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Friday roundup: Things that first make you laugh and then make you think and then make you atone for your sins

Posted by Robin Abrahams  September 13, 2013 12:52 PM

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Having the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony the day before Yom Kippur starts is spiritually challenging. Yom Kippur is one of those very solemn religious holidays, akin to Ash Wednesday, and the Igs ... well, they have a poetry of their own, I suppose. My favorite prize of last night was the joint prize in biology and astronomy, awarded to an international team of researchers who discovered that "when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way."

Talk about we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars, eh?

Prize winners (a full list of whom is here) get frameable certificates signed by Mr. Improbable and several Nobel laureates, and these were prepared earlier in the week. Shortly before curtain last night, we realized that the certificates were mistakenly printed as "biology and astrology." Not the kind of error spell-check will alert you to, and your brain quite stubbornly insists on seeing what should be there rather than what is.

That, to me, is the kind of sin that Yom Kippur is about. The Hebrew word for sin means, literally, missing the mark, as an archer misses the target. It's error. And a certain likelihood of error is built into any system. In the month before Yom Kippur, we address the sins we know we've committed. The Day of Atonement itself is for the targets we didn't even know we missed. The jokes or figures of speech that hurt another person's feelings. The money that left our hands and supported injustices. The opportunities we never recognized, let alone missed. The tips we miscalculated. The hurts that we are ignorant of, the unintended consequences, the collateral damage. The times when we mistook superstition for science--literally, or while proofreading. 

Maybe the spirit of the Igs and that of Yom Kippur aren't so very far away after all. 

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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