14 December 2020

14 December 12020

304,902   people are now confirmed dead from the pandemic in the United States. A vaccine is now available, which should help healthcare workers and others on the frontlines, always assuming that it works and doesn’t have nasty side-effects. (While haste may be unavoidable in an emergency, it’s never the ideal way to do things. Anybody else remember thalidomide?)

14 December 12020 is Monkey Day. It’s also Alabama Day (Alabama), Martyred Intellectuals Day (Bangladesh), Bashkir Language Day (Bashkortostan), National Energy Conservation Day (India), Forty-seven Ronin Remembrance Day (Japan), the fourth day of Hanukkah (Judaism), National Tree Planting Day (Malawi), and Petroleum Industry and Geology Workers’ Day (Turkmenistan).

The day’s saint is Spyridon, bishop of Trimithus (Cyprus); a shepherd by trade. He attended the Council of Nicaea, accompanied by his deacon. On their way there, other bishops, worried that the uncouth shepherd might do injury to their cause, cut the heads off the mules they were riding during the night. On learning of this setback before sunrise from his deacon, Spyridon had him replace the heads on the bodies of their mules, and they soon found that their steeds were now as good as ever. Not long after they caught up with the other bishops, and all were startled when the sun rose to find that mules' heads had been attached to the wrong bodies. Spyridon carried a brick with him into the council, where he used it to demonstrate that three could be one, by pointing out that the brick was made of earth and fire and water (three elements) and yet was simply one thing—a brick. Whether the Arians were impressed is not recorded.

People of note born on this day include bandleader and percussionist Spike Jones and genre-defying writer Shirley Jackson. In the news I see that some idiot at the Wall Street Journal (the journal of record for the clueless) had objected to calling Dr. Jill Biden by her title because, it seems, she only has an earned doctorate. Apparently this ninny—his name is Joseph Epstein—feels that the title should be reserved for medical practitioners who, in point of fact, haven’t earned it. (It is a courtesy title when given to anybody who has not actually been awarded a Ph.D.) He himself claims to have a B.A. and no advanced degree (so do I, by the way) but adds that he has an honorary doctorate (I don’t). So what? say I. Ninny Epstein (I use the title because it is earned) feels that lowered standards for doctorates have eroded their prestige (“outside the sciences”), as if that was any kind of an argument against using an earned title. Now were he writing about unearned doctorates—those printed out by diploma mills or handed out to potential donors by real universities—then I would agree that their use is silly, but an actual degree actually awarded by an actual institution deserves its actual title, not that there is any requirement for it. My mother has a Ph.D. but I don’t habitually call her “Dr.”, for instance. And I can remember when I started college after a long period of self-directed study and found myself surrounded by people whom I had previously known only as names on erudite volumes, and was calling everybody Dr. Smith, and Dr. Jones, and Dr. Robinson, and being informed in return that “Jim,” or “Fred,” or “Doug” was fine. Preferable, even. There was one occasion when a perennial graduate student there who had done groundbreaking work finally got his doctorate, and everybody was calling him “Dr.” and being called “Dr.” in return, but it was in good spirits, celebrating a milestone, not some bizarre game of one-upmanship. And I don’t know about this “outside the sciences” thing—I’ve seen a lot of people with doctorates, both inside and outside “the sciences”, putting their prestige behind dumb concepts. (Mythicism, for instance.) The fact that somebody can perform brain surgery doesn’t make him any sort of authority in anything else, whether he’s got a doctorate or is a mere medical practitioner.

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