RVC Column

With July 1st comes the passing of the torch to a new Regional Vice Chair. And I can say I’m incredibly excited to take on the role! Of course, I’m also flattered that you would have the confidence in me to grant me the position. And that said, what am I going to do for you? I originally listed a few things in my campaign statement, but I’ll start here with the Region, what an RVC does and my plans.

Within Mensa, we have a hierarchy that’s derived from our beginnings as a British organization. Chief among these is the term LocSec, for Local Secretary, but you already knew this. The LocSecs and their teams run our local groups, offering members cool events, lesson plans, leadership, gatherings and more. The LocSecs report up to a Regional Vice Chair – or RVC – and there are 10 across the US. Here in the Heartland Region, or Region 7, we cross 8 states and include 12 local groups and approximately 2,300 members. Per the national site, our Region “has the sparsest population spread across the largest land area”. But that’s not to say we don’t do great things! For instance, we’ve held at least 2 annual gatherings, Mind Games and several local Regional Gatherings. We’ve also been a lead supporter of the Mensa Foundation’s Scholarship program, as essay contest judges and as Culture Quest participants.

When it comes to the job and duties of the RVC, the Bylaws of American Mensa say “the duties of the Regional Vice Chairmen shall be to act as liaison between Local Groups in their respective regions and the American Mensa Committee, and to carry out in their respective regions the policies and programs formulated by the American Mensa Committee.” What that means is I will be working hard to solicit your feedback, host regular calls with LocSecs and other leaders, monitor social media sources to stay ahead of issues and lead a team of members to help me represent the Region at national board meetings held quarterly.

Of course, there’s a lot more than can be summed up in a short, monthly column. However, I’d like to delve into that more in future columns, with local leaders on monthly calls and even by posting on the Region’s Facebook page. But if you have thoughts or recommendations now, I’d love to hear them! You’re always welcome to reach out to me via email at bethane.demeter@gmail.com. Thanks, all!

August LocSec Column

As part of my day job, I help to work with clients who want to become better and more systematic about how they predict and plan for the future (I’ll bore you with more particulars after I wait until the last minute to write this column). A big piece of that work deals with cognitive biases, or bad habits of and errors in thinking that cloud and contaminate the rational thinking process. There are literally dozens that have been identified by science over the years, and more will certainly continue to be uncovered and articulated. Recent headlines have brought one in particular to the fore, and I’d like to explore it a bit.

There is an ongoing pandemic in the world. Almost all evidence points to the pandemic starting in or around Wuhan, Hubei in China starting in the latter half of 2019. Ever since cases started appearing across the globe, questions about the pandemic’s origin have flowed like the Yangtze River. Some “know” it was a lab leak. Others “know” it came about from random human contact with particular critters capable of carrying coronaviruses. Give it a few more months, and we’ll probably see that wacky hair guy on The History Channel explaining that it came from aliens. To be clear, we (in the public) honestly don’t know. There is some evidence pointing in different directions, much of which is obscured by the avalanche of conjecture and speculation that has befallen the world for going on 19 months. However, the state of political affairs in the US when the pandemic broke gave rise to what psychologists call the “social desirability bias.” Long story short, this simply means that people will tend to say things that they think others want to hear. While such a tendency is what gets officials elected in the first place, it is very dangerous when it contaminates the scientific process. Unfortunately, it has polluted the public conversation about the origins of COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 and why it only returned to mainstream discussion after a change in the White House.

I would be happy to discuss the various origin hypotheses as to their merits any other time, and I am not writing to promote one theory above another. What I will call out is the parade of glaring examples of how President Trump’s, shall we say, “fascinating” rhetoric about the pandemic appears to have hit parts of the scientific community like one of those triangle hammer thingies doctors use to test reflexes on your knees. The knee-jerk race to avoid being perceived as being on Trump’s “side” saw the lab origin hypothesis effectively blackballed as foolish, baseless, or even racist. And why did this happen last spring? Because many saw distancing themselves from anything associated with Trump as more socially desirable than finding and evaluating evidence to support or disprove the lab leak hypothesis. That should scare you. A lot.

I won’t knock anybody for not wanting to be associated with a particular political or social figure, but in this instance it gave uncertainly as to the origin an almost year-long head start. When contemporary toxic political rhetoric is allowed to steer the rudder on a search for truth, absolutely no good can come from it. Perhaps the great irony is that some of those scientists who early on labeled lab leak as absurd and dumb did so by letting Trump’s rhetoric indirectly define what those scientists called real science. In other words, they let Trump’s choice of words defined the probability of an event, something I guarantee wasn’t the idea.

What’s the lesson out of all of this? Think and be careful. Again, this isn’t about COVID-19 origins per se. I don’t know the full truth and I am skeptical that the public will ever know all of the particulars. But pretty please, with sugar on top, don’t let modern political bedlam influence any of your quests for knowledge. There’s a great Arab proverb to keep in mind: “Examine what is said, not who speaks.”

May LocSec Column

“So what do you talk about in Mensa?” Surely, I’m not the only one to have heard this from folks. Moreover, I’m confident that I’m not the only one who crafts my answer depending on who’s asking. If the person isn’t a moron, I’m honest and say that we talk about random things like anyone else and use bigger-than-usual words to hurl insults back and forth. If I wonder who the person hires to tie their shoes in the morning because knots seem way over their head, I’ve been known to weave complex fables involving the Bavarian Illuminati and Bank of Japan.

All that said, I plan on trying a new kind of recurring event for the chapter. Socrates Café has its origins with author Christopher Phillips (NPR interview from 2004 https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1688260). Long story short, it’s a group where individuals, using the Socratic method, delve into philosophical topics. From the meaning of life and the existence of morality to every manner of “is” and “should” you can conjure up, the group picks a topic, and the discussion begins. Extensive knowledge of particular philosophers and philosophies isn’t a prerequisite. We discuss topics and inquire with each other from our different perspectives. It’s not a formal organization, merely an idea in the public domain. I participated in a local Socrates Café group for many years since moving to Colorado. There was a core group of people from all walks of life, all generally cursed with thinking too much. When the bulk of the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, I will find a venue and invite all of you to attend (though more than 15 can get unruly). The hope is that we get enough interest in the chapter to hold different rounds with different groups of people, Mensan and otherwise. This way, when somebody asks you what we talk about in Mensa, you can throw something interesting in their direction.

April LocSec Column

Ah, the 1980s! Nintendo, slap bracelets, the Police Academy franchise, DeLoreans…this list goes on and on. As a child of the 80s, I among the youngest to remember the Cold War and the KC Royals winning their first pennant. Weird fashion and pop music notwithstanding, a lot of interesting things came out of the decade. For me, three particular words stuck with me: “Trust, but verify.” This is a Russian proverb that President Reagan made famous during nuclear arms talks with the Soviet Union. I don’t recall what made this stick in my head, perhaps my obsession with Voltron had faded so there was space available in my head. Regardless, it’s a bit of wisdom that has its own special place in these times.

I cannot express in PG-rated terminology how absurd I find really bad information shared around on social media like it’s gospel. From not-the-sharpest-knife-in-the-drawer friends from childhood to the most overeducated of Mensans, I’ve observed people embrace well-packaged graphic images with garbage quotations on Facebook or Twitter as though they found the golden plates. It’s annoying to me when someone I don’t agree with does it, and it’s infuriating to me when someone I do agree with does it. Two minutes on Google would knock most of the garbage down, but there’s apparently something seductive about simply clicking “Post” or “Tweet.”

It’s not like bad information wasn’t around in the 1980s, but the costs of disseminating it were much higher then than they are now. Back then, you’d have to actually print something in enough quantity to spread it around, a cash and time-consuming process. Today, lies can be proliferated using one hand and not leaving your seat. Even when traveling the world depended on the wind, Jonathan Swift observed, “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.”

Why do I bring this up? I don’t know that many of us do (or even can) appreciate how much communication has changed in just the past few decades. Instead of three evening broadcasts, the Internet is a hydra of firehoses from which to consume information, and I’m not certain that we have figured out how to take a drink yet without drowning. But what can we do to adapt? No matter who says it or how much you want it to be true, always “Trust, but verify.” Better still, save yourself a bit of time and start with verifying. It won’t stop the stupid, but it will help the cause.

May RVC Column

‘Tis the month of May, given to us for frolicking on the greensward. This year the frolicking must respect social distancing, of course – takes some of the fun out of it but we’re still better than February. Face masks filter out pollen even better than germs, so there’s that.

I’ve been broadening my four-walls experience by going through my collection of Heinlein paperbacks. Case in point, The Door Into Summer, published in 1957, is a Rip Van Winkel story of a guy iced-down in 1970 and awakened to the wonders of 2000. Heinlein’s dates are a little off, but his invention list is pretty good. Add a mouse or trackball to his “Draftsman Dan” gadget and you’ve got an AutoCAD system; “Hired Girl,” his automatic housekeeper, sounds like a hyped-up Roomba. It goes on. But the publisher used cheap paper and cheaper glue – the books are falling apart as I read them.

In American Mensa, this year is a little different because our nationwide CultureQuest® trivia contest has been moved from its usual April time slot into May. Last year it was in October. The results should be announced at our Annual Gathering which will be in August instead of its traditional early July time slot. If you’re not confused yet, you’re not paying attention. To our Region’s slew of teams in the CQ melee, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

However, our Mensa elections are proceeding on schedule. The polls opened on April 15 and ballots (electronic or paper) must be received by May 15. We’ve got multi-candidate races for one international office and four national offices, plus a referendum for a Bylaws change. Details are in your April Bulletin. Look them over, decide and act, because your vote counts.

The Region 7 section of Mensa Connect is getting more lively, at both the Regional and Local Group levels. I’ve even received several requests to Moderate (i.e., reject) certain posts because the requestor disagreed with the post and/or felt it reflected badly on Mensa.However, our rule is, “Disagree without being disagreeable.” As I read the posts and conversations, I’ve been pleasantly impressed with the general tone.  Participants have been respectful and avoided personal attacks, concentrating instead on expression of opinion and/or objective fact.  That kind of conversation is what Mensa was founded for.  Thanks, contributors, and keep up the good work.

Meanwhile, if you need me for anything I’ll be out on the greensward, frolicking.

~~ Rich

April RVC Column

You can’t not like April – the return of gentle weather, flowers popping out all over the place, and (we hope) baseball. OK, there’s Tax Day, but on the other hand there’s Easter, Ramadan and Earth Day.

The third week of April is the traditional home of Mensa Cares, our nation-wide exercise in local community service. It’s always been a good spark for Local Groups getting together to improve public life, whether by picking up litter in a park, sorting canned goods at a Food Bank or even donating blood. Not this year, of course – recommended precautions against the various strains of Covid-19 have nixed nearly everything of that sort (although picking up litter is always a good thing). I’m looking forward to next year, though…

Here’s one sign of a promising future – North Dakota Mensa has announced the latest edition of their perennial Regional Gathering, this time named ND HeRitaGe 2021. It’s scheduled for August 20-22 at the President’s House in Valley City ND. You can read full details and register at northdakota.us.mensa.org/RG.html. Yes, it’s just a few days before AML hosts a much bigger party, the World Gathering in Houston (ag.us.mensa.org), but the ND RGs traditionally feature homemade brownies.

This April is special for American Mensa because it includes the start of our national election period. If you have an email address on file with the National Office, look for your electronic ballot in your Inbox on or soon after April 15. If the office doesn’t have an email address for you, they’ll mail you a paper ballot. Marked ballots, either flavor, need to be returned by May 15.

You can see the list of candidates and access their candidacy materials after logging onto American Mensa’s website and going to us.mensa.org/lead/amc/elections/2021-election-portal/. You’ll see that we have contests going for four of the five national offices, one referendum for a Bylaws amendment, and several active races for RVC posts.

There’s no RVC contest in our Heartland Region, because Beth Anne Demeter was unopposed and therefore “declared elected.” She has a long history of service to Mensa at the local, national and international levels. You can check it out if you click on her name in the Election Portal’s listing. I have full confidence that as RVC and as an AMC member she will provide informed and enthusiastic leadership for our Region and for American Mensa. Thanks for stepping up, Beth Anne, prepare to be real busy starting in July.

~~ Rich

March RVC Column

March, a time of renewal, when the world wakes up from its Winter sleep. As I write this my window shows me a snowscape but I’m looking forward to crocuses and tulips and that vivid yellow-green of newly-opened tree leaves. Better times lie ahead, y’all.

Here’s some more good news. American Mensa’s 2020 CultureQuest® nationwide team trivia contest ran online and about 6 months later than usual, but it did happen and our Heartland Region did well. Two of our teams placed in the Top 20:

  • Questionable Behavior from Denver Mensa, captained by Tara Lange, placed #8
  • Heart of America from Mid-America Mensa, captained by Paul Hough, placed #13

Congratulations, folks, you make me proud.

By no coincidence, registration for the 2021 competition will be open by the time you read this. Only Mensans would willingly sign up to spend a May Sunday afternoon working a 200-question trivia contest to benefit the Foundation’s Scholarship Fund, but we do and we think it’s fun. If you and a few Mensan friends would like to be part of the experience, go to us.mensa.org/attend/culturequest/ for more details. Registration closes at the end of March.

That Scholarship program only works with the active support of hundreds of Mensan judges who spent part of their February reading and scoring thousands of essays. Thanks, to you judges and to you Scholarship Chairs who rode herd. You’re part of why I’m so proud to be a member of American Mensa.

Unless you’re a lifer or midway into a multi-year membership, March is also a time of renewal for your Mensa membership. This hasn’t been a normal year for Mensans or anyone else. We’ve not been able to support our normal menu of face-to-face and food-to-face get-togethers, but you’ve still been receiving your Bulletin (with Bill Etienne’s mind-melting puzzle pages) and your local newsletter (please thank your Editor) and to keep your brain cells ticking there’s been a florescence of online Mensan activities – from conversations to presentations – on Mensa Connect and other platforms. Check us.mensa.org/attend/calendar/ for a partial list of live and online programs. Stay with us for the expedition beyond the mess.
Better times lie ahead, y’all.

~ Rich

December RVC Column

December is usually a time for parties and feasting and family get-togethers. Unfortunately, our current political, economic, epidemiological and weirdweather “perfect storm” has meddled with most of that. As for crosscountry travel, faggedaboudit. The multilayer uncertainty has also derailed the planning that most Local Groups do for their holiday season gettogethers.
So what to do? Stock up on canned goods, hide under the bed and resort to the internet and video conferencing. If you’re not already an experienced user of Zoom and GoToMeeting and Hangouts, ask any nearby schoolkid for help (and give a figurative pat on the back to their teachers, who’ve been dumped into this new environment and are swimming far more than they’re sinking, bless ‘em). Plains and Peaks Mensa found that trivia nights work almost as well online as the facetoface variety. Nebraska-Western Iowa Mensa reports that online book clubs do the same.
Many of our most successful events center around food, from picnics to dineouts to the Hospitality rooms at Gatherings. Believe it or not, it’s possible to do a foodcentered video conference. How about a multi-cook cooking class for swapping techniques and favorite recipes? Denver Mensa used Zoom for a speaker session featuring a professional mixologist who showed us his methods and philosophy. Or you could just do what people have been doing since cell phones got cameras – everyone shows off the vittles on their plate and then proceeds to consume while carrying on table talk. It just takes one volunteer to start what could become a tradition.
For those of you who’ve been hanging back from the internet because of its wellearned Wild West reputation, here’s a bit of good news. There’s a new Sheriff in town, at least in two places. Mensa Connect is an online conversation facility, supported and secured by American Mensa, with separate sections for national, regional and local discussions. Starting November 2 it’ll have a General Discussion forum – which will be moderated to keep things civil. On Facebook, the old Hospitality and Firehouse groups have been converted to SIGs. Both groups have committed to being kinder and gentler than they’ve been in the past.
Finally, as I wrote last month, I will not be running for RVC next year. If noone runs for that position the AMC will appoint a Regional Coordinator but that person will have no vote on policy matters that will affect our Heartland Region. If you have leadership experience within American Mensa or elsewhere, consider putting your name forward. I value the experience and friends I’ve gained over the past four years, but now it’s your turn. Visit AML’s Election Portal and start your candidacy rolling. I’ll sign your petition.
~~ Rich

Our New Local Secretary, Ryan Adler

My name is Ryan Adler, and I am Denver Mensa’s 2021 LocSec. I’m not big on titles, so just call me either Ryan or Lord Commander. I’ve been in Colorado since 2008 and joined Mensa in 2013. I’m a Leo, very partial to the KC Chiefs, dog enthusiast, and proud purveyor of sarcasm. While I graduated from law school, I’ve never practiced but am as fantastic an armchair constitutional law scholar as they come. For fun, terrible programming is at the top of the list (Mystery Science Theater 3000-caliber stuff). 

My day job, which often turns into a night job, is as a director and Superforecaster with Good Judgment Inc. Long story short, we forecast things like election outcomes, finance, capital markets, sports, and every stripe of geopolitical event. I live/work a stone’s throw from Olde Town Arvada, so I’m usually game for a coffee meetup (depending on weather and infectious disease considerations). I can talk anyone’s ear off about economics, history, etymology, philosophy, and anecdotes regarding my better half, Julia (my four-year-old Australian Labrachiweenie…AKC hasn’t officially recognized the breed, but we’ll get there). If I could invent just one thing, it’d either be an effective cure for tuberculosis or carb-free chips & salsa.

I look forward to leading the chapter through the currently socially-distanced state of affairs and am always interested to hear ideas about how we can increase interactions among ourselves with COVID in mind. While whoever said, “May you live in interesting times!” would probably cringe at 2020, we will work together to make the best out of 2021.

Mensa Foundation Judges Needed

Judges are needed for the 2020-2021 Mensa Education and Research Foundation Scholarship Essay Contest.  Judging involves reading essays submitted by scholarship applicants, and scoring them for points to determine the winners.  Judging will be done online on the Mensa website.  Local judging will take place between January 15, 2021 and February 23, 2021.  Anyone who is interested in volunteering, please contact Tim Winkelman 
(303)698-1897 timwinkelman@yahoo.com.

Due to COVID-19, we will not be having a Judging Day event this year.  Hopefully this will return next year if everything has returned to normal,

We will also be needing regional Judges for Region 7.  Regional Judging will take place between February 23, 2021 and March 30 2021.  We will be looking for people who have not been judges for any of the local groups in Region 7 for the 2020-2021 competition.  Judges may only judge at the local or regional level, but may not do both in the same region.