Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Makes You Laugh?

     An older gentleman, that is to say, a “senior citizen,” was pulled over by a frantic highway patrol officer.  Apprehensively he asked the cop what he had done wrong.  The cop was obviously very upset and said, “Don’t you know that your wife fell out of the car five miles back?”  The old guy seemed relieved and said, “Thank heavens.  I thought I was going deaf.” 

            That joke obviously plays on stereotypes and seems a little misogynistic.  My wife doesn’t think it’s funny, but humor comes in all forms.

            There’s the self-deprecating humor of Rodney Dangerfield - “I was such an ugly kid that when I played in the sandbox, the cat kept covering me up.”  This kind of humor works well, because it is not offensive.  The comic is making fun of himself.  You can laugh at him with impunity. 

            Consider the girl who brought her goldfish to the vet and frantically explained that her pet fish had epilepsy.  The vet looked at the fish swimming happily in the bowl and said, “He looks normal to me.”  The girl said, “Well, duh, I haven’t taken him out of the water yet.”  We like to laugh at stupidity in others.  This is where you find all the “blond” jokes.

            If you analyze a joke you can begin to understand why some hit your “funny bone” while others fall flat.  And not everyone finds the same humor funny. Most comics today rely less on creativity and more on profanity and shock.  If you read the humor of some of the great comedians from the past, you will find that some had very creative minds and didn’t need to be crude. 

            Aristotle said, “The secret to humor is surprise.”  A "paraprosdokian" is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for dramatic effect.    For example, “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.”

            Some humor is complex and creative, requiring thought.  Profanity and bathroom humor is simplistic and usually devoid of true creativity.  I admire the creativity of comics like Jonathan Winters and others, who can spontaneously create humor out of thin air. 

            Laughter has probably been with us since human beings first noticed they were naked.  I’ve blogged on humor and how the brain processes it many moons ago, but by way of review, I’d like to go over it again for new readers.  This may only interest me because I taught psychology a long, long time ago - shortly before Freud discovered sex.  But, who knows, you may find this process interesting too. 

Here’s how the brain works when you laugh at a joke. In less than a half-second an electrical wave moves through the higher brain functions of the cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain associated with higher cognitive functions.

We all know about the “right brain – left brain” stuff.  In the case of humor, the left hemisphere analyzes the words and the structure of a joke or humorous event.  Then the right hemisphere “gets” it, so to speak.

The right hemisphere appears to be involved in the interpretation of emotional material presented linguistically and when it “gets it” the process accelerates.  The right hemisphere actually determines if something is funny or not.

The visual sensory area of the occipital lobe creates images. The limbic or “emotional” system provides pleasure or happiness and the motor systems make you smile or laugh.  Kind of a chain reaction.  Simple, eh? 

Personally, I think the Corpus Callosum plays a major role.  That’s the thick band of nerve fibers that connect the left and right hemispheres of the Cerebrum, facilitating communications between the hemispheres. Incidentally, early music training helps develop this connection. 

All you really need to know is that humor engages the whole brain. Consequently creativity is enhanced, intelligence is exercised, and the brain is firing on all cylinders. So laugh and get smarter.   

But if you don’t enjoy humor, take the advice of W. C. Fields - “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.”

Friday, August 23, 2013

Gender Surrender

       My last blog introduced “anachronistic displacement” as a psychological condition where a person feels uncomfortable in the world he or she inhabits, feeling that they belong in a different time period.  I try to avoid controversial social and political issues, but, due to the fact that I suffer from this displacement affliction, I can’t always keep my mouth shut or my computer keyboard quiet.

            California has the well deserved reputation of being the “land of the fruits and nuts.”  Many sane people are fleeing the state, but many of us have roots too deeply planted with family and friends to join those who have managed to escape the asylum. Most of my readers are outside of California or outside of the U.S.  They must laugh at the California side-show.  For you “non-Californian” readers, here’s a keyhole peek at the latest news from the mental institution called “California.”

            Our illustrious “re-Governor,” Jerry Brown, aka “Governor Moonbeam,” recently signed a bill into law that will allow school children, who are confused over their sexual identity, to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities of whichever sex they identify with at the time.  Birth gender doesn’t count.  Physical appendages don’t matter.  It’s how a kid perceives himself or herself.  This law has been described by opponents as “gender insanity,” but it fits comfortably in our national psychosis.

             I’ve always wondered if Governor Brown wasn’t a little confused over where he fit on the “male scale.”

            AB1266 applies to grades K through 12 and passed both the California Senate and Assembly by wide margins.  It goes into effect January first.  The fact that so many legislators voted for this is very discouraging, but it proves that the inmates really do run the asylum.  As usual, parents are not a consideration with these people.  After all, the government is the parent.

            The term “transgender” has to do with self-identity, not necessarily a physical change in sex.  If a boy feels that he is a girl trapped in a boy’s body, he can now use the girl’s bathroom or join the girls in their shower room.  The same works for a girl, who may think she’s really a boy when she first discovers hair under her arms. 

            The way I understand it, boys cannot be forbidden to join the girl’s volleyball team and girls can join the boy’s wrestling team. Picture that. All of this is to make sure that a “transgender” kid - if there is one - is not made uncomfortable or “bullied.”  Does that make sense to you?  Wouldn’t that increase bullying?

            I was a high school teacher for several years back in the ‘70s.  It doesn’t take much for me to extrapolate to 21st century schools and how unisex bathrooms will be utilized by teenagers with raging hormones.          

            The loons who run California don’t seem to care that the vast majority of young girls will feel “uncomfortable” when boys use their bathroom or change clothes with them in the girl’s locker room.  Most teenage boys would feel the same way, although there may be exceptions.  Look for miraculous conversions of teenage boys to transgender status when the girl’s soccer team hits the showers or when it’s “open season” in the bathrooms.

            When you thought things couldn’t get more insane in our country, California continues its march as the vanguard of our national degeneration, foisted on us by societal deconstructionists.

           I have a solution.  I think politicians should be required to pass an IQ test to qualify for public office.  In addition, political candidates should be evaluated by a qualified and unbiased psychiatrist to weed out the mentally ill.  Sadly, California is the petri dish for social experimentation by intellectually and morally vacuous politicians.

          Law should not trump common sense and logic. The insanity of confusing kids as early as kindergarten by blurring the gender lines is over the top – even for California.  Parents and grandparents have good reasons to be concerned with this latest law. 

Friday, August 16, 2013


     An “anachronism” can be loosely defined as anything out of its proper historical timeframe. My wife prides herself on her ability to find anachronisms in movies and she’s good at it.  Movies are full of these things.  For example, in the movie, “L.A. Confidential”, Gayle noticed the plastic mustard and ketchup squeeze bottles on a restaurant table. These plastic bottles weren’t available until much later than the time period depicted in the movie. Most folks wouldn’t have noticed that.  I didn’t.

            There’s the famous anachronism of Kirk Douglas wearing a watch in the movie, “Spartacus.” Many folks remember that one. Although that may be more of a mistake, in a general sense it could qualify. Another one was a film in which a commercial airliner can be seen high in the sky as cowboys fight valiantly against wild Indians back in the old west.  I can’t remember the movie off hand.  Both of these are more editing oversights than true anachronisms. 

            Maybe the most profound and controversial anachronism is in the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, “The Last Supper.”  You will see oranges on the table with other fruit, but there were no oranges in Israel back when Jesus sat at the table. Oranges were available in Italy during the 15th century, so Leonardo was familiar with them, but they weren’t available to the disciples in the 1st century.

            The painting also shows the disciples eating what appears to be eel, which the Jews of the time would not eat. Some have speculated that da Vinci was playing a trick on the Catholic Church with these depictions, but no one knows for certain.

            Picture Paul Revere riding a motorcycle, Abe Lincoln watching that famous play on TV, or George Washington cutting down a cherry tree with a chain saw.  Advertisers frequently use anachronisms like this. Old Ben Franklin is always trying to sell us something.

            I think part of the genius of Mel Gibson was his use of Aramaic and Latin in “The Passion of the Christ.” The use of English would have been anachronistic and would have lessened the authentic feel of the film.  That was a brilliant touch.

            Some people suffer from an actual psychological condition called “anachronistic displacement.”  This is an obsession or dysfunctional belief that the person “belongs” in another time period and feels out of place in the world he or she inhabits.  I didn’t make this up.  I would guess that this condition is most prevalent in senior citizens.  The old Ronnie Milsap song, “Lost in the ‘50s,” puts “anachronistic displacement” to music. I like that song and I think I may have that dreaded condition.

            These days patriotism, religious belief, and traditional family values seem to be considered anachronisms by the more “enlightened” in our postmodern culture.  If you stand and take off your hat when the flag passes, open the door for a woman, and avoid profanity around women and children, you might be afflicted with “anachronistic displacement.”  But don’t worry.  This malady is not contagious and takes at least five decades for symptoms to appear, however there is no known cure and the condition seems to get worse with age.

            If your discomfort becomes unbearable there are some steps that can be taken to temporarily minimize symptoms: learn how to text, wear tight short pants and a girly helmet while riding a bicycle, always carry a plastic bottle of imported water, only drink Starbucks coffee, listen to rap crap and twitch around, drive while chatting on a cell phone, and never talk about the good old days. 

            If that doesn’t work, just give up and watch old black and white movies. That’s what Gayle does, while I frantically search for my high school block sweater.


Friday, August 9, 2013

"Will Work for Food"

     Some of you read the story about the new pastor of a large church with 10,000 members, who dressed like a homeless guy or a bum and wondered around the church entrance prior to the service.  He greeted people through his false scruffy beard, but only three people said hello to him and no one gave him a penny when he asked for change for food.  When the service began, the ushers sat him in the back row.

            The congregation was shocked when he was introduced as the new head pastor of this huge church.  His sermon was simply a quote from the Bible that ended with the statement by Jesus that “whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me.”  With that last sentence, the new minister said nothing else and closed the brief service.  You can imagine the guilt and self-examination that went home with the church members. 

            Many phonies make an excellent living by pretending to be homeless and hungry and may even become aggressive if taken up on the offer to “work for food.”  Some even resent being given food, because they only accept cash in unmarked bills.  That’s unfortunate, since there are many others who are actually in need.

            Any gift given to someone should be given authentically. Many people give to charity or personally give to others with the wrong motives. Public recognition nullifies true altruism, as does a “gift” when something is expected in return, like a political consideration.

            Anonymous givers are examples of people who are not looking for credit or affirmation of their generosity.  Of course, if the purpose is a tax write-off that’s a different story.  But giving anonymously without selfish motives is true “giving.”  If it gives you secret pleasure, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

            If you give an item to someone when that item means little to you or maybe was on the way to the dump, is that an authentic gift?  I once gave my buddy, John Chaffin, a bottle of wine that someone had given me. I’m not a big wine drinker.  The problem was that I didn’t notice the note to me written on the label by the folks who had given me the wine. Chaffin is still laughing about that “gift” forty years later. He won’t let me forget it.

            I think a gift is only a gift if it is something that you value and something that has meaning to you. When giving it, you are giving a part of yourself to someone.  I failed that test big time with my ignoble “re-gifting” of a nice wine for the Chaffin family. 

            There are a lot of ways to give authentically.  If you see a hungry man warming his hands on a cup of coffee in a fast food place, but no food, you might buy an extra hamburger and drop it on his table as you leave without waiting for a “thank you.” Or you might provide financial help to someone, even a few bucks, without the person knowing where it came from – that can be authentic altruism.

            Is giving always about money or tangible items donated or given away?  How about “time?”  Time is the only non-renewable resource we have.  When you spend time with someone - a grandchild, a sick friend or a healthy friend, or time spent helping a stranger - is that less generous than dropping a few bucks on someone knowing you can always replace the money?  Time is all we have and our time on this planet is limited, so what could be a more valuable gift than giving your time to someone?

            It’s a good exercise in character-building to approach the concept of giving to others without the recipient knowing or the anticipation of a “thank you.”  And, as I said, a gift is not always money.   

            Based on my understanding of psychology, I’m not sure that pure altruism is possible.  Even if you help someone anonymously, you feel good about it.  So it’s not totally unselfish, but that’s about as close as we can get.

            Just a thought . . .

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Quick Road Trip

Crater Lake
     Gayle and I got home last night after almost a week of allowing our dog, Dakota, the opportunity to “mark his territory” from California to Oregon.  He’s very particular on the spots he chooses to honor with his markings and business cards, which I’ve never completely understood.  He has to sniff around to find the exact spot that deserves his consideration.

            So now Crater Lake and the Burney Falls area have been notified of his presence.  Kind of like the marking, “Killroy was here,” if you are old enough to remember WWII.

            I sometimes get so “rummy” driving for hours that the female voice on my GPS begins to sound seductive.  You can pick the voice you want on those things.  Like most married men, I’m accustomed to being given instructions in a female voice, so a woman’s voice seems natural.  I also like one with an accent.  But when she says, “recalculating” it’s too much like Gayle telling me I loaded the dishwasher wrong again. I hear the recalculating thing a lot, because I’m not good at following directions. 
Burney Falls

            Watching for deer and elk is one thing, but watching for morons texting while driving is an even greater hazard.  Some people must be incredibly lonely to find it necessary to “let their fingers do the talking” while careening down the highway at 80 mph.  I don’t get that texting thing anyway.  I’ve been with people having a great conversation while someone sits there texting, reading emails, or whatever else they do with those hand-held demons from hell.  This affliction is most prevalent in young people.  I think it’s rude and somewhat pathetic. They are more interested in reading nonsense on facebook than interacting with human beings.  But getting back to road trips…

            I remember when I was young, it was no big thing to hop in my car and drive straight to Canada without a break.  I can’t count the times I made that trip when I was in my twenties.  I remember one trip when I actually left at 3 am and was stopped by the highway patrol going 120 mph.  At least that’s what he said. 

Crater Lake
            The poor cop was shaking so badly he told me he couldn’t write the ticket.  He said, “Look at my legs.”  They were actually quivering.  Somehow we developed a rapport.   He thought I was a criminal on the run, evidently, and had been trying to catch me for several miles.  He asked me where I was going and when I told him I was going to Canada, he said that if he gave me a ticket I’d probably never return to California, so he let me go with a warning.      

            When Gayle and I got back last night, we were shot.  Today is catching up on things, including emails…oooops.  Come on – even old guys get emails.  But I still don’t know what “texting” is all about and I consider my ignorance in that regard a blessing.