every stage of her career onto his face all at the same time, but he cannot possibly equal her for prettiness.

3) Billy Jean vs. I Could Have Danced All Night? If my totally deranged questioner had used a word other than "pretty", I might have gone another way with this. But when it comes to prettiness, nothing can beat Audrey swaying about in floating, fluttery dresses with that guy who looks like her grandfather. Consider also the effeminizing effect of cockney charm, and you have no choice but to give the film the prettiness title. 

4) But didn't the film people give the role to Audrey instead of to the bowl-cutted magnificence that is Julie Andrews? And that after she'd been in the role on Broadway for ages? I didn't check any of my facts on this, but I believe I'm right. I will disregard the fact that my beliefs have been in conflict with the facts in the past. Facts are disputatious things. If I AM right, and I will proceed as though I am, I will have to disregard claims one through 3 and declare Michael Jackson the prettiness victor. Because it's one damn ugly thing to cross a singing nun.


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I 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.