CSotD: Sincerely Dubious

In order to start a day of mythbusting on an apolitical note, here’s a cartoon Rich Powell shared on Facebook the other day, though I note by the date that he drew it some time ago.

It’s about the nursery rhyme about little piggies, used, as demonstrated in this 1857 painting by Lilly Martin-Spencer, to make very small children giggle as you wiggle their toes.

The contention is that the first little piggy is not going shopping but is being sent to market in the slaughtered sense, and there are grim explanations for all the other anthropomorphic piggies, even the one who is eating roast beef, all of which back up the dark narrative that the rhyme was intended to terrorize children rather than to make them giggle.

To which I say “Bollocks.”

The rhyme is so short and nonspecific, and geared for children under the age of 3, that it’s hard to deconstruct it to begin with, so any meaning assigned to it is as good as any other.

You can’t really disprove the explanations of the butchering interpretation the way you can, for instance, the nonsense about Ring Around A Rosie being about the Plague, which is called “metafolkore” here, a most excellent term for things people pluck out of thin air and then find elaborate reasons to believe.

Such as the notion that the word “sincere” is derived from “without wax,” a concept so etymologically nonsensical that its adherents had to come up with a substantial, conflicting catalog of reasons it must surely be true.

I don’t suppose it matters if people want to believe the piggy was butchered, though it seems sadistic to assign dark reasons to innocent things.

But there are more substantive ideas floating around that you should probably be skeptical about.


Juxtaposition of the Day

(Joy of Tech)


(Ed Hall)

This one is no myth, though how much you worry about it might depend on how thorough you expect the budding SS to be in tracking down suspected terminators-of-pregnancies.

My position remains that, first, these guys are not terribly competent, and, second, that there is so much data out there that they can’t possibly sort through it all.

But there are ways of plucking random needles out of that increasingly massive haystack, and the idea that the motherpluckers doing it are incompetent only adds to the sense that it could go bad very quickly for somebody, as seen in Hall’s cartoon.

Most folks won’t likely be victimized, but that’s cold comfort for anyone who is.

The semi-mythological response on social media has been frantic warnings for women to delete their period-tracking apps, but, as Joy of Tech points out, there are a kabillion other ways to track you, thanks to the way we’ve shifted our personal lives onto the electronic platform.


When this Rhymes With Orange (KFS) ran in 2000, it sparked a dispute with my (adult) kids over privacy and tracking, but my response was that I don’t really care if Big Brother knows how many bananas I’ve been buying, in part because I can’t figure out how he’d use it against me and in part because there are so many other more critical things he could be monitoring and perhaps is.

And at least they have to probe a bit to follow my grocery shopping. I’ve never understood the public performative surrendering of privacy people gleefully undertake.

I understand that they want us to all know they’re vacationing on a Greek island with someone particularly hot — yes, I’m frightfully jealous — but what’s the point of telling everyone you’re having a burger at a local diner?

Meanwhile, it’s nice that some apps have promised not to share data, but I’ll believe it when a few of their CEOs are thrown in jail for contempt.

And Google’s promises to stop tracking people who visit Planned Parenthood locations seem a bit dubious, given that, if there’s a sudden black hole in your location that happens to start and end within a half-mile of a PP address, even Inspector Clouseau could figure things out.

This article points out that deleting your period-tracking app isn’t going to ensure your privacy, though it provides a few suggestions that might help cover things a bit.

But there’s dark humor in the article from its revelation that all this concern has led to more people downloading the apps.

“Eating this will kill you.”
“Oh? Where can I get some?”


A more pernicious bit of metafolklore rocketing about the Intertubes is seen in this Clay Jones cartoon, which lumps in police shootings with the capture of spree killers.

The idea that police shoot black suspects without pretext but take care to capture white mass murderers alive represents people’s fears but doesn’t hold up to examination.

Let’s begin with an unshakeable declaration that police shooting of Black people on flimsy grounds or no grounds at all is a significant and serious problem that we absolutely need to deal with.

But, with that understood, there’s little connection between those random, fatal encounters on the street and how arrests of known suspects are carried out.

Granted, the police who killed Breonna Taylor had a plan that was poorly conceived and never should have been permitted to go forward. Nothing can make that incident seem sensible or acceptable.

However, if you look at what Wikipedia lists as “Rampage Killings,” you find 41 suspects in this century, 70% of them white, of whom 22 (54%) died at the scene, most by suicide but six shot by police, and 19 were taken into custody either because they surrendered at the scene or were tracked down later.

Of those 19 arrested, eight (42%) were visible minorities.

The numbers belie the concept even more when you shift from Rampage Killings to Mass Shootings, because now you’re not only counting school shootings and sniper attacks like Highland Park but a whole lot of nightclub shootings and drive-bys, which not only skews the numbers away from the notion that the shooters are all white, but brings in a lot of cases in which minority suspects were taken into custody without incident.

We need to solve both problems, absolutely, but suggesting a connection only muddies things.

And we know who loves mud.


8 thoughts on “CSotD: Sincerely Dubious

  1. Haven’t heard the word “metafolklore” before, but know the concept and like the coinage. My favorite–which is to say, my least favorite–bit of metafolklore is the canard that “rule of thumb” derives from the diameter of switch that old English law allowed a man to beat his wife with. Instead of, you know, the commonsensical and still-current practice of carpenters and such doing rough measurements using body parts. There never was such a law but some folks sure seem to wish there had been.

    Your note about GPS location tracking showing a black hole around Planned Parenthood sites reminded me of a clever use of Superman’s x-ray vision by writer-artist John Byrne. As I recall, a villain proudly cackled that he’d hidden something in a lead box somewhere in Metropolis so Superman couldn’t possibly find it. Superman did a quick x-ray scan and flew directly to the only opaque lead box he saw floating among a city of transparent skyscrapers. As you say, if the only locations blocked are PP sites, and your data vanishes when you get within a block of one, you don’t need Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective, to solve the mystery of where you went.

  2. I think somewhat like those fixated on a small portion of Cassidy’s Hutchens testimony relating of a story told to her, You somehow fixated on the idea that many people believe the majority are all mass shooters are white.

    This was news to me.

    IMO The major concern is the number of mass shooters who are white and are armed who managed to be taken alive compared to the number of _unarmed minority suspects_ who end up dead illustrate a consistent unusual behavior of police when apprehending criminals and _suspects_ who are not minorities.

  3. Neal, if you’re going to make that claim, you’ll have to back it up with numbers that contradict the numbers I furnished (with links), unless you’re simply emphasizing my point that people believe what confirms their suspicions even when the facts don’t jibe.

  4. “As I recall, a villain proudly cackled that he’d hidden something in a lead box somewhere in Metropolis so Superman couldn’t possibly find it. Superman did a quick x-ray scan and flew directly to the only opaque lead box he saw floating among a city of transparent skyscrapers.”

    Cute story. I haven’t read it, but you’d think in a city the size of Metropolis there would be a number of lead boxes containing radioactive material used in nuclear medicine, not to mention all the lead aprons everywhere there was an X-Ray machine, and storage for radioactive materials at the local nuclear power plant. Not to say that Superman couldn’t sort all this out, but there wouldn’t be just one lead box in the whole city.

    I seem to also remember from the Superman animated series where Superman deduced where Lex Luthor was hiding the kidnapped Lois Lane by finding the Luthor-owned building with lead shielding.

    The whole concept goes back at least as far as the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze” where the vital clue was a watch dog who did not bark.

  5. Apropos of nothing, but I wonder if residents of Metropolis every filed a class-action suit against Superman for all the cancers caused by his flagrant use of his X-ray vision in the city.

  6. The NY Times article on period trackers and other means of tracking women is sobering.

    As a stale pale male it is hard to fully comprehend the russist-like threat to women. Although, having said that, knowing that there is a link between the Kremlin and elements of the “pro-life” movement is sufficent to understand it is a formidable and brutal attack on individual freedoms.

    A few on-line places that might help (NOTE: the urls are fractured for safety purposes – just close up the gap).

    Privacy Tools – ht tps://www.privacytools.io/ a guide to help fight surveillance with privacy tools.
    Apple have just released a new feature that locks their phones down more tightly.

    An aspect of what is behind somee of the “pro-life” hate:

    ht tps://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/world-congress-families
    ht tps://www.politico.eu/article/how-russia-became-the-leader-of-the-global-christian-right/

  7. Every single old illustration I’ve seen of the Little Piggies (some from the 1800s) shows the pig going shopping. The idea that it’s being slaughtered seems to have started in the last 10 years.

    Some people enjoy overturning the rocks in the flower garden and showing everyone the disgusting worms underneath. Even if they have to invent non-existent worms to do it.

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