It is believed…CVS

I was browsing through my neighborhood CVS a few months ago waiting for a prescription and ran across this peculiar device. Interestingly, the display was situated directly across from the pharmacy windows.

Several aspects of this quackery can be unpacked.

1. The packaging clearly indicates something about “magnetic” and “magnets” but it’s only in the smaller print that you actually learn what’s in the package. Maybe that’s obvious, but rather than label the package “Magnetic,” why not just say “Magic Magnets” or “The Power of Magnets” or “Here Be Magnets”?

2. The ad copy in the center says “Magnets” but only refers to them; that is, it only implies that that’s what’s in the package.

3. You have to actually look pretty close to see the contents: “4 magnets”

Of course that’s just quibbling about packaging.

4. So now, the coup de grâce: the ad copy only says that “it is believed” that magnets have certain healthful (but very vague) medical/physiological benefits.

Talk about your wishy-washy, FDA-skirting mumbo jumbo!

I was back in the CVS a couple days ago and tried hunting down the product display, but, to CVS’s credit, it was nowhere to be found. I actually asked the pharmacy folks about it but they just rolled their eyes and said they were unfamiliar with the product.

Kudos to CVS, not only for removing this ridiculous device but also for…drum roll...removing this celebrity quack from the magazine stand. (At least, I couldn’t find his mag, which is usually prominently placed on the stand.)

Or maybe he’s just between issues. Or getting ready for his next summoning before a Senate subcommittee.





Retiring the Tired “Word of the Year”

It’s time to retire the “Word of the Year” that various dictionaries publish each year — like “complicit” ( “youthquake” (Oxford), “feminism” (Merriam-Webster); and “fake news” (American Dialect Society, although their WTF Word of the Year, covfefe, isn’t too bad.)

As I understand it, the organizations have different criteria such as frequency, presumed significance, etc. But what are we learning of any real use by hearing that a lot of people are still using the word “feminism”?

Now, I’d make an exception for milkshake duck (“person or character that is deeply loved until problematic behavior is revealed or unearthed” coined in a 2016 tweet by Ben Ward, an Australian cartoonist), or Boaty McBoatface, which is more of a name than a word, per se.

So how about using the Word of the Year to enlighten us about actual new trends that onboard us to the new year?

My proposed list from 2017 starts with:

Doxing: searching for and publishing private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent. [from documents–>docs, originally “dropping dox” from 1990s hacker slang]

Dad jokes: corny pun-filled jokes; the most embarrassingly type of bad joke. Characteristics: “a joke told by a father, or of the type associated with fathers, especially one which is (1) hackneyed, embarrassing, or unoriginal (2) usually involving wordplay and (3) is told repeatedly, even to people who have already heard it.” — see Grammar Girl “A guy went to the dentist for false teeth and only had a dollar so they gave him a buck tooth.” (My dentist brother is fond of this one though he won’t admit it.)

Cell phone strut* ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯↓

 Scaramucci (noun) a time measurement typically referring to a 10-day span. Neatly fills the gap between a “week” and a “fortnight.”

Normie: someone not in on the joke (typically used by “alt-right” folks)

Red-pill (verb): To red-pill someone is to explain the truth to them and open their eyes, to make the decision to understand reality, “find out how deep the rabbit hole goes.” (reference to The Matrix, also typically an alt-right term: “Remember, all I’m offering is the truth”)

FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out, e.g., the fear that if you don’t go to a wild party you’ll miss out on something great…even if what you’re actually doing (attending your BFF’s wedding reception on a beach in Bali) is obviously the hotter deal.  (“BFF” is now officially retired as well.) “John’s fomo got the best of him and he ended up at the party.”

Perma-cold**: a seasonal cold that just keeps going well beyond any reasonable length of time — like the one I have now.

*For some reason, the strut just doesn’t seem to work as well with men…



** OK, I just made up perma-cold to make you feel sorry for me.

If Donnie was in my Eng. 101 class

Donnie, Donnie, please check your work before submitting it. Just because a word seems important, you don’t need to uppercase it. And watch for sentence fragments. Also, try to stay focused—one topic per paragraph please.

You see, Donnie, when you grow up and have to write a college admissions essay or a cover letter to get a job, the people reading it will be judging your ability to put words together in a sensible, cogent manner.  But how much credibility do you think you’ll have if you don’t even seem to know the difference between “aid” (help) and “aide” (an assistant to an important person, especially to a political leader)? Or if you go around just randomly capitalizing words. Or inserting bizarre, meaningless one-word exclamations?

They may draw the conclusion that you make random decisions based on your current stream of consciousness and can’t be bothered to proofread, much less cofveve your paragraphs.

 Going forward, I’ll expect to see you in the Writing Center before you finalize your assignments. GL.

You only get one question…

…then shut up and let others have a chance.

I was at a delightful one-man storytelling event at the Tempe History Museum the other night. The performer adopted a variety of costumes and facial devices as he related historical commentaries on the parade of Native American tribal customs from the past thousand or so years – Hohokam, Atzlan, Yaqui and Pima to name a few. The Hohokam (“those who are gone”) are considered to be the builders of the original canal system around the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Zarco Guerrero did a great job of keeping the tales lively and brief and after about 40 minutes the crowd of 50 or so enthusiastic attendees of many ethnic backgrounds was invited to ask questions or give comments.

One woman in the front row was quick to raise her hand and was recognized by the moderator. Her comment, about the Pima tribe’s long-staple cotton, was rather detailed and took a couple minutes to explain. Zarco acknowledged the excellent information with good grace and we were ready for more questions.

Three or four people were recognized by the moderator around the room, each offering a quick question or comment.

And then…and then…our first row lady struck again. From my spot at the end of the second row I could see her hand going up, but I could also see seven or eight hands throughout the room.

Alas, the moderator recognized her again and she launched into a second 4-5-minute commentary.

Now, I’ve seen this kind of thing at several different casual public meetings and always wondered at the self-centeredness of people seated toward the front who think they can just keep asking questions. They don’t look around to see who else is trying to get attention. And almost as bad, the lecturer doesn’t either. Even worse is when there’s a moderator or host who doesn’t scan the room, especially the middle and back areas.

So my rule is: You get to ask one question, with maybe a brief follow-up for clarification. Then you get to shut up for a while.

Look around the room. If no hands are raised, go ahead and ask another question. Then, after five or ten minutes you can jump back in…

…or be prepared for a good old-fashioned Salt River dunking.

Zarco performance photo by the author. Poster from Tempe History Museum promotional site.

Pizza Puzzle: Landfill or Recycle?

I was walking to my class at a certain community college the other morning at 6:45 a.m.  I mention this not to try to shamelessly wheedle sympathy out of you for my early rising, but to point out that the display in the first photo must have taken place in the oh-dark-hundred hours.

Yes, there is a third of a pizza resting blissfully on the ledge of one of the trash receptacles. Since I had 23 rhetoric-hungry students waiting for me I didn’t take the pic right then but did remember to look for it an hour later and, sure enough, it hadn’t moved.

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the original owner, I figured they* simply couldn’t decide whether a used pizza is considered “landfill” or “recyclable” and so they left it for some other food savant to decide.

Two hours later I was returning from nourishing a different group of MLA Style-starved scholars and could hardly believe what had happened:

Uh huh…the pizza slice had moved itself over to the Recycle side, as though to taunt the by-now-hundreds of shredded-jean passers-by to make a final decision.

Honest…I hadn’t touched it. And though all I had to eat by 11 a.m. was a banana and several cups of coffee, I was still not tempted to scarf it down.

By 1 p.m. the slice had inched a bit closer to the slot. Here’s a close up, just to get your mouth juices flowing.

So whattya say? Which slot does a used pizza go in? My students voted for “landfill” since it’s not technically something you can recycle. And really…who just leaves a pizza and paper plate on the side of a trash receptacle, as though to say, “Hey, I’ll be right back for this, but feel free to nosh on it if you get there first.”

Just as important: Why does “Landfill” get a square opening but “Recycle” gets a keyhole slot?

* yes…we’re now allowed to say “they” instead of the annoying and space-consuming “he or she” or other klugey abominations such as “he/she,” “s/he” that have been proposed, including the “whiplash grammar” solution of alternating “he” and “she.”

Trippin’ along the Arizona Canal

In previous posts (July 13 and Nov. 2015) I’ve mentioned a number of oddities along the Arizona Canal that runs past my house. As I’ve said, my early morning bike ride down the canal often reveals surprises, sometimes in the form of amusing graffiti but just as often in the form of abandoned or otherwise unheralded public art—such as the rather mysterious sandstone sculpture below.

There’s no sign or other indication of why or how it appeared on the raised berm between the paved pathway and gravel path adjoining the canal itself.

I decided to get to the bottom of this and found more than I expected.

The primary reference that Google turned up was a brief essay titled, Arizona Canal Demonstration Project Sunnyslope Community” crediting M. Paul Friedberg – Landscape Architecture and Jackie Ferrara – Artist.

This is apparently part of a “multi-room” landscape art project from 2001 and the sandstone design turned out to be the fourth “room.” Each room supposedly illuminates one or more of the environmental characteristics that contribute to the uniqueness of this area.

I gather the sculpture above is an artistic interpretation of either the Salt River or an ancient Hohokam tribe drawing of the 2,000 year old canal system. The Hohokam flourished in the Phoenix valley from 300-1450 CE.

A close look at the sculpture reveals two sets of openings, one of which appears to be a dual nozzle which may have been intended to create a water/stream effect. Or it could simply be an alien!

The canals are operated by the Salt River Project (SRP) and while the canals are technically a utility corridor, meant to deliver water to this desert metropolis, they’ve historically been associated with recreation.



Recently, a longtime Sunnyslope resident told me that maintenance of the various artwork installations—the sequence of five outdoor “rooms” at intervals of approximately 500 to 700 yards carved into the berm—was abandoned for budgetary reasons when a different authority took over management of the berms and paths.

Now, here’s a rundown of the various “rooms,” in sequence starting from the Central Ave and heading southeast toward 7th St. It’s not entirely clear which rooms are which from the write-up but I think my guesses are reasonably on target.

First room: the “circle room”







Now, here’s an amazing little peculiarity of the Circle Room: if you stand dead center, you can create a strange auditory “echo” effect — much like those so-called “whispering galleries” where your voice is amplified beneath a dome or a vault. Except that here, a person standing outside the very limited circle, more than 2 or 3 feet, just hears your normal voice. But you hear your voice as though it’s being piped into a microphone. Everyone who has seen this acts blasé at first, like, “OK what’s the big deal?” But when they step into the small circle and try it out, it’s “Whoa! What just happened?”

I have no idea whether the designers intended to create this effect or if it’s just an unintended artifact of the circle. You’d really have no idea to even try it unless you came upon it by chance or someone told you about it…like I just did.

Second room: the “water room”

Third Room: the “time room” —  yes…it’s an actual sun dial!

The fourth room, seen at the top of this posting, is called the “map room”

Fifth room: the “grass room”?

This is described as a rectangular space outlined on three sides by a stone seating wall. “A planting bed of tall exotic desert grass creates a spatial frame around the sitting area, thus focusing the visitor’s view toward the top of the grass and the canal.”

Obviously the “planting bed” was a budget victim. And, oddly, one can only wonder what force of nature caused part of this very solid-looking wall to break away in two places (one shown here).


I’m putting my money on ancient aliens as seen from these artifacts, with characteristic beady eyes, metallic, hook-ended legs and strangely bicycle-like form.









All photos, except Hohokam illustration and canal map are copyright (c) 2017 Jim Veihdeffer.
In case you’re interested in exploring this mile-long stretch, you can start at Central Ave. just south of Dunlap and head southeast along the left side of the canal. The first room is about 2/10ths of a mile from the overpass, with subsequent rooms at more or less regular intervals. Most bikers are not even aware of the installations, but they’re pretty obvious if you take a moment to just observe.The nine canals that make up the Valley’s canal system were developed over the past 100 years. Each canal has a unique history and service area. Work on the Arizona Canal that runs past my house began in May 1883

Reading the Bible for All the Wrong Reasons – II

Part 2

We continue our journey through those wacky “Acts of the Apostles.” Last time, we looked at how the first Christians (technically “pre-Christians”) were, literally, communists; about the horrible deaths of Ananias and Sapphira–convicted of holding back some funds from the commune; and the death of the very loquacious Stephen who filibustered himself into a stoning.

Today we’ll see how Paul bores a man into falling off a balcony, the million-dollar book (er…magical scroll) burning, and a “knock knock” joke about Peter on the lam.

Without no further ado…

Paul bores a young man into falling off a 3rd-story window ledge

Paul was no stranger to the ill effects of endless blathering as we learn in Chapter 20, during his third missionary journey.

On his way to Macedonia, Paul and Luke stop in Troas (near ancient Troy) for a week. As he was to leave the next morning, he can’t stop himself from preaching to his entourage, “prolonging his address until midnight.” (20:7) A young man named Eutychus was so overcome with weariness at Paul’s droning on “at great length” that he fell asleep and toppled down from the third story to the ground, where he was pronounced dead.

Paul, a tentmaker or possibly weaver by trade, seems to know more than anyone else there about death signs and simply tells the crowd “Do not be alarmed, life is still in him.” (20:11). Unfazed, the entourage has a late night snack while Paul continues preaching till daybreak and then departs. Turns out the boy was alive and all were “not a little comforted.” Tip: Get ready for a night of de-caf coffee when Paul is on a preaching roll.

Million-dollar book burning in Ephesus

There was a certain Sceva, a Jewish high priest in Ephesus who had seven sons engaged in exorcisms. Meanwhile Paul and his bro’s were working more than the usual miracles, literally healing nearly everyone in sight, so much so that they didn’t even need to be “in sight.” Indeed, all Paul had to do was send his “handkerchiefs and aprons” to the sick to eject the evil spirits causing disease. Since those who refused to believe were labeled “obstinate” it’s easy to imagine that Paul & Co. were not pleased with the competition from Sceva. The Jews and Gentiles of Ephesus convinced the rogue exorcists to confess their practices:

19 And many who had practised magical arts collected their scrolls and burnt them publicly and they reckoned up the prices…and found the sum to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Acts 19:19)

Roman denarius, c 75 CE, with image of Vespasian

While it’s a tricky business to calculate what a piece of silver from around 65 CE might amount to in terms we can understand, various estimates range around $20 per piece, thus making 50,000 pieces worth in the neighborhood of $1,000,000 to $1,082,000 depending on whether we’re using  Greek drachmas, the Roman denarius or the Hebrew silver shekel as our basis. So according to Luke, there were magical papyrus scrolls worth a million bucks lying around in Ephesus. Papyrus must have been pretty dang valuable. (As the old Egyptian joke goes, “Hey, that stuff doesn’t grow on trees, y’know!”)

“Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” – Peter on the lam

In Chapter 12 Peter is being held in prison by Herod Agrippa I. Not only are there four sentries guarding the door but he is sleeping between two soldiers and bound with two chains. It would take a true Houdini to get out of this…unless you have an angel visiting in the night.

As luck would have it, just such an angel is on hand to free him and, after reminding him to put on his sandals, off they go. They pass through various guarded gates until they’re out on the street, at which point the angel deserts him. Peter finds his way to the house of Mary, mother of John Mark (the apostolic deserter), and knocks at the outer door.

Here’s the fun part. The maid, Rhoda, comes to the door to answer the knock and immediately recognizes Peter’s voice. And even though she knows he must have escaped Herod’s prison and is now on the lam, “in her joy she did not open the gate.”

Nope. Instead she runs inside and announces that Peter’s outside at the gate. Peter continues knocking until the householders eventually come get him but they’re so noisy that Pete has to shush them, reminding them that he’s on the lam.

Knock knock

Who’s there?


Peter who?

C’mon man, Peter, you know, Cephas?

Cephas who?

Stop fooling around you morons and let me in…and keep your blessed voices down!

I guess you had to be there to appreciate the joke.

cartoon by Jeff Hayden, posted in “The First Gentile Church”

Unfortunately for the guards, the next morning Herod orders them put to death. Not long after, Herod is struck down by an angel and is eaten by worms. (Acts 12.)

*The idea for this headline came to me one day as I was out by the pool studying the Qur’an. I had a paperback English translation, a larger English-Arabic version, my Arabic alphabet cheat sheet and a mobile device that I used for translation aid, commentaries and phonetic/oral help. A neighbor saw all my gear and asked if I was studying the bible. I figured it was too complicated to explain my project, which at times included the Book of Mormon and the history of early Christianity, so I just said, “Yeah, but for all the wrong reasons.”
The majority of scholars date Luke–Acts to 80–90 CE or as late at 120 CE, on various grounds, e.g. looks back on the destruction of Jerusalem, and does not seem to be aware of Paul’s letters (which began circulating late in the century); if, however, it does show awareness of Paul and also of Josephus, then a date early in the 2nd century is more likely.[13] In either case, there is evidence that it was still being substantially revised well into the 2nd century.” [WP – Acts of the Apostles]
Mack (1995) dates Acts to 120 CE (p167); Spong (1996) dates Acts to 90-95 CE (p171); Vermes (2000) dates to 90-100 CE (p127); Charlesworth (2008) dates 80-90 “or perhaps 90-110” (References are to books in my personal library)
Clearly, whoever the gentile-by-birth author of Luke-Acts was, he was far removed from the times and places he wrote about, including Luke’s gaffe at 5:19 about “tile roofs” (roofs were actually reeds and packed mud, see Korb 2010)
Spong (1996) sees a “midrash” of the Ananias story in Jeremiah’s story of Hananiah, “lying in the name of the Lord, and deceiving the people” where “the deceiver should be shortly cut off by death.” (Jeremiah 28: 15-17). Seems like a stretch to me, though Isaac Asimov (1969) seems to agree.
“Midrash” by the way, is the Jewish tradition dictating that everything to be venerated in the present must somehow be connected with a sacred moment in the past (Bringas p172). Spong (1996) quite persuasively makes the case that the entire NT is essentially a midrash of Hebrew Sabbath lectionaries (weekly scripture readings). In this light, Acts is a lectionary book written midrashically, designed to complement and parallel gospel readings. (p177) The Jewish practice of reading appointed Scriptures on given days or occasions dates back to the time of Moses and continues in Catholic masses among other liturgies.
The “magical papyrus scrolls” were also called “Ephesian letters.” Apparently, the Ephesians were greatly addicted to magic. Magic characters were marked on the crown, cincture (belt), and feet of Diana; at the preaching of Paul, many who used curious [magical] books, burnt them. (Acts 19.)