New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for September/October 2004

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment


by Anne Osteen Stringer

The political season is in full swing as is reflected by some of the content of this issue. Dan Wilterding seeks our input on some issues facing National Mensa. Joe Hopkins reports on what it’s like near the North Pole. Richard Wylie sent us an interesting report on the Las Vegas AG. It sounds like that will be a hard act to follow, but I think we can do better.

H’s cover picture of Moonlight on City Light is stunning. I would also like to point out that it was taken from the 17th floor lounge of the Landmark Hotel. Yes, that’s the view we see from the Celebration SIG. The Celebration SIG is the longest, continuously running SIG in New Orleans Mensa–approaching 20 years. Over the years, NOMs have met on the last Friday night of the month to share convivial company, occasional confrontations, and scintillating conversation. We have traded gossip and jokes, congratulated or commiserated with each other as the need arose, and laughed a lot. At least three marriages have arisen from the Celebration SIG–including mine. Come on out on the last Friday of the month and enjoy a glass of wine, some conversation, and the beautiful view.

Letters to the Editor

Whither Mensa?

Dear Anne,

The recent dust-up over La Plume de NOM's editorial policy does raise some interesting issues, which I am not now sure I understand. I would like to lay out a point-of-view which I had published in the national magazine ("Mensa Bulletin") a few years ago, in the letters to the editor section, for the same reasons that I wrote you in the July/August 2004 issue, which lays out the origin of my argument.

One of the original members of Mensa, and a stalwart organizer of International Mensa, was a fellow named Victor Serebriakoff, an Englishman. In 1989, he published a book entitled "Mensa: The Society for the Highly Intelligent" (Stein and Day, New York) which is now, unfortunately, out of print. The book chronicles the founding of Mensa and its early history. Perhaps we can engage in that very healthy practice of "standing on the shoulders of the dead" and reconsider a historical assessment of the problem.

In Chapter Ten, Serebriakoff outlines the subject "Which Way is Mensa Going?" Let me quote this pioneer's worldview on the issue: "Mensa is like the hologram. It is an exciting idea in search of a use...There is no dominant theme, but a persistently recurring one has been the 'Now we have it, what do we do with it?' approach. We have built up a world-wide association; should it have a policy? Should it become a pressure group,or a lobby with declared aims? The facile answer is that Mensa is not an organization but an association. People are used to the idea of an organization formed to further some policy. There are few institutions formed without at least an ostensible one. It is natural to expect that Mensa should conform to this model. But the association of Mensa members is not based on any purpose or policy, other than association itself. It is based on an objective criterion of selection, an assessment of the applicant's ability to think effectively. Mensa aims to be a forum of the intelligent of every persuasion, so it is simply and permanently not possible for Mensa to have any controversial collective views or policies.

"Because the accusation of 'elitism' against Mensa is frequent and appears to be reasonable, let me talk about organizations in general. "The very existence of a committed organization, one with objectives, is an indication that the policies are not uncontested. There are usually non-members, opponents or people with other priorities. "Organizations are formed to deal with areas of policy where there is disagreement with those not joining. Parties, factions, companies, groups, almost all institutions are formed with limited aims which are in competition with the aims or priorities of other parties, factions, groups, companies or institutions. Suppose Mensa were the same. If Mensa adopted, for instance, the policy of abolishing all experiments on animals, we should have a divided Mensa: the no-experiments faction and the rest. That would be a contradiction of what we have done so far. If we were to follow that road Mensa would divide into a proliferation of antagonistic groups loosely based on the original idea. This is a possible, even a likely course for Mensa, but not one that recommends itself to me at least.

"My very strong recommendation to my Mensa colleagues is to hold on to our tenuous but strangely strong, tacit accord. Even at the cost of outward contention we should cling to our hidden protean unity...."

Now, upon re-reading this compelling worldview, it occurs to me that we are here considering three spheres: There is "world-wide Mensa," there is "American Mensa," and there is "Local Mensa." Does a creed, even if it is universally accepted on one or even two levels, pertain to all levels? Or perhaps even the better question is: "How do we energize our local Mensa membership, appeal to its discriminatory selection criterion, and bring value to its participation in our 'association'?" Or, "What the hell is our 'hidden protean unity'?" (Our rusty Greek mythology reminds us that Proteus was a Greek sea god capable of assuming many forms, but just which form can we relate to in our "unity"?)

Will an energetic debate about the political ramifications of "individualism" versus "collectivism" pull NOM together, or drive it asunder? Will the hatred of Bush embrace and engage the indifference to Kerry? Some of us have very strong feeling about abortion and pro-life, should we form a SIG and crack a keg once a month to enjoy that debate?

I just don't know. In some ways, I am tempted to turn to Oakeshott and buy his theory that "university education" differs from "vocational education" in that it teaches one to read texts not as verbatim learning exercises, but as paradigmatic templates written to teach one a new language, a unique way of thinking, which better informs the mind to uncover new vistas of thought and comprehension. I do so because I would like to equate high IQ to conversing in a new language capable of revealing new, or at least reliable, realities. Unfortunately, introspection tells me this is not the case. There are times when I realize, at best, this gift gives me the capacity only to think of dumb ideas faster than average.

But the question lies there to be answered: "Which way is Mensa going?"


Another viewpoint

Dear Anne:

Let me start by telling you how touched Joyce and I were with your obit of Larry LaPrise. I haven’t found anything so “laugh out loud” funny in a long time. We need more of this in our lives.

Next, let me comment on the recent controversy in LPDN regarding Richard’s book review. I am an ardent believer in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the USA. No ifs, ands or buts, and even “long haired, blabby-mouthed, commie pinko hippies” are entitled to voice their opinion about anything. This brings back memories of the last time I did just that in the LPDN and was attacked personally (as opposed to an attack on what I wrote) by several Mensans, including the then editor of LPDN. The experience was so distasteful and disheartening that I haven’t contributed anything controversial since. Oh well, that’s what I get for being so sensitive…. (By the way, its interesting to note that the piece I wrote that provoked the aforementioned attacks was almost identical in content to the recent rants by Bill Cosby…it’s getting him about the same response, just a little more polite) Regardless, I hope you and Richard continue to voice your opinion. This is a big part of what makes this the greatest nation on Earth.

Lastly, a word on George Bush: Idiot? A%$#@&? Incompetent? I guess one word is not enough. The problem is that his opponent in the upcoming race is one of those ultra wealthy, ultra liberal hypocrites I despise. Why are the American people constantly given a “choice” between candidates that do not even remotely reflect the views of most Americans? We need a “none of the above” amendment so that we can force the powers that be to field some reasonable, moderate, competent people for office.


Quote from the President

Bush quote Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.*
*George W. Bush at the signing of the $417 billion defense spending bill.

Hello Region 6

Dan Wilterding

This month I would like to let you know about some of the topics under discussion by the AMC. Knowing your thoughts on these matters would also be a good thing, so please drop me a line sometime before my departure for the AMC meeting (departure: Thursday September 16).

There are four items for now, two involved with risk management & two others that are not.

The first issue has to do with the AMC minutes: Available online or (by request) as hard copy they have, for the past several years, been
moderately verbose in that the voting record for the AMC members are indicated as are the names of those making major points during discussions. In your opinion should these minutes take on a more bare bones corporate model indicating only the results of actions taken without showing how the various AMCers voted; should they contain more indications of any discussions (who said what) leading up to the vote; or, should they stay as is?

Risk management has been an ongoing concern both in determining acceptable levels of risk and in developing safeguards (rules and guidelines) to address these risks. Food safety has been singled out as being among the more significant risks and has therefore been given quite a bit of attention. One proposal is that any RG (or AG) hospitality Chair be required to have taken a training course in food preparation and handling -- often available from local government bodies, soon to be available from the AML national office. Local events often serve food be it potluck, crockpot or just a table of assorted perishable goodies; should the proposal be extended to include hosts of these local functions?

Another subject coming under the R-M umbrella is gatherings. To be advertised in the national Bulletin a gathering must meet certain criteria to be approved by the RVC and the Membership Officer; some organizers (SIGs for example, although not necessarily) choose to forgo this "approval" process for their events, relying instead on word of mouth and notices in local newsletters. Advertising in Mensa publications (local, regional, or national) and on Mensa-sponsored web sites present a degree of legal risk to the organization in that these "unapproved" functions might seem to be condoned by Mensa but are not covered under the provisions of our insurance policies. Should ads and notices of these events be disallowed in local newsletters and websites?

Finally (for this column at least): For the past three decades the AMC has met in various locations throughout the country in an effort to be more available to the general membership and to give members better opportunity to witness and take part in the operation of AML. Typically less than a dozen people sign the meeting register as visitors for a meeting although dozens may be found in Hospitality and elsewhere taking advantage of the chance to share conversation and views with one or more AMC officers. From the AMCers perspective these are working weekends with little chance to really enjoy the area or the RG (if there is one) -- generally arriving in the host city on Friday afternoon in time for committee meetings (often lasting until midnight), having the AMC meeting all day (at least) Saturday and then departing on Sunday. The suggestion has been made that as a cost-saving measure the AMC conduct more, or even all, of its meetings at the national headquarters in Arlington, Texas. Currently one meeting every two years is scheduled for Arlington after elections as an orientation for the newly seated AMC. Roam or Rome (Arlington): what is your preference, and why?

Comments, anyone?

Dan Wilterding - RVC6

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Too Cold

by Joe Hopkins

The BMEWS site to which I was assigned was near Thule, Greenland. Thule is at 78 degrees N or about twice as far from the equator as Baltimore, MD. It is within 800 miles of the North Pole. It gets cold there.

I arrived on site just as the sun was setting. That is to say November. It would not be seen again until April. November days were 24 hour sunsets until the sun finally disappeared altogether. Around February it was equivalent to midnight and April would give us 24 hours of sunrise. By July the sun was directly overhead. That confused some people. Coming out of the “O” club, into the bright sunlight after having a few beers, one had no clue as to whether it was noon or midnight. Some people called 6 months of daylight and 6 months of darkness extreme. I tend to agree.

The weather was also extreme as you might expect. When I arrived it wasn’t too bad. The temperature was about 20F or about -6C. In January it got down to 10F about -12C. In April the temperature was back up to 30F or -1C and one day in July it actually reached 60F, about 16C. A couple of times during the winter the temperature was -40. When it is that cold you don’t care if it is F or C–it is just too cold. Actually it doesn’t matter at that point. Plug the numbers into the equation and you’ll see what I mean. {C=5/9(F-32)} Try it!

Fahrenheit 9/11 Revisited

by Ben, Jr

Wow, what a stunning impact piece, I said to myself after seeing this film. Not unlike "Bowling For Columbine", Michael Moore's previous film, in that there was a little bit of everything: documentary, interviews, shock effects, street theater, stock news footage, and then the kitchen sink. "Fahrenheit 9-11" is not objective journalism, but an unabashed anti-Bush ad. Not that that's a criticism, mind you, but just don't expect what Moore never promised to deliver. In Columbine, he only got tantalizingly close to a number of conclusions, but here he makes a habit of jumping to them whole hog. I should pause here to say that this is not a reply to previous reviews, nor am I attempting to promote a partisan point of view for either side, since I consider myself an independent political thinker. The only way I can think of to get to the heart of this complex film is to give my reactions to its major suppositions. Unfortunately, that means I must take the reader's time to explain myself. The main disappointment for me was that there was not a lot of new ideas. The opening point was that Bush stole the 2000 election in FL. My reaction: really old news.

Ironically, we now know that, had the Court ruled the other way and allowed a recount of those few counties, Bush would have still won, but if a recount of the entire state been accomplished (at that time not feasible), Gore would have won. Granted, no one knew that at the time. Moore's conclusion: when it’s that close, politics always tips the balance. So, what else is new?

Following my initial disappointment, there was a rather informative segment about the Bush family's financial ties to the Saudis, including the Bin-Laden family. Unfortunately, Moore jumps to the conclusion that they are sleeping with the enemy. My reaction: a bit of a stretch. Apparently, Bush was so anxious to please the Saudis that he let a bunch of them out of the country. Not surprising, since THEY the boys got the OIL. Moore further implies that Bush was initially "soft" on the Taliban (and UBL) in order to get an oil pipeline deal. It is equally plausible that he was trying to buy them off, which is how Texas oil men normally operate. I think that the Saudis and the Bin Laden family are more interested in following the money than following UBL's political agenda, and if there is one conclusion that does shine repeatedly throughout the film, it is that is what motivates the Bush clique, too. But is there anyone left that doesn't already know that?

A major portion of the film was devoted to sometimes humorous sound bites which show Bush in a comic light, interspersed with interesting commentary from a number of expert-looking people who were rehashing the dirty laundry that was aired in the 9-11 Commission hearings. For instance, we see Bush lollygaging about prior to 9-11. Moore's conclusion: Bush was busy looking after his Saudi friends. My conclusion: Bush was busy looking after his debts to the people who got him elected. They had to work hard to get Ashcroft confirmed to appease the religious right who turned out the vote, and were going full bore to sell a fistful of fat "missile defense" contracts for the corporations who footed the bill. How could they not realize UBL would be the troublemaker he turned out to be? Moore implies that Bush was intentionally soft on UBL, but I think that the Bush clique was just lacking in imagination and competence.

As we all know, 9-11 was a wake-up call, and the wheels started turning. In my opinion, the most accurate and revealing segment of the film had to do with the so-called "Patriot Act". Moore illustrates the use of fear by a government desiring more power, thereby taking advantage of the post 9-11 climate. Yup, oldest trick in the poli-sci textbook. If you didn't see that coming... What was poignent to me was an actual case of the infiltration of a harmless Peace group. I am old enough to remember how this was done in the Viet-Nam era, and how I thought they put a stop to that.
Moore's next point: the Bush clique knew there were no WMD but went to war with Iraq anyway to make money for their war-profiteer pals. My reaction: A bit of a stretch, again, just when I thought the film was getting serious. Wait a minute, I'm not so naive as to think that there weren't ulterior motives, but I think it is equally naive to think that the Bush clique went barreling off to war knowing they were destined to make fools of themselves by turning up dry on the smoking gun. In my opinion, the whole WMD issue was not given careful analysis because it was a smoke-screen for the real agenda: get the oil flowing, finish the job to redeem Bush, Sr.'s place in history, show everyone else who's the boss, and pre-empt Saddam the megalomaniac from threatening the world oil supply with long range missiles that he was in the process of obtaining to do just that. Conventional munitions are plenty threatening to Persian Gulf oil fields-no WMD required. Once they were in the mindset for a pre-emptive strike, even the most peripheral involvement of UBL could be extrapolated to further the justification. I don't know anyone who doesn't believe that the decision to go to war in Iraq wasn't made on 9-12-01, but "Oops, no WMD", I blame on ineptness, not conspiracy.

Up to this point, my disappointment with the film was more or less a matter of degree. The last part of the film was strictly for shock value, and in my opinion, often quite "over the top". In effect, this hurt Moore's cause. Are there civilian casualties any time there is war? Goes without saying. Intentional? Not believable. Does the cost of war make people rethink its necessity? Hope so. Did they plan to make money off this whole adventure? Can't imagine when that hasn't happened. Do the armed forces recruit poor people? Always have. Do Indians die so chiefs can prosper? For the last 5000 years. Thought that ended when Nixon left office? Guess again. Yet, am I glad the Saddam clique is gone? You bet. They had chalked up a body count in their various wars of well over a million. Were they ready to stop? Not likely.

Unfortunately, Moore gets dangerously close to implying that our troops have been excessive. If it was me and they were blowing up my buddies I would not take any chances, either. In the nick of time, Moore quickly retreated from this untenable position by switching to sympathetic interviews with the troops. One thing worth knowing: there are lots more wounded than killed.

The film ends with a gratuitously emotional segment about a grieving mother of a fallen soldier, again over the top. A lackluster ending to match the film's lackluster beginning. My reaction: Moore missed the big picture in the latter part of the film, a huge opportunity to take a shot at Bush. Am I thinking of a conspiracy to muck up the post-war situation in Iraq? No, just more incompetence and lack of imagination from those who are good at running a war but clueless about running the peace. On the other hand, had the other guy won the election, would 9-11 not have happened and things in Iraq be a whole lot better today? Fat chance.


Las Vegas ExtravAGanza!

by Richard Wylie

2004 Mensa Annual Gathering
Paris Las Vegas Hotel, June 30 to July 5, 2004

Cookie Bakke and her AG team should be proud for having produced, for about 1800 attendees, a Mensa Annual Gathering that epitomized the best that Mensa has to offer. The Program schedule started noon Wednesday and ended midnight Sunday, and was five tracks deep at times. Registration lines were short and moved fast, and I didn't have to walk far to the centrally-located Hospitality. The vinyl sleeve for our name badges was the best design I've seen yet for RG/AGs. I offer another compliment for having plenty of AG program booklets available so that losing one was easily remedied. The program summary schedule (11 x 17, folded into thirds) was certainly handy and should be available at all future RGs & AGs.

The first presentation I attended was probably the best one: Kelly McDonald described the impact of Latino culture on our society with emphasis on what Mensa needs to understand about attracting members from that demographic. The most amusing presentation was given by Laraine Harper, who manages Sheri's Ranch, a legal brothel. After she mentioned several of the menu items, and the sports bar they have on site, I'm wondering what's taken the sitcom writers so long to discover the gold mine of stories there. Perhaps the Mensans who took the bus tour to the place the following day also have some provocative stories to share. Karen Ellis shared her experience as a flight attendant on a DC-9 hijacked for about 30 hrs. They landed in Cuba twice, the second time with flat tires for main landing gear. With a presentation from two "real" Las Vegas Crime Scene Investigators, I learned that much of the Hollywood version is "hyped up" a bit with special effects or just lots of string. One of the presenters, Debbie McCracken, has been a technical advisor to the CSI TV show. Richard Lederer gave one of his mind-blowing presentations on our language. Perhaps the best compliment I can give him is that I lose track of time during his presentations--only my watch knows how long his presentations are. I also attended a number of presentations about various facets of the history of Southern Nevada; not everyone there is part of the gaming industry. One bit of jargon I learned during a presentation about water management is that the exposed "ring" visible around Lake Mead when the water level is lower than the maximum allowed is called the "bathtub ring." (I hope I heard that correctly.)

I look forward to the AG planned for New Orleans in 2005. Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!

2005 Post-AG Cruise

2005 Post-AG Cruise

The 2005 AG in New Orleans will end with a Mensa cruise to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cozumel.
Details at

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