Founts, Gags, and Reality

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October 2, 2020 by libroshombre

            A “fount of knowledge” is “a person, organization, book, etc. that provides reliable information, advice, or ideas,” according to MacmillanDictionary.com.  My copy of “Eric Sloane’s Do’s and Don’ts of Yesteryear: A Treasury of Early American Folk Wisdom” is such a fount, but its flows weakened considerably over time as things once deemed important faded in significance.  For example, Sloane wrote, “Don’t use ‘mad’ for ‘angry.’ This has been denounced as peculiarly an Americanism … animals or insane people become mad while one simply become angry or annoyed with another.”  Or “Do try the simplest of sickroom disinfectants – a plate full of sliced onions.”  Sloane’s fount does contain much worthy advice, such as how to pull stumps, reinforce fishing rods, and making whitewash from rice.  However, he also warns, “Don’t make obvious puns.  An occasional pun, if a good one, is a pleasing thing; but a ceaseless flow of puns is simply maddening.”

            A recent Grant Snider cartoon’s titled “The Hierarchy of Humor.”  “Paradox” sits atop a Babel-like spiraling tower, with “self-deprecation,” “dark humor,” and “slapstick” just below.  Down at the bottom, are puns, just above “dumb jokes” (AKA “Dad jokes” like “Why do melons have weddings? They cantaloupe!”) and below “cat humor.”  “Often described as the lowest form of wit” according to “The Guinness Book of Words,” the humble pun spawns other forms of humor, like “questions-and-answer jokes” (“What did the grape say when the elephant stepped on it?  Nothing.  It just gave a little whine”), “knock-knock” jokes (“Knock-knock.  Who’s there? Sarah.  Sarah who?  Sarah doctor in the house?”), “adverbial puns” (“ ‘I got the first three wrong,’ she said forthrightly”), “imaginary books and authors” (“ ‘The White Cliffs’ by Eileen Dover”), and “occupational dismissal” (“magicians are disillusioned” and “wine merchants get deported”).  Besides, Shakespeare was into punning, as in Richard III’s “Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this sun of York.”

            It’s believed that jokes help people cope with crisis and distance them from awfulness, so puns are included in Emily Kelleher’s “49 Coronavirus and Quarantine Jokes to Retrain Your Face on How to Smile; It’s a Pundemic,” such as “If there’s a baby boom nine months from now, what will happen in 2033?  There will be a whole bunch of quaranteens.”  And “why did the chicken cross the road?  Because the chicken behind it didn’t know how to socially distance properly.” 

We need to treat the pandemic seriously, and Kelleher wasn’t being darkly humorous when she urged readers to “follow the recommendations from the CDC and the WHO,” both of whose reputations for veracity and understanding are sadly tarnished.  As Kelleher noted in another joke, “The World Health Organization announced that dogs can not contract Covid-19.  Dogs previously held in quarantine can be released.  To be clear, WHO let the dogs out.”  Another good cartoon by Tom Gauld speaks to the CDC’s and WHO’s compromised positions: running left -to-right are a “fount of all knowledge,” a “tap of occasional insight,” a “bucket of useless trivia,” a “sprinkler of dubious facts,” and “a puddle of misleading statistics.”  Sadly, both organizations seem at the sprinkler level.

So much misinformation, and even disinformation, streams from governmental sources, we’re fortunate to have ways to winnow out the truth.  My first choice is our public library’s manifold resources, but there are others online. Snopes.com, “the grandaddy of fact-checking sites,” began as an urban myth debunker.  FlackCheck.org “deals with false claims in advertising, science and healthcare.”  And Viral Spiral, part of Fact-Check.org, “specializes in helping to determine if a claim is spreading false information.”  That’s crucial in this Age of Disinformation.  Last April, on Facebook alone, “websites disseminating false or misleading health news generated nearly half a billion views,” according to studies cited in Politico.com, and “10 ‘superspreaders of health misinformation racked up nearly four times as many views as the top 10 leading global health agencies in that same month.” 

This is being done to disrupt the nation as much as possible, both from within as well as without our country, and it’s working.  Confusion reigns, many people don’t know who or what to believe, and our elected leaders are failing us, often actively misinforming us to achieve their political ends.  We’re forced to winnow the truth ourselves, and that’s happening.   The federal guidance and coordination void led to colleges to finding their own ways to operate normally despite Covid-19 by enforcing masking and isolation rules with expulsion and loss of tuition to banding together to hire reliable and quick testing.  100 Northeastern college and universities signed up with the Broad Institute biomedical lab based at Harvard and MIT to test thousands of students several times weekly for $25 per test with a 24 -hour maximum turnaround time.        

“Each campus is different … But a combination of low infection rates in communities that surround schools and multimillion-dollar pandemic management strategies appear to slash the opportunities for the disease to enter campus.”  Moreover, “Colleges finding early success are deploying methods health experts have long recommended.”  Those schools’ other do’s and don’ts are achievable by us all: do mask up, do isolate, do wash, and avoid serious lasting health effects by ignoring superspreaders of misinformation and avoiding those who refuse to be concerned about those around them.  “Every man is a damn fool at least five minutes every day,” as Elbert Hubbard noted.  “Wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.”

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