Who cares about the Ricin? The Elvis Impersonator and his alleged framer both got into Mensa: there’s hope for the rest of us.
Now that all the excitement over last week’s tragic events has tapered off (what, you’ve already forgotten the Reese Witherspoon debacle?), many of us are turning our attention to the Elvis-Impersonator-May-Have-Been-Framed-for-Sending-Ricin-to-the-President story. The Daily Mail summarized that riveting story as follows:
The deadly serious case of ricin-laced letters being sent to President Barack Obama, a U.S. Senator and a local judge has turned into a bizarre tale of a southern-fried feud between two Mississippi men who are both reportedly MENSA members, taekwondo experts and musicians. Each man says the other is crazy.
Naturally, my first reaction to that was, "so typical." But the reference to Mensa caught my attention. Mensa? Seriously? Really smart people doing really dumb things always get my attention. (Did you know that Reese Witherspoon attended Stanford University as an English literature major?) This Ricin thing certainly merited closer examination, so I read on. It turns out that Kevin Curtis, the Elvis impersonator arrested and then released for sending the poison, misunderstood the charges against him:
"I’ve never heard of ricin or whatever. I thought they said rice. I told them I don’t eat rice," Curtis said . . . describing the moment he was questioned by federal authorities.
So Mr. Curtis believed it was a federal crime to send food grain to the president. Of course if that were true, then the "I don’t eat rice" defense would be absolutely airtight – equivalent to Jack the Ripper pleading, "I’ve never once stabbed myself." But who knows? These might be valid defenses in Mr. Curtis’s home jurisdiction, which he described to CNN’s Piers Morgan as follows:
In the jungle of law in court, you have monkeys, you have kangaroos, and you have lions. [My lawyer] was the lion queen. She was just amazing.
It’s probably good that all lawyers must be in bars.
Getting back to Mensa, I've never personally been tempted to join. All right, a previous post on this site reflects a certain ... sensitivity about my intellectual abilities; but my disdain of Mensa is not because they wouldn’t have me. (Hey, I’m just not good at tests. Oh, you too?) I have other reasons. First, as a progressive 20th century male, I am highly offended by the organization’s sexist name. Highly offended.
Second, Mensa is dumb – literally. The term "mensa" (or "menso," for the fellows) is Spanish for "foolish, stupid." I am not making this up: look it up yourself in Merriam-Webster. I'll wait. There, satisfied? Merriam-Webster gives this example of the term's use: "No seas menso, lo estás haciendo mal," which means, "Don’t be stupid, you’re doing it wrong." Why would I want to join a foolish group that does it wrong – even if it would take someone like me?
All right, all right, settle down you Mensa speed readers. I know your organization was founded in Oxford, England by two lawyers of the Empire, for whom there was no conceivable reason to look beyond the King’s good English when naming the organization. Or perhaps the founders just had a keen sense of irony – which would indicate a charming humility. No, that's probably not it; Mensa’s official website describes Mensa rather immodestly as: "the high IQ society [which] provides a forum for intellectual exchange among its members."
A recent BBC interview of Mensa spokesperson Peter Baimbridge suggests that by "intellectual exchange," Mensa actually means, "congratulating one’s fellows on their ascension from Regnum Vegetabile (the Vegetable Kingdom)." When asked about the validity of IQ tests, Mr. Baimbridge explained to his less erudite hosts:
So most IQ tests will have Mr. and Mrs. Average scoring 100 and the higher you get, the brighter you are. And if your IQ is somewhere around 60 then you are probably a carrot.
Mr. Baimbridge, Mensa and the BBC all promptly apologized for this comment after receiving scathing criticism from learning-disability advocates, who protested that the learning disabled are not "carrots." The learning-disability advocates promptly apologized after receiving even more scathing criticism from the learning disabled, who protested that learning disabilities do not equate to a low IQ. And the learning disabled promptly apologized after a deluge of criticism from low-IQ groups, who did not appreciate everyone sneering down their collective noses at them. (No word yet from the carrot lobby.)
As the BBC interview reflects, one can get into Mensa without demonstrating intelligence in thought or public speaking. Indeed, one need not distinguish oneself in any field of endeavor. The U.S. Mensa organization informs us that one need merely pass a written quiz:
The Mensa Admission Test ... includes two tests featuring questions involving logic and deductive reasoning. If you score at or above the 98th percentile on either of the two tests, you'll qualify and be invited to join Mensa.
So much for real-world achievement; it seems that Mensa is the intellectual equivalent of that pub where my underemployed buddies always carry on about how they would’ve been professional football players – if they just hadn’t blown out their knees in college.
Okay, now I understand .... Damn, if only I was better at taking tests.*
*No seas menso, lo estás haciendo mal.
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