all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: ontology

The Trouble with Tribbles, Is That They’re Not Treadknicious

Abstract:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei are brought in as expert witnesses to talk about the ontological status of tribbles; Shatner and Takei get into a tiff over who did or did not attend whose wedding; and Leonard Nimoy admits that the “Bilbo Baggins” song was not his finest moment.


 

One of the recurring themes addressed on this blog is ontology: it’s one of the major branches of philosophy, and involves the discussion of reality, identity, what things are, what kinds of things there are, how things are to be named, understood, categorized. We’ve talked about the ontological status of flockbinkers, unicorns, disgruntled postal workers. We’ve talked about the ontological status of wamwams, Your Mom, and a shopping spree at Whole Foods where you get away without spending more than $187.00. We’ve talked about the ontological status of Republicrats, Democricans, this blog’s readership, and Conan O’Brien’s haircut.

But you know one entity that has not been on the receiving end of our trenchant philosophical analysis?

Tribbles.

You know: tribbles. The little furry puffball things from Star Trek. Isn’t it high time we took the bull by the horns (as it were) and investigated the ontological status of tribbles? Of course it is. You know it is.

Indeed, it might be argued — with some degree of force — that “the trouble with tribbles” is that we don’t yet know whether they are treadknicious. In such a situation, it is often recommended that one appeal to established expertise. And who, i ask you, would know more about tribbles than the cast of the original Star Trek television series?

The Good Reader:  Their moms would.

The Blogger:  What?

The Good Reader:  If you want to know all about tribbles, you should ask their moms.

The Blogger:  You know what? You said something very similar when we were talking about flockbinkers a few years ago.

[Editor’s Note: Here is a transcript of that conversation.]

The Good Reader:  Well, good on me! I consistently say the thing that makes the most sense. If you want to know all about something, whether it’s a tribble, a flockbinker, a philosopher, or a unicorn, you just go ahead and ask its mom.

The Blogger:  But of course, the mother of a tribble would be a tribble as well, so all we’re doing is creating a hall of mirrors. A cute, furry, purring, ravenous hall of mirrors. Here’s the problem: both a tribble and its mother are representative types of a larger category, the very category that is under….

The Good Reader:  [placing her hands over her ears]  I can’t hear you, i can’t hear you, i can’t hear you.

The Blogger:  Well, i guess that puts that particular discussion to bed.

The Good Reader:  And by the way, don’t think i didn’t catch that bit about taking the bull by the horns. I did. I saw that. You might as well have said flockbinker. Take the flockbinker by the horns.

The Blogger:  [sigh]  I don’t believe you’re ever going to let go of that obsession you have, with whether flockbinkers have horns. We’ve been over this.

[Editor’s Note: And here is a transcript of THAT conversation… although, be warned, the question of whether The Good Reader is the same person as The Timid Reader is a somewhat complicated one.]

The Good Reader:  Yes, we have. And — as usual — you sidestepped and danced around the issue and refused to give a straight answer to the question. So i still don’t know whether flockbinkers have horns.

The Blogger:  Well, i fear the issue of the hornlessness or hornfulness of flockbinkers will have to wait until another day. Today, we have other fish to fry. Or, more accurately, tribbles.

The Good Reader:  We’re having fried tribbles?

The Blogger:  Hah! It might be more exact to say that we’re roasting tribbles. I’ve invited a panel of experts to come on the blog to discuss the ontology of tribbles, including the burning question of whether or not they are treadknicious. It’ll be like we’re having a celebrity tribble roast.

 

While waiting for the panel of experts to assemble, why don’t we assemble a summary statement on what tribbles are… you know, for the uninitiated… and of why someone might understandably wonder whether they are treadknicious?

Origin

Tribbles were first introduced in Season Two of Star Trek, at the very end of December, 1967, between Christmas and the New Year. That now-iconic episode was called The Trouble with Tribbles. The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, who was not excited about the episode — he thought it was too comical and it violated the sense of gravitas that he was wanting to foster in the series — figured that it would do less damage if buried in the middle of the holiday season when people would be likely to be watching other things. Hah!

Tribbles appeared subsequently in various episodes of other series that were part of the Star Trek canon, including Deep Space Nine (Episode: “Trials and Tribble-ations”) and Star Trek: Discovery (Episode: “Context Is for Kings”).

Physical description

Tribbles are small and round — spherical or slightly oblong. (A tribble can be held comfortably in the palm of one hand, or in two hands together.) They are covered in thick fur all around. Tribbles are basically headless guinea pigs with no legs and no teeth.

Feeding and Reproductive habits

Tribbles are omnivorous, although they prefer a vegetarian diet. Their ideal diet consists of whole grains, though under duress they will eat Rice Krispies treats, any breakfast cereals with the word “Cap’n” in the name, Ding Dong snack cakes, trail mix if it doesn’t have those yellow raisins in it, and, interestingly, the cheezy sausage balls that are such a hit at Christmas parties.

Okay, only the first part of that explanation was true.

Tribbles are hermaphroditic and are born pregnant. They reproduce at an alarming rate. A typical well-fed tribble will bear a litter of ten every twelve hours. If their exponential population growth is left unchecked, they can overwhelm an entire ecosystem. This, indeed, is The Trouble with Tribbles referenced in the Star Trek episode bearing the same name.

Suitability as pets

Tribbles are adorable, furry and cuddly, and they emit a soft cooing sound that is soothing to the human nervous system. They also multiply faster than Twitter accounts with the word ‘Stormy’ in the name. For this reason, it is recommended that only trained biologists keep them, and only under strict laboratory conditions.

Tribbles vs. Klingons

Klingons don’t like tribbles. Tribbles don’t like Klingons.

Whether tribbles are treadknicious

This really is the question, isn’t it? This is what it all comes down to. Hopefully, our panel of experts will be able to shed some light on this perplexing topic. And — what excellent timing! — here they come.

 

William Shatner:  Well, the talent has arrived. Where is the script, and when do i get paid?

George Takei:  [rolls his eyes]

The Blogger:  Actually, i’ve invited the three of you here to draw upon your years of experience with tribbles.

Leonard Nimoy:  If i have understood you correctly, the question on the table is: Whether, and in what sense, tribbles are treadknicious.

The Blogger:  That’s exactly right! Mr. Spock has once again applied his rational intellect and identified the crux of the matter.

Leonard Nimoy:  [rolls his eyes]

George Takei:  The question really seems to hinge, doesn’t it, on what we mean by the word ‘treadknicious’?

William Shatner:  Ooooohh. Mister Takei here appears to be quite the expert.

Leonard Nimoy:  Ah, but George does know a thing or two about tribbles. If memory serves, George, didn’t you have a centerpiece at your wedding reception made up of several hundred tribbles bundled together with baling wire?

William Shatner:  What? Is this true? A tribble centerpiece?

George Takei:  I did! It was all the talk. Of course, you’d know that if you had bothered to come to my wedding.

William Shatner:  Again with the wedding!  [Shatner turns and directs his attention to the reading audience]  This is his favorite theme. He never tires of harping on it. I have explained this at least seven hundred times, in numerous interviews: I never received an invitation to this man’s wedding.

George Takei:  Ah, the old “my invitation appears to have been lost in the mail” ploy.

William Shatner:  I barely even know this man. He was a supporting actor in a television show of which i was the star, a long time ago.

George Takei:  And several films.

William Shatner:  Right, the films, those too. And he can’t stop harping on whether or not i was at his wedding. Frankly, i don’t even remember. Maybe i was there. Who can remember such teency little details?

George Takei:  Believe me, you weren’t there. Your ego would have taken up all the available space in the reception hall.

Leonard Nimoy:  Gentlemen, as riveting as this discussion of George’s wedding guest list undeniably is, i think we’re losing sight of the main point of the discussion.

George Takei:  Tribbles.

William Shatner:  And whether there were any in attendance at George’s wedding.

George Takei:  All the tribbles that were invited to the wedding, actually showed up.

William Shatner:  Okay. That was clever. I’ll give you that.

Leonard Nimoy:  The point at issue, if i may refresh the screen for a moment, is this: Whether or not tribbles are treadknicious.

Confucius:  And, if they are, whether they are ‘treadknicious’ in the same sense in which flockbinkers are ‘treadknicious’.

Aristotle:  You took the words right out of my mouth.

The Buddha:  The way of silence leads toward clarity.

The Blogger:  Enough already! Too many extraneous characters crowding up this blog post. Confucius, Aristotle, Buddha, shoo! Off with you! You’ll all have other chances in future posts.

A Mysterious, Masked Bystander:  Woww.

The Blogger:  That includes you too, Owen. Sorry bud; we’ll feature you again soon. I think i hear Wes Anderson calling for you.

The Good Reader:  Golly! I’ve never seen you take control of your own blog like that before. That was pretty decisive, there. I must confess — i’m developing a new respect for whether you even know what you’re doing with this ‘blogging’ thing.

The Blogger:  [turning beet-red with pleasure]  Why, that may have been the closest thing to a compliment you’ve yet paid me! I can’t even think straight!

Leonard Nimoy:   [murmuring]  You’re worse than Shatner.

William Shatner:  I heard that. And you want to know who’s “worse than Shatner”? I’ll tell you who’s “worse than Shatner.”  [begins singing]  “Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, the bravest little hobbit of them all!”

Leonard Nimoy:  I will freely confess that the “Bilbo Baggins” song was not my finest moment. Perhaps, though, under the present circumstances, i might be excused for bringing up a certain performance of “Rocket Man” that has become notorious throughout the internet?

The Blogger:  Okay, fellas, fun’s over, back to the point. Tribbles. The trouble with tribbles. What reasons have we for thinking that they might be treadknicious?

George Takei:  What does ‘treadknicious’ even mean?

Leonard Nimoy:  If i am not mistaken, The Blogger has left it as an intentionally undefined term, to be used as a placeholder in the construction of logical syllogisms.

William Shatner:  The trouble with tribbles is… perhaps that they’re topsy-turvy? Or that they twist and turn? Do they terrify toddlers? Maybe they’re terrifically telescopic. Maybe they’re tremendous and twisted.

George Takei:  Nimoy, what’s he doing?

Leonard Nimoy:  He appears to be listing off all the words he knows beginning with ‘t’.

William Shatner:  For your information, it might help us to explain whether tribbles are treycarnivorous. Or not.

[Nimoy and Takei roll their eyes in unison]

The Good Reader:  If i may pipe up in Mr. Shatner’s defense…? Putting together a list of things that begin with ‘t’ is probably as good a way to figure out what’s treadknicious as anything else. And Mr. Nimoy is right, too: The Blogger has NEVER defined the word ‘treadknicious’ on this blog. Not to my satisfaction.

William Shatner:  [glances appreciatively at The Good Reader]  The loyalty of my fans has always been deeply gratifying to me.

The Good Reader:  Well, i mean, i wouldn’t necessarily call myself a — um — one of your — well, as i come to think about it, i suppose i must have seen Star Wars at some point.

[All present — with the exception of The Good Reader — engage in one massive rollicking communal eye roll]

Leonard Nimoy:  It is undoubtedly amusing to make lists of words beginning with ‘t’ in the hope of gaining insight into what it means for a thing to be ‘treadknicious’. But…

[Nimoy hesitates, as if bracing himself for what he knows is coming next]

Everybody:  Say it, say it, say it, say it, say it, say it, say it.

Leonard Nimoy:  [sigh] …it is not logical.

The Blogger:  I was SO hoping you would say that at some point.

Leonard Nimoy:  Happy to oblige. It is every actor’s dream to be permanently ossified as a character he played on TV 50 years ago.

William Shatner:  Especially dead ones.

The Blogger:  What?

William Shatner:  Dead actors. Didn’t you know? Leonard Nimoy has gone on to his eternal reward. Frankly, i don’t know how you got him to participate in this little panel discussion. He’s deader than a doornail.

George Takei:  Yet he hasn’t lost his mojo. There are many among us who should do as well.

William Shatner:  Hey, i resemble that remark! Look, at least i have the virtue of being very much alive.

George Takei:  Expert opinion is divided on that point.

The Blogger:  [indicating “time out” with his hands]  So, fellas, fellas, are we any closer to determining whether tribbles are treadknicious?

William Shatner:  It’s a terribly tantalizing train of inTerrogation.

George Takei:  Please, just stop. I promise i’ll never bring up the wedding issue again.

 

Epilogue:  A word on the relationship between Takei and Shatner

A simple Google or YouTube search will unearth a gold mine of material dealing with the ongoing feud between William Shatner and George Takei, including the burning issue of whether Shatner was invited to, and subsequently chose not to attend, a certain public event in which Takei was one of the, er, main participants. Some of the language i have here placed in their mouths comes pretty close to being a literal transcript of statements the two of them have made in interviews.

Second Epilogue:  Leonard Nimoy’s immortal “Bilbo Baggins” song

You haven’t fully experienced the range of Leonard Nimoy’s talent if you’ve not heard, or seen the video for, his song The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins (1967). It will turn your world inside-out. For what it’s worth, Nimoy has also authored a number of books over the years, including several volumes of sentimental poetry with titles like Will I Think of You? and We Are All Children Searching for Love. I guess when your public reputation has been built on the character of an emotionless Vulcan, you may want to go out of your way to establish your street cred as a man of deep feeling.

Third Epilogue:  Shatner’s out-of-this-world rendition of “Rocket Man”

Nimoy had his “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”… and Shatner had his “Rocket Man.” This performance of the classic Elton John / Bernie Taupin song Rocket Man is equal parts hilarious, cringe-worthy, and in a strange way, insanely cool. And i think it’s gonna be a long, long time ’til i can hear Elton John’s original version without thinking of William Shatner’s sendup of it.

 

 

The Long-Awaited Flockbinker Pop Quiz #2!

From time to time… well, let’s just be brutally honest, about once every couple of years… the Blogger undertakes to test how closely attentive his readers have been. The first time we offered a pop quiz on this blog (“Your Very First ‘Flockbinkers’ Pop Quiz“) the thing really was a roaring success, and….

The Good Reader:  That’s not how i remember it. I seem to recall that lots of people were seriously bothered by it. Many of your readers found it confusing and pointless. People accused you of mocking the very idea of philosophy. You got hate mail. You even had to devote a whole post to MY objections. And i’m your most devoted fan.

The Blogger:  Oh, golly, The Good Reader, this really isn’t the time or the place….

The Good Reader:  That first Pop Quiz was a bizarre mishmash of random silliness and even more random silliness; and the one thing it was NOT, was an informative test of anybody’s knowledge of philosophy, or of anything else.

The Blogger:  It seems to me that we’ve covered all of this ground before, haven’t we? Anyway, Good Reader, i’ve turned over a new leaf. I’m a changed man. I no longer include strange, sad attempts at humor or oddball bursts of surreal self-referentiality in my quizzes. You’ll see.

The Good Reader:  Hrmmff. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and at least have a look.

The Blogger:  Although, be warned, you know i can’t control what the readers are gonna do once they start taking the quiz and getting into discussions with each other about what the right answers are.

The Good Reader:  No. Just no. Do not do that again. Don’t even think about it. See, that’s just the sort of nonsense that i’m talking about!

The Blogger:  Hey, what? It’s not me doing it, it’s the people taking the quiz! I can’t control people who have free will and internet access.

The Good Reader:  You are so full of baloney! You and i both know that it’s you inventing those “readers” who are “taking the quiz” so that you can get a few cheap laughs.

The Blogger:  Oops, ahem… will you look at the time! Sorry, The Good Reader, i’m afraid we’re gonna have to wrap up this introduction. Onward ho, to the long-awaited follow-up to that first, epic quiz. It’s been a couple of years, and we’ve covered a lot of territory since then!

Your answers, o my faithful readers, to the following ten questions (each with ten possible answers, numbered ‘a’ through ‘j’) should give a fair indication of whether you’ve been paying attention of not.

 

1.  According to this post that went up during the last week of October — later supplemented by this follow-up post (“A Philosopher Hands out Candy — and Philosophy Classics — to Trick-or-Treaters“), which of the following are terrific ideas for something to identify as, for Hallowe’en?

a.  A character that Jane Austen would have included in her novel Persuasion, if only she’d known what she was doing as an author.

b.  An accident over on Aisle Five involving a small child, a rogue shopping cart, and several dozen boxes of breakfast cereal.

c.  A family of five aliens whose civilization has been destroyed by other, even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.

d.  Your Mom.

e.  A mathematical impossibility.

f.  The vicissitudes of Justin Bieber’s career.

g.  A duck.

h.  The entire inventory of a Dollar Tree.

i.  Conan O’Brien’s haircut.

j.  Conan O’Brien’s bank account, including whatever he’s got hidden away offshore.

 

2.  As represented in a recent post to this blog, which of the following might accurately be said of Confucius and the Buddha when they are dining together in a public restaurant?

a.  Confucius has a rough time getting Buddha to stay on task, i.e. look at the menu and decide what he wants to order.

b.  Buddha has a distressing tendency to say mysterious, metaphysically odd things to the server, who — bless his heart — is just trying to find out what they want to eat.

c.  Confucius and the Buddha are frequently joined by Lao Tzu, Mo Tzu, Mao Tse-Tung, The Wu Tang Clan, Amy Tan, Bruce Lee, Chuck D, and Fred Ho — the proprietor of a little Chinese short order place on Market St.

d.  Buddha has an appalling habit of chewing with his mouth open, a habit which sends Confucius around the bend.

e.  Confucius tends to talk in phrases that sound like they came out of a fortune cookie: i.e. “You will come into an unexpected sum of money.”

f.  Both Confucius and the Buddha tend to order off-menu; for instance, “No, i want you to bring the goat in here and kill it right next to our table so we can see if you’ve done it properly.”

g.  Buddha’s tendency to fade in and out of nirvana is not only problematic for their interactions with the waitstaff, but infuriating to Confucius, who considers such antics to be out of keeping with proper social decorum.

h.  Their favorite restaurant is Panda Express, followed by Logan’s Roadhouse, Taco Bell, and CiCi’s Pizza.

i.  Buddha never tires of pulling out his favorite joke, “Make me one with everything.”

j.  Confucius tends to have a way with the ladies, which may have been all cool and stuff in the 500s BC, but can get you into seriously hot water in the year 2017.

 

3.  Which of these statements is the Buddha unlikely to have said?

a.  The self is an illusion.

b.  The self is an elf on a shelf.

c.  The self is in a state of constant evolution, and is in fact living under an assumed name in a duplex in Des Plaines, Illinois.

d.  Make me One with Everything.

e.  Make me one with two patties — medium-well — double-cheese, hold the lettuce, and could i have some of those little hot peppers?

f.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

g.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Yellow Brick Road.

h.  Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

i.  I have heard the sound of one hand clapping… geez, is this an audience, or an oil painting?

j.  To transcend the limitations of the physical form, you must gaze into the yawning emptiness of the infinite abyss… naw, i’m kidding, i’m kidding. Calm down! I didn’t mean it! Jeepers! You people.

 

4.  In a recent post to this blog (The Blogger Encounters the Security Guard), an interesting discussion occurs between two philosophers representing very different walks of life. Which of the following took place during that discussion?

a.  The Blogger is surprised to find a philosopher working security at a medical center.

b.  The Blogger is even more surprised to find a medical center located in the middle of the seventh hole at Bud’s Putt Putt Golf Paradise.

c.  The blogger and the security guard agree that philosophy is no longer popular or well understood among the masses.

d.  The blogger and the security guard agree, furthermore, that the KFC on Highway 2 needs to bring back their all-you-can-scarf-down buffet.

e.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by sheer force of logical argument.

f.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by quoting to him the first 357 lines of Beowulf, in the original Anglo-Saxon.

g.  The security guard takes out a criminal and pays for dinner and drinks, but not the movie… who can afford 12 bucks for a movie on a security guard’s wages?

h.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for a moron.

i.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for Kevin James.

j.  The blogger and the security guard discuss the fact that security guards, in general, tend to be viewed as intellectual giants with a vast breadth of knowledge of history, philosophy, the sciences, literature and the fine arts.

 

5.  Logical syllogisms, as represented in the recent post “Now, Boys and Girls, Let’s Look at Some Syllogisms“….

a.  are typically made up of two premises and a conclusion.

b.  are often regarded as the basic building blocks of a logical argument.

c.  are examples of deductive reasoning.

d.  are generally regarded as superior to ‘illogical syllogisms,’ because hey, honestly, what would even be the point?

e.  sometimes get into frustrating conflicts with emotional syllogisms.

f.  are kind of like recipes, and kind of like instruction manuals, and kind of like graphic novels, and kind of like Shakespeare’s play “A Comedy of Errors.”

g.  very often have technical terms in them like ‘flockbinker’ and ‘wamwam’ and ‘throckwhistle’ and ‘ooga-booga.’

h.  were pioneered by classical philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Peter Abelard, John Duns Scotus, and Christopher Walken.

i.  form the basis for several popular party games.

j.  can be found in the darnedest places, like, oh, for instance, the third stall from the end in the men’s room at the Carmike 18 Theater over on South Terrace Road.

 

6.  Flockbinkers and unicorns…

a.  are probably not the same thing, and certainly don’t hang out at the same nightclubs.

b.  are both (probably) varieties of small slippery fishes with eight legs and a stinger.

c.  have this in common: that they both refuse to eat cheese sandwiches that have had the crust trimmed off.

d.  are rarely seen together in public, but can occasionally be found together on medieval tapestries.

e.  have this in common: that they are both awfully fun to say out loud. I mean, seriously: “Flockbinker.” “Unicorn.”  Dude, i’m in stitches!

f.  are both nonexistent, but in different ways.

g.  Wait, how can two nonexistent things be nonexistent “in different ways?” Either something exists, or it doesn’t.

h.  Well that just shows how much you know about philosophy. Blogger, may i make a suggestion? Perhaps the younger ones should be given a simpler quiz.

i.  “The younger ones”…? Why, you slimeball, i oughta….

j.  Hey guys, sorry to arrive late to the party. May i toss my two cents’ worth in? About nonexistent things being nonexistent in different ways? Like, maybe, Moby-Dick is one kind of nonexistent, and a square circle is a different kind of nonexistent, and an efficiently run government bureau is even a different kind of nonexistent. I’m just spitballin’ here.

j2.  Oh, my gosh, i’m surrounded. These people are everywhere. Beam me up, Scotty.

 

7.  Which of the following statements can accurately be made of ‘Horse People’…? You may refer to this post from a couple of years ago if you need a refresher on what ‘horse people’ are.

a.  Horse People are essentially indistinguishable from unicorn people.

b.  Horse people and unicorn people are two completely different categories. A unicorn person would not be caught dead owning a regular horse, and many horse people don’t even believe in the existence of unicorns.

c.  Horse People are not at all the same people as the people who travel to neighboring planets in a space vehicle made by strapping 40 toaster-ovens together.

d.  Horse People tend often (but not always) to also be into centaurs, though not usually those winged horses, which honestly are not even a real thing.

e.  Horse People constitute one major category of humanity, the other category being ‘guinea pig people.’

f.  Expert opinion is divided on the issue of whether people who would be into horses, if they were ever exposed to one, ought to be considered ‘horse people’ or merely ‘people.’

g.  Horse People generally, and for reasons not yet fully understood, have difficulty distinguishing between flockbinkers and wamwams.

h.  Horse People are not necessarily all that good at navigating taxonomical frameworks.

i.  Horse People can be mighty touchy when you try to apply philosophical analysis to their putative truth-claims.

j.  There is a tiny subset of horse people called “horse with no name people.” These people are often found in deserts and have selective memory issues.

 

8. Which of the following statements would be true in reference to ontology and categories?

a.  Ontology is that branch of philosophy that deals with being: what existence is, what it means for something to exist, what kinds of things there are, and how they are related to each other.

b.  “Ontology, shmontology” is a statement often heard around philosophy conferences.

c.  One of the more interesting debates in ancient and medieval philosophy concerned the question of how ‘real’ categories are. Do categories actually exist, or only the things in them? Are categories mere conveniences that we develop in order to make sense of our world? All of that, by the way, was one answer to the question.

d.  Scattergories is a great game for training kids in the basics of philosophy.

e.  A few more good philosophy games would include “Go Fish,” “Twister,” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” Cow tipping is also a favorite.

f.  There are two kinds of people in the world: those who enjoy setting up categories, and those who do not.

g.  Heh heh, i saw what you did there.

h.  Dude, this is a quiz. You can’t just randomly make comments in the section that’s supposed to be for the answers to the questions.

i.  Well, i can, and i just did. Maybe you’d like to try doing something about it.

j.  I have never been more terrified in my life. I am literally trembling in my boots.

j-point-5.  Come over here and say that. Come on. Come on. Let’s see what you got.

j-point-7.  Fellas, fellas, geez, can you take it outside? We’re trying to run a quiz here.

 

9. Which of the following can accurately be said of philosophy?

a.  Philosophy is a fool’s game.

b.  Philosophy is something your mom would probably really get into.

c.  Philosophy is a rapidly disappearing intellectual discipline.

d.  Philosophy is for people who lack the people-skills to go into business, and aren’t coordinated enough to operate heavy machinery.

e.  You’ll very likely be better at Philosophy if you have a Greek or German name, than if your name is, oh, for instance, Donnie McDonald.

f.  Philosophy concerns mainly a bunch of fancy terms and arguments about obscure things like the ontological status of your mom.

g.  Dude, the  references to someone’s mom stopped being funny a long time ago.

h.  Hey, big fella, why don’t you do you. Hmmm? I’ll do me, and you do you.

i.  Please. “You do you” is one of the most incoherent suggestions you can make to somebody, right up there with “be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.”

j.  Watch it, son, now you’re getting personal. I’ve got that one about “be yourself” as wallpaper on my computer screen.

j-and-one-third.  Fellas! Please! Seriously, we’re trying to conduct a quiz here. Take the argument outside.

 

10. Which of the following are characters that have, at some point or another, made an appearance on this blog?

a.  Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major

b.  Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith

c.  Confucius and the Buddha

d.  Smokey and the Bandit

e.  The Captain and Tennille

f.  Three Scotsmen sitting on a fence

g.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

h.  The Lone Rider of the Apocalypse

i.  The Blogger

j.  The Good Reader

j.1.  The Decent Reader, So Long as the Book Isn’t Too Long

j.2.  The Reader Who Struggles with Words of More than Two Syllables

j.25.  Chuck Norris

j.5.  Your Mom

j.75.  The kid with the wonky nose and a haircut that looks like an abstract sculpture gone terribly wrong, who works at the McDonald’s on E. 3rd Street

j.9.  A mob of crazed orangutans, pelting good boys named ‘James’ with frozen waffles

j.92715.  A mob of boys named ‘James,’ pelting crazed orangutans with frozen waffles

 

Epilogue

The Good Reader:  I knew it. I knew he was going to do it again. I just knew it.

 

 

A Philosopher Hands out Candy (and Philosophy Classics) to Trick-or-Treaters

This year, for the first time in several decades — indeed, the first time in the entirety of my adult incarnation — i decided to do Hallowe’en.

I’ve never gotten really excited about Hallowe’en. As a philosopher, i feel a need to know what i’m celebrating when i observe a holiday, and Hallowe’en seems to be just a confusing hash of ancient pagan imagery, modern horror, Disney, magical unicorns, and contemporary kiddie-fied commercialization.

However, this year i decided to get with the program; you know, find out what everyone else has been experiencing all this time. And it seemed fitting that, as a philosopher, i should provide the kiddoes with a uniquely philosophical experience that they’d be unlikely to get at the other houses.

Upon discovering that some people like to dress up the front of their home to reflect the spirit of the holiday, i decided to make an attempt. I chose as my theme the decay of Western Civilization… the tragic, inexorable unraveling of more than two thousand years of achievement and tradition… the entropic deterioration of centuries’ worth of cultural advancement and rational thought… leaving a (metaphorically speaking) dilapidated, moss-grown, disintegrating ruin. The advantage here is that i didn’t really have to do anything to decorate. My front porch already looks like that.

Then i hauled a big cauldron onto my porch and loaded it up with goodies for the little trick-or-treaters. Finally, i put on my bow-tie and wire-rimmed spectacles (my ‘philosopher’ costume) and i was ready to go.

The evening, i must say, went very well.

By way of illustration, why don’t i narrate for you my encounters with three different batches of trick-or-treaters, each group interesting in its own way. Let’s start with a group of five children that came by pretty early on, while it was still light out.

 

Group One

“Greetings,” i said to the group at large. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Breakdown of Western Civilization.”

They eyed the front of my house apprehensively, as if searching for a notice of condemnation by the building inspector.

“And what are you?” i asked the first kid who bravely stepped up to my porch.

“I’m Conan O’Brien’s haircut,” he explained.

“Ah!” i said. “Not bad. I can see it. An extremely accurate likeness. And you?” i asked the next kid.

“I’m an ocelot that identifies as a manatee that is actually a bottle of Dr. Pepper.”

“That’s exactly what i would have guessed. Very clever. Layers of ontological complexity. I like it.”

“And i,” said the next kid, an absolutely whacking redhead, “am a mathematical impossibility.”

“No kidding!” i said. “That’s amazing! Can you be more specific?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’m the square root of peace and love for all humankind.”

Dig,” i said. “Oh yeah. Wow. Can you dig it.”

We all sort of dug it for a few seconds.

“Yeah,” said Conan O’Brien’s haircut, quietly. “Crazy.”

“And what about you?” i asked the next kid.

In the most earnest, heartfelt voice i have ever heard emerge from the body of a human being, he said, “I am a single tear from the eye of a magical unicorn.”

“Well, of course you are,” i acknowledged. “Even a fool can see that. Good work.”

The fifth and last kid stepped forth boldly. “And what are you?” i asked.

“Your Mom,” he said, simply.

“Roger that,” i said, and reached into my cauldron to fish out goodies for each of the kids.

Now, i’m afraid we need to pause a moment before going on.

Most regular people, when preparing to receive trick-or-treaters, will stock up on Mounds mini-bars, Kit Kats, Jolly Ranchers, and those awful candy corn things. But do not forget that we are here dealing with a philosopher, not a normal person. My cauldron was stocked with something much better than candy: pocket paperback editions of some of the shorter philosophy classics. To wit: John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Rene Descartes’ Discourse on Method. Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. And Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. By way of concession to the tastes of children, i also had a pile of 100 Grillion Dollar Bars in there. To sweeten the deal, as it were.

“For you,” i said to the one who’d identified as my Mom, “a copy of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and a 100 Grillion Dollar Bar.”

“But it’s not real!” he demurred.

“What?” i said. “It is absolutely real! This is an authorized edition of the Tractatus!”

“I meant the 100 Grillion dollars.”

“Oh,” i said. “Hmmm. Define real.”

“Cool, a philosopher who’s also a smart-aleck. I can’t wait to tell my friends.”

I was not going to take this from a pipsqueak whose idea of a Hallowe’en costume was a lackluster impersonation of my Maternal Ancestor. “You were trick-or-treating in the hope of amassing a fortune?” i demanded. “No. You were trick-or-treating in the hope of getting lots of candy. This is candy. ‘Grillion’ isn’t even a number.”

Annoyed, i distributed philosophy books and 100 Grillion Dollar Bars to the remaining kids with no further complaint, although the fellow identifying as the tear from the eye of a magical unicorn did tremble slightly. No harm done, the kids were off, and i was left to contemplate the complexities involved in the naming of candy bars.

 

Group Two

This next interesting group came along a while later, after a few rather disappointing cohorts of fairies and zombies. “Hello, hello!” i said to them. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Utter Decay of the Western Cultural Tradition.”

“SWEET,” said one of the kids, obviously genuinely impressed. “It even looks like a deteriorating architectural corpse, a rude, broken-down relic of past greatness.”

“Um, yes, thank you,” i said. “Moving on. Let’s start with you. What are you identifying as this evening?”

“I’m a naughty, naughty fellow,” he said in the most perfect deadpan you’ve ever seen.

“Well, yes, i’ve no doubt of that,” i said. “I meant, what are you dressed up as?”

His companion, with an almost-matching costume, spoke up. “He means that literally. He is identifying as a naughty, naughty fellow for Hallowe’en. He’s usually the perfect kid. He never does anything wrong. The grown-ups all love him. It’s disgusting.”

“Ah!” i said. “How silly of me. Got it. And you?” i asked his cohort.

“Well,” he began, “I’m a fellow who’s not quite mischievous enough to be called ‘naughty’ but who is, nevertheless, not an entirely reputable citizen.”

“And i see you two are a package deal,” i observed.

“We are,” said the first one, a naughty, naughty expression on his face.

“And you!” i said, directing my attention to a young man dressed in what appeared to me to be the garb of a well-to-do dandy from the early 1800s.

“I’m a character from the novel Persuasion, by Jane Austen,” he explained.

“That’s tremendous!” i said. “As it happens, i just re-read Persuasion a few months ago. Which character are you?”

“Well,” he said, somewhat tentatively, “I’m not actually in the book.”

“I see,” said i, although i didn’t.

He continued. “I’m a character that Austen would have included in the novel if she had actually known what she was doing.”

“Ah,” i said. “That’s more like it. Most treadknicious of you.”

The fourth child stepped forward, a little squirt of a dude who appeared to be dressed, as nearly as i could tell, as a shapeless blue amoeba.

“I’m an as-yet-undiscovered chemical element,” he said.

“Ah, but here you are,” i said cleverly. “You’ve been discovered.”

“Discovered by you,” he said. “The scientific community still hasn’t got a clue.”

“Niiiiiiiice,” i said. “Does this element have a name?”

“Nunnayurbidnium,” he said.

“Oh, sorry,” i said. “Didn’t mean to offend.”

“No,” he offered, “I mean the element is called ‘Nunnayurbidnium’.”

“Ah,” i said. “Yes. Of course. Very good. I shall append it to the periodic table in my old college chemistry book. The scientific community will never have to know.” He and i shared a mutual scholarly wink, and then i cauldron-dove to fetch the kiddies their goodies.

 

Group Three

The third interesting group arrived shortly after dusk, at around that time when the little kids and their parents are starting to thin out and the teenagers elaborately made up as zombies or wearing lame skeleton t-shirts are becoming the dominant demographic. Happily, the group of which i now speak was not made of such stuff.

There were eight people in this group: one set of three, and another set of five. The two sets of trick-or-treaters weren’t actually together, but they all arrived at my front porch at more-or-less the same time.

“And who are YOU people?” I was talking to what appeared to be the leader of the group of five, which i took, furthermore, to be a family of aliens. Not the illegal kind; the interplanetary kind.

“We’re a family of aliens,” he explained helpfully.

“I gathered as much,” i said. “And what brings you ’round these here parts?”

“Well,” he began, hooking a tentacle into each of the two straps of his overalls, “It’s like this. We are the last of our race. Our civilization was wiped out by a race of even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.”

“Grrrrrr,” chorused the wife and kids, their tentacles waving menacingly in the air.

“That’s awful!” i said. “So you’re refugees here on earth, seeking asylum?”

“Well, it’s more like, we’re hopin’ to set up a GoFundMe account so that we can afford thermonuclear weapons and wipe them other aliens off the face of their stupid planet.”

“Well, gosh, y’know, okey-dokey,” i said, concluding that these varmints were serious customers and not to be trifled with. Casting about for a change of topic, i said, “Well, sir, your young’un here looks just like you.”

The lad waved his tentacles about in evident pleasure.

“Don’t he now?” said the proud papa, huffing a cloud of pinkish gas from the top of what i believe to have been his head. “He sure do favor his old dad, that’s what i’ve always said.”

I nodded. “I gotta say, the apple don’t fall far from the tree. So, remind me again… i don’t think i caught it the first time… what’s the name of the planet y’all are from?”

The father replied with the most horrifying sound i have ever seen produced by an object that was less than six feet away from me: a sort of screeching moan, mostly made up of harsh vowels and painful dreams. “So,” i squirmed. “Um. So that’s the name of your planet, is it?” By this time the conviction was finally borne in upon me that these were probably not kids wearing costumes.

“Wow, okay,” i said, turning my attention to the remaining group of three, who had sat patiently on their fence during the preceding proceedings. Did i mention that these three fellows had a portable fence, mounted on wheels, and that they were sitting on it?

“And you fellows,” i said. “What’s the story?”

“We’re Scotsmen,” said the first one.

“Aye, that we are,” said the second. “Three of us.”

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

That certainly cleared things up for me. “Golly,” i said, “you fellows seem oddly familiar. Might i have encountered you in a joke somewhere?”

“It’s not unlikely,” said the first one.

“You’ve probably haird the one about the three Scotsmen,” said the second one.

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

“Aye, that i have,” said i, involuntarily falling into their mode of speech. “So that’s why you fellas seem so familiar.” Then, seizing an opportunity that was not likely to come round again, i asked, “So what’s the punchline? I’ve never heard the finished version of the joke.”

The three Scotsmen looked at each other, then back at me, smiled mysteriously, and said nothing.

[Editor’s Note: For a discussion of the original joke about the Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, you might want to check out this post… (“So There Were These Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, See”) from about four years ago. You might, additionally, enjoy checking out this later post: “An Attempt to Get to the Bottom of This ‘Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence’ Thing.”]

Unsure of how to continue the conversation, i dug out some Hundred Grillion Dollar Bars and pocket philosophical classics from my cauldron, distributed them among the strange company, and saw them off.

 

Conclusion

Well, there you have it. My first participation in Hallowe’en in about 40 years. I feel you must agree with me that it was a smashing success.

And you will be gratified to note, as i was, that after having checked all up and down the block the next morning, i saw no sign of philosophy books that had been tossed aside into people’s yards or chucked into conveniently located garbage cans.

[Editor’s Note: For some clues as to where some of these kiddies might have gotten the ideas for their inventive costumes, have a look at the post prior to this one.]

 

It’s a Brave New World: Some Ideas Regarding What to Self-Identify As, This Hallowe’en

Well, people, it’s 2017, and the hip thing to be this year is something that you weren’t born as. Furthermore, it’s the Hallowe’en season, and the hip thing to be at Hallowe’en… is… something that you weren’t born as.  Clearly, the timing of this post could not have been more appropriate.

The question of being, in philosophy, is called ontology. (It can also, sort of, be called ‘metaphysics’. Don’t worry about it. It’s complicated.) The exploration of ontology forms one of the cornerstones of this blog:  trying to figure out what things are, what it means to be something, what categories things go into, how various kinds of things fit together. What, for instance, is a flockbinker? Are YOU a flockbinker? (Don’t even pretend that you’ve never wondered.)

And people, it just don’t get any more ontologically interesting than this recent trend toward identifying oneself as something that one… well… isn’t.

You want some examples?  Sure.

A retired schoolteacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania recently proclaimed herself to be an ocelot. A different retired schoolteacher in Plano, Texas, not wishing to be outdone, has proclaimed herself to be TWO ocelots. Yet a third retired schoolteacher, this one from Des Moines, is marketing herself as an ocelot that identifies as a manatee that is actually a bottle of Dr. Pepper. A 47-year-old plumber in Bozeman, Montana proclaimed himself last week to be a character from Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, except it’s not a character who actually appears in the book, but would have, if Jane Austen had known what she was doing.

And there are apparently even more unsettling modes of self-identification in the offing: one young lady in South Bend, Indiana recently came out as a three-layer yellow sponge cake with cream cheese frosting, and at the time of this writing there is a breaking story about a fellow in Cross Creek, Florida who has chosen to identify as a (so far) undiscovered chemical element. He is calling himself “Nunayurbidnium.”

It’s the newest thing: Give yourself a good looking-over, then say “Well forget THIS, pal,” and announce to the world that you are something which you clearly are not.

To help us all get into the spirit of things this Hallowe’en season, i’ve come up with a handy list of items that, so far as i know, no one has yet identified as.

Pro Tip: If you choose to identify as one of these, you’ll want to get on it pretty quickly. Now that i’ve published the list, there’ll be a stampede (not at all surprising, in the case of ‘a herd of reindeer’ and possibly even ‘four weasels’) and you’re gonna want to establish your own identity ahead of the crowd so as to appear original.

So here are the possibilities. Identify away!

 

I, ______________________________, choose to identify as:

 

  • A fruitcake
  • A chaotic, shapeless, featureless mass (ah, but it seems we repeat ourselves)
  • A linebacker for the New York Yankees
  • A naughty, naughty fellow
  • A fellow who’s not quite mischievous enough to be called ‘naughty’ but who is, nevertheless, not an entirely reputable citizen
  • A weasel (meaning the animal, not ‘a naughty, naughty fellow,’ which of course is another thing that ‘weasel’ can mean)
  • Four weasels all living in the same box
  • A set of pastels that have been gently used
  • A blank canvas
  • A herd of reindeer
  • What the snow looks like after a herd of reindeer have been through
  • The discarded wrapper from a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup
  • The square root of peace and justice for all humankind
  • The Thirteenth Floor
  • Your Mom
  • A remote possibility
  • An unfortunate fashion statement
  • The drive-through window at Frank’s Burgers on 3rd Street
  • Beans, beans, the musical fruit
  • A flockbinker (the regular, treadknicious kind)
  • A flockbinker that isn’t EVEN treadknicious
  • Something treadknicious that isn’t a flockbinker
  • A wamwam
  • A wambinker
  • A flockwam
  • An intransitive verb
  • A mathematical impossibility (but something other than “the square root of peace and justice for all humankind”)
  • A faux pas
  • A social blunder, but in English, not French
  • Seventeen different genders, all at the same time, and most of them previously undiscovered
  • Snow White AND the Seven Dwarfs
  • An intermediate-level class in cross stitching
  • An Arby’s roast beef sandwich with horsey sauce
  • A subatomic particle
  • A neutron in search of an atom
  • An atom in search of a happenin’ party
  • A happenin’ party in search of a meaningful occasion
  • A meaningful occasion in search of its place in the universe
  • The Bay Area
  • Stanford University, but with no students, faculty or buildings
  • Conan O’Brien’s haircut
  • An alien civilization
  • A family of five aliens whose civilization has been destroyed by other, even meaner aliens from a nearby planet
  • The internet
  • The web, which apparently isn’t the same thing as the internet
  • The cloud, which apparently isn’t the same thing as the web or the internet
  • The Tempest, which is neither the cloud, the web nor the internet, but is instead a play by William Shakespeare
  • A grunt of dissatisfaction
  • An expression of disbelief
  • A timely disclaimer
  • A single tear from the eye of a unicorn
  • The look on Jimmy Fallon’s face when he’s just said something amusing
  • A bright new world, full of possibility and hope, that lies just around the corner

 

Some Things That Flockbinkers Have in Common with Unicorns.

Greetings, o most excellent reader.

In a recent post, we were forced to acknowledge an objection some readers apparently have to this blog: that, even though it mentions flockbinkers in the title, not every post is actually about flockbinkers. Now, i do need to point out that the greater number of the posts do at least mention flockbinkers, and in that last post we did raise the somewhat metaphysically subtle possibility that even the posts that don’t mention flockbinkers might nevertheless be about them. One of our loyal readers wasn’t buying that one, though, so we thought we’d devote this post to some fairly explicit (be warned, parents!) discussion of flockbinkers.

In fact, why don’t we address a question that has doubtless occurred to more than one reader since this blog was launched. Perhaps you’re among those who have wondered: What is the connection between flockbinkers and unicorns? Are they similar in some way? They certainly do get mentioned together a lot in this blog. What exactly do they have in common?

Let’s set forth eight ways in which unicorns and flockbinkers might be thought of as similar.

1. They both have three syllables in their name.

Here, let me show you.

You – knee – corn. Flock – bing – ker.

You can sound them out for yourself. Three syllables each.

Now, you may not think this is a significant thing for two objects to have in common, but that is where you have made your vital mistake. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any criterion for similarity between any two things that is more important than the question of whether the words used to depict them have the same number of syllables. You’ll just have to trust us on this one.

2. They both have a horn poking out of the middle of their forehead.

It must be admitted up front that this point is a controversial one. The scholarly community are not unanimous in the conviction that flockbinkers have a horn protruding from the forehead. Some scholars are skeptical regarding whether flockbinkers even have a forehead, or, for that matter any kind of head at all. There are hints in the philosophical literature to the effect that the flockbinker may be an entity something like a toaster, or a microwave oven. There has even arisen a recent school of thought that says flockbinkers may be more like clouds of pinkish gas than anything else. And, of course, there are those outliers who aren’t convinced that there even IS such a thing as a flockbinker… which leads us to our next point.

3. They both are nonexistent.

Of course, this point depends entirely on what you mean by the terms ‘existent’ and ‘nonexistent.’  If by ‘existent’ you mean the sort of thing you are likely to see served at dinner or parked in your driveway, then both the flockbinker and the unicorn may safely be termed ‘nonexistent.’

The more precise discussion of what it means for something to exist has been treated elsewhere on this blog and will be revisited many times in the future. We need not concern ourselves with it now. If, however, you are a philosopher, and therefore of a stamp that requires a higher level of precision than does the average reader of silly blogs, then the next point will doubtless be of interest to you.

4. They both occupy a kind of ontological territory that might be termed ‘modally existent.’

Perhaps ‘nonexistent’ is a fatally inexact way to characterize both flockbinkers and unicorns. Perhaps we might want to nuance that a bit, and say that they do… er, sort of… exist, but not in the same way that your iPhone exists, or those Depends undergarments you’ve started wearing recently and that you earnestly hope no one knows about. We might want to say that the unicorn and the flockbinker are ‘modally existent’… which is to say, they exist in a different sort of way from the things we usually think of as existing, like paper airplanes, government waste, and the number 439. Well, except the number 439 might also go into the category of modal existence, depending on what you think the normal sort of ‘existence’ is all about. For that matter, government waste may have have to go in that same category, because — although we all know that it’s there — it’s not the sort of thing you can swat with a yardstick or draw pictures on with a lump of charcoal. Some other things that might go in the category of ‘modally existent’ would be Elizabeth Bennet, the bogeyman, and whoever that guy is that Taylor Swift keeps writing songs about.

5. Discussing either of them in this blog can send a certain Good Reader into an apoplectic rage.

The Good Reader:  Okay, buster, you can just stop it right there. I am not about to put up with….

The Blogger:  I rest my case.

6. They both can be found in mythic and fantasy literature.

The Good Reader:  Now just a minute, you cut me off before i was able to make my point.

The Blogger:  But we’ve already moved on to another point.

The Good Reader:  Oh no, we haven’t. Not until we address the previous one, which you just kind of whipped on through while trying to make me look stupid.

The Blogger:  [sigh] Okay, Good Reader. You may respond in full.

The Good Reader:  You claimed that mentioning unicorns or flockbinkers on this blog will send me into “an apoplectic rage.”

The Blogger:  Well, in my defense, i didn’t actually mention you by name….

The Good Reader:  I don’t even have a name. I’m a character who serves as the personification of your readership.

The Blogger:  There is that.

The Good Reader:  But my point is, i am not enraged by hearing you mention flockbinkers or unicorns. I actually think they’re kind of endearing. What enrages me, maybe even apoplectically, is listening to you make bizarre statements that you can’t back up, and then insulting me and trying to make me look like a moron when i challenge you on it.

The Blogger:  I have never done that.

The Good Reader:  So that’s what enrages me. Apoplectically.

The Blogger:  Well, your clarification is of course welcome, Good Reader, but you still seem to be ignoring the fact that we’ve moved on to a new topic.

The Good Reader:  Fine. I’ll challenge you on that, too. Unicorns have, of course, been the subject of myth and fantasy literature. Flockbinkers have not. Nobody has ever even heard of flockbinkers.

The Blogger:  Except, of course, for the thousands of readers who regularly follow this blog.

The Good Reader:  I’m rolling my eyes. Can you see it? I’m rolling my eyes at you and making the face people make when their 16-month-old has just dumped a plate of spaghetti on the floor.

The Blogger:  [checking his watch] Oops, will you look at that, we’re almost out of time. Must move on to the next point.

7. They both tend to be featured in Medieval tapestries.

It is commonly known that unicorns are featured in Medieval tapestries, often in the company of a young virgin. What’s less well known is that flockbinkers, also, can be found pictured in Medieval tapestries. Have you ever seen a picture of the Bayeux Tapestry? It’s not technically a tapestry, it’s more like a really long visual newspaper article reporting how the fateful Battle of Hastings went. Anyway, about 2/3 of the way toward the right of the picture, you can see a strange creature taking a spear right in the face. Ouch. Well, many informed experts feel that this was a flockbinker who innocently wandered onto the field of battle at precisely the wrong moment. That is to say, the wrong moment if your preference is not to die horribly, but the right moment if you’d like to be immortalized in one of the world’s most iconic works of art. It’s really a matter of perspective, isn’t it.

8. They are both of interest to people who self-identify as ‘horse-people.’

It has been the personal experience of This Blogger that those who tend to view themselves as ‘horse-people’ tend to be drawn both to unicorns and to flockbinkers. To unicorns, obviously, because they’re basically the same thing as a horse but with extra stuff. But why are such people also drawn to flockbinkers? Perhaps because flockbinkers, like horses, tend to be a preferred mode of transportation among those who (as represented in Western films) poke cows for a living? But here we have wandered into the territory of pure conjecture.

A Fine, Honest, Admirable, Heartfelt Attempt to Define ‘Flockbinkers’

 

To begin with:

We talk a lot about flockbinkers ’round these here parts.

Editor’s Note: The blogger lives in Tennessee and occasionally lapses into a charming but grammatically substandard regional idiom. We, the AllFlockbinkers Editorial Staff, allow this, because it gives a sense of local color to the blog.

It’s true. We talk about flockbinkers. We just do. And we’re not ashamed to admit it. We’ve been doing so for a long time, and i can’t see that changing anytime soon. Sure and we’re a wee bit fond o’ th’ flockbinkers.

Editor’s Note: The blogger has never lived in either Scotland or Ireland, and we are scratching our beards over the mystery of where that last bit came from.

From time to time, a weary reader will call to our attention the fact that we haven’t yet defined the term “flockbinker,” which makes things a wee bit somewhat difficult when they are everywhere present on the blog. “How can i sit around and listen to you talk all day about frockbrinkers,” a typical reader might protest, “when i have no idea what they are?” An understandable objection, even if the misguided reader struggled a bit to get the word quite right. But no matter. Today we shall address the difficulty full-on. We are about to take the flockbinker by the horns.

The Good Reader:  You just said it again.

The Blogger:  Said what? Flockbinker? Of course! It’s a blog about flockbinkers.

The Good Reader:  No, you said they have horns.

The Blogger:  Oh, right, right. We talked about this a couple of years ago, didn’t we.

The Good Reader:  That was actually ‘The Timid Reader’ that you had that conversation with. I’m ‘The Good Reader.’ But she and i might actually be the same person. Maybe i was going under the name of The Timid Reader at that time. Maybe. Your blog is so weird. It’s impossible to know WHAT is up.

The Blogger:  That’s a very good point, and if i may say so, ontologically astute.

The Good Reader:  Thanks. So, back to flockbinkers and their horns. You said they had horns then, and when i (or she) tried to pin you down about it, you wriggled out of it by saying philosophical things that probably didn’t have an actual meaning. Or you might have said “it’s complicated.” You like to get out of making clear statements by saying “it’s complicated.”

The Blogger:  Actually, i did not say they had horns then. But yes, i remember, i did say we were going to take the flockbinker by the horns. And we did! Sort of. And that’s what we’re going to do right now!

The Good Reader:  Using the horns that they actually have, or horns that they don’t have?

The Blogger:  You’re becoming more of a philosopher with each passing minute, The Good Reader! I’m proud of you.

The Good Reader:  [says a word that we have chosen not to print because we feel it would detract from the family-oriented reputation of this blog]

 

But, ahem, back to the point:

The thing you need to understand about flockbinkers is that they can be used as placeholders in a logical scenario, without anyone actually knowing what they are, or even whether they exist… and, if they do exist, in what way.

Example:

1. All flockbinkers are treadknicious
2. All wamwams are flockbinkers
3. Therefore, all wamwams are treadknicious

…or, if you’re not particularly partial to wamwams… and let’s just be honest, not everybody is…

1. Some flockbinkers are nomnomnomnom
2. No fruitcakes are nomnomnomnom
3. Therefore, no fruitcakes are flockbinkers

[Oops. It appears we made a boo-boo. You get extra credit points if you can explain why that second syllogism was not valid.]

[And, by the way, if you’d like to learn more about logical syllogisms, you can find some marvelous examples of syllogisms in this post right here.]

So here’s the thing. Despite the fact that we are frequently referring to them in these logical syllogisms, it still may or may not be the case that such entities as flockbinkers, wamwams, and fruitcakes exist. And even if they do exist, there may be considerable uncertainty regarding what they are. I’ve never talked to ANYBODY who could give me a satisfying account of what fruitcakes are.

 

An excursus on ontology

Ontology is an area of philosophy that has to do with being and identity. It deals with (among other things) the question of what things are. You know? What they really are.

So, for instance, if you had a question about the ontological status of fruitcakes, and you chose wisely to consult a philosopher, you might get a response something like this:

The Philosopher:  Well, what is the fruitcake made of? Is it part of something larger? Is it subdivided into component parts? Can the fruitcake be assigned to a larger category, and do you know what that category is? Might it be assigned to several distinct or overlapping categories? Perhaps a plethora of categories? An El Guapo-esque plethora? What is the purpose of the fruitcake? How, when and where did it come into existence? Were there other things that came into existence along with it? Did someone give it to you at Christmas? I hate it when that happens. I don’t think anybody ever actually eats them. Have you ever heard of someone eating a fruitcake? I don’t even know whether they are edible. They sure don’t LOOK edible. I used mine to plug up a hole in the bathroom wall right behind the shower.

That’s what a trained philosopher might say if you asked him about fruitcakes.

Similarly, the questions about the ontological status of flockbinkers, wamwams, unicorns, Tiny Tim, the milk of human kindness, efficient postal delivery, the person who creates those Facebook memes with monstrously broken grammar, or a bargain item at Whole Foods might be addressed in the same manner.

 

So. Here we are. What ARE flockbinkers, anyway?

Whether they (flockbinkers) exist or not, it would be nice to know what they are.

Of course, the question of what they are might seem to hinge on the question of whether they exist. This was a sticking point in a conversation i had a couple of years ago with The Good Reader, who (in my estimation) seemed not to appreciate the nuances of the discussion. But might it be the case that a nonexistent entity can still have recognizable characteristics? You could all describe a unicorn, if called upon to do so. You could describe a planet that is in the throes of being blown up by the Death Star (or one of its many successors). You could describe the experience of what it would be like to check out for less than $75.00 at Whole Foods. This last one might require a strenuous exercise of the imagination, but i am confident that you could pull it off.

So, you see, it might be possible for a thing to have attributes even if it is not a real thing.

So, without further ado, why don’t we assemble some experts on logic, metaphysics and semantics, and see if we can come to some understanding of what sort of critter the ‘flockbinker’ is. Or isn’t. If there even is one.

 

Our panel of experts weighs in:

And by “our panel of experts,” we mean “the somewhat random group of people we were able to assemble by offering to let them look at a McDonald’s hamburger we’ve kept in its wrapper for seventeen years and which has not decomposed at all.”

The Good Reader:  I’m dumbfounded that you would even ask me this, given the large number of frustrating conversations we’ve had about flockbinkers and unicorns and other things that don’t exist but that you claim do exist, or something — and if you say, “it’s complicated,” i will reply with a very rude word. You know i will.

The Timid Reader:  Why do you insist on embarrassing me like this? I don’t even get it. You have it in for me. You lose no opportunity to expose my ignorance in front of your thousands of readers.

Editor’s Note: The Timid Reader is referring to a conversation that occurred in one of the early posts to this blog, in which she was publicly revealed as not knowing what a syllogism was. Which really wasn’t a big deal, but she took it way personally.

Editor’s Note2: Apparently The Good Reader and The Timid Reader are two distinct people, after all. But according to The Good Reader, earlier in this very blog post… oh dear. Curiouser and curiouser.

The Blogger:  I wish.

The Timid Reader:  To expose my ignorance?

The Blogger:  No, the part about thousands of readers.

Elvis Wu:  Well, if i understand correctly the things you’ve told me, and the posts i’ve read on this blog — really interesting blog, by the way! —

The Blogger:  Gosh, thanks, Wu.

Elvis Wu:  — it would seem that the flockbinker is a modally existent entity that is often characterized as if it were a kind of semi-mythical beast, but is at other times spoken of as if it were a small appliance, like a toaster, or a blow-dryer.

One of our British readers:  I’m not entirely certain i understand what it is that i’m being asked. Then again, i’ve been following this blog for a couple of years now and have never felt that i had any idea what was going on. It is awfully amusing, though, isn’t it?

Jennifer Smith (of “Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith Talk About Philosophy” fame):  Okay, i’ve got this. The flockbinker was originally created for use in logic exercises you wrote up for your students. He is a logical placeholder with a deliberately absurd name, and is of uncertain ontological status. [pauses to catch her breath]  Don’t be too impressed; i’m sure i stole every word of that from one or more conversations i’ve had with Little Biffy.

Jennifer Smith’s Uncle Hubert, who happens to be visiting from Spokane and was fascinated by the idea of a seventeen-year-old hamburger:  Well now, Jen’s told me about this blog, and i have to say i think it’s just a terrific idea. A terrific idea! The young people these days are in such need of guidance and critical thinking skills and such —

Jennifer:  Uncle Hubert, he’s asking you to define a ‘flockbinker.’

Uncle Hubert:  Right, right, right. Well, i have to just say i don’t really have the background to be talking about specialized foreign terms, but i think the whole idea’s a terrific one, i really do. The young people today, they just don’t seem to —

Jennifer:  Thanks, Uncle Hubert! Blogger, you may want to move on to the next person.

Random elderly woman in Coolidge Park:  They took my purse. They ran up from behind and took my purse.

The Blogger:  Flockbinkers did this?

REW:  Who? I said they stole my purse!

Tharg, the Primordial Man:  Ooog, bunga bunga, froom froom ooga froom, frockbinger tredmishus, bonga froom ooga wamwam ontological status mooga mooga.

One of the anonymous people who took the quiz a couple of weeks ago:  So what i remember from that quiz is that you offered five choices for whether flockswingers exist… yes, no, maybe, both, and… um… all of the above? Or something.

The Blogger:  [in a hoarse stage whisper]  No, those were NOT the five choices i gave you on that question, and you haven’t even identified the question accurately, never mind your inventive pronunciation of the term ‘flockbinker’…

Anonymous quiz-taking dude whose strong suit is apparently not precision:  And i think i selected “all of the above” because the question seemed really hard and i figured “all of the above” was probably my safest bet. Yeah. That’s what i did.

_____________________________________________

So there you have it, patient readers. I hope you have found this discussion of flockbinkers at least somewhat enlightening. I don’t think it went in exactly the direction i’d had in mind when i started out. I’m going to go for a long walk now through desolate places and contemplate the lonely existence of the philosopher in modern life.

 

The Good Reader Registers a Complaint About Flockbinker Pop Quiz #1

Last week — much to the delight of many of you, if the stacks of Reader Mail covering my desk are any indication — we regaled you with your very first Pop Quiz.  Flockbinker Pop Quiz #1.  And oh, it was a thing of beauty.  Ten multiple-choice questions featuring ten options each.  We covered a number of exciting topics, including the various branches of philosophy, the classic flockbinker syllogism, and the ontological status of unicorns.

Well, as they say, into every life a little rain must fall, and too many cooks spoil the broth, and a stitch in time saves nine, and there’s no business like show business, and old age ain’t for sissies. My point is this: No sooner had the ink dried on that Pop Quiz (our first, in case i have neglected to mention it), than the Good Reader contacted me to lodge an objection.  I shall try to reconstruct the conversation as best i can from memory.

The Good Reader:  I’d like to register a complaint about your so-called ‘Pop Quiz’.

The Blogger:  Say it isn’t so!  Why, Good Reader, you’re my number one fan!  What can you possibly have found to object to in so carefully thought-through and fastidiously worded an academic instrument?

The Good Reader:  It was nonsense from beginning to end, that’s what!

The Blogger:  If that’s your objection, you clearly haven’t been paying much attention to this blog for the past three years.

The Good Reader:  Oh no, i have.  And you’re right.  Every single post you foist upon your unsuspecting public is just stuffed with nonsense.  But, oh, i dunno, it usually seems justified somehow.  It’s like, you’re combining philosophy and comedy, while working off the effects of your psychiatric medications. That i can deal with.

The Blogger:  I’m not on any psychiatric medications.

The Good Reader:  No?  Well, that does explain a few things.  Your doctor is falling down on the job.

The Blogger:  Ahem.  We were talking about your objections to the Pop Quiz.

The Good Reader:  I don’t think it was a ‘pop quiz’ at all!  It was a chaotic explosion of seemingly endless silliness and horrible meaningless randomness.

The Blogger:  I take it your impression was a negative one.

The Good Reader:  Look here, blogger-fellow, if you’re going to call something a ‘quiz,’ you’re leading people to believe that there will be educational value attached to it.  Right?  But that one was just, i mean, it was, just, just, a lot of nonsense.

The Blogger:  It had a great deal of educational value!  It was about philosophy.  It was about logic.  It was about existence!

The Good Reader:  It was about ten questions too long.

The Blogger:  You’re being needlessly harsh, o Good Reader.  Surely you must have gained something from taking the quiz.  You… you did take it, didn’t you?

The Good Reader:  I looked at every question and read all of the answers you provided, if that’s what you mean by “taking” the quiz.

The Blogger:  Excellent!  I bet you were considerably smarter after taking it than you had been before.

The Good Reader:  Probably not. In fact, i feel like my I.Q. dropped about 20 points from the time i started to the time i got to the end.  I was barely able to remember how to turn off my computer.

The Blogger:  Were there certain questions that you particularly objected to?

The Good Reader:  The first few weren’t so bad; they actually had something to do with philosophy.  And there were at least a few useful answers provided. But then it got more and more ridiculous.  Really, blogger-person, you should be ashamed of yourself.

The Blogger:  Ah, i see the difficulty.  You object to the use of humor in making philosophy more palatable to the average reader.  You feel that the quiz ought to have been more serious.  “Too much frivolity!” is your battle-cry.  “What do you offer the seriously committed, sober-minded lover of philosophical study?”  Bypass the lighthearted banter and get straight to the Big Questions: that’s your way of thinking.  You believe in diving right into the deep end of the pool.  I bet you drink your whiskey straight.

The Good Reader:  I only took up drinking whiskey after the traumatic experience of reading through that so-called pop quiz.

The Blogger:  But you say you approved of the first few questions?

The Good Reader:  No, not at all, it’s just that i wasn’t profoundly traumatized by the first few questions.  They at least offered a few real answers, hidden in there among the references to Justin Bieber and the Darwin Awards.  And the graffiti in bathroom stalls.

The Blogger:  But then things got a bit thick, is that what you’re saying?

The Good Reader:  About halfway through, you started putting in “answers” that were supposed to be comments from readers.  Seriously?  How does that make any sense?

The Blogger:  Well, it is a little hard to explain, isn’t it.  Who can understand the complex ways of the internet?

The Good Reader:  And then they started arguing with each other.

The Blogger:  Yes.  That was unfortunate.

The Good Reader:  Right there in the middle of the quiz.  You had your readers arguing with each other in the answer sections.

The Blogger:  I have feisty readers.

The Good Reader:  But it was YOU writing all of that stuff!  Don’t pretend it wasn’t.  You’re not actually wanting me to believe that there were real people getting into fights on your so-called pop quiz?  You wrote the questions, and you wrote the answers.

The Blogger:  Well, it’s complicated.

The Good Reader:  That’s your go-to remark when you don’t feel like explaining yourself.

The Blogger:  Perhaps it should suffice to say that, yes, i wrote the questions and answers… but at another level of discourse, there were actual readers interacting with the questions and grappling with them, and offering their commentary aloud as they did so.

The Good Reader:  Ho hum, yada yada yada.

The Blogger:  Good Reader.  Your tone is unbecoming.

The Good Reader:  You had your readers saying things like, “ontology, shmontology” to each other in the middle of what was supposed to be a test.

The Blogger:  My quizzes are lively community affairs, like a block party.  Everybody wants to show up.  The joint gets to jumpin’.  A typical Flockbinker Quiz is like a really happenin’ social scene with music and laughter and dancing and people drinking too much.

The Good Reader:  The only thing “happenin” was that you made up a bunch of totally fictional readers that you don’t even have, and made it sound like they were arguing about something that Bertrand Russell said, whoever that is.

The Blogger:  Only one of the most important philosophers of the modern period.  He–

The Good Reader:  And to top it all off, you slipped me in there, and you made me sound ridiculous.  You put words into my mouth.

The Blogger:  Unlike what i’m doing right now.

The Good Reader:  Don’t interrupt.  You made it sound like i was fumbling through a really stupid attempt to define a unicorn.  You know what?  I know what your problem is.  You’ve never forgiven me for that time when we were talking about unicorns and i embarrassed you because you couldn’t explain the difference between The Good Reader(1) and The Good Reader(3).

[Editor’s Note: The Good Reader is referring to an incident that occurred in this post from July of 2013. S/he clearly has a long memory and a problem with letting things go. Some people are quite unwilling to let the past be the past.]

The Blogger:  It’s really never helpful to bring up the past.

The Good Reader:  Yes, that’s what you just now said in the sly editorial comment that you slipped in there in those brackets, thinking i wouldn’t see it.

The Blogger:  Oops.

The Good Reader:  So i guess the main thing that bothers me about your so-called pop quiz is that you used it as yet another instrument for making me look stupid.

The Blogger:  O Good Reader, so that’s what this is really all about!  I was incautious in my use of you as an example in one of the answers, and i hurt your feelings!  Golly, i’m sorry.

The Good Reader:  Well, i suppose i can choose to overlook it this one time, so long as you promise never to let it happen again.

The Blogger:  Absolutely.  I’m a changed man.  Gone are the days when i used to feature you as an example of someone with really elementary powers of reasoning, struggling to discuss things that are far beyond her capacities.  From now on, i’ll have you saying things that are easily within your somewhat limited intellectual reach.

The Good Reader:  Oh my word, you just did it again, just now, five seconds after promising you would never do it again!

The Blogger:  What?  What’d i say?

 

 

Your Very First “Flockbinkers” Pop Quiz.

 

Alrighty, boys and girls, it’s time for a pop quiz. (You knew this was going to happen eventually, and i shall be most disappointed if i find that you’ve not been paying attention.)  Put your books away, take out a pencil and a sheet of paper, and let’s begin.


Question #1:  Which of the following are NOT branches of philosophy?  Select all that apply.

A.  Epistemology

B.  Axiology

C.  Astrology

D.  Metaphysics

E.  Betaphyshics

F.  Ethics

G.  Justin Bieber’s Greatest Hits

H.  Logic

I.  Endocrinology

J.  Whatever Eckhart Tolle’s latest book is about

 

Question #2:  In which of these places are you NOT likely to find real philosophy?

A.  The dialogues of Plato

B.  The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas

C.  The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Ludwig Wittgenstein

D.  The poetry of Alexander Pope, Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot

E.  The “Intro to Philosophy” class at many state universities

F.  The “Philosophy” section at Barnes and Noble

G.  David Letterman’s interviews with Julia Roberts

H.  Facebook memes (with or without the obligatory misspellings, incorrectly used apostrophes and grammatical monstrosities)

I.  In the second stall from the end, in the men’s room at the Imperial Golden House #2.

J.  The pontifications of that barista who likes to begin every statement with, “Well, MY philosophy is….”

 

Question #3:  Which of the following are NOT functions of logic?

A.  Increasing clarity and reducing misunderstanding

B.  Creating a clear path from evidence to conclusion

C.  Guaranteeing the truth or falsity of propositions

D.  Furnishing a set of tools by which you can sound all fancy and stuff

E.  Creating an environment in which the Darwin Awards are possible

F.  Enabling you to demonstrate that your opponent is an idiot

G.  Enabling you to (inadvertently) demonstrate that you are an idiot

H.  Slicing, dicing, and making julienne fries

I.  Forging an insanely dense, turgid and confused mass of incomprehensible language where a perfectly ordinary conversation might have worked just as well

J.  Enabling the speaker to introduce nonsense terms like “treadknicious” and “inflammable” into the discussion

 

Question #4:  Complete the following sentence. You may select more than one answer. You may NOT select answer (G).  Somebody’s been hacking my WordPress…

“All Flockbinkers are ___________________ .”

A.  nonexistent

B.  extinct

C.  doing quite well, thank you, and living in a condo in Miami Beach

D.  rather a ridiculous thing to be taking up precious conversational time with, don’t you think? I mean, honestly.

E.  of uncertain ontological status

F.  related in ways we do not fully understand to wamwams

G.  symptomatic of The Blogger’s unique psychopathology

H.  treadknicious

I.  your mom

J.  oh, wow, that last one was pretty mature, wasn’t it

 

Question #5:  True, false, neither, or both?

“The present king of France is bald.”

A.  False: French men don’t go bald

B.  False: There is currently no French king.

C.  Do we mean “publicly bald” or “actually bald”?  I’ve heard he wears a hairpiece.

D.  Neither: There is currently no French king

E.  Yeah, okay, so somebody’s been channeling Bertrand Russell

F.  Bertrand Russell shmertrand russell, it’s a straightforward case of a bogus question involving a non-referential term

G.  I have no idea what those last two guys are talking about, i’m going with “true.”

H.  Okay, so there’s only one left, i’ll take “both.”

I.  It can’t possibly be “both.” A statement cannot be both true and untrue at the same time. That’s basic Aristotelian logic.

J.  What do i know from Aristotelian logic?  I was a sohsh major.  I’m going with “both.”

 

Question #6:  Select all that apply.

The term ‘ontology’…

A.  means “an area of study that deals with being or identity”

B.  is a branch of philosophy similar to metaphysics

C.  is a branch of philosophy that is sometimes presented as a subcategory under metaphysics

D.  is a branch of philosophy under which metaphysics is sometimes presented as a subcategory

E.  Let me get this straight, some of you people actually talk like this on a regular basis?

F.  sounds almost like a branch of medicine

G.  is the science that studies new dinosaurs

H.  Get it? “Paleontology” studies prehistoric dinosaurs, and “ontology” studies the new ones.

I.  I’m guessing here, does it mean the study of elderly female relatives? I’m totally guessing.

J.  rhymes with “shmontology,” thus making possible the poem: “ontology, shmontology.”

 

Question #7:  Complete the following sentence. You may select more than one answer.

“The unicorn is an entity that ___________________ .”

A.  shares certain attributes in common with the flockbinker

B.  can be found throughout world literature and myth

C.  is of uncertain ontological status

D.  Dude, the same people who talk about unicorns do not use the word “entity.”

E.  can be used to trip up The Good Reader into saying self-contradictory things

F.  is often pictured communing with a virgin on medieval tapestries

G.  if it existed, would be kind of cool

H.  if it existed, would be a horror past all imagining

I.  is a favorite animal among those who self-identify as “horse-people”

J.  “…has a single horn growing out of its forehead. Except, well, you see, it doesn’t, because unicorns aren’t real. Well, it’s complicated. Darn it, you tripped me up again!”

 

Question #8:  Complete the following syllogism.

Some broomshovelers are hobnobbicus.

All broomshovelers are froombicious.

Therefore, _____________________ .

A.  some things that are hobnobbicus are also froombicious.

B.  You have got to be kidding me.

C.  No, it’s a serious logic exercise.

D.  How can something with nonsense words be a logic exercise?  That’s totally illogical.  heh heh.

E.  No, it’s not totally illogical. Non-referential terms can be used as placeholders to illustrate various kinds of logical relationships.

F.  Whatever.

G.  I’m guessing that “whatever,” in the present instance, means “i’m not capable of grasping the nuances of structured philosophical discourse.”

H.  Yeah, well, i’ve got your structured philosophical discourse right here, pal.

I.  Hey, can y’all take the argument offline, please?  I’m trying to figure out the answer to the dude’s question.

J.  I just got here. Sorry i’m late, everybody! Hey, did i hear somebody say “broomshovelers”?  Funny!  I’m actually studying that at the community college. Small world.

 

Question #9:  True, false, neither, both, or both neither and both?

“A flockbinker does not have to exist in order to be treadknicious.”

A.  That’s silly. How can something that doesn’t exist be “trebulishus” or anything else?

B.  You have to pick one of the five options he gave you.

C.  I did. What part of “that’s silly” doesn’t pretty much mean “false”?

D.  We’re all philosophers here. Precision is kind of a big deal.

E.  Guys, The Blogger here. Can you please refrain from using up all the answers with your bickering?  I only get to put in ten answers per question.

F.  You’re The Blogger, how do you not get as many answers per question as you want to include?  Hmmmm?

G.  Hey fellas, i’ll take a stab at it. “Neither.”  ‘Cause a flockbinker doesn’t exist and also isn’t treadknicious.

H.  Oh my word. Kill me now.

I.  What, that wasn’t the right answer? I thought it made perfect sense.

J.  Let me try. I’m going with “both neither and both,” on account of it sounds like the most complicated answer, and it’s a complicated question.

J 1/2.  He only included that one to be absurd. I’m pretty sure he didn’t expect anyone to select it.

J 2/3.  Well, it’s my answer and i’m sticking to it.

J 4/5.  By the way, o mighty Blogger, don’t think we haven’t noticed that you’re stretching out the answers.

 

Question #10:  Fill in the blank. Choose all answers that apply.

“There are two kinds of people in the world: dog-people and horse-people. We only threw in the dog-people to make the question seem more involved than it really is. You can lead a horse-person to water, but you cannot  ________________________ .”

A.  make him drink it.

B.  make his horse drink it.

C.  take the risk of attaching either the pronoun ‘he’ or the pronoun ‘she’ to ‘horse-person,’ because ‘horse-person’ is a gender-indefinite term.

D.  Well, traditionally, ‘he’ has been used as the gender-indefinite pronoun in English.

E.  Your respect for tradition is endearing! I bet you knit your own sweaters, too. Welcome to the 21st century! We’ve kind of moved beyond sexist grammar.

F.  There’s nothing ‘sexist’ about having an indefinite pronoun that happens to be the same word that, in other contexts, would be a masculine pronoun.

G.  The Blogger: Fellas, fellas, please!  Take the argument outside.  I’m really trying to run a quiz here.

H.  “Fellas”…?  What makes you think we’re both men?

I.  I was using the word ‘fellas’ in its gender-inclusive sense.

J.  The word ‘fellas’ does not have a gender-inclusive sense, dude. It’s a masculine-reference noun, admittedly idiomatic in nature but nevertheless conventionally masculine.

J.5.  You called me “dude.”

J.7.  What?

J.8.  You called me “dude.”  How do you know i’m a fella?

J.9.  I read your bio, dude.

J.995.  Oh, that’s right.  Blast.  Thought i had you.

 

 

 

Ontology, Equestrian Style

In which an impromptu discussion of philosophy erupts among three randomly-assembled persons: two twenty-something women, and The Blogger, who now dutifully reports the exchange to his readers for their potential benefit and edification. And all that sort of thing.

As the scene begins, Female #1—whose real name sounds kind of like ‘Paleontology,’ only much shorter and with different letters—but in order to protect her identity we are calling her something else—to wit, ‘Female #1— is about to make a profound observation regarding human types. Her cousin, Female #2, whose real name is a slight variant of ‘Augury,’ is perched nearby reading a book with one ear and listening in on the conversation with the other ear. The question of how she can be reading a book with one ear…it’s a real book, not an audiobook… can safely be deferred to another day.

DomenichinounicornPalFarnese-600

 

Female #1:  There are two types of people in this world: horse people and normal people.

The Blogger:  And the people who make musical instruments by winding old silk stockings around a spool and playing them with chopsticks. That’s a third category entirely.

Female #1:  I was being serious.

The Blogger:  There’s no doubt of that! And any serious foray into the development of a classification system deserves the very closest attention from one’s intellectual companions.

Female #1:  I have no response to that.

The Blogger:  And we…  [here the Blogger makes a sweeping gesture that tacitly includes the cousin, seated across the room with one ear in a book]  …are your deeply interested intellectual companions.

Female #1:  There may be a slight difference between “giving somebody your very closest attention,” and “making fun of them by proposing ridiculous ideas when they’re thinking out loud.”

The Blogger:  Perhaps, perhaps. So why don’t you restate your two categories.

Female #1:  Horse people and normal people.

Female #2:  [piping up from across the room]  And dog people!

The Blogger:  …and chopstick – silk stocking – spool – musician people. Four categories! Your taxonomy is rapidly coming apart, [person’s name withheld, but it sounds kind of like Paleontology except with different letters and not as long].

Female #1:  Oh, come on!

The Blogger:  And to make matters worse, just off the top of my head, i’m now thinking of the category of people who have been to Jupiter in a spacecraft that was made by supergluing 46 microwave ovens together.

“Ah,” you may reply, “that’s not a very densely populated category.”

Sure, fine, but the point is that it is a category distinct from categories 1-4. So now we’ve identified FIVE groups of people in this world. And we may not yet be finished discovering new ones.

Female #1:  You’re pretty good at carrying on the whole conversation all by yourself. I could go get a donut and coffee and come back in about an hour, and I bet you’d still have both of us covered.

The Blogger:  You’re not the first person who’s said that.

Female #2:  [from across the room]  And the people who keep guinea pigs. That’s a very distinct community.

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Female #1:  Look, guys, I was just making a simple comment on whether people are into horses or not. There’s no need to make a production out of it.

The Blogger:  What you call “making a production out of it” is simply our display of intense interest in your line of thinking. We are subjecting your ideas to careful philosophical scrutiny because we think so very highly of you.

Female #1:  Well, gee. Thanks. I feel strangely moved.

Female #2:  And pythons. Some people keep a ball python at home in a large glass case. Those are not the horse people and they’re not the guinea pig people. Well, some of them could be guinea pig people. They could raise guinea pigs in order to feed them to the python. So now we have an overlapping of two of the categories. This is getting really interesting. I think I could take a liking to philosophy if it were all like this.

Female #1:  If you mention one more animal, so help me.

Female #2:  And the people in northern Finland who herd reindeer!  [ducks around a corner]

Female #1:  Grrrrr. Okay, I’ve got this: all of the above mentioned categories are just sub-categories within the “normal people” one. There are still only two main categories. Horse people and normal people.  [sweet smile]

The Blogger:  Oohh, that’s good… but I anticipate a possible difficulty. You may run into some snags trying to pass off the people who use chopsticks to draw music out of stocking-encircled spools, or the people who say they have been to Jupiter in a collection of microwave ovens, as “normal.” I’m just saying.

Female #1:  Okay… how about ‘horse people’ and ‘the uninitiated.’

V0017113 Chastity (a virgin and a unicorn). Oil painting by a followe

Female #2:  [popping back into the room]  And the people who keep those enormous fish tanks with ten kinds of tropical fish in them, and an eel, and some kind of bizarre crab thing that lives on the bottom, and lots of intricate-looking pumps and aerating equipment, and some fancy weeds.

Female #1:  STOP that!

The Blogger:  And the people with those asymmetrical haircuts in which the vast majority of their hair is gathered on one side, thereby creating the impression that they should be tilting their head at a rather severe angle in order to maintain balance.

Female #2:  Right! I’ve never understood that. Why can’t people just settle for a regular, symmetrical haircut?

Female #1:  GUYS!

The Blogger:  So now we’re up to, what, about eight different categories?

Female #2:  Ten. I’ve been keeping a tally. But two of them overlap: the python people and the guinea pig people.

The Blogger:  Excellent! Attention to detail is good.

Female #1:  Oh my word. Neither one of you is a normal people.

The Blogger:  Then, according to your initial scheme, we must both be horse people! But I’ve never been on a horse in my life. Well, that’s not true. I was at another little boy’s birthday party once, a long time ago, and it was held at a stable, and all the party guests took turns riding the pony. I was the only one for whom the dang pony wouldn’t do anything. He just stood there. I tried following directions, but the pony just wouldn’t respond. It scarred me.

Female #2:  Well, of course it did! Poor little boy. Bad, bad pony.

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Female #1:  I have entered a nightmare from which I fear I will not awaken.

Female #2:  Can there be a separate category for people who might have become horse people, but didn’t, due to a traumatizing incident in early childhood?

The Blogger:  That makes sense to me.

Female #1:  Okay, stop, please, just stop. Listen. Here’s what I was doing. I was simply observing that some people in the world are into horses, and then there’s everybody else. That’s what I was saying.

The Blogger:  A true enough observation, as far as it goes.

Female #2:  Which isn’t very far! What about the people who practice dentistry and go to Africa in order to shoot a lion?

The Blogger:  Right, right! Of course. Is that eleven categories so far?

Female #2:  Twelve.

The Blogger:  Gotcha.

Female #1:  Okay, time out, time out, let me try this. There’s a potentially infinite number of ways in which you can categorize people. Right? You could come up with bajillions of classification schemes, and many of them would be totally valid and what not. All I’m saying… all I’m saying… is that there is one classification scheme that I’m thinking of right now, and it’s got two categories in it, that’s all, just two categories. And those categories are (1) the horse people, and (2) the people who aren’t horse people. That’s all I’m saying.

Giulia_Farnese_unicorn

Female #2:  And then there are the people who’ve seen pictures of horses on the internet, and they’ve thought to themselves, “Wow, maybe I should get a horse, I could be a horse person,” but then they think, “Well no, I bet it’s a lot of trouble and expense, and I’d have to have someplace to keep him, which I don’t, and there’s probably some kind of license you have to get, similar to a driver’s license, but for horses.” And so they decide against it.

The Blogger:  Against purchasing a horse? Or becoming a horse person?

Female #2:  Are they not the same thing?

The Blogger:  Well, it seems to me that someone could technically own a horse without being a horse person. They could own one for their business but they hire someone else to groom it, because they personally can’t relate to horses.

Female #2:  Yeah, I can see how that might be true.

Female #1:  Oh my WORD.

The Blogger:  You two are related, aren’t you?

Female #1:  No… no, I don’t think so.

Female #2:  Definitely.

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A Meditation on the Naming of Winter Storms

Not all of the posts to this blog directly concern flockbinkers. As you have doubtless observed, a couple of the posts have been about Scotsmen—three of them—seated, somewhat inexplicably, on a fence. One has been about a fellow named Elvis Wu, who apparently was the Last Philosophy Major. These posts deal with all manner of groovy stuff, including logic and ontology, absurdity and nonbeing, reality and myth, and the nature of rational argument.  The flockbinkers are gravy.

[Editor’s Note:  Well, no: actually ‘flockbinkers’ are not ‘gravy.’  Honestly, people.  It was intended as a figure of speech.  You know, something like, “Amid all this exploration of arcane philosophical topics, how nice to have the flockbinkers around to add a touch of lighthearted surrealism to an otherwise strange and whimsical body of material.  Oh, wait.”]

Therefore, Good Reader, it should come as no surprise to you that the present entry deals with the manner in which winter storms are named.  It fits right in.  Flockbinkers, fence-sitting Scotsmen, Chinese-American philosophy grads, winter storms.  You know, that sort of thing.

It’s a pretty recent habit, this tendency to give names to the wintry equivalent of hurricanes. Those of us who have been around for a few years can count on the fingers of one hand how many years ago it’s been since the idea of naming winter storms would have sounded goofy to the average American. But the Weather Channel has eased us into the mindset, and, like proverbial frogs in a kettle of water being slowly brought to a boil, we are beginning to get used to the frankly ridiculous practice of… let me say this slowly, for emphasis… NAMING… WINTER… STORMS. Giving them NAMES. Giving names to SNOWSTORMS. I’m hoping that if i keep repeating the same thing over and over in slightly different ways, and making judicious use of all-caps, i can help you see how immensely silly it all is.

A Facebook friend of mine put it well a couple of days ago. Here, i’ll call him “Adam” to disguise his identity.

Adam:  Winter Storm “Quantum”? This is why I can’t take the Weather Channel seriously anymore. Their marketing strategy is just too obnoxious. The National Weather Service doesn’t name these storms. The Weather Channel people are literally making this garbage up and the names aren’t even good!  End Rant.

Amen!  Well said, “Adam” (if i may address you by the name i made up for you to safeguard your privacy).

Indeed, after reading “Adam’s” post, i got to thinking: this naming of winter storms is only going to get more and more ridiculous as all of the relatively sensible names get used up. I mean, in the case of hurricanes there are only a few per season, but with these winter storm ‘Matilda’-type weather events coming hard and fast on each other’s heels, they’re going to exhaust the available pool of names in no time flat.

Here’s my prediction.  Two years from now, after all the even remotely plausible names have been snatched up, we will finally get to see what the bottom of the barrel looks like:

Winter Storm Wolfman
Winter Storm Bogeyman
Winter Storm Sauron
Winter Storm Morgoth
Winter Storm “The White Witch”
Winter Storm Voldemort
Winter Storm Darth Vader
Winter Storm Zombie Attack
Winter Storm Johnny Depp
Winter Storm Ahhnold Schwarzenegger

[…a name that one faction within the meteorological community will find just a BIT precious…  “You don’t have to spell the name phonetically, we get it!”]

[This odd little tiff will lead to a delightful string of The Sound of Music-themed storms]

Winter Storm The Von Trapp Family Singers
Winter Storm The Lonely Goatherd
Winter Storm Sixteen Going on Seventeen
Winter Storm Do-Re-Mi
Winter Storm Climb Ev’ry Mountain
Winter Storm Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens

[..after which, there will follow an odd but not entirely unpleasing series of winter storms with “rise and shine”-sounding names…]

Winter Storm A Complete Breakfast
Winter Storm Cuppa Joe
Winter Storm Instant Oatmeal
Winter Storm Dunkin’ Donut
Winter Storm Toaster Pastry

[…which latter “storm” will turn out to be a somewhat pathetic flurry that dissipates almost before it’s gotten under way, much to the egg-facedness of the Weather Channel folks, and in a feeble attempt to salvage their reputations, they name the next storm…]

Winter Storm Pop-up Toaster Pastry

[…and things get increasingly abstract from this point onward…]

Winter Storm Molecular Biology
Winter Storm Planetary Astrophysics
Winter Storm Logical Inference
Winter Storm Syntactically Incoherent
Winter Storm Zen
Winter Storm The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Winter Storm Atman Is Brahman
Winter Storm Wes Anderson Movie
Winter Storm Octopus’s Garden

[…which, interestingly, leads to a new series of storms with musical references for names…]

Winter Storm I Am the Walrus
Winter Storm I Am the Eggman
Winter Storm While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Winter Storm John, Paul, George, and Ringo
Winter Storm Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
Winter Storm The Oxford Comma
Winter Storm The Rolling Stones, But Mostly Just Mick and Keith
Winter Storm Led Zeppelin

[…which last entry nearly doesn’t make the cut, because, interestingly, it really almost sounds like something that a winter storm should be called–an actually kind of sensible criterion that you’d think would come into play more often in this process–but which, by this time, will have become the very last factor on anybody’s mind…]

[…and it’s followed by…]

Winter Storm It’s a Beautiful Day

[…in the wake of this one a heated controversy arises over whether it is even intelligible to name a winter storm “It’s a Beautiful Day”–the irony just seems a bit too rich–the result of which is that a dissenting faction retroactively dubs the blizzard a simplified version of the same thing, “Winter Storm B-Day”–prompting the first group to roll their eyes SO impatiently and complain that it’s a band name, and it really doesn’t make sense if you shorten it, and furthermore, the second group CLEARLY doesn’t get the subtleties of naming a storm…]

[…after which things get kind of ugly, as the two faced-off meteorological communities begin naming storms terrible things simply in order to insult the opposing group…]

Winter Storm Completely Missing the Point
Winter Storm Professional Incompetence
Winter Storm Where Did You Get Your Degree in Meteorology, I Bet It Came With Your Happy Meal
Winter Storm Your Mom
Winter Storm Why Don’t You Just Shut Up
Winter Storm Somebody Got Out of the Wrong Side of the Bed This Morning
Winter Storm I Know You Are But What Am I
Winter Storm Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones But Words Can Never Hurt Me

[…at which point the public outcry rises to such a fever pitch, that everybody concerned reverts to the rather common-sense position that, hey, you just really don’t need to be naming winter storms…]

Perhaps you find my predictions a bit fanciful?  Just wait, Dear Reader.  Give it two years.  That’s the winter of 2016/2017.  If we don’t begin seeing names like “Winter Storm Disgruntled Postal Worker,” and “Winter Storm I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up,” then contact me and i’ll refund you every penny of the money that you’ve paid to subscribe to this blog.

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