all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

Forays into Logic, Whimsy, Meaning, Hilarity, and Nonsense.

Tag: Ba-dumm-chh

The Blogger Goes Through Some of His Reader Mail!

As you might have supposed, we get a lot of letters from our enthusiastic readers — as well as from the other 96% of the people who read the blog.  [Ba-dumm-cchh]  It doesn’t take long for the mail to pile up on The Blogger’s desk. As it turns out, there are people all over the English-speaking world who are hungry to learn more about philosophy, and who have found that our modest little blog is the very thing they were looking for. It’s deeply gratifying — it really is. It warms our hearts. We love hearing from our devoted readers… and from the other 96% of the people who stumble across the blog.

We thought it would be a nice idea to share with you a representative sampling of the correspondence we’ve been receiving in recent weeks.

Why don’t we start with this one, from ‘Madison’ in Spokane, Washington.

Hi there, Calling All Flockbinkers blog. I just want you to know that I’m a new reader, and maybe I have a lot to learn about whatever it is you’re doing. But I tried taking your Flockbinker Quiz #1 and I actually got sick afterwards. I don’t mean I felt sick in my soul or anything like that, I mean I actually came down with something and had to stay near the bathroom for two days. Please don’t ever post anything like that again. I promise I will keep reading your blog as long as you never ever post anything like that ever again.

Madison, we really appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts.  We certainly had no intention of traumatizing anybody when we designed and posted that quiz, and we’re sorry that you had a bad experience.  If you’ll drop by our “All Flockbinkers” office sometime, we’ll give you a cup of coffee and let you sit in the comfy chair while holding a small, furry stuffed elephant that we keep on the coffee table.  Hopefully that will make you feel much better.  It usually works for us.

Let’s have a look at another letter from one of our readers.

Hmm. What have we here? ‘Laura,’ a teacher in a classical school in Phoenix, Arizona, has this to say:

I’m an educator. I work really hard to provide a strong educational experience for my students, and to develop good assessment tools to use in determining what they’re getting and what they’re not. When I give them a test, it is a carefully crafted instrument that has been thought through in all of its details. I found your ‘flockbinker quiz’ personally offensive. You are mocking the very idea of teaching and learning. Who do you think you are, Mister Blogger, if that is indeed your real name? Who do you think you are? That’s what I want to know. Who do you think you are?

Laura, Laura, you must calm yourself! So turbulent! Could it be that you tried taking the Flockbinker Quiz #1 and did not do well on it, thus revealing your own need for further study… and you are taking your frustration out on us? We could, of course, be wrong. It’s just one possible explanation among many others.

On to another piece of reader mail.

Alright, here’s ‘Langford’ in Jacksonville, Florida, who wrote us the following:

I’ve recently become interested in the study of philosophy, and was overjoyed to come across your blog! Imagine my dismay when I read through your so-called “Flockbinker Quiz #1” and discovered that you were basically making an idiotic joke of mankind’s earnest search for transcendent meaning across the centuries. I assure you that I shall never darken the door of your blog again. If, that is, a blog is the sort of thing that has a ‘door.’ Hmmm. Must give further thought to this question.

Okay, gosh, Langford, wow, that’s terrific, thank you. Golly.

Perhaps we’ve heard enough on the subject of our recent pop quiz. What ELSE might our devoted readers have on their minds?

This one is from ‘L.J.W.’ in Nashville, Tennessee.

Thanks for posting such interesting content on your blog, o administrator of the “Calling All Flockbinkers” site. I have dutifully followed your blog from the very beginning and it has been a consistently enriching experience.

[Editor’s Note: Now THAT’s what we’re talking about. This is probably the sort of thing that the first three readers meant to communicate, but they were having difficulty getting in touch with their true feelings. L.J.W. then continues:]

One thing I have noticed, though, is that you don’t post very much about the plight of women and minorities. Given the messy circumstances of the current election cycle, and the kinds of public discussion being stirred up as a result, I find it remarkable that you haven’t posted more about the oppression of minorities and women. You’re missing out on a great opportunity. You should devote more of your blog to the discussion of the rights of women and minorities.

Thank you, ‘L’, for your thoughtful contribution. Can it be, though, that it has somehow escaped your notice that “flockbinkers” are a minority group? How many flockbinkers do you encounter on a daily basis? Any at all? None? It’s hard to get any more “minority-status” than that. Flockbinkers (as well as wamwams, unicorns, and some of the other entities featured on the blog) are among the rarest of minorities, and — as we’re sure you will acknowledge — they are hardly ever discussed. It’s almost as it they don’t even exist. As if they are invisible.

To touch on the other point you raised, flockbinkers may be women as well. We’re just not sure. We don’t know. Very little is actually known about flockbinkers, which is one of the reasons why the regular discussion of them on this blog is so important.

Mary, from De Pere, Wisconsin, would like to share the following:

“I have incredibly mixed feelings about how The Good Reader is portrayed on your blog. I feel as if I identify with this person, somehow, and I take it personally when you belittle her and make her the butt of your snooty philosophical jokes. Why do you have to portray The Good Reader as if she had no common sense, just because she is not as comfortable as you are when talking about nonsense and things like flockbinkers and unicorns that don’t exist? You, sir, are no gentleman.”

Wow, Mary… and by the way, we genuinely appreciate hearing from you… don’t you think you’re being kind of harsh? After all, if The Good Reader couldn’t take a bit of good-natured ribbing, why then she wouldn’t be a regular on the blog. She’d be on somebody else’s blog, where she could be assured of being treated with the sort of dignity and kindness that is appropriate to the loyal readership of an internationally recognized website. Apparently she’s not into that kind of thing, though, and who can blame her? It sounds ghastly.

This one is from Wee Baby Bobby, who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey. Bobby says,

“Coo, dribble, cough-cough, drool, sneeze, coo, hiccup, yawn.”

All we can say, Bobby, is that you have given voice to what is almost certainly the opinion of most of our readers, many of whom are clearly a bit shy about coming out and saying it. We appreciate your frankness, Bob, and look forward to making your further acquaintance when you’ve taken the time to expand your vocabulary a bit!

And here’s one from Geoffrey, in Kingston-upon-Hull, England.

The fact is, as a lad i was raised on a flockbinker farm and it was my job to take the ‘binkers out to pasture every morning and return them to the fold in the evenings. I was for this reason able to become intimately familiar with their habits, and it is my opinion that your account of them is extremely accurate. I applaud you for getting this kind of information out to the online world.

So… wait.  Um.  Geoffrey, are you actually trying to tell us…

…Oh, just a second, look here. We appear to have another letter from Geoffrey, postmarked a few days later. Let’s see what he has to say in this one.

To Whom It May Concern:  We have reason to believe that you may recently have heard from one of our patients, ‘Geoffrey.’ Would you do us, and him, and his family, the kindness of not encouraging him? ‘Geoffrey’ (not his real name) is a patient here at Foggy Wold Sanitarium for the Mentally Adventurous, And That’s Putting It Mildly. He is not actually supposed to be accessing the internet, and, frankly, we’re not sure how he got on to a computer. It might be helpful to you to know that, when not imagining that he is the child of flockbinker farmers, he will sometimes represent himself as The Knights Who Say ‘Ni’. Not just one of them — all of them, at the same time. We feel that the course of his treatment would be best served if you were to refrain from answering any correspondence you might receive from him.

Respectfully, the Psychiatric Staff
Foggy Wold Sanitarium for the Mentally Adventurous, And That’s Putting It Mildly

Well. The less said on this score, the better.

Finally, we have a letter from Leticia, in Windsor, Ontario. It is apparently Leticia’s opinion that…

…your blog is one of the most entertaining and informative things I’ve come across in a long while on the internet. In comparison with your lively and witty content, everything else I read online seems like a featureless, waterless desert.

Gosh, thanks there, Leticia! Even if we did made you up out of thin air in order to salvage this post, your kind approbation still means a great deal to us. Look here, we’ll take whatever we can get.

And thus we bring to an end this episode of “Reader Mail.” The next time we share with you some of the letters we’ve gotten from our readers, it will not be right on the heels of a Quiz that a large proportion of our readership seems to have struggled with. Ahem.

An Attempt to Get to the Bottom of This “Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence” Thing

Greetings, gentle readers.  (As well as those of you who are actually reading the blog.)  (Ba – dumm – chh.)

Several posts ago, i fraudulently claimed that the upcoming post would involve more information about the joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence.  I meant well!  I really was intending to talk about that next.  But then i went off on a tangent about my PechaKucha presentation, and then it was Christmas, and what with one thing and another, the Scotsmen got put on a back burner.

As you might well imagine, they were MUCH happier when they were sitting on the fence.  (Ba – dumm – chh.)

Which is where they find themselves once again, because this is the post you’ve been promised, o gentle readers.  (And those of you who are actually reading the blog.  Ba – dumm – chh.)

By way of reminder, let me refresh you on how the “three Scotsmen” joke goes.

“So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”

That’s it.  That’s the joke.  That’s as far as it ever gets.  That’s all there is.

We-e-ell… that’s not exactly true.  There have been some attempts to finish the joke.  Here’s one of the more noteworthy examples:

So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.

And the first one says,
“All flockbinkers are treadknicious.”

Then the second Scotsman says,
“All wamwams are flockbinkers.”

And the third Scotsman says,
“Would ye rather find y’rself confronted by a self-referential absurdity,
or a non-sequitur disguised as a joke about three Scotsmen?”

A respectful silence followed.

Ahhhh.  Yes.  Now we’re talkin’ ’bout the good stuff.

But, you see, not everyone has been endowed with the philosophical equipment to fully appreciate a joke like that.  Perhaps that’s one reason why the standard form of the joke is the incomplete version, just the opening line.  Because if i try to finish it, the end product will end up just a wee bit too philosophically rich for your average taste.

But there is another finished version of the joke: one which, like the one above, is going to end up on the back of a t-shirt one of these days.

(I hear you tentatively snickering, o less-than-gentle reader.  You thought that was a joke, didn’t you.  Hah!  Note the conspicuous absence of either boldface print or a “ba-dumm-chh” following the statement.  It was most assuredly NOT a joke; it was the condensed form of a business plan.  I would advise you to learn the difference.  But i fear we digress.)  This other version of the joke is of particular interest as we seek to understand just what the joke is all about.  And here it is:

So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.

And the first one says,
“Blah blah blah blah blah.”

Then the second Scotsman says,
“Mumble mumble mumble.”

Then the third Scotsman says,
“Yada yada yada yada.”

Your mistake, of course, was in thinking that just because something is a joke, it’s going to be funny.

You’re what, how old? You should know better by now.

All that was the joke, including the last part.  Well, no: technically, the last part was the part that will follow the joke as it is displayed on the back of the t-shirt.

Man, these t-shirts are going to be something else.

But note what this version of the joke does for us.  It strips the joke down to its constituent elements.  It reveals the underlying skeleton of the joke.  And the joke turns out to have the same form as a great many other three-part jokes.  That form is as follows:

So there were three [entities] [engaged in some activity].

And the first [entity] [A] [says or does something].

And the second [entity] [B] [says or does something that is closely parallel to what A said or did]

And the third [entity] [C] [says or does something that is a startling departure from what A and B said or did, from which dissonance arises the humor value of the joke].

In keeping with that analysis, our joke above about the three Scotsmen is true to form.  The first Scotsman says, “Blah blah blah blah blah.”  The second Scotsman says, “Mumble mumble mumble.”  These are the usual sorts of things that you expect to hear a Scotsman say, when you encounter him seated on a fence.  But then!  Ah!  The third Scotsman!  When we get to him, we are treated to a delightful surprise: he says, “Yada yada yada yada.”

The third Scotsman turns out to be Jerry Seinfeld!

But let’s get back to the pure, unadorned, basic version of the joke.  “So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”  There is something classic, lean and lovely about the basic version, the default version.  It doesn’t say too much.  It says just enough.  It’s thrifty and economical, in much the same way that Scotsmen are reputed to be.

You can almost mentally supply the rest, if you’ve ever heard a three-part joke.  You can envision the first Scotsman saying something, then the second Scotsman saying something, then the third Scotsman saying something surprising that causes your diaphragm to begin spontaneously leaping up and down, and a sort of staccato wheezing sound come out of your mouth.  All you need is that opening line, and you can experience the joke’s potential all by yourself, with no adult supervision.

It’s almost as if everything the joke was ever destined to be is wrapped up in that opening line, and once you’ve heard the line, the joke’s inner essence begins to unfold within you, like the fruit of the Banyan tree.  Or the flower of the lotus.  Um, or something.

Interestingly, the same principle would likely not work with a different opener.  Observe closely:

“So there were these three kittens in a pet shop window, see.”

Who cares?  No one wants to hear the rest of the joke.  You can just tell it’s not going to be funny.

Or this:

“Okay, so there were these three disgruntled postal workers shooting up a McDonald’s right?”

Nope.  Too risky.  If your listeners are nervous about whether the subject-matter is politically correct, they’re not going to laugh.  They’ll be looking over their shoulders to see if anyone else is laughing.

Or this:

“So there were three intransitive verbs, and they walk into a bar, see.”

Nope.  Too abstract.  Maybe if you’re at a cocktail party with a bunch of grammarians, that one would go over uproariously.  You really need to know your audience.

The point i’m making, the Scotsmen joke has a kind of universal appeal.  As soon as that opening line hits, you’ve got the crowd in the palm of your hand.  They don’t need to hear any more.  They’re happy.  You’ve succeeded.  “So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”  Just sit back and watch the magic happen.  One business-looking fellow in the middle of the room is thinking, “Now here’s a joke that a man can sink his teeth into.”  And over near the punch bowl, a woman is thinking, “Oooohh, Scotsmen, i bet they’re wearing kilts and everything.”  And off in the corner, a young guy in wire-rims and a turtleneck is thinking, “Golly, i wonder if this joke is going to turn out to have been a self-referential absurdity, or…” (and here he chuckles to himself) “…a non-sequitur disguised as a joke about three Scotsmen?”

See?  Something in it for everybody.

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