Erratic Like a Fox

“Why did he do that?”

“How could she?”

“What was she thinking?”

Tsk, tsk.

We’re living in an age where we cheer the eccentric and boo the erratic, in equal measure. Same as it ever was.

I was prompted to write a post for today’s Word-of-the-day challenge about Erratic.  I immediately reflected on the past couple of weeks. Elon Musk and the joint. Serena pointing at the ref. Madonna, always controversial. What do they all have in common? Success, you motorscooters! Success, despite their seeming erratic behavior. Success which comes from their innovation, talent, and unpredictability.

Serena Williams serving
Serena beating the pants off her rival in the U.S. Open semifinal before losing in the finals, photo by Seth Wenig, AP.

The Erratic 85.49% Winner

Serena is the greatest tennis player in history. Winner of 23 Grand Slam titles, she now competes against teenage athletes who grew up idolizing her. About to turn 37 years old, with an infant at home, she blazed into the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals. Although she lost both finals, her power and presence were remarkable given her recent circumstances.

She yelled at the umpire, who apparently is known for harshly judging players. She broke a racket. She then criticized the perceived unequal treatment for receiving penalties that she felt men had not been assessed in similar situations. The fickle public saw her both as underdog and as sore loser, and the controversy overshadowed the tennis, the play, and the win by 20-year-old up-and-coming Naomi Osaka.  Williams has lost matches before, in part, due to emotional reactions. Tennis is a game fueled by emotion.

Williams has also won Grand Slam singles tournaments. Twenty-three of them, more than any other woman or man since tennis went to the open (“professional”) era. Roger Federer, listed by some as the greatest player, cedes that title to Serena; Federer’s won 20 Grand Slams. Williams also has four Olympic gold medals and 14 Grand Slam doubles wins (Federer has one gold, one silver and no Slam doubles). Serena Williams: Greatest Of All Time.

By the time little Alexis is saying “mama badass,” Williams will have won another Final.  I hope it’s in the catsuit.

Madonna wearing Moroccan fashions
Madonna at the VMA awards in traditional Moroccan garb, photo from Thenationalae.

Express Yourself as Erratically as You Want

Another figure lambasted  for “bizarre” behavior is Madonna, who turned 60 this month. She’s always been controversial because she sets trends rather than follows them. Madonna’s been a full-employment vehicle for spin doctors who love to critique her fashion sense, singing voice, marriages, divorces, public speeches, political views, vegetarian diet, religious practices… all while wanting to know every intimate detail about what she’s wearing, eating, doing, praying, and saying.

At the recent Video Music Awards, scheduled to present Video of the Year, Madonna was asked before going on stage to share a memory about Aretha Franklin. She told a story about being inspired by Franklin and even sang a little before then presenting the award to Camilla Cabello.

However, VMA chose to put a huge photo of Franklin up on the screen as if the award presentation was always intended to be a tribute. Naturally, the Twittersphere and blog-o-universe was shocked! shocked! at how Madonna’s tribute to such a legend turned out to be self-centered. No doubt Madonna sighed and called her publicist, likely on speed dial.

Madonna also chose an outfit highlighting the beauty of Morocco’s Imazighen people, including a horned headdress, silver necklace, and colorful robes.  She was criticized for “appropriating the culture” rather than extolled for presenting it to a broader audience. When she was younger, critics whined about what she wore in similar measure. Then, Target and Macy’s started doing a brisk business selling knock-off Madonna outfits.

As she gets older, critics whine about how she looks older.  I like what Fiona Sturges said:

When she is told she should slow down, step back and act her age, she protests in the only way that she knows: in the public gaze… All hail to Our Lady, still fighting, still hacking away at the undergrowth, still clearing a path and changing the world for the rest of us.
Fiona Sturges in The Guardian

Erratic to the Moon

Some of this type of criticism at Serena and Madonna is sexist. Some is also aimed simply at those who are different and refuse to conform. Innovation drives the world forward, but often innovators have to pay a stiff price for any choice they make which doesn’t fit social norms. Take another giant on the cutting edge: Elon Musk.

Elon Musk smoking
Elon Musk appearing on the Joe Rogan podcast, photo at NBCNews.

Musk has been torn apart recently by the wolves in business journalism, most recently for appearing on a podcast smoking a joint. The Washington Post speculated about his mental instability in an article that suggested that “people are speculating about his mental instability.” Fortune complained that the military might have to rethink the SpaceX contracts.  Because there are so many other companies that make rockets which successfully take payloads to the International Space Station that the Air Force can just pick somebody else… Oh, I forgot, there aren’t.

Elon Musk started a payments business that turned into Paypal and, when it was bought by eBay, he retired at age 30. He began SpaceX out of his  desire to work on the colonization of Mars. He joined the board of Tesla, then helped press it into practical production.  It’s been a twenty-year slog to figure out all the gory details–sourcing large-scale battery productions, bringing the cars into mainstream, and advancing large scale solar cell production at the same time.

His bio includes a stream of start-ups and flare-ups with his boards, arguing about whether PayPal should stay on Unix or go to Windows and clashing with the business community about whether Tesla should stay private or go public. But the car company started from nowhere with ideas that were deemed impractical and impossible and now the Model 3s, which will sell for nearly the price of a Toyota, are going into production this year.

Elon Musk is brash, outspoken, impulsive, a horrible role model, a great role model, a human being, and he’s made at least three companies successful by creating products that didn’t successfully exist. If we’re lucky, he’ll stay interested in combating climate change.

When thinking about what the press says about these innovators, who live on the cutting edge, I always go back to Bette Midler.

F’ em if they can’t take a joke.


Balance Restored: Ruby Slippers Found

An estimated eight billion people have seen the 1939 Hollywood film version of The Wizard of Oz.  Millions have viewed a pair of the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the film, on display at the Smithsonian. Hundreds more saw another pair on loan to the Judy Garland museum in Minnesota, until it was brazenly stolen by thieves unknown in 2005. Minnesota has been on watch ever since.

Recovered ruby slippers
Recovered ruby slippers via FBI + mysterious sequin, photo at

But intrepid G-men, those FBI who have been criticized so much lately, were on the case. They announced this week that the slippers have been found, and they are close to apprehending the miscreants. Callooh-Callay!

Before I pontificate further on a few engrossing details in the case, I will point out that as a child of the sixties, I viewed Oz a good dozen times in black and white before ever seeing it in color. My aunt also says that she was watching the movie with my aging, Alzheimer-stricken grandmother and that at the moment when Dorothy opens her sepia-toned tornado-struck house to the colorful world of Oz, my grandmother died. So there is some deep connection between my Minnesota genes and this movie. As with that scene, there is more to the case than meets the eye. Continue reading “Balance Restored: Ruby Slippers Found”

Farewell, Old Van, Old Friend, Lady Penelope Reinhardt

Our van with us and namesakes
Van Lady Penelope Reinhardt pictured with me, Lee, Lady Penelope and Reinhardt. Penelope & Reinhardt from Pinterest. Family photo by kajmeister.


Lee was vacuuming out the van, first with the lightweight upright and then with the portable, meticulously digging into all the crevices.

“I wonder if this feels like getting a corpse ready for burial?” she said.
“Oh, surely not!” I laughed. “I would have said sprucing it up, like putting on a new suit when you go in for a job interview.”
“No, I really think it’s more like grooming a dog before it’s going to be put down.”

I sighed. It was time. It was due. It was overdue. The van was being readied to head over to the used car dealership, part of a potential exchange for a newer used car, the daughter’s first car purchase.

Van Origin Story

We bought the white Honda Odyssey in the spring of 2001, the year of 9-11, before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, before smart phones and iPads. The kids were not yet six and not yet four, the age where we could take them on long driving vacations, up to the lake, or camping, with plenty of room for luggage, tents, pillows, and the other accoutrement you drag around with children.

When we test drove the car, we had to persuade the salesman to let us take it home to see if it would fit in the garage. This “mini-van” was the longest of its class and the heaviest, the hardest on the tires (we went through four sets in 17 years). We had measured but needed to see if you could really walk around it with the garage door closed. Just barely. The salesman seemed to find that a really odd concern, as if you would buy a car and then, if it didn’t fit, just park it on the street for the rest of its useful life. Who uses their garage to park cars in these days anyway? The answer is us and our next door neighbor, and no one else in the neighborhood. But she fit. Continue reading “Farewell, Old Van, Old Friend, Lady Penelope Reinhardt”

Eat Your Vegetables!

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of being told I had to finish dinner before we could go to the state fair. On my plate were sliced orange disks which my mother said were carrots but, in fact, were sweet potatoes. I detested the mushy things and knew they were not carrots. I sat there for Hourrrrrssss, with tears streaming down my face, unable to handle the discrimination and oppression of the sweet potatoes. The unfairness! No merry-go-rounds for me! My mother was lying! The adults were in league to ruin my life! The trauma! The unfairness!

Child hates eating carrots
Carrots are NOT sweet potatoes! Photo from Parents magazine

I’m kind of sad now that I never asked my long-dead mother whether this story actually happened, and why, in particular, she would lie and tell me that sweet potatoes were carrots. It seems kind of unlikely now. Also, ironically enough, I now love sweet potatoes and will eat them without marshmallows, butter, or any flavoring at all. (They’re really good stuffed with chili and jalapenos.) Continue reading “Eat Your Vegetables!”

Grammar Police: Making It Safe to Start a Sentence with a Gerund

Let’s eat, Grandma!
Let’s eat Grandma!
…Grammar Saves Lives…

Grammar-themed image
Grammar-themed images courtesy of

I am a rule follower. I also like to know what the rules are, so I can break them. Stealthily, of course. But rules are what keeps society from going to hell in a handbasket, right? Traffic rules keep cars from running into each other or over pedestrians *Rome coff* . Please wash your hands before cooking my dinner, Mr. Guano Salesman. No hitting below the belt. No cutting in line.

Which is why I was particularly torqued off when I came across a blog post–in my WordPress reader no less–disdaining “Grammar purity” as a Ponzi scheme.* The essence of the argument is that “we” (English speaking-society) came up with the rules…. (ergo “we” can break them?) Dictionaries are arbiters of such rules, but looking in dictionaries shows that there is flexibility (ergo they aren’t really rules). Manuals such as The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook are “style guidelines, not grammar rules.”

These “rules” have shown impressive staying power. From cocktail parties to kitchen tables, these seemingly fascinating bits of grammar trivia have been repeated over and over, in some cases for centuries.

Too bad they’re not true.
–June Casagrande

Standard Written English is not just a Style Guide

I beg to differ, Ms. Casagrande. There are written rules; they are true; they ought to be followed. Distinguishing between their, there, and they’re is not just “grammar trivia.” Continue reading “Grammar Police: Making It Safe to Start a Sentence with a Gerund”