Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A rose by any other name, case #17,643


The madness continues. This Reuters story today out of Washington says it all.

And this one from The Kansas City Star.

And even this one out of the People’s Republic of China, complete with a masthead that mentions the 100th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping.

According to Wikipedia, Deng Xiaoping said the following:

不管黑猫白猫,能捉老鼠就是好猫 (Translation: “It does not matter whether the cat is black or white; as long as it catches the mouse, it is a good cat.”) -- commenting on whether China should turn to capitalism or remain strictly in adherence with the economic ideologies of communism, and

摸着石頭過河 (Translation: “Wading across a river by feeling the rocks.”) -- referring to the fact that China had absolutely no experience with modern capitalism, and

小朋友不聴話,該打打屁股了 (Translation: “It’s time to smack the bottom of unruly little children.”) -- while talking to president Jimmy Carter during his [Deng’s] brief visit to the United States, thereby informing the USA that China was ready to go to war with Vietnam.

One can only trust (a) that the swine flu has nothing to do with swine and (b) that Deng Xiaoping was referring to Vietnam and not to Jimmy Carter.

If one cannot trust one’s government, whom can one trust?


As I said, the madness continues.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How now, brown cow?


I stole borrowed this list from Tracie, who lives down in Florida and blogs under a name too horrible to repeat. She freely admitted that she did not write the piece and didn’t know where she picked it up, but it was too good to keep to herself. So, in a manner of speaking, if you squint your eyes and hold your tongue at just the proper angle, you might say I received permission from her to use it.

As far as I know, the list isn’t copyrighted. But if it is and somebody lets me know, I will remove the post.

Also, as far as I know, the list is meant to be fun. It isn’t intended to offend anyone. If anyone is offended, I may remove the post and then again I may not. If enough people are offended, I will take the matter under advisement.

In the meantime, enjoy.


THE WORLD EXPLAINED


COMMUNISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk.

FASCISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.

SOCIALISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes one of them and gives it to your work-shy neighbor.
They laugh in your face.

NAZISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you.

BUREAUCRATISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away.

TRADITIONAL CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

SURREALISM
You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.

ENRON VENTURE CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for the five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows.
No balance sheets are provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

A FRENCH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot, block the roads and set fire to cars, because you want three cows.

A JAPANESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called “Cowkimon” and market it worldwide.

A GERMAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You don’t know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

A RUSSIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
You count them again and learn you have 2 cows.
You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

A SWISS CORPORATION
You have 5000 cows.
None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

A CHINESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

AN INDIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You worship them.

A BRITISH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Both are mad.

AN IRAQI CORPORATION
Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No one believes you, so they bomb you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least now you are part of a Democracy.

AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office for the day and go for a few beers to celebrate.

A NEW ZEALAND CORPORATION
You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive.

THE BRITISH LABOUR GOVERNMENT
You have two cows, milked by the cow tsar.
One is black and one is white to ensure racial diversity, the black one fancies the white one thus ensuring we have suitable variation in sexual orientation.

AN ULSTER CORPORATION
You have two cows and pay protection for the milk.

A SCOTTISH CORPORATION
You have two cows (the hairy highland variety).
You dip one in chocolate, cover it in batter and deep fry it, just to see if it works.

A ZIMBABWEAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
They produce lots of milk for the people.
The State beats you up and steals your cows then gives them to someone who has no idea about looking after them.
The cows die and there is no milk.
It is all the fault of Britain and America.

THE BRITISH POLICE SERVICE
You have 2 cows.
You give them a selection of tasks, including making sure that no one is rude to any other cows for any reason, even if the cows haven’t complained. You ensure that they have the correct ethnic proportion of cows for all the fields in the country, notwithstanding that there are almost no minorities in this field. They are so busy doing these tasks that they have no time to be milked, so you buy some cheaper cows who don’t produce any milk but look as though they should, and you hope that because you can see these cows, everyone will think that there is an abundance of milk.
To fund this, you feed the real cows less so they couldn’t produce any milk even if they weren’t so busy doing non-milk producing activities.

(End of list)


It’s so simple even a child can understand.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I feel so much better now.


Obama: Swine flu not a reason for ‘alarm’

That is today’s headline from the Associated Press. In the article itself, the AP reports that what President Obama actually said was that the threat of spreading swine flu infections -- the World Health Organization says there are 40 confirmed cases in the U.S. now; the CDC says there are 20 -- is a cause for concern but not a cause for alarm.

It reminds me of another president in another decade who said it depends on what your definition of “is” is. It reminds me of David Letterman’s comedic bits where he shows film clips of horrendous crashes and promptly assures us that everything is fine and no one was hurt. It reminds me of George Orwell’s 1984 and the possibility that double-speak has arrived.

Yesterday, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said there was no need to close the borders. Today, according to the AP article, President Obama spoke even as the United States undertook close border monitoring to contain the spread of the disease. Phrases like “customs agents” and “Department of Health and Human Services” appeared in the story.

Change. You voted for it. You got it.

The only problem is that the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same. Only the faces are different.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bits and snippets from the one and only...


...Flannery O’Connor:

“Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”

“You would probably do just as well to get that plot business out of your head and start simply with a character or anything that you can make come alive...Wouldn’t it be better for you to discover a meaning in what you write rather than to impose one? Nothing you write will lack meaning because the meaning is in you.”

“When the Protestant hears what he supposes to be the voice of the Lord, he follows it regardless of whether it runs counter to his church’s teachings. The Catholic believes any voice he may hear comes from the Devil unless it is in accordance with the teachings of the Church.”

“To a lot of Protestants I know, monks and nuns are fanatics, none greater. And to a lot of the monks and nuns I know, my Protestant prophets are fanatics. For my part, I think the only difference between them is that if you are a Catholic and have this intensity of belief you join a convent and are heard from no more; whereas if you are a Protestant and have it, there is no convent for you to join and you go about in the world, getting into all sorts of trouble and drawing the wrath of people who don’t believe anything much at all down on your head.”

“St. Cyril of Jerusalem said to the catechumens, ‘The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.’ No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.”

“One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him. The Aylmers whom Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down human imperfection, they are making headway also on the raw material of the good. Ivan Karamazov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus’ hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.”

“You will have found Christ when you are concerned with other people’s sufferings and not your own.”


All of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, none of which is quoted above, can be found in her two volumes of short stories (A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, plus The Complete Stories, a combination of the first two plus several stories she wrote and submitted in lieu of a master’s thesis while attending the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop) and her two novels (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away).

All of the bits and snippets quoted in this post are taken from two other sources, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor and The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor (Sally Fitzgerald, editor), which, if your local library does not carry, shame on them.

Flannery O’Connor died of lupus at the age of 39. Had she lived, she would have turned 84 last month.

(1962 Photo By Associated Press)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy feet?


Today’s post (the content, not the title) was suggested by Mrs. Rhymeswithplague.

Our neighbor, Rube (which is his real name and not short for Reuben or anything else), is 80 years old and often sends us interesting and entertaining e-mails. Yesterday he decided that the perfect thing to distribute on a spring afternoon was this clip from The Seven Little Foys.

As Jack Haley, Jr., son of Jack Haley, Sr., once said, “That’s entertainment!”

Both Bob Hope and James Cagney started out as song-and-dance men, I believe, so it was fitting that they played the roles of Eddie Foy and George M. Cohan, respectively, in The Seven Little Foys. I know very little about dancing, but Cagney seems to be the better dancer in this clip. At least, his arms are not flailing about like Bob Hope’s. Or maybe they just have different styles and their duet is brilliant. What do I know? But that’s not why Mrs. RWP suggested this post.

Here’s why.

One of my mother’s favorite sayings, one I heard her say many times because I had a tendency to lean against the kitchen table, was, “If you sit on the table, you’ll get married before you’re able.” Naturally, I said it to my three children, and now I am saying it to my six grandchildren. Old habits die hard. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. Or something. Pick your own proverb and insert it here.

What Mrs. RWP wanted to know after viewing the Cagney and Lacey Hope video was: If you sit on the table and get married before you’re able, what happens if you dance on the table?

The only answer I have been able to come up with is that the lampshade may fall off your head.

Do you have other suggestions? Help me out, readers. Do your stuff.

While you are trying to think of a clever answer, concentrate on this photo:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rules to live by: (1) Always post a sentry during the afternoon siesta; (2) Choose your underwear very carefully.


Today is a day dear to the hearts of Texans everywhere, young and old, near and far, past, present, and probably future. For the record, I was not born in Texas. I moved there when I was six and moved away when I was 20, but I received a thorough indoctrination while there.

Today is the 173rd anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto that occurred on April 21, 1836, not far from present-day Houston. If you are not familiar with the battle, you can read all about it here. I hope you take the time to read the entire article, because it is a truly fascinating account. If you do, then and only then will you understand the title of this post.

Texans, being Texans, are justifiably proud of having defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s Mexican forces in a fight that lasted just 18 minutes. Hundreds of Mexican soldiers were killed or captured, but only nine Texans died.

Texans, being Texans, decided to erect a little monument in recognition of that fact. The San Jacinto Monument turned out to be the world’s tallest memorial column, 55 feet taller than the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.

And Texans, being Texans, also decided to engrave the following modest inscription on the base of the monument:

“Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas (not part of the United States at the time) from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican-American War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American Nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty.”

As Mama used to say, “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.”

Still, my indoctrination seems to have worked. Today’s post is about San Jacinto.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Listen, my children, and you shall hear...


...Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-Five,
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year...

One if by land, and two if by sea,
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm...

You can read the entire poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow here.


Seventy-Five, of course, refers to neither 1975 nor 1875, but 1775. This statue of Paul Revere stands in Boston, Massachusetts. If you look closely, you can see in the background the spire of the Old North Church, which played a prominent role in the famous midnight ride of April 18-19, 1775.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Say what??? And again I say, What???


While I was poking around the Internet, I found the following article in Wikipedia:


Circumcellions

The Circumcellions were fanatical bands of predatory peasants that flourished in North Africa in the 4th century.[1] They preferred to be known as agonistici (“fighters (for Christ)”).[1] At first they were concerned with remedying social grievances, but they became linked with the Donatist sect.[1] They condemned property and slavery, and advocated canceling debts and freeing slaves.[2] Donatists prized martyrdom and had a special devotion for the martyrs, rendering honors to their graves.

The Circumcellions had come to regard martyrdom as the true Christian virtue (the early Church Father Tertullian said, “A martyr’s death day was actually his birthday”), and thus disagreed with the Patriarchate of Carthage on the primacy of chastity, sobriety, humility, and charity. Instead, they focused on bringing about their martyrdom -- by any means possible.

Since Jesus had told Peter to put down his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:11), the Circumcellions piously avoided bladed weapons and instead opted for the use of blunt clubs, which they called “Israelites.” Using their “Israelites” the Circumcellions would attack random travelers on the road, while shouting “Laudes Deo!” (“Praise the Lord!” in Latin.) The object of these random beatings was the death of the intrepid martyr, who hoped that hitting someone over the head with the club would provoke the victim to attack and kill them.

They survived until the fourth century in Africa, when their desire for martyrdom was fulfilled due to persecution.

References:

1. “Circumcellions.” Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
2. Durant, Will (1972). The Age of Faith. New York: Simon and Schuster.

This article incorporates content from the 1728 Cyclopaedia, a publication in the public domain.

(End of Wikipedia article)


It takes all kinds. I wonder if they also expected to be greeted by 72 virgins.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

e. e. cummings on spring


For everyone who ever posted a photograph of flowers on Today’s Flowers...

For lovers of daffodils, lilacs, and roses...

For the people of Puyallup, Washington; Rochester, New York; and Tyler, Texas...

For anyone who ever beheld the lilies of the field and knew they toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these...

A poem:

in time of daffodils
by E. E. Cummings


in time of daffodils(who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why,remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so(forgetting seem)

in time of roses(who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if,remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek(forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me,remember me

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A real-life, do-it-yourself, fairy tale


First, watch this 7-minute video of 47-year-old Susan Boyle, a contestant last Saturday night on Britain’s Got Talent, a television program in the United Kingdom.

Next, read this editorial from The Herald, a newspaper in the United Kingdom.

Then make the inevitable references, if you must, to The Ugly Duckling, a story written by Hans Christian Andersen, or Cinderella, the classic folk tale made famous by the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm and Jakob. You know you want to.

Susan sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables in the competition’s first round, aired on 11 April 2009. She stopped her pursuit of singing to look after her sick parents. Her father died about ten years ago and her mother died in 2007 at age 91. The youngest of nine children, Susan lives alone in Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland, in the house she grew up in, with only her ten-year-old cat, Pebbles, to keep her company. Susan’s mother had loved the first season of Britain's Got Talent and encouraged Susan to enter because, said her mother, she would win it. Susan, a member of her church choir, hasn’t sung at all in two years because she has been in mourning since her mother died. Recently, though, she decided that the best way to honor her mother’s memory was to fulfill her mother’s wish and begin, finally, to pursue a singing career.

Oxygen-deprived at birth, Susan had learning disabilities in school and says she was the object of much verbal bullying from classmates. By her own admission, she has never had a boyfriend and has never been kissed.

The more you learn about Susan Boyle, the more amazed you are.

Watch that video again to draw inspiration from her story and from her voice. Repeat this steps as many times as necessary.

Read this story also.

Until last weekend, Susan Boyle was a middle-aged, “plain Jane” woman living on the edge of nowhere, who didn’t spend money on hairdressers, make-up, tweezers, or new clothes. Life seemed to have passed her by. This week she has been offered a recording contract by Sony.

Meditate on the facts of this post.

Live happily ever after.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Krishti u ngjall! Vërtetë u ngjall!

The title of this post is in old-style Albanian, the language my wife’s parents spoke.

Every year, on a certain day, when Mom and Pop were still alive, we would call them in Florida or they would call us in Nebraska or New York or Florida or Georgia (we moved a lot) and whichever party said “Hello?” heard the words, “Krishti u ngjall!”

The response was always immediate from the other person: “Vërtetë u ngjall!”

Phonetically, it sounded something like this:

KRISH-tee oong-ee-AHL! vair-TET oong-ee-AHL!

What a strange thing to do, you might be thinking.

Not at all. If you’re curious what those strange phrases might mean, here is an English translation: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

The day, of course, was Easter Sunday -- Resurrection Day -- and we were simply doing what Christians have been doing in various places and in various languages for two thousand years.

After Pop died in 1983 and Mom died in 1986, we continued the traditional Albanian Easter greeting with Mrs RWP’s aunt in North Carolina. Now she is gone, too. There is nobody left in the family to speak Albanian to.

So, very early this morning, as the day was beginning to dawn, I said to Mrs. RWP, “Krishti ngjall!” and she replied, “Vërtetë ngjall!” Some traditions are worth preserving.

This was not only an Easter greeting, it was something like the communion of the saints, I think. Some of them on earth, and some of them in Heaven. But all in agreement.

In many places around the world, in many languages, many people said these words today. We said them at our own church (Pentecostal, not Albanian Orthodox) this morning. The pastor said, “Christ is risen!” and the entire congregation replied, “He is risen indeed!” The pastor said it three times, and after the third response, spontaneous applause broke out in the choir and among the congregation.

As I said, the communion of the saints.

This afternoon I found on the Internet a photograph of the interior of Saints Peter and Paul Albanian Orthodox Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the church Mrs. RWP attended as a child with her mother, father, and brother. It was the first time my wife had seen this church since 1946. The church is decorated in the photograph, not for Easter, but for another Christian holiday.

Christmas. You may have heard of it.



Saturday, April 11, 2009

It happened in Antwerp at the train station...


...and although it has absolutely nothing to do with Easter, to me it conveys the joy that all Christian believers should experience on commemorating the Resurrection. Not a hint of solemnity in sight. Just joy. Pure joy.

Therefore, I HOPE YOUR EASTER IS THIS HAPPY!

(A big "thank you" to Katherine in New Zealand for bringing this to my attention by including it in her blog, The Last Visible Dog.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

From the archives: A short story (April 10, 2008)


I wrote the following short story several years ago. It is mostly autobiographical, but some parts are fictional and certain names have been changed. Today, in honor of what would have been my mother's ninety-eighth birthday, I am posting it here on my blog.


Birthright
by Robert H. Brague



“Sibman.”

I can still see you saying it, Mama, hurrying to get it over with, hoping they didn’t hear too clearly. They never did. You knew they wouldn’t; you made sure they wouldn’t. Sometimes it came out different, your ear searching for the right sound: “Zimmerman,” you would say, or “Sellman,” or “Simmon.” I liked that one best. It made me smell hot cinnamon toast and taste the sweet persimmons from our yard.

I can still hear your eyes, Mama. Looking outward, seeing inward, they were the frightened eyes of a doe fleeing the hunter. But you were quick, you’d glance down, and they never saw. You always made sure they never saw.

But I did.

I saw and I heard, and I wondered why you were afraid, why you were so reluctant to reveal your maiden name. It seemed a fine name to me, a perfectly fine Jewish name. I liked the sound it made inside my head: Silberman. Bells chimed when I thought of that name. On our solitary visit to Pennsylvania when I was fourteen, when the telephone rang in your brother’s house and Uncle Jack who was really Jacob answered it with a cheery “Dr. Silberman,” I could hear in his voice a torrent of bells.

You told me never to say it to anyone, and you gave me other orders, too. “If someone wants to know what you are, say German,” you told me. “And never say Uncle Sol, call him Uncle Paul,” you said. Though I didn’t understand, the look in your eyes told me not to question, and I obeyed. Later, when I had heard of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Dachau, I realized that you had private horrors and unspoken fears of your own. What happened, Mama? Did you plan to tell me someday? Was I too young? If you were waiting, you waited too long.

The cancers entered your body, crowding your life away, and as they advanced you receded. From a hundred and eight pounds at peak health, you were less than seventy at the end. I was sixteen years old when you died all those Octobers ago, all those eons ago.

Three eons after you were gone, I heard a pianist play something by Debussy at a recital at the university, a piece called La Cathedrale Engloutie, and in the swelling chords, the rising waters, I recognized the choking cancers growing also until, like the cathedral in the legend, you too were engulfed.

In the months and years before, in the dust and heat of the dry Texas sun, far from your early Philadelphia years, you were afraid. You were Jewish and afraid. But not me. I was a Methodist. Every week you sent me with the neighbors into town to attend Sunday School, and no one ever knew that you were Jewish, that I was half Jewish. It was our secret. Yours and mine and his.

I was twelve when I overheard the two of you arguing in whispers about a picture in a locket, a picture I never saw because he tore it to pieces that day. I knew then that he wasn’t my father at all. But you never knew I knew. It was our secret from each other. “Leave him alone,” you would cry whenever he hit me, “he never asked to be born.” All three of us had understood the message of your cry. When he began to try to tell me, after you were buried, all the color drained from his face when I said calmly that I had known for four years. He never touched me again. Eight months later he married a widow with four teenage children and life, as some people say, went on.

You had me, Mama, you loved me, and you kept me. And I know now that you were only trying to protect me, to spare me some of the hate in the world. You shouldn’t have been so afraid, Mama. Jesus said that we would know the truth and the truth would make us free. I read in a book that Louis XVI once asked Blaise Pascal to name one proof of the existence of God and Pascal answered, “The Jew, Your Majesty, the Jew.” You didn’t have to be afraid, Mama. Oh, they try to destroy us. The pharaohs tried, the Romans tried, the Inquisitors tried, Hitler tried, the Arabs are still trying today, but no one will ever destroy the Jew.

Once I came home from Sunday School, Mama, and asked you whether the Jews crucified Christ. Turning slowly toward me, your eyes widening, you said, “We were taught it was the Roman soldiers.” I know now it was neither Jew nor Roman soldier. It was all of us, Mama. All mankind in every century nailed Him to the cross, and He died for the sins of the whole world. You tried to take away my Jewishness, Mama, but my Messiah has come. Don’t you see, Mama? I wasn’t converted. Only Gentiles, goyim, are converted. I was completed. “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us,” wrote Saul of Tarsus, a Jew. The exodus from fear can finally begin.

After the second funeral, I wrote to Aunt Miriam in Pennsylvania to learn more about my real father. “Ruth met him in New York,” she wrote. “He was a musician, a French-Canadian. He joined the Army and disappeared. We think he went to Panama when the war came. “What’s important, Billy, is not what he was, but what you are.”

You had two secrets, Mama--at least two. Awful secrets, as cancerous to your soul as the disease that wracked your flesh. How many more secrets there were I’ll never know.

Persimmons and eons, Mama. Cinnamon, persimmons, and eons. I love you, Mama, across the eons. “Dust thou art,” says the Bible, the Torah, “and unto dust shalt thou return.” Not you, Mama, not you. You’ll never be dust. You’re a Madonna in a cathedral. An emaciated Madonna in an engulfed, eternal cathedral. Even now, I can hear the bells chiming.

(End of original post)

Today is Good Friday. It is also what would have been my mother’s ninety-ninth birthday.

R.I.P., Ruth Elizabeth Silberman Brague, April 10,1910 - October 4, 1957

Nine Hundred Ninety-nine and counting.


Over there in the sidebar, as I write this post, the number of individual U.S. visitors (TCP/IP addresses, visiting more than once from the same computer doesn’t count) to this blog since I installed the Flagcounter thingy last December is 999. (There are visitors from 63 other countries as well, but not enough yet to declare that a milestone has been reached.)

As people in small towns all over America used to say: Much obliged.

To put this blog’s popularity in proper perspective -- don’t you just love alliteration? -- that’s maybe one-third or one-fourth the number of comments Pioneer Woman often gets on a single post.

If I were a rich man (yabba dabba dabba dabba dabba doo -- I know, I sound more like Fred Flintstone than Tevye the milkman), I would present the 1000th U.S. visitor with some valuable prize, a treasure worthy to mark this memorable occasion, an honorable commodity on this milestone in the life of rhymeswithplague, a lasting memento to match this loquacious simpleton’s gratitude instead of his inability to provide.

Here’s what I just said.

No prize will be forthcoming.

But I sincerely hope that all of you, from whatever country, will continue to visit my blog for whatever reason you choose. A grateful blogger salutes you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hands across the sea and all that.


A parliamentary imbalance exists. I am speaking of how they do things in the United Kingdom and how we do things in the good old U. S. of A.

In my post the other day, the one that put all of you to sleep, I quoted the statistic that the estimated population of the U.S. is 306,000,000 and the U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members, and we learned that each representative represents, on average, 703,000 persons (some more, some less).

As is my wont, I was pootling around (jinksy’s term) the Internet and learned that the estimated population of the United Kingdom is 60,000,000 and also that the House of Commons, their equivalent to our House of Representatives, has 646 members (I thought it was 630, but apparently the number of seats was increased). Therefore, each member of the British House of Commons represents, on average, 92,879 persons.

It’s not fair. In order to achieve parity with the Brits and have one representative for every 92,879 persons in the U.S., we would have to increase the size of the U.S. House of Representatives to 3,294 members. That might prove a bit unwieldy, even for Nancy Pelosi.

Maybe the Brits could adopt our ratio. All they would have to do is reduce the number of elected members of Parliament to a nice workable number, 85. I don’t think our British cousins would stand for it even though Gordon Brown might like to give it a try.

It’s a historical fact that a major reason the American Revolution occurred was that the colonists disagreed with King George III over that little matter of taxation without representation.

More than 230 years have elapsed, and given the state of affairs on both sides of the Atlantic, I don’t much care for taxation even with representation.




Let all 646 members of the House of Commons and 435 members of the House of Representatives put that in their pipes and smoke it.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Reason #17,643 Why I Am The Way I Am


I am looking at a picture of myself at age 15, sitting in front of an upright piano. The year, if you must know, is 1956. I am wearing a light gray suit, a white shirt, and a snazzy bow tie. My hair, helped along by a liberal dab of Brylcreem, is neatly combed into its usual pompadour. My hands seem to be caressing the keys. A thinner, younger version of myself looks at the camera. I am smiling. I am not at one of Mrs. Alyne Eagan’s annual spring recitals. Those were always held at the First Baptist Church so her students could play on the big, shiny, black grand piano. No, I am somewhere else.

Jumping forward to the present, I am hopelessly out of date, techologically speaking. I own a television set, but it is not one of those new flat, high-def ones. My version of Old Man River just sits there in its corner but it still keeps rolling along. I do own a VCR (I can hear you laughing) and a CD player and even a DVD player, but I do not own a DVR or a TIVO or a Kindle or whatever is the latest thing on the market. I do not own a Camcorder or a digital camera, an iPod or an iPhone, nor do I own a special drive or device that uploads instant photos into my computer instantly. Therefore, I cannot show you the picture.

I know. It’s pathetic.

Yesterday I rummaged through a cardboard box in a corner of the spare bedroom and found a fifty-year-old scrapbook. My mother put together three scrapbooks when I was young to record my every move, it seems, for posterity. The two earliest scrapbooks have disappeared, but I still have the one covering my high school years. I hadn’t looked at it in a very long time until yesterday, when I found it while rummaging through that cardboard box in a corner of the spare bedroom.

Today, therefore, I could tell you, if I wished, about my Junior prom or my Senior play or the time the Future Teachers of America Club went to the District V FTA Convention at North Texas State College in Denton. But instead I am going to tell you about Municipal Building Dedication Day in our small Texas town on September 15, 1956. That’s where the photo of me was taken. It appeared a few days later in the center of a half-page collage of eleven photographs in our town’s weekly newspaper. Mansfield had never had a Municipal Building (or, as it turns out, a police car) before, so it was a really big deal.

I wish I had a handy-dandy digital camera so I could take a digital picture of the yellowed newspaper page, and I wish I had one of those fancy-schmancy uploading devices so I could upload to my computer the digital picture taken with the handy-dandy digital camera so you could see it. But, alas, I do not have a handy-dandy or fancy-schmancy anything. Well, actually, I do, but this is a G-rated blog.

Bartleby.com lists five proverbs that start with the word if:

1. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
2. If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad will go to the mountain.
3. If the shoe fits, wear it.
4. If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.
5. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Can you guess which one of those proverbs applies to my situation? The fourth one, of course. Just because you guessed correctly, don't think you’re going to get any sort of prize from me. I am not that ranch woman in Oklahoma who holds contests that hundreds of commenters enter hoping to win one of her prizes.

So anyway, lacking the handy-dandy digital camera and the fancy-schmancy uploading device, I am forced to do my best imitation of Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls (“Picture it, Sicily, 1922”) and describe the collage on the yellowed newspaper page using words alone. What a concept! Here goes:

Picture it, Mansfield, Municipal Building Dedication Day, 1956....

I just can’t do it justice. Instead, I will reproduce the captions under the collage, highlighting Reason #17,643 why I am the way I am.

“DEDICATION DAY IN PICTURES. (1) Serving as program chairman for the Council Women was Mrs. E. C. Harris. (2) Mr. Anderson, speech and drama teacher in Mansfield High School did a wonderful job as master of ceremonies. (3) Mayor Halbert made everyone feel welcome. (4) Mr. W. A. Lamb, Chamber of Commerce president, complimented the city officials on a job well done. (5) The main speaker, Mr. June R. Welch, paid homage to the past, respect for the present, and pointed avenues for the future. (6) Teen-ager Bobby Brague shown at the piano. The piano got a fresh coat of paint for this special occasion. (7) Ex-Mayor Harrison gave an interesting historical background of Mansfield. (8) City Chief-of-Police, Gene Cannon, proudly showed off the first police car purchased by the city. (9) Standing by the cornerstone is Lynn Ellis, president of the Mansfield Jaycees. (10) Seated by the resuscitator in the new Tarrant County Mobile Unit displayed by the Volunteer Fire Department is Rev. Charles Sullivan. (11) Police Chief Cannon demonstrated the strength of the bars in the new city jail to Mr. McBride and Katherine Peterson. Since it was their first visit Chief Cannon gave them permission to go free.”

It occurs to me that I really didn’t need to show you the collage. Just think of the entire cast of The Andy Griffith Show and you’ll get the picture.

Perhaps I should have highlighted the entire paragraph.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cure for insomnia discovered


Public Law 62-5, an act of Congress in 1911, set the number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives at 435. That number was expanded temporarily to 437 when Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959, and then reverted to 435 in the reapportionment following the 1960 census. The U.S. Constitution states only that there will be a representative for no less than 30,000 citizens.

The first U.S. census in 1790 counted nearly four million Americans. By 2000, the number had grown to over 281 million. Based on a population clock maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population as of November 17, 2008, was 305,682,072 persons. It is expected to reach 308 million by 2010 and 439 million by 2050.

“So what?” you may be saying to yourself. “What does that have to do with me?”

If you are an American citizen, here’s what it has to do with you:

All men and women may be created equal, but all votes are not created equal. In 1790, the House of Representatives had 65 members and the U.S. had just under 4,000,000 population. Each representative elected to the United States House of Representatives represented around 61,000 persons. Currently, with 435 representatives for a population of more than 306,000,000 in the U.S., each representative represents around 703,000 persons. But that is only an average, and it gives a decidedly distorted view. Some House districts are currently nearly twice the size of others; for instance, there are about 944,000 residents in Montana’s single district, compared to about 515,000 in Wyoming’s. So we see that, the Declaration of Independence notwithstanding, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

There is not room here to explain all the ramifications of what I just told you.

To understand the situation a little better, I recommend that you read every last word of this article from Wikipedia on congressional reapportionment followed by a thorough perusal (in the dictionary sense, not the popular sense) of this article, which includes a section on electoral apportionment that contains a table showing both the population per House seat in each state and the population per electoral vote (they are not the same).

This should be an eye-opening experience for many of you, but I fear it may have the opposite effect.

However, if you can name this happy couple, you will receive extra credit -- one point if you can name the gentleman, one point if you can name the building in Washington, D.C., named for him, one point if you know the lady’s maiden name, and one point if you can name the lady’s father. No cheating allowed.


Let’s make it a multiple-choice test:

1. The gentleman’s name is:
...(a) Henry Clay
...(b) Nicholas Longworth
...(c) Sam Rayburn
...(d) Eugene “Tip” O’Neill
...(e) None of the above

2. The building in Washington, D.C., named after him is:
...(a) The Capitol
...(b) The Lincoln Memorial
...(c) Union Station
...(d) Sam’s Pizza Parlor and Dry Goods Emporium
...(e) The Washington Monument

3. The lady is:
...(a) Norma Jean Baker Rayburn
...(b) Oona Chaplin O’Neill
...(c) Alice Roosevelt Longworth
...(d) Erma Bombeck Clay
...(e) None of the above.

4. The lady’s father was:
...(a) Charlie Chaplin
...(b) Howard Baker
...(c) Grover Cleveland
...(d) Teddy Roosevelt
...(e) No one knows for sure.

And five extra points if you can identify this guy:


He is none other than:
...(a) John McCormack (D, Massachusetts), Speaker of the House
...(b) Joseph Martin (R, Massachusetts), Speaker of the House
...(c) Thomas P. “Tip” O'Neill (D, Massachusetts), Speaker of the House
...(d) Dennis Hastert (R, Illinois), Speaker of the House
...(e) Nancy Pelosi (D, California), Speaker of the House
...(f) Newt Gingrich (R, Georgia), Speaker of the House