What’s the New Rule for Honorifics?

When we were little, it was easy: everyone was Mister This, Mrs That, Morah Something, or Rabbi OrAnother.

It got complicated when I called a friend’s mother “Mrs. Mother” and she replied, “Oh, you can call me Miri now.”

Then I noticed a trend: middle-aged married women introducing themselves to me by their first names.

Granted, I’m a lot closer in age to middle-aged now. But it can’t possibly be okay to just call everyone by their first names now, can it? What’s the new rule?

I’m probably slow getting out of the gate on this one, but until recently, I wasn’t expanding my circle of middle-aged acquaintances very much.  So this is a very new issue.


Off Topic: Name Yourself

There’s a small column in the daily Hamodia that I once glanced at. It was talking about names. It said a person has three names: the one (s)he is given at birth, the one other people give him/her, and the one (s)he gives him/herself. It said the first two do not describe a person honestly, because they aren’t given by people who know everything about a person. Only the third one is.

The article then went on to confuse itself by talking about the importance of acquiring a good name for yourself among people, and claiming this was the third type of name. It seems apparent to me that this is actually the second type. The third type of name would be what you would call yourself if you could name yourself. If you had to choose a name to express your essence, what would it be?

Do you feel that your birth name adequately expresses you-ness? Why or why not?

Do you think you might have grown to fit the name – or fought it?

If you could name yourself anything, what would it be? (Don’t feel limited by culture; if Thundering-Herd-on-the-Mountain is your idea of a great name, go for it.)

[Dating] Calculus

When I was in high school, my math teacher warned against the foolishness of projecting a line from only two points. Two points, she explained, could easily lie on a curve. But you’d never know unless you had at least a third point plotted.

When I got older, I applied to Procter & Gamble for an internship. To determine whether you’re smart enough to work for them, they give you a reasoning test with questions like this (only harder):

It flummoxed me the first time I saw them and I flunked. But I went back and studied the questions and I realized they were testing only one skill: the ability to predict a complex pattern based on only two datapoints. And, like most mass-produced standardized tests, there’s a limit to how many permutations can arise, so it was easy to study for. I passed the second time.

So now I can say that I’m smart because I can project a line from only two points.

It might seem to follow that it would be even smarter to project a line from a single point. Indeed, this is (sort of) what is known as calculus.

When you take the derivative of an equation at a given point, you are essentially saying, “If the line proceeded straight from this point, it would have this slope.” In this example, the two derivatives taken are lines with slopes that continue forever downward.

But the function doesn’t really behave that way. It bends. At zero, the derivative suggests a flat line.

That isn’t how it happens either. You probably recognize the function as y=x^2, and it’s parabolic.

It isn’t exactly projecting a line from a single point, because the point itself must be on a line. But it’s as close as you can reasonably get.

Derivatives are very handy tools when you want to know the behavior of a system at an exact point. But projecting those lines and assuming they hold in the future is clearly unsafe. It is also the stuff of Malthusian doomsayers.

Malthus was the 18th century philosopher who took a look at population growth and found that it looked something like this:

Then he examined food production capacity, and discovered that it plotted something like this:

And of course he freaked out. Because it seemed patently clear that the world was going to starve in just a few generations.

Of course Malthus was wrong. He didn’t take into account that family size reduces with prosperity and that scientific farming would spur huge leaps in agricultural output. But that has not stopped other doom-and-gloom prophets of the past from foreseeing us all dying of famine, drought, resistant bacteria, superviruses, and various energy-related disasters by the year 2000.

It is also the sort of mental math used by social doomsayers who gloomily predict that at current rates of moral degeneration we will be bonobos in a mere generation or two. They look at the trend from the Victorian era, project a line from the most recent point, and get something steeply negative. Clearly these people are unfamiliar with the Restoration period in England. Or almost any other non-Victorian era in world history. We’re relatively chaste and exceptionally ethical by comparison. Morality, I would posit, is more of a sine curve.

And this is because people are not (gasp) equations. We have the ability to self-correct based on feedback from our environment. (Including, for example, doom-and-gloom predictions.)

And I was going to connect this to dating, but I’m at my word limit, so to be continued.

Off Topic: Top Ten Reasons I Love Flying

–          Airports have great modernist architecture. Well, some of them.

–          Moving sidewalks are fun!

–          Security check is an inspiration to buy new socks.

–          The airport bathrooms are nicer than many of the college bathrooms, gym locker rooms, and most such public facilities.

–          It gives me a renewed appreciation for how precious water is.

–          Baruch atah Hashem, shelo asani TSA guy. They’re a great argument for college (or entrepreneurship): “If you don’t make something out of your life, you’ll wind up like him: in a mindless, brain-atrophying job where everybody hates you.”

–          Maybe one day I will cease to be thrilled by takeoff, by seeing clouds from a different perspective, by seeing the world from above, by passing other airplanes in the stratosphere, etc, but it hasn’t happened yet. You can really appreciate the differences in cloud heights when you’re flying between the cumulonimbus and the cirrus layers. Also, when you’re 23,000 feet up you can see the Milky Way with amazing, 3D clarity. (Can you guess that I always take a window seat?)

–          When you’ve allotted 3 hours to get through security, and then you breeze through in only 30 minutes, and they’re charging for spotty internet, you’ve got no excuse to do anything but read that book you’ve been meaning to get around to.

–          The suspense of wondering if my luggage followed me, the surge of hormones when my suitcase still hasn’t come out after ten minutes, the sigh of relief when it finally shows up, upside down and clearly manhandled—it’s almost as thrilling as a roller-coaster.

–          Last but not least: I’m going somewhere!

Off Topic: Parts of You That Don’t Belong to You

Americans are profoundly aware of this thing known as “personal space.” It is a 1.5-foot radius that surrounds us at all times (excepting during subway rides and parades) and must be kept as barren of human presence as a demilitarized zone between two warring countries. In a show of goodwill, we will sometimes reach across this void for a handshake; in extreme situations we may dive in for an embrace.

But sometimes our protective zone disappears. For reasons to be explored, people feel they can, uninvited, invade our sovereign territory without so much as a by-your-leave. It’s as if some part of you was no more your own than the lamppost at the corner. Here are three such anatomical sections:

1 – A pregnant midsection. This is not something I have personally experienced, but I’ve heard enough about it from MFs. When one’s abdomen reaches the limit of the personal zone, people have reduced compunction about putting their hands on it to feel for movement inside. “That’s my stomach!” protested one MF indignantly. “Since when do you just put your hand on someone’s stomach?” I nodded sympathetically while eying her protruding belly. It doesn’t look much like a stomach, and truth be told, I’m as curious as anyone else. I haven’t felt a baby kick since Good4 was nascent, and I was only four back then.

2 – Corkscrew curls. This is my own personal cross to bear. I may be absorbed in a book or a spreadsheet or just sitting in class when I feel a slight tug at my scalp. Then another. Finally, it isn’t so slight anymore; the explorer has given a lock of hair a solid tug just to see what happens. In the general world, such an assay is followed by “How do you get it to do that?” as if screwy hair is something I consciously create every morning with a magic potion. In college, a world unto itself, the inhabitants have something different on their minds. After the tug they usually muse aloud, “I wonder what the Hooke’s law spring constant is.”

3 – Forearms. While the midsectional pat may be performed predominantly by women, the forearm punch is a male intrusion. It is a way of saying “I know you well enough to invade your space and impose minor damage without incurring retaliation!” Or, in more masculine terms, “We good buds!” Possibly it also means “I want to be your good bud!” because I’ve been on the receiving end from several guys, and if we were good buds they’d know better than to touch me. So it’s either that, or they mistake me for one of the guys. Ouch.

Am I missing anything? I know chazal say that one’s face is public property, but they didn’t mean that it was open to physical advances. Rather, they meant you should keep it looking pretty – preferably smiley – much the way you mow your lawn and whitewash your fence. Which people are supposed to stay off of.