An Inclusive Litany


A letter to the editor, in the Boston Globe, April 26, 2002, identifying homosexuality as opportunistic behavior rather than an innate characteristic that is indelibly tied to one's personal identity:
I am tired of hearing the intolerant and uninformed lay the blame for the abuse of priests on those priests' sexual orientation. Gay men are not any more prone to depravity or unable to live celibately than their heterosexual counterparts.

The reason that most of the victims in the abuse cases are boys is that girls are more protected from predators.

These abusive priests rely on the trust of their victims' parents and community to give them a degree of access to boys—on camping trips, in vestries, in bedrooms—that would never be considered acceptable if the children were girls. We must recognize that sexual abuse is not about lovemaking or sexual orientation. It is about violence and power and the violation of trust—in this case, the trust of the faithful in their priests, and in those priests' superiors.

—Jennifer Spencer,

Another letter from the next day, calling for a dramatic reduction of the percentage of gay priests:
By refusing to address the issue of priestly abstinence, the Roman Catholic Church has not addressed a major underlying cause for abuse.

The church needs to acknowledge that for many, the human urge for sexual activity can overwhelm the priestly obligation to God. Priests should be allowed to have marital relationships and the benefit of marital experiences.

—Bryce Nesbitt,

After the city of Winnipeg, Canada, banned smoking in restaurants and other businesses in which children were present, many establishments responded by banning children.


Doug Nicoll of Norfolk, Virginia, faces a year in jail and a $2,500 fine after he negligently trimmed the bushes on his property as he has since 1994, apparently not realizing the site had been designated a wetland.


The master at work, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 2002:
With a landmark state study on slave-era insurance policies about to be released, Gov. Gray Davis addressed the issue of possible reparations to California minorities yesterday, saying, "Clearly, we want to right any wrongs and do justice to people who were taken advantage of."

Davis made the comments while appearing with the Rev. Jesse Jackson at the Digital Connections Conference, a small business gathering organized by Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in San Jose.

Jackson, at a news conference, said the California Department of Insurance study on slave-era insurance practices represented "a ground-breaking national issue." He said the findings, scheduled to be released Wednesday, might raise the possibility of reparations from private businesses owed to African Americans—and Californians of Chinese and Mexican descent....

Jackson, in an editorial board meeting at The Chronicle this week, said he would not expect reparations to be paid to individuals but to nonprofit groups, educational programs, arts facilities or other groups that help minorities.

From a January 21 posting by Clark Rieke on the badly named website,
If we reasoned better about war, there could be less of it. An example of bad reasoning is the conventional premise that an adversary who targets innocent civilians is too evil to be worthy of a hearing and a negotiated peace. The goal of less war and less terrorism would be helped by reasoning about what causes terrorists to become terrorists, what their goals are, and whether their goals could fit into a mutually beneficial peace settlement.

This essay will make four points about the killing of innocent civilians:

  • One, the conventional belief that civilians in a democracy are innocent is false.

  • Two, the rule of war that civilians are not to be targets of military violence is inconsistent.

  • Three, the rule of war that civilians are not to be targets of military violence is counterproductive.

  • Four, this inconsistent rule of war is counterproductive because it is used to demonize the enemy and increase the emotions for war.


The abstract of United States Patent No. 6,368,227, filed by Steven Olson of St Paul, Minnesota on November 17, 2000 and approved April 9, 2002:
I claim:

  1. A method of swinging on a swing, the method comprising the steps of:

    1. suspending a seat for supporting a user between only two chains that are hung from a tree branch;

    2. positioning a user on the seat so that the user is facing a direction perpendicular to the tree branch;

    3. having the user pull alternately on one chain to induce movement of the user and the swing toward one side, and then on the other chain to induce movement of the user and the swing toward the other side; and

    4. repeating step (c) to create side-to-side swinging motion, relative to the user, that is parallel to the tree branch.

  2. The method of claim 1, wherein the method is practiced independently by the user to create the side-to-side motion from an initial dead stop.

  3. The method of claim 1, wherein the method further comprises the step of:

    1. inducing a component of forward and back motion into the swinging motion, resulting in a swinging path that is generally shaped as an oval.

  4. The method of claim 3, wherein the magnitude of the component of forward and back motion is less than the component of side-to-side motion.

[Ed.: Patent No. 5,443,036 covers any use of the beam of light from a laser pointer to excite cats into physical exercise. Likewise, Patent No. 6,360,693 is for a stick for a dog to fetch. Patent No. 6,293,874 describes a contraption with which you can kick yourself in the behind.]

In Australia, young Tyrone Drowley sold chrysanthemums from a table outside his home for 50 cents a bunch in an apparent attempt to make enough money to buy a skateboard. A local official shut down the business because he didn't have a $5 million public liability insurance policy.


Charles Hayes, author of Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures, in Tikkun, March/April, 2002:
The disturbances of September 11 have sent us reeling, driving many to seek relief from anxiety and depression through socially-sanctioned psychotropics such as Prozac, Xanax, and alcohol. But some of the so-called psychedelic drugs (cannabis, LSD, peyote, psilocybin, ayahuasca, and MDMA or Ecstasy), targets of America's deeply misguided War on Drugs, could have a more profound and healthful effect, if used responsibly. The very idea of going off on a psychedelic "head trip" in this hour of national crisis might be seen as self-indulgent folly, or worse, an act of cerebral sedition. Yet a cold and sober look through the smoldering smoke of Ground Zero leads me to believe that, depending on individual circumstances, of course, there are now even more compelling reasons to sanction the practice of judicious psychedelic use.

If combat readiness is an issue, if your function is to evacuate a building in a hurry, screen airline passengers, detect the presence of microscopic pathogens, analyze forensic evidence that could lead to the apprehension of culpable or would-be terrorists, or execute a commando raid on an Afghan mountain, this is probably not the season for psychedelics. But if you're not sure who the real enemy is, if you're inclined to ask more questions about the nature of the reality that's just swung out into a broad new arc, or if you're seeking solace and healing from trauma or debilitating stress, it could well be the time to venture out into new psychical frontiers by means of certain time-tested plants and chemicals. In fact, for some especially scarred, it might even be foolish not to, given that there might not be as much time to lose as we thought we had....

[Ed.: The article cites Dr. Rick Strassman, who has performed research on DMT, a natural compound he claims the brain uses to facilitate spiritual awakenings: "Contemplation of the grisly carnage of September 11 has strengthened his belief that upon death, bodies should not be disturbed, so that this process is able to play out and facilitate the soul's transfer to a noncorporeal state."]

The editor of Lloyd's List, a 268-year-old publication that provides maritime information for Lloyd's of London, announced that henceforth ships would be referred to as "it" rather than "she."

Dorothy Pelote of the Georgia House of Representatives drafted a bill that would make it a crime to answer the door in the nude. Currently, "the law allows [a person] to come to the door naked. It just doesn't let him go outside," Pelote said. "I don't even want him coming to the door naked."


The text of a message received by Weekly Standard staff writer Stephen F. Hayes, from an unnamed journalism e-mail list to which he subscribes, reproduced at his magazine's website, April 19, 2002:
Hi everyone! I hope someone out there can help me. I'm looking for a young black entrepreneur—under 40, tech savvy, who has started his own dot-com or company—to profile for CNN NewsNight. Since this will be part of a series about race in America, the ideal candidate is someone who struggled or encountered discrimination while looking for jobs or working in the tech sector (also could be someone who became frustrated by the predominantly white male culture) and subsequently decided to strike out on his/her own. Or something along those lines. Could be anywhere in the U.S. If anyone knows of such a person or knows someone who does, please get in touch. Many thanks!

An excerpt from a September 7 letter by Nancy Sander, executive director of the Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, to Pennsylvania's Bristol Township School Board, regarding its zero-tolerance drug policy:
The decision to accommodate and facilitate a child's needs with asthma is far easier than pretending their needs do not exist or that restricting student access to medications is for the safety of all students. To do so places your students with asthma at greater risk of death or missed school days, their classmates at risk of witnessing their death, and your school board at risk of lawsuits....

If a student placed a plastic bag over a teacher's head for a brief moment, the student would be charged with assault. But a school board voting to restrict a child's access to his life-saving asthma medication is no less guilty of a crime. Is Bristol Township School Board really ready to accept responsibility for violating a child's right to breathe? Are you prepared to breach the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

[Ed.: "In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards." —Mark Twain]

When Rev. Scott Landis, pastor of a Congregationalist church in Denver and father of three, announced to his congregation that he was terminating his marriage because he was gay, he received a standing ovation.


Mark Simon, writing in the April 18 San Francisco Chronicle, writes about Ron Brown, assistant football coach at the University of Nebraska. Brown alleges that he was turned down for the job of head football coach at Stanford on account of his strong religious beliefs. Stanford ultimately hired Buddy Teevens, "about whose religion we know nothing, and that appears to be the point."
It's quite likely there's an atheist or two on the football team and quite probably a few homosexuals.

All of which might be good enough reason not to hire a football coach who wants to use his cap and whistle to further his own Christian goals, which include "winning" homosexuals to Christ....

Stanford is diverse and liberal in the philosophical sense, rather than the political.

Diversity means diversity of thought. An essential element of a Stanford education, it would seem, is exposure to a broad range of thinking, lifestyles and beliefs—a purposeful challenge to the way of thinking you brought there with you.

"One thing I've tried not to do," Brown said in an interview with a Nebraska media outlet, "is separate my coaching from who I am. Some people have a problem with that. They want to separate my coaching from my faith in Christ. I can't do that. That would be a huge hypocrisy. You have to be who you are."

No one is suggesting Brown should be anything less than who he is. But it would seem Stanford is perfectly justified in rejecting Brown for who he is, since that's the criteria he proposes.


An Associated Press dispatch from Elk Grove, California, April 16, 2002:
The principal at T.R. Smedberg Middle School held meetings last week for parents to discuss their children's scores on standardized tests. There were four meetings in all, with separate gatherings for whites, Asians, blacks and Hispanics. The principal, who is black, said the segregated meetings were designed to "get real honest answers" from black and Hispanic parents, whose children were among the lowest scorers, and to allow them to speak freely, without embarrassment.

On a related note, Michigan State's commencement exercises will now include its first "Black Celebratory," a separate graduation ceremony for black students. University officials noted that blacks were welcome to attend both ceremonies. Lee June, assistant provost and vice president for student affairs, explained that the separate ceremony was intended "to reinforce, congratulate and give special recognition for the accomplishment they've made, given that they are students of color."


Following President Bush's pledge to fund abstinence education at the same level as comprehensive sex education, the Centers for Disease Control is endorsing several new "abstinence-plus" programs that only nominally resemble abstinence-only programs. In one exercise, students are encouraged to pursue various alternatives to sexual intercourse, including body massage, bathing together, "sensuous feeding," joint masturbation, and watching "erotic movies." In another exercise, students are divided into teams and each student is handed a condom. Forming two lines, each child has to apply and remove the condom from the team's designated "cucumber or dildo," and the team that finishes first wins the "Condom Race."


At the same time the Norwegian government instituted its new health policy banning overweight fisherman from plying their trade, Inga Marie Thorkildsen of the nation's Socialist Left Party called for a ban on Samsung mobile phones, which feature a body-mass calculator and calorie counter, innovations that may reduce self-esteem among the overweight, especially women.

Arsenal Whittick, a 39-year-old man with a stutter, filed a disability-discrimination complaint after he was turned down for a job as a driving instructor at the British School of Motoring because he couldn't say the word "stop" fast enough in the event of an emergency.


In the April 10 Seattle Times, Keith Ervin reports on "Challenge Day," a three-day school seminar—criticized by many parents and described by one student as a "psycho cry fest"—conducted by Resource Realizations, a firm specializing in behavior-modification programs for troubled teens in residential facilities:
Sitting in small circles, their knees touching, students shared their own hurt and the pain they had inflicted on others.

The tears flowed. In some groups, half the Washington Middle School students were crying at once.

Applause followed, as the seventh- and eighth-graders stepped up to roving microphones and declared what they would do to mend broken relationships with their schoolmates.

Two boys shook hands after one apologized for making fun of the other, and said he hoped to be more supportive.

A girl owned up to snubbing an old friend. "I'm sorry that I've been very distant and that I've chosen other friends in school," she said. "I'm going to work on that, and I'm going to be a better friend."

The girls embraced.


The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reports that Ingmar Tveitt, a friend of Parliament member Jan Simonsen, was ordered by Parliament security guards to remove his jacket because it displayed the Star of David over his chest pocket. "People walk around [in Parliament] with Palestinian scarves and other pro-Palestinian symbols without any reaction," observed Tveitt.

From the inevitable article "To Be Gay and Muslim," by Heidi Dietrich, posted on AlterNet, April 9, 2002:
Gay Muslims look for alternative interpretations to Islam's view on homosexuality. One gay Muslim is training to be an imam, or religious scholar, in Washington D.C. He prefers to go by Abdala because other Muslim scholars don't know he's gay. Abdala hopes to use his education to help fellow gay Muslims come to terms with their sexuality.

"I'm training to be an imam so I can provide a better service of how to live in this society," Abdala said. Abdala does not believe that the Quoran condemns homosexuality. He explains that in the religious text, men are punished for raping and abusing other men, not for engaging in consensual sex.

"I've always challenged scholars because they're heterosexual and that's why they interpreted it that way," Abdala said. "I think I'm breaking new ground."

[Ed.: Yeah. Good luck with that.]


Joined by many environmentalist groups, Nevada Senator Harry Reid came out against a plan to store the nation's nuclear waste in a subterranean repository in Yucca Mountain, near Death Valley in his home state. Critics of the measure have pressed for a guarantee that people settling in the desolate, arid region 10,000 years from now would be able to drink from local well water without being exposed to the same level of radiation over the course of a year that people currently receive when flying in an airliner for twelve minutes.

In 1992, at the behest of Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Congress allocated $2 million for an Office of Alternative Medicine within the National Institutes of Health. (Harkin believed bee pollen cured his allergies, and wanted further study of the matter.) In 1998, the NIH established a more comprehensive National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) devoted to the rigorous scientific testing of various "alternative medicine" practices. As of 2002 its budget has grown to over $100 million. Coupled with the establishment of major academic research centers devoted to the subject at Harvard, Columbia, Duke, and the University of Arizona, the number of studies of alternative medicine therapies has been doubling every five years.

The NIH has studied not only meditation, acupuncture and herbalism, but a wide variety of lesser-known practices. For example, reflexology is based on the belief that pressing specific zones on the hands or feet can heal ailments in other parts of the body. Practitioners of therapeutic touch move their hands over a subject's entire body to decongest and balance a subject's energy field. Proponents of iridology claim they can diagnose illness by studying patterns on the iris of the human eye. Homeopathy is based on the notion that various substances used for medicinal purposes (such as belladonna, garlic, zinc and ambergris) become more powerful the more they are diluted, sometimes extremely so, and that water retains a "memory" of their presence. (Patients are thus given water as medicine.) Inserting a burning candle in the ear canal is supposed to remove impurities from the brain and sinuses. Colonic irrigation involves running a tube through a subject's rectum in order to cleanse the intestines with warm water. Magnet therapy, which merited a $1 million study, is based on the 18th-century belief that blood circulation can be improved by mounting magnets at various points on the body. Chelation involves infusing chemicals into the blood in order to purify it, supposedly curing ailments such as arteriosclerosis. Leech therapy is well known. And, based on the mistaken assumption that sharks do not get cancer, shark cartilage has been touted as an effective treatment of advanced colorectal or breast cancer, good enough for another $1 million study.

While such studies are supposed to determine, once and for all, whether these heterodox treatments have any therapeutic value, many researchers regard them as a joke, and suspect the NIH is unwilling to come to any solid conclusions and would rather call for more studies. "It's been about eight years now," says Stephen Barrett, an M.D. who runs the website. "They've never said that anything didn't work."

Chris Mooney writes in the Washington Monthly that one acupuncture practitioner he encountered during a trial of its effectiveness against carpal tunnel syndrome, Dr. Xiao Dong Cai of Chevy Chase, Maryland, voiced nervousness not only at the obvious prospect of the treatment's failure, but also of its success. The study required that only one of three patients have needles inserted into points which, according to traditional Chinese medicine, help balance the body's "energy." It also required that Dr. Cai not offer any individualized treatment to detect each patient's "energy field" while inserting the needles. If it turned out that all you had to know was exactly where to insert the needles, acupuncturists would be superfluous. Thus, he said the ideal outcome of the study would probably be "if the result is in between." Even studies that seemingly discredit alternative therapies are often considered inconclusive by their proponents. "When you push them against the wall," says Yale neurology professor Steven Novella, "I've had more than one say to me, 'well, it's really hard to prove something doesn't work.' "

To illustrate this difficulty, Mooney relates another story of a team of Harvard researchers who traveled to a remote mountain site in Northern India in order to verify whether a certain Tibetan monk could dramatically increase his body temperature using a technique of intensive meditation called "tumo," allowing him to perform feats such as steam-drying a freezing wet sheet draped across his back. After being wired with a web of lightweight thermistors, the tumo master set about to meditate, but nothing extraordinary happened all that time. The monk later sheepishly explained through a translator that he was unable to "turn the corner" in his meditation and so failed to achieve the "bliss consciousness" that tumo requires, all because of the invasive rectal thermometer the researchers inserted to measure the phenomenon.


Jerry Saltz in a Village Voice art review, April 5, 2002:
The shaved, waxed, trimmed, and otherwise depilated female pubis that has become a cultural norm might be called a Pandora's box of conflicting fears and desires. On the one hand, there's the fear of hair, or chaetophobia. Hair is a sign of maturity and strength, which far too many men find scary in women. Removing pubic hair may be a wish to infantilize women—to make them look more like little girls. Which, if taken further, comes uncomfortably close to pedophilia.

For their part, women may internalize a distaste for hair and develop a love of bareness. Some would say this is self-exploitation. But it seems to me—and I'm sure I'm not alone—that women are turning something that objectifies them into a tool of empowerment. This is consistent with lowered waistlines and bared midriffs, which may be surrogates and pointers for the pudenda below. A woman I know describes the bared-belly look as "a way of showing more skin without revealing more breast or being tacky." Either way, visibility is power. The male anatomy has already taught us as much....

Kembra Pfahler, the former lead singer of the notorious cult performance group the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, explained her shaved privates by saying, "I do it because it looks good. Which," she added, "is my basic motivation for everything."

On the night of her opening, a few weeks back, as a crowd pressed close to a makeshift stage at American Fine Art at PHAG, that motivation was on vivid display. Pfahler and the seven members of her band arrived at the gallery wearing only black wigs, body paint, and boots, flaunting their bare yonis like crazy.

Striding to the stage, they performed the circus-meets-de Sade "Wall of Vagina," which culminated in all but one of the group lying facedown, in a stack, butts toward the audience, legs spread. The remaining member squirted white liquid from a turkey baster into this seven-layered crack, from the top down. It was an outrageous money shot á la Julia Child—one that evoked the Vienna actionists, Annie Sprinkle, Jack Smith, Leigh Bowery, and Carolee Schneeman. The group then stood up, walked out, and disappeared naked down 22nd Street....

Beecroft's regimented models, and her predilection for beautiful, blond Aryans, have always made us think beyond the nude, to type; now she introduces race. But with the black women clad, the suggestion is that we're not ready to handle this particular truth—which is that the power of the shaved pudenda increases in direct proportion to the "otherness" of the woman in question. Or does it? After all, the more you see of the female anatomy, the less "difference," "otherness," or "mystery" you can project on it. When difference is accented, it is sometimes reduced....


A book titled The Frightening Fraud, which shot to the top of French bestseller lists despite strong denunciations from members of the press, claims that the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11 never existed, and that the American military establishment was the perpetrator of the New York and Washington attacks. The author, Thierry Meyssan, is president of the Voltaire Network, a formerly respectable left-leaning think tank.

In what has turned into something of a ritual on many campuses, the conservative California Patriot had an entire press run of its newspaper stolen from its Berkeley campus office, with editors received harassing phone calls and even death threats. The theft was carried out in response to the newspaper's investigation into the student-funded Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), a radical Hispanic group that repeatedly refers to white people as gringos in its literature, calls for revolutionary liberation of the bronze continent by the bronze people, and maintains a website ( that features a great deal of anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Patriot has had its papers stolen twice in the past year and had many of its sponsored speakers shouted down, with little response from university officials.

[Ed.: This practice appears to be especially embedded in Berkeley's culture. In December, none other than the mayor, Tom Bates, admitted to stealing and trashing about 1,000 copies of the Daily Californian, which had endorsed his opponent.]

Arianne R. Cohen '03 justifies her course of academic study at some length in Harvard magazine, March-April 2002:
I can't explain what I study at Harvard.

I am a women's-studies concentrator. After a two-year stint of floating through five large academic departments while regularly switching concentrations and trying to fulfill premedical requirements, I have—to put it mildly—seen all that Harvard has to offer. And I love women's studies.

For the first time in my life, I am actually engaged with my studies. I enjoy writing papers....

Unfortunately, liking one's field and being able to explain what one studies are two different things. I generally try to hedge the topic, but inevitably a fellow student will ask what my concentration is. I usually respond straightforwardly: "I am a women's-studies concentrator." But Harvard students tend to be audacious, persistent, and intellectually questioning people:

"So, what exactly do you study in women's studies?"

"I study gender studies ... it's much more than just women."

"Well, what besides women do you study?"

"Um, well, take gender, for example. The construction of gender is intimately attached to race, religion, class, and a myriad of other identity markers, and can't be isolated into one academic vault. It's broad." ...

So what exactly do I study? I am currently taking five courses in four departments. As in any small concentration, only a few courses are offered each semester, so students actively seek classes in other departments. Maximum freedom results and students develop their own courses of learning, essentially studying what they choose (within reason)....

Still, explaining that I do my studies falls far short of explaining what I study.

I was pondering this dilemma over coffee late one night, after a phone call in which an old friend had denounced my concentration as "pointless."

"Why," he asked, "did you ever leave government?"

In a fruitless attempt to change topics, I countered by arguing, "You just don't get it"—a line of reasoning [sic] that, since its entrance into my pubescent vocabulary eight years ago, has inevitably gotten me nowhere. Luckily, friend and fellow women's-studies concentrator Laure "Voop" Vulpillères happened by just as I hung up. I figured that this lofty senior, a four-year women's-studies veteran, would definitely have answers to my troubles.

"Voop, how do you explain women's studies when people ask?"

"That's so annoying! I can never explain it, especially to my mom."

"Okaaay, so if someone were to say, 'Voop, what do you study in school?' what would you say?"

"I don't know. I usually just try to change the subject as quickly as possible ... whatever we study is really interesting though—why, what do you say?"

"Whatever I say, I end up sounding militant. So I try to say as little as possible."

"Yeah, me too. It's a bummer... hey, after I graduate, can you stay in school for a long time and keep studying women's studies, so you can tell me what to read?"

"Um, yeah, sure, for one more year anyway."

So there you have it: Neither of us has any idea of exactly how to explain what it is that we study, yet we both want to continue studying it forever. So, we continue to study away, saying very little, but enjoying ourselves immensely.

After Voop departed the room, I pondered for a while before telephoning a joint history of science/women's-studies concentrator to help me cope with my inability to explain my academic program. She recalled venting similar concerns in a meeting with a professor. The professor responded helpfully that "women's studies is not a field. It's an area of interest."

My friend went on to explain that women's studies applies to any field. In history of science, it explains how science has created and enforced its own definitions of sex and gender in society. In literature, it examines how various authors portray women and men in different historical moments and, by extension, the changing social construction of gender in society over time. In social studies, it analyzes the gender-based power dynamics of various political theories, and how these theories translate into the daily lives of both sexes. In essence, women's studies is looking at how gender operates in society across many different disciplines, while providing students with analytic tools that apply to any power dynamic. To me, this made sense.

I thanked my fellow student profusely for this explanation, and called Voop to tell her the good news. She was thrilled....

For my own purposes, I use women's studies in reference to my future profession (and current avocation), writing.... [T]hrough the process of intellectually tracing the position of women and gender in various social circumstances, I have learned how to trace the lines of power in any circumstance. It's like a lens with which to scrutinize any situation and instantly see what is happening on multiple planes. This ability is infinitely valuable to a fledgling writer, for whom the capacity to take common information and quickly see an interesting story spells the difference between success and failure....

This is why I love women's studies: because it has become a pivotal piece of my path to writing renown by teaching me how to think in a manner equally applicable to academia and the real world.

In the end, has this new knowledge helped me come up with a succinct answer to the ever-bothersome question, "What exactly do you study?" Not in the slightest....