Saturday, October 30, 2010

I love you, you love me, we’re as happy as can be.

Around the time of the next vernal equinox, I will be celebrating having lived 70 years on this earth, if I live until then. In the relatively short time span of 70 years (and it is short when you take into consideration all the time that passed before my arrival), earth has seen:

15 major wars:
World War II (1939-1945)
French Indo-China War (1945-1954)
Chinese Civil War (1945-1949)
Korean War (1950-1953)
French-Algerian War (1954-1962)
First Sudanese Civil War (1956-1972)
Arab-Israeli War (1947-1949) (1956) (1967) (1968-1970) (1973) (1982) (2006) (ongoing, with occasional pauses)
Biafran War (1967-1970)
Vietnam War (1965-1973)
Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)
Russian-Afghanistan War (1980-1989)
Persian Gulf War (1990-1991)
Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005)
Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003 - 2010)
Afghanistan (2001 - present)

and I didn’t even mention apparently minor ones like the disagreements between India and Pakistan over the partitioning of the sub-continent in 1947 or the United Kingdom’s little tête à tête with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982 or Ronald Reagan’s two-month adventure in the Caribbean island nation of Grenada in 1983 or the first George Bush’s confrontation with Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1989-1990 or the Rwandan Genocide in which between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi people were killed by the Hutu in 1994. The list could be quite a bit longer if only I (a) had more time to do research and (b) knew what “major” means.

13 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom:
Winston Churchill (twice)
Clement Atlee
Anthony Eden
Harold Macmillan
Alec Douglas-Home
Harold Wilson (twice)
Edward Heath
James Callaghan
Margaret Thatcher
John Major
Tony Blair
Gordon Brown
David Cameron

13 Presidents of the United States:
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard M. Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Bill Clinton
George W. Bush
Barack Obama

8 Secretaries-General of the United Nations:
Trygvie Lie
Dag Hammarskjöld
U Thant
Kurt Waldheim
Boutrous Boutros-Ghali
Javier Pérez de Cuéllar
Kofi Annan
Ban-ki Moon

7 Chief Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court:
Charles Evans Hughes
Harlan Fiske Stone
Fred M. Vinson
Earl Warren
Warren E. Burger
William Rehnquist
John G. Roberts

6 Popes of the Roman Catholic Church:
Pius XII
John XXIII
Paul VI
John Paul I
John Paul II
Benedict XVI

6 (or thereabouts) Leaders of China:
Chiang Kai-shek
Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung)
Zhou Enlai (Chou Enlai)
Deng Xiaoping
Zhao Ziyang
Jiang Zemin


3 Queens of The Netherlands:
Wilhelmina
Juliana
Beatrix

2 Emperors of Japan:
Hirohito
Akihito

2 British Monarchs:
George VI
Elizabeth II

1 Dalai Lama:
Tenzing Gyatso

and a partridge in a pear tree 1 Me.

I would bet dollars to doughnuts there’s been only 1 You too.

Aren’t we special?

According to both the late Mr. Fred Rogers and Barney (who, Wikipedia says, is a purple anthropomorphic Tyrannosaurus rex who conveys learning through songs and small dance routines with a friendly, optimistic attitude), we are.

If you do not like to think of yourself as special (and I’m given to understand that some people don’t), consider this:

You and I are at least as special as the Dalai Lama.

We may not be as highly regarded, but that is a topic for another day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thanksgiving comes first.


This is a post about the way Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier every year and how this is not a good thing. One year, I saw Christmas merchandise for sale on September 28th. For crying out loud, people, SEPTEMBER 28TH.

Mr. Jim “Suldog” Sullivan of Watertown, Massachusetts, says it far better than I could. I defer to him.

P.S. -- This year, though, what seem to be more common on television than even Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas are commercials by politicians who want our votes on November 2nd.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Satori Redux

Almost a year ago -- on October 30, 2009, to be exact -- I wrote about the Japanese concept of satori in this post. Now, I have had one.

I suddenly realized something recently (and am about to share it with you) about how Blogger (or google, or something) works. I happened to look at my Feedjit Live Traffic Feed list and saw that it included the following text next to a little flag of The Netherlands:

Leidschendam, Zuid-Holland arrived from google.com on “rhymeswithplague: East is east, and west is west, and the wrong one I have chose.**” by searching for jaroussky philippe. 05:58:41

jaroussky philippe?

“East is east, and west is west, and the wrong one I have chose.**” was the title of my then-latest post, but it contained nothing at all about either jaroussky philippe or, as he is more commonly known, philippe jaroussky. However, I remembered that back on July 29th of this year I published a post entitled “Stabat Mater” in which not only did I mention the French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky but
I also included a video clip of his singing and (here’s the frosting on the cake) typed his name in the Labels section at the end of the post.

Aha! Or as Archimedes once screamed, “Eureka!” (which means
“I have found it!” in Greek). [Editor's note. For the record, what Archimedes actually screamed was “εὕρηκα”. --RWP]

So the thing I suddenly realized, in a quasi-Archimedean, satori sort of way, is that sometimes when a person has searched for something that happens to be a label somewhere in your blog, Blogger (or google, or something) will bring that person to your most recent post, even if that particular post has nothing whatsoever to do with the person’s search criteria (for example, “East is east, and west is west, and the wrong one I have chose.**”), and stop.

It’s as though Blogger (or google, or something) is saying, “I have gone this far but I will go no further. I brought you to the threshold. What you’re searching for is in there somewhere. Do I have to do all the work? The rest is up to you, Meathead.”

Conversely, if you yourself have typed in a search for something, say “Dietrich Buxtehude” or “the Malay archipelago,” and you land on a post in someone’s blog but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Dietrich Buxtehude or the Malay archipelago, if you see a sidebar list of labels associated with that particular blog and scroll down into it you may find yourself, like Archimedes, screaming “Eureka!” [Editor’s note. Running naked through the streets at this point also has historical precedent, but I am not recommending that you do it. --RWP]

Live and learn.


P.S. -- You needn’t waste time trying to find Dietrich Buxtehude or the Malay archipelago in the randomly selected blog in the paragraph above. They aren’t there. I didn’t mean to imply that they were.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One of these things is not like the others.

My friend Snowbrush out in Oregon (way beyond the Central Time Zone) wrote a post entitled “Who would you like to go back in time and kill?” and included his own list. You can read it here if you like.

I am shocked that Snow includes Jesus in his list. I can’t get it out of my mind.

Hitler, Stalin, George W. Bush -- and Jesus.
Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan -- and Jesus.
Columbus, Ted Bundy, serial killers, mass murderers -- and Jesus.

If I may be so bold, something does not compute, and I don’t mean Columbus.

I know Snow is an atheist and all, but still.

In case you didn’t click on the link, here’s more from his list.

Torturers, drug lords, child molesters, slave owners -- and Jesus.
Mohammed, Jim Jones, David Koresh, union busters -- and Jesus.
Rapists, murderers, druggie moms who have multiple babies that are taken away by Child Protective Services -- and Jesus.

One of these things is not like the others.

People who breed animals to fight, people who dump their pets on the side of the road, men who beat women -- and Jesus.
Rich persons who became wealthy off the backs of others (including Queen Elizabeth II), profoundly retarded persons who are kept alive at taxpayer expense, Sarah Palin -- and Jesus.
Pol Pot, Kim Jong-Il -- and Jesus.

Really?

I think one reason Snowbrush included Jesus in his list is that people who have claimed to be followers of Jesus but probably were not have done some terrible things over the centuries. Some atheists like to mention this. Frequently. (I know this blog has some readers who are atheists. Present atheists excepted.)

Maybe everyone is afflicted with a little megalomania, as it is a very human trait to think moi could do a better job than vous. As well-intended as Snow probably thinks himself to be, however, I do not think he would be a good substitute for God. The God I believe in loves and forgives. Even when we kill him.

Snow began his post with a picture of Hitler as an infant. So I will end mine with Big Bird.

In the race to see who is more insane, I think I’m winning.

Monday, October 25, 2010

East is east, and west is west, and the wrong one I have chose.**

Did you know that in most -- okay, many -- cities the north and west sides are more affluent than the south and east sides? I’m given to understand that the root cause is related to the fact that the prevailing winds on our planet flow from west to east and from north to south, a phenomenon due primarily to the rotation of the earth and the tilt of its axis. So by building their homes north of the smokestacks, the factories, the stock yards, the lumber mills, whatever, the industrial barons of old avoided having their nostrils and the nostrils of their families offended by the smells and odors of what put money in their pockets in the first place. And their skies were clearer and less polluted as well. Think Dallas. Think Philadelphia. Think Chicago. Think Houston (well, maybe not Houston; Houston stinks in all directions). I rest my case.

In Birmingham, Alabama, though, it’s just the opposite. The Magic City is built in a shallow basin, and everyone who can afford it lives “over the mountain” south of the city in the affluent suburbs of Hoover, Homewood, Mountain Brook, and Vestavia, to name just a few places. Topped by a statue of Vulcan, god of the fire and forge (who is supposed to remind observers of Birmingham’s history as an iron and steel center), Red Mountain south of the city serves as a barrier for suburbanites with delicate sensibilities. Locally it is a geographical feature that separates them that have from them that have not.

I’m kidding, sort of. But sort of not.

Having returned recently from a visit to our daughter in Birmingham, I want to make you aware of a blog Mrs. RWP discovered a while back called Birmingham, Alabama Daily Photo. It is presided over by a nice lady named Virginia who lives in one of the aforementioned suburbs of Birmingham and who spends her days dutifully recording for the rest of us the faces and places of her world. An excellent photographer, Virginia also spends a great deal of time in her beloved Paris, France, so we are often the beneficiaries of her photographic expertise there as well.

Watching this may help take your mind off slag heaps and industrial waste.

But in secret places all over Alabama, far from the prying eyes of the Department of Homeland Security, the less affluent and less fashion-conscious express themselves this way.

**[Editor’s note. This line from a song called “Buttons and Bows” is meant as a little joke. The rhymeswithplague household is located north of Atlanta. --RWP]

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!

I thought about Bill McKissack last evening while Mrs. RWP and I were watching one of those television programs that deal with apprehending criminals and bringing them to justice in the courts of the United States. There are many such programs. Some of them are dramatized series with actors working from scripts (Law and Order in its many variations, CSI in its many variations). Some of them are so-called “reality shows” that don’t employ actors at all but use footage of actual police interviews and courtroom proceedings. The First 48, American Justice, 48 Hours/Hard Evidence, and Dateline (to name a few) spring to mind. There are also scads of faux court shows (binding arbitration, really) on weekday afternoon television that have been presided over by the likes of Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis, Judge Hatchett, Judge Alex, Judge Jeanine Pirro, Judge Marilyn Milian, and before her, Judge Jerry, and before him, Judge Ed Koch, and before him, going all the way back to the dawn of time, Judge Joseph A. Wapner.

Bill McKissack, a man in his sixties when I was bidding goodbye to forty-something, was my boss’s boss in the big corporation. The sad end to his story is that on the very day we presented him with a “book of memories” at his retirement party, he went home, looked at some of the pictures with his wife, decided to lie down for a nap before dinner, and never woke up. You could say that his work was his life. But I digress.

Mr. McKissack would wander the aisles sometimes and engage us peons in casual conversation. Just to be friendly. Just to prove he was still “one of the guys.” Plus I think it could get rather lonely in the big office up front with the windows. Anyway, one day the conversation turned to our court system because someone in the group had received a summons to serve on jury duty.

“I remember the first time I was called for jury duty,” Bill said.
“I was just old enough to vote and still living with my parents in Jackson, Tennessee.”

When the judge asked the prospective jurors whether any of them had formed an opinion about the case, Bill (who knew nothing at all about the case) piped up, “I think he’s guilty.”

Since the proper answer would have been “No, Your Honor,” the surprised judge asked Bill, “Why do you think this man is guilty before you have been presented with any evidence?”

“Well,” said Bill, “the police don’t just go around arresting people for no reason.”

The judge looked at him sternly and said, “Young man, I see that you do not understand our system of jurisprudence,” and excused Bill from the panel.

We all had a hearty laugh, Bill McKissack went back to his office, and life returned to normal in the big corporation.

In our system of jurisprudence, by the way, a person is presumed to be innocent of any crime with which he or she has been accused until evidence has been presented in a court of law and it is determined, usually by an impartial jury of one’s peers, that he or she is guilty of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” (in a criminal case) or “by a preponderance of the evidence” (in a civil case) .

Somewhere, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) is saying to Charlie (Tom Cruise), "Eight minutes till Wapner."

I know how Raymond felt.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Speaking of speaking in tongues...

Once again Mrs. RWP and I find ourselves in Alabamistan for a few days visiting our daughter’s family. So far we have found no BMDs (Banjos of Mass Destruction), but we are keeping our eyes open.

Natives here are divided into two colorful flocks with two distinct calls. One group say “Roll, Tide!” for no apparent reason and the other group say “War Eagle!” almost constantly.

Aside from those fascinating characteristics, Alabamian is not an easy language to understand at times. One must be alert always to the possibility that the natives are speaking in a secret code to mislead the outsider about the very real threat BMDs pose to our way of life.

Example 1: Ah had a raht nahss tahm last Frahdy naht.

Example 2: Chick at awl?**

Example 3: She kayn’t cookda save her lahf. Wah, she don't eebm know howda bawl wawda.

In this respect, Alabamians are similar to the inhabitants of Richmond, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina, who go into raptures over "the buds that wobble in the sprang."

Travel is so broadening.

**Hint: Heard only at full-service gasoline stations.

In which the author indulges his penchant for facts that others may find either extremely fascinating or boring beyond words.

This post is about speaking in tongues. Wait, it’s not what you think.

I found a list recently of the languages of the world ranked by number of native speakers. Other lists exist with other numbers, plus there is a lot of disputing about what a language is and what a dialect is, the numbers are all just estimates anyway, and I’m not at all sure that the figures are current, but let’s just keep it simple and go with this list. Here’s what I learned:

Nine languages have more than 100,000,000 native speakers each. The largest by far is Mandarin (845,000,000), followed by Spanish (329,000,000), English (328,000,000), Hindi/Urdu (242,000,000), Arabic (221,000,000), Bengali (181,000,000), Portuguese (178,000,000), Russian (144,000,000), and Japanese (122,000,000). If you’re keeping count, that accounts for 2,590,000,000 persons, or about one-third of Earth’s population.

If your favorite hasn’t shown up yet, keep reading.

Thirteen languages have between 50,000,000 and 100,000,000 native speakers each. They are German (90,300,000), Javanese (84,600,000), Punjabi (78,300,000), Wu (77,200,000), Telugu (69,800,000), Marathi (68,100,000), Vietnamese (68,600,000), French (67,800,000), Korean (66,300,000), Tamil (65,700,000), Italian (61,700,000), Turkish (61,000,000), and Cantonese/Yue (55,500,000).

The world doesn’t seem quite so Eurocentric now, does it? Still looking for your favorite? Let us forge ahead.

Languages with between 25,000,000 and 50,000,000 native speakers each include Tagalog (including Filipino) (48,900,000), Gujarati (46,500,000), Min (46,200,000), Maithili (45,000,000), Polish (40,000,000), Ukrainian (39,400,000), Malay (39,100,000), Bhojpuri (38,500,000), Xiang (36,000,000), Malayalam (35,700,000), Kannada (35,400,000), Sunda (34,000,000), Burmese (32,300,000), Oriya (31,700,000), Persian (31,300,000), Berber (30,000,000), and Hakka (30,000,000).

I have never heard of some of these languages.

Languages with between 10,000,000 and 25,000,000 native speakers each are Hausa (24,200,000), Romanian (23,400,000), Bahasa Indonesian (23,200,000), Dutch (21,700,000), Azerbaijani (21,600,000), Gan (21,000,000), Thai (20,300,000), and on down the line through Yoruba, Sindhi, Uzbek, Igbo, Saraiki, Amharic, Nepali, Serbo-Croatian, Kurdish, Cebuano, Assamese, Malagasy, Hungarian, Zhuang, Madurese, Sinhalese, Greek, Fula/Fulfulde, Czech, Shona, and Oromo.

I’m exhausted, and we’ve named only 67 of the world’s languages.

Here’s a startling fact: Sixty-seven is approximately 1% of the number of languages spoken in the world (I found three figures, 6700, 6900, and a range of “from 6000 to 7000” languages). Two hundred to 250 languages have over a million speakers each. Ninety per cent of the world’s languages are spoken by fewer than 100,000 speakers each.

“So what?” you ask. (I can hear you asking it.)

The United Nations was organized in 1945. Fifty-one countries were represented at the first general session in 1946. Today, 192 countries are members of the United Nations. Six “official” languages are used in the U.N.'s intergovernmental meetings and documents: Arabic, Chinese, English French, Russian, and Spanish. (Originally there were five. Arabic was added in 1973.)

One of the rules is that the Secretary-General of the U.N. cannot originate from one of the five “permanent” Security Council member states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America). Since 1945, there have been eight Secretaries-General of the U.N.: Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden, U Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), Kurt Waldheim of Austria, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar of Peru, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Kofi Annan of Ghana, and the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea.

Not a Hindi/Urdu, Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese, or Japanese speaker in the bunch.

So here’s what: A lot of people must feel under-represented at best and ignored at worst. In other words, a lot of people are far worse off than you, in ways I have not enumerated and that many of us cannot begin to understand.

Now for the speaking in tongues part:

Kwitcherbellyachin.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Where is a lillypution when you really need one?

In my mini-series of Columbus Day posts (there were two, here and here), I wrote that North and South America were named after an Italian, Amerigo Vespucci, but the new lands could just as easily have been called North and South Vespucci. Reader Pat (an Arkansas stamper) commented that Vespuccians sounds like little green men from a distant planet. Then reader David Barlow of Manti/Ephraim/Tooele (pick one), Utah, said (and I quote):

“i met a vespuccian once attt the zoo in slc>>>>he wasn’t at all green buthad a yellow hat with candy sprinkles all over it:::::::says he was there to take all my mopney but a lillypution was at my side and he woouldn’t let this character touch me>>>>just sayin” [Editor’s note. slc is Salt Lake City. All spelling, capitalization, punctuation, spacing, and special characters courtesy of David Barlow. --RWP]

This style of communication is known in the trade, at least west of the Mississippi, as “putzifiying” and I fervently hope it doesn’t catch on.

Nevertheless, his comment put me in mind of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. If it didn’t put you in mind of that, I simply do not understand how your mind works.

Here’s an outline of the travels of the fictional Dr. Lemuel Gulliver:

Part I: A Voyage to Lilliput
Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag
Part III: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan
Part IV: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms

So I'm not disputing that Mr. Barlow may have seen a vespuccian, but what he had by his side was not a lillypution but a Lilliputian. Or possibly a leprechaun. I’m just sayin’....

You can read elsewhere about what Gulliver encountered in Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and the Country of the Houyhnhnms. The country that sticks out like a sore thumb in the list above is Japan.

Swift wrote that after reaching Japan, Gulliver asked the Emperor “to excuse my performing the ceremony imposed upon my countrymen of trampling upon the crucifix,” which the Emperor granted.

Say what?

Yes, you read that correctly. Swift was referring to a Japanese custom that began in Nagasaki in 1629. Suspected Christians were required to step on a likeness of Jesus or Mary in order to prove they were not members of that outlawed religion. Executions of people who refused to abandon their faith took place in Nagasaki, where some were dumped into a volcano. The practice was abandoned in 1856 at ports that had been opened to foreigners, but use of fumi-e (Japanese: 踏み絵, fumi ‘stepping-on’ + e ‘picture’) remained in use in other areas of Japan until Christian teaching was placed under formal protection during the Meiji period (1868 - 1912). You can read more about fumi-e here.


This lillypution has his shillelagh at the ready to help me fend off any over-eager Japanese person in the neighborhood who didn’t get the memo.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

It doesn’t make me lie awake at night or anything like that, but sometimes I wonder why there is “British spelling” and “American spelling.” Why isn't there just “spelling”?

Why do we have -or where they have -our (as in honour, colour, and favourite). Why do we have -er where they have -re (as in centre and theatre). Why do we have maneuver and they have manoeuvre? That last one is a double whammy, spelling-wise. Why do they add two extra letters at the end of the word program and spell it programme? Or did we drop the letters on this side of the pond?

Pronunciation causes more head scratching. Someone is obviously putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong sy-LLA-ble, but who? Take the word debris. We say duh-BREE and they say DEB-ree. We say LAB-ruh-tory and they say luh-BOR-a-tree. We say SKED-jil and they say SHED-yule. As I recall, Julie Andrews could have DAHNCED all night. Nobody in the U.S. dahnces, all night or otherwise.

Americans, being Americans, think everyone else talks funny, but rarely consider that other speakers of English think the Americans are the funny ones. England had the English language long before America was even discovered, so should we defer to them? The Canadians, the South Africans, the Australians, the New Zealanders (hi, Katherine!), the Scots, and the Irish all have their particular variations of the mother tongue. And within every country there are regional and local accents as well.

Speaking of wondering, it’s a wonder we can understand each other at all. But as long as we do, let’s hope all’s well that ends well.

Three guesses how this post ends, and the first two don’t count.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Equal time for the Vikings

While repeating, “Christopher Columbus did not discover America. Christopher Columbus did not discover America,” read this.

Then spend a little time gazing at this painting, Leiv Eriksson oppdager Amerika (Leif Erikson discovers America) by Christian Krogh (1893):

(click on the painting and it will get larger)

Perhaps no one will ever know who really oppdagered Amerika, er, America.

But while the Vikings may have won the battle, the Italians eventually won the war. The new land was not called Vinland for long. Eventually North and South America were named after another Italian, Amerigo Vespucci.

Thank God for small favors. We could have ended up as North Vespucci and South Vespucci.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I saw three ships come sailing in...

Today is the former Columbus Day in the United States, commemorating the day in 1492 when an Italian explorer named Christopher Columbus or Cristoforo Columbo or Cristóbal Colón (pick one) stopped sailing the ocean blue long enough to step foot on a tiny island in the Bahamas and claim the entire Western Hemisphere for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. Thanks to President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, however, the annual parade in New York City was held yesterday instead so that all employees of the Federal Government could enjoy a three-day weekend. Wouldn’t want to get the unions upset.

Notable Italians at this year’s parade included Carl Paladino (Republican candidate for governor), Andrew Cuomo (Democratic candidate for governor), and Joe DioGuardi (Republican candidate for U.S. Senate). The grand marshall this year was Maria Bartiromo, the CNBC anchor who makes a lot of people forget all about the stock market.

There didn’t seem to be a single McDougal or O’Shaughnessy or O’Riley in the bunch.

In a couple of weeks Mrs. RWP and I are going to watch two of our grandchildren perform in a ballet called Pinocchio. It probably won’t look like this:

Or even this:


But I’m sure it’s going to be interesting.

Pinocchio and his father, Geppetto, were Italian too. In the Disney version, even the cat was named Figaro, not to be confused with The Barber of Seville by Rossini.

To end our Columbus Day tribute to that funny boot-shaped country sticking out into the Mediterranean, let’s listen to Maria Callas, another old Italian, sing something about how she doesn’t like the pasta.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New activities and new technology can be daunting.

So whatever you do, do not attempt this at home without the aid of a trained professional.

Or this.

True confessions time: That last one scares the bejeebers out of me (the first one, not so much). I don’t even like to go across a bridge, much less jump off one.

Several guys in my office went sky diving one Saturday. All of them returned on Monday. Thanks be to God.

Their next group activity was a trip to Lookout Mountain outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, to do some hang gliding. Hang gliding, that’s where you jump off the side of a mountain and hope there are enough air thermals to hold you up.

I would rather have a root canal.

I am not particularly brave, nor do I think of myself as a pioneer. You do know how to identify pioneers, don’t you? They’re the ones with the arrows in their backs.

If I had lived two hundred years ago, I would most likely have stayed in Philadelphia. Given the choice of staying home and reading a book (apparently pretty scary in its day) or heading off into the wide open spaces out west where the prospect of having to circle the wagons and fend off attackers was very real, not to mention having to build your own house and grow your own food, I know which one I would have picked.

All of us, however, do something very brave each and every day. It may be the scariest thing of all.

We get out of bed and start another day. Without a net.

Compared to that, jumping off a bridge is child’s play.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It ain’t over till it’s over.

Legendary baseball player Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees said that.

In a comment to my previous post about about Atlanta having lost 1-0 to San Francisco in Game 1 of the National League Division Series (NLDS), Lord Yorkshire Pudding of Pudding Towers, Sheffield, Yorkshire, United Kingdom, said, “Sorry Atlanta lost. Better luck next year.”

Not so fast.

Clearly, Lord Pudding doesn’t understand how Major League Baseball works in America. For everyone’s enlightenment, I will now kindly explain the baseball season to a waiting world. There are currently 30 major league teams (29 in the United States and one in Canada). Each team plays a 162-game season that began back in April. This “regular season” is now finished, but there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played. The top eight teams are now in a round of postseason playoffs, and Atlanta has at least two more chances to continue.

It goes like this (and I may have Easts and Wests mixed up. If I do, Reamus will set me straight):

The National League Division (East) series is a “best 3 out of 5” series between Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Philadelphia currently leads this series, one game to none.

The National League Division (West) Series is a “best 3 out of 5” series between Atlanta and San Francisco. San Francisco currently leads this series, one game to none. [Update, Oct. 9th, 2010: Atlanta beat San Francisco 5-4 last night in 11 innings after being behind 4-0 at one point, and this series is now tied at one game each. Do not look for another update after tonight’s game as there will be no game tonight. The teams have to travel the 2,134 miles between San Francisco and Atlanta so that the next two games in the series can be played in Atlanta. This distance is just about the same as the distance between London, England, and Cairo, Egypt. If you think you’re going to get this much detail about any of the other postseason series from me, you have another think coming. --RWP]

The winners of these two “best 3 out of 5” series will then meet in a “best 4 out of 7” series called the National League Championship series.

The American League Division (East) series is a “best 3 out of 5" series between New York and Minnesota. New York currently leads this series, two games to none.

The American League Division (West) series is a “best 3 out of 5” series between Texas and Tampa Bay. Texas currently leads this series, two games to none.

The winners of these two “best 3 out of 5” series will then meet in a “best 4 out of 7” series called the American League Championship series.

Then, and only then, will the winner of the National League Championship Series and the winner of the American League Championship Series play one another in a final “best 4 out of 7” series of games called the World Series. (Everything you could ever possibly want to know about the World Series is at that link.)

Note that it is called the World Series even though 29 of the 30 teams are in the United States and the other one is in Canada. As they say in Quebec, c’est la vie.

If the World Series lasts the full seven games, baseball will finally come to an end for this year on November 4th, and the “boys of summer” could have icicles attached to their noses.

If you want to follow the progress of the postseason playoffs, click here.

If you don’t want to follow the progress of the postseason playoffs, Yogi Berra has some advice, and here it is: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Otherwise, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Heartbreak

Last night, the Atlanta Braves lost the first game of the National League Division Series playoffs to the San Francisco Giants by a score of 1-0.

We were robbed.

(Associated Press photo -- click to enlarge)

Buster Posey, the player who made the winning run, is shown above trying to slide into second base on a steal from first base in the fourth inning. His foot is about three miles from second base, and he is clearly being tagged out by Atlanta Brave Brooks Conrad.

The umpire called him safe.

He went on to score the game’s winning run on a two-out single by Cody Ross later in the inning. Neither team would score again.

“I saw him safe,” said second-base umpire Paul Emmel. “That’s what I called.”

Did I mention they were playing in San Francisco?

To give the umpire his due, this is the angle at which he saw Posey’s attempted steal:

(Associated Press photo)

But clearly there’s a place for instant replay in baseball. Football has it, and everything stops until the referees review the play. If they were wrong, the call is reversed. Why not do the same thing in baseball?

In the meantime, let’s kill the umpire.

This is the first time in seven years that San Francisco has been in the post-season playoffs. This is the first time in five years that Atlanta has been in the post-season playoffs. So emotions and hopes are running high.

I’m beginning to understand why Yorkshire Pudding is so caught up with his team in whatever sport they’re playing over there.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Figures never lie

...but liars often figure, they say. Someone famously put it this way: “There are three types of falsehoods: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.”

Someone (not the same someone) sent me the following e-mail. I have no way of knowing whether it is true or false, but I agree that the statistics are very interesting. I decided to pass the article along to you.

[E-mail begins]

A recent Investor’s Business Daily article provided some very interesting statistics from a survey by the United Nations International Health Organization. [Editor’s note: Right there is an inaccuracy. The International Health Organization (IHO) is an organization that concentrates solely on India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, and it is not part of the United Nations. The World Health Organization (WHO) is part of the United Nations. -- RWP]

* Percentage of men and women who survived a cancer five years after diagnosis: U.S. 65%, England 46%, Canada 42%

* Percentage of patients diagnosed with diabetes who received treatment within six months: U.S. 93%, England 15%, Canada 43%

* Percentage of seniors needing hip replacement who received it within six months: U.S. 90%, England 15%, Canada 43%

* Percentage referred to a medical specialist who see one within one month: U.S. 77%, England 40%, Canada 43%

* Number of MRI scanners (a prime diagnostic tool) per million people: U.S. 71, England 14, Canada 18

* Percentage of seniors (65+) with low income who say they are in “excellent health”: U.S. 12%, England 2%, Canada 6%

[The following is still part of the quoted e-mail.  Just because it uses first person doesn't mean that the first person is me. --RWP]

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want “Universal Healthcare” comparable to England or Canada.

Moreover, it was Senator Harry Reid [Nevada Democrat who is Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate] who said, “Elderly Americans must learn to accept the inconveniences of old age.”

SHIP HIM TO CANADA OR ENGLAND!

He is “elderly” himself but be sure to remember his health insurance is different from yours as Congress has their own high-end coverage. He will never have to learn to accept “inconveniences.”

And perhaps the most interesting statistic of all is the percentage of each president’s cabinet since 1901 who had worked in the private business sector prior to being appointed to the cabinet:

Theodore Roosevelt................38%
William Howard Taft.............40%
Woodrow Wilson ...................52%
Warren G. Harding...............49%
Calvin Coolidge.....................48%
Herbert Hoover.....................42%
Franklin D. Roosevelt.............50%
Harry S Truman...................50%
Dwight D. Eisenhower............57%
John F. Kennedy....................30%
Lyndon Johnson....................47%
Richard Nixon.......................53%
Gerald Ford...........................42%
Jimmy Carter.......................32%
Ronald Reagan.......................56%
George H. W. Bush..................51%
Bill Clinton............................39%
George W. Bush......................55%

...and the winner of the chicken dinner is:

Barack Obama........................ 8%

Yes, that is correct. Only eight per cent, the least by far of the last 19 presidents. And these people are trying to tell our big corporations how to run their business? They know what’s best for GM ... Chrysler ... Wall Street ... and you and me?

How can the president of the nation and society with the most successful economic system in world history stand and talk about business when he has never worked for one? Or about jobs when he has never really had one? And neither have 92% of his senior staff and closest advisers. They’ve spent most of their time in academia, government and/or non-profit jobs ... or as “community organizers” when they should have been in an employment line.

[End of E-mail]

Perhaps these figures are true, and perhaps they aren’t. Does it matter? Does anyone care to comment?

P.S. - No one wanted to talk about Aunt Zeituni Onyango. Pity.
I must be losing my touch.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Aunt Zeituni Onyango

Watch these.  Then well talk.

Aunt Zeituni, Part 1 (5:46)

Aunt Zeituni, Part 2 (4:30)

In some ways these videos represent everything thats good about the American system.  In some ways they represent everything thats bad about the American system.  Do we show them to our glory? Or do we show them to our shame?

You will have to decide for yourself.

But I am reminded of certain verses from the Old Testament (and we do claim to be a nation founded on Judeao-Christian principles, President Obamas opinion notwithstanding):

(Stay with me, Carolina, dont tune out just yet.)

“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19: 33-34)

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:22)


“The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the Lord.” (Numbers 15:15)


For better or for worse, weve come a long way, baby.

Of course, the Old Testament also says this:

“An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it.” (Exodus 12:48)

Ouch.

I guess that one, at least, doesnt have anything to do with Aunt Zeituni.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Three times in three years ain’t too bad, all things considered.

I don’t know what you may be thinking of, but I’m referring to the number of times people have been offended enough by things I have said or done on this blog that they have informed me in no uncertain terms that they are taking their patronage elsewhere, are bidding me a not-so-fond farewell, are removing themselves from my presence forever.

There was a lady reader out in Oregon who took a great deal of umbrage (not you, Vonda), and there was a lady reader from East Tennessee who systematically went through all of my old posts and deleted every one of her comments, and now there is (or was) a lady reader in the United Kingdom who, if I interpret her comments correctly, is convinced that I (a) ignore her, (b) make fun of her, (c) attack her, (d) lie to her. Pick one. Or more.

Does anyone recognize a pattern?

Neal Boortz, an Atlanta-based radio-talk-show host whose announcer calls him The High Priest of the Church of the Painful Truth, is known for being blunt and insensitive. He says if he had a nickel for every time some listener sent an e-mail saying, “I’m never going to listen to you again,” he would be a very rich man indeed. He also has the highest ratings in town.

I feel a rant coming on, but I will try to keep it under control.

When it comes right down to it, I am too busy living my own life and putting food on my family’s table and keeping the wolf from my door to be overly concerned if a nearly complete stranger doesn’t like my blog. (For the record, I am thankful for you nearly complete strangers who do like it.)

If you want to read it, fine.

If you don’t want to read it, fine.

If you’ve decided to move on to greener pastures, great. Glad to hear it. Have a nice life. Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.

But please, please, pretty please with sugar on it, don’t be so self-involved that you actually think I have purposely ignored, attacked, made fun of, or lied to you personally. I have much better ways to spend my time.

As Judge Judith Scheindlin says almost daily, “Do we understand each other?”

Rant ended.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mrs. Rhymeswithplague orders lunch from the menu at the O.K. Cafe


AFP/Getty Images

She had a hard time deciding what to have. First she considered the Blue Plate Special (chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, white gravy, and Choice Of Two Vegetables (she picked les haricots verts and les carottes de bébé), but changed her mind and ordered the Hamburger Deluxe because it came with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and a side order of deep-fried onion rings.

Then she told the server, “My government will have the same.”

Later, in retaliation, the manager of the O.K. Cafe (who doesnt really care for onion rings) prevented the server from bringing a dessert to the table, saying, “Do not bother Her Majesty with trifles.”

All of the foregoing is, of course, pure rubbish.  That is not Mrs. Rhymeswithplague at all.  And whoever she is*, it is doubtful that the photograph was taken at the O.K. Cafe because I have it on good authority that the place is decorated in lovely shades of fuchsia and chartreuse. Lastly, the manager of the O.K. Cafe is an absolute fanatic for deep-fried onion rings.


[* Editors note. She is, of course, 84-year-old Mrs. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor-Mountbatten of the Hanover/Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Windsors, wife of one Philip Mountbatten (originally Battenberg), to whom she has been married forever. Her full title is (or was on February 6, 1952, according to Wikipedia) Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith, Duchess of Edinburgh, Countess of Merioneth, Baroness Greenwich, Duke of Lancaster, Lord of Mann, Duke of Normandy, Sovereign of the Most Honourable Order of the Garter, Sovereign of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Sovereign of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick, Sovereign of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Sovereign of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Sovereign of the Distinguished Service Order, Sovereign of the Imperial Service Order, Sovereign of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, Sovereign of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, Sovereign of the Order of British India, Sovereign of the Indian Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of Burma, Sovereign of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert, Sovereign of the Royal Family Order of King Edward VII, Sovereign of the Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of the Companions of Honour, Sovereign of the Royal Victorian Order, Sovereign of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. In addition to her regnal titles, Elizabeths full title also includes: Sovereign of the Order of Canada, Sovereign of the Order of Australia, Sovereign of the Order of New Zealand, Sovereign of the Order of Barbados, Sovereign of the Order of Valour, Sovereign of the Order of Military Merit, Sovereign of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, Sovereign of the Queen's Service Order, Sovereign of the New Zealand Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of St. Andrew, Sovereign of the Order of Logohu, Sovereign of the Order of the Star of Melanesia. It should also be noted that in Jamaican Patois, the woman in the photo is known as Missis Queen or The Queen Lady.

In case you were wondering, the Order of Logohu medal is bestowed only in Papua New Guinea and looks like this:

--RWP]