The brains of a carrot
I recently attempted to explain the potential economic side of Mr. Lyman’s plans for a hotel on Pleasant and Main by giving some of the wages reported by state and federal labor departments for hotel-related professions. Unfortunately I made a mistake. Fortunately there is a reader willing to point out my mistake. In this case the reader is Bill Holt, who has indicated my error in describing what the median wage means. I said it was the wage mostly frequently earned. Here is what he wrote:
“No, no, no! The median is the midpoint of the distribution (in this case wages) above which half falls and below which the other half fall. So the median wage means that half of the workers earn more than that number while the other half earns less! The wage most people received is the mode. Get it right, or don’t write!”
I am grateful for the correction, but I think the choice offered between writing properly and not writing at all is a little severe. If that absolutist principle were applied to life in general I think most of us would never get out of bed in the morning for fear of making a mistake. (My dear friend Mattress O’Meara of the Bangor Dreadful News comes to mind in this connection, about whom more later.) Surely it is better to live (and to write) and to risk making a mistake which can be corrected, than not to live (and possibly not write) at all? Certainly in matters factual and mathematical it is always worth trying to be right the first time, but just as certainly there also needs to be grace and mercy, for which I now plead. In this respect I am always cheered to read the corrections in the New York Times, for if the Gnomes of the Times can blunder and confess then I don’t feel quite so bad when I have do.
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Now, about O’Meara, who is somehow aware of his reputation for not doing much. It is a deserved reputation. For example, he is widely believed to have spent the first 49 days of 1997 doing absolutely nothing at all, and it has only got worse since then. Last Sunday he posted a deeply insightful remark on his Facebook page about this tendency to do little or nothing, saying that he had “just watched the movie 'Fargo' from beginning to end! And they say I am lazy!” Well, yes they do. Perhaps he was confused by the name of the movie, and assumed that he had Gone Far in watching it. This is just the sort of wordplay mistake that would be made by a chap whose main physical exercise amounts to doing the New York Times crossword puzzle each day.
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One of my greatest pleasures during the annual Summer Solstice festival on Main Street is to stroll up and down looking at all the people and looking for something tasty to eat. When you spend as much time as I do living in the concrete towers at the foot of Mechanic Street, the occasional ramble among my fellow humans can be quite invigorating even if I am not always quite sure what I am seeing. For example, I saw two bald policemen but briefly mistook them for members of the Boston Red Sox because they wore thick beards. Sadly I was unable to track down the people who were selling corn dogs and deep-fried blooming onions. I badly wanted one or both of them, but for the life of me could not see anyone selling them, even though people were eating them. Writing about this, it now occurs to me that all I had to do was ask somebody where they bought them. Pretty witless, but those who know me will understand.
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If the fault is in ourselves and our ancestors, is it sensible to hope it will not also be in our descendants?
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Twice I was in a place of business on Main Street during the Solstice thingy, and found that their credit card machines were not working. It’s the sort of thing that illustrates how easy it would be to make a civilization like ours collapse into primitivism. I think it would take 20 to 25 minutes without the Internet or satellite technology, and we would all be back to living in caves.
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There is a white cat often seen on Linden Street that seems to have no self-preservation skills whatsoever. You can drive your car right at it at any speed, and all it will do is stare at you. I have been carrying out some not very subtle experiments of this nature, to see how close to it I can drive before it will move. So far I have reached 6 inches, and yet it does not move. I am tempted to conclude that it is not a very smart cat, possibly with the mental capacity of a wilted carrot. Or else it knows very well what it is playing at, and is carrying out a series of experiments with me to see how long I will go on playing this silly game. In which case it possibly thinks I have the mental capacity of a corn dog.
I think we often mistake the mental capacity of certain animals. Take rabbits, such as the nice fat pair that guard the Woodman house at the corner of Crescent and Suffolk. You might think rabbits would be unlikely to outsmart a medium-sized cauliflower, let alone a burglar. But think again. A friend once had a rabbit that her mother’s dog would often chase all around the yard. The rabbit had a great defensive trick. It would run as fast as possible toward the house, rather in the manner of those young English wizards in the book who would run at the brick wall between two railroad platforms in order to magically arrive at the secret platform where they boarded the train to wizard school. The dog, which truly had the brains of a carrot, would run after the rabbit as fast as possible. The agile rabbit would stop running about a foot from the house while the dog, whose brakes matched its brains, would be unable to stop and would crash into the house in a punishing collision that one assumes was followed by the muted strains of rabbit laughter.
David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.