Friday, October 19, 2018

I am not F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am on track, or so it appears, for 2018 to be a more productive year blogpost-wise than 2017. In all of 2017 I created 71 posts and with two-and-a-half months to go in 2018 I have already created 66 of them. Of course, in 2008, a whole decade ago now, I created 228 blogposts, but we won't go there. Changing horses in midstream, I could die tomorrow, and then where would that leave you?

High and dry, friends, high and dry.

I trust that will not happen, but one never knows, especially as one grows older.

Which all of us are doing, n'est-ce pas?

But of course.

There is no other way. No going back. Only forward.

Unless you are F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose novel The Great Gatsby ends with Nick, the narrator, contemplating Long Island, thusly:

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Tell me in the comments who you are not.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

One little, two little, three little Indians....

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA, which means Democrat from Massachusetts), whose picture I am not going to show -- you can look it up for yourself -- finally underwent DNA testing to prove once and for all that she is of Native American heritage. She said she was Native American on an application to be a professor at the Harvard Law School a couple of decades ago, and Harvard, eager to comply with the desire of the U.S. Federal Government that there be minorities on their faculty, hired her. It may not have happened in just that way or for just those reasons, but that is how it looked from 50,000 feet to the casual observer in the general populace.

This week the Boston Globe reported the results of Senator Warren's DNA testing, then issued a correction, then issued another correction. It first said that Senator Elizabeth Warren was between 1/32nd and 1/64th Native American, then said she was between 1/32nd and 1/1024th Native American, then said she was between 1/64th and 1/1024th Native American.

As the parole board told Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona, "Well, okay then."

This is very confusing to the casual observer, and even to the observer who is not so casual.

Senator Warren now feels exonerated and is demanding that President Trump pay up on his offer to donate a million dollars to a charity of her choice if she is Native American. He denies making such an offer, but even if he did, wouldn't it be fairer if he donated 1/1024th of a million dollars ($974.56) instead?

Here's an interesting footnote. An expert (some people say an expert is anyone more than 50 miles from home carrying a briefcase; others break the word down into its component parts, saying "ex" is a has-been and "spurt" is a drip under pressure) has determined that Senator Warren is 0.09% Native American, slightly less than one-tenth of one percent. He also says that the average European-American is 0.18% Native American, or slightly less than two-tenths of one percent. Here's another interesting footnote. Leaders of the Cherokee Nation, whose politics I am not aware of, said yesterday that the amount of Native American blood Senator Warren has does not qualify her for membership in their tribe.

That is all backdrop and prelude to the real subject of this post, which is:

Genealogy is fascinating, but it also can be very confusing.

For example, what does all that stuff mean, 1/32nd, 1/64th, 1/1024th, and how do they know, and where do they come up with those strange numbers?

I will tell you.

It's really simple.

It all has to do with the fact that everyone has two parents, a father and a mother. You would not be here if you didn't have two parents. I could go into more detail and speak at length of XX and XY chromosomes, but I will not. The very astute among you may also note that you have (or had) four grandparents because your father had two parents and your mother had two parents.

It has to do with powers of 2. Yes, math. Sorry.

If you think of your parents as being one generation back from you (because they are), and your grandparents as being two generations back from you (because they are), and your great-grandparents as being three generations back from you (because they are) -- you can carry this on as far back as you can find names and data -- you can determine the number of direct ancestors you have in each generation by thinking of the powers of 2. That is:

21 = 2, 22 = 4, 23 = 8, 24 = 16, and so on. If math makes your eyes cross and your head hurt, I'll put it into words. Two squared (2 x 2) is four, two cubed (2 x 2 x 2) is eight, two to the fourth power (2 x 2 x 2 x 2) is 16, and so on. Let's fill out that table a little more fully:

21 = 2
22 = 4
23 = 8
24 = 16
25 = 32
26 = 64
27 = 128
28 = 256
29 = 512
210 = 1024

and so on and so forth. If your eyes are glazing over, hang in there just a little longer. It will be over soon.

Simply substitute the phrase "In the xth generation before me, I have y direct ancestors" where x is the ordinal number instead of the cardinal number of the power of 2 and y is the number after the equal sign. That is:

In the first generation before me, I have 2 direct ancestors (my parents).
In the second generation before me, I have 4 direct ancestors (my grandparents).
In the third generation before me, I have 8 direct ancestors (my great-grandparents).
In the fourth generation before me, I have 16 direct ancestors (my great-great-grandparents).
In the fifth generation before me, I have 32 direct ancestors.
In the sixth generation before me, I have 64 direct ancestors.
In the seventh generation before me, I have 128 direct ancestors.
In the eighth generation before me, I have 256 direct ancestors.
In the ninth generation before me, I have 512 direct ancestors.
In the tenth generation before me, I have 1,024 direct ancestors.

I have used American-style nomenclature here. It is my understanding that in the U.K. what we call great-grandparents are called grand grandparents, and the greats are one off after that. Continental differences cannot be helped in this post.

So if one, count 'em, one of Elizabeth Warren's 1,024 ancestors in the tenth generation before her was a Native American, she is claiming to be Native American for purposes of Harvard Law School being able to report to the U.S. Federal Government that their faculty included a minority.

I think the Boston Globe waffled in order for Senator Warren to save face, for she had always said that either her 3rd or 4th great-grandmother was Native American. If that were so, she would be 1/32nd or 1/64th Native American, the numbers used in the Boston Globe's original story. To be 1/1024th Native American, the ancestor would be her 8th great-grandmother, several generations earlier.

The total number of direct ancestors you have to the tenth generation before you is cumulative: 2+4+8+16+32+64+128+256+512+1024 and that's a lot of direct ancestors.

Maybe next time we'll explore Fibonacci numbers and the "golden spiral". Then again, maybe we won't.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Two great talents, three if you count conductor Seiji Ozawa

In my continuing effort to bring culture to the masses, here for your musical edification and listening enjoyment are two versions of the same song.

1. Here's Kathleen Battle singing the aria 'O mio bambino cara' from the opera Gianni Schicchi by Puccini (2:09).

2, Here's a chicken playing the aria 'O mio bambino cara' from the opera Gianni Schicchi by Puccini on the piano (2:02).

Which did you enjoy more?

Please note that Miss Battle sang completely from memory and did not require visual promptings of any kind.

Kudos to her. Also to the chicken.

To prove that time definitely marches on, which someone said recently, here are the artists when they were younger:

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A public apology, and a look at small-town America [redacted version]

[Editor’s note. In the original version of this post, I revealed too much personal data about one of our readers. After receiving multiple slaps with a wet noodle, some of them self-inflicted, I have decided to do what the Federal Bureau Of Investigation does when asked to provide sensitive material to the Senate Intelligence or Judiciary Committee, and that is to redact the document. The post below is the redacted version of today’s original post. Only persons who have passed a Top Secret Background Investigation (as I have) and who spent the entire month of February 1969 in Stockholm, Sweden on IBM's dime (as I did) and whose location in the military was just off the Staff Balcony in the Underground Command Post at Strategic Air Command Headquarters where all the General officers sat during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 (as mine was) will be permitted to see the original, unredacted version. —-RWP]

[Redacted], a reader who lives somewhere near the little town of [redacted] in [redacted], was unhappy with the title of my last post, so I want to apologize (British, apologise) publicly to her and anybody else who was offended, because if [redacted] ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. I'm just saying.

I never said any bad words, I just mentioned an acronym, and the offending acronym involved the letters W, and T, and F. [Redacted], another reader who lives in [redacted], also mentioned in his comment that the word SNAFU in the body of the post was no better.

SNAFU can be cleaned up by substituting the word 'fouled'... and WTF could have meant a number of things:

Where's The Fudge?
Who Told Francine?
When Turkeys Fly
While Tempers Flare
Wilbur Teased Fiona

I could go on, but I hope you get my drift (as the iceberg said to the Titanic) that I am truly sorry.

I'm not really feeling sassy today, only semi-sassy, but I'm hoping it will clear up by noon.

The town of [redacted], current estimated population 634, was officially incorporated on [redacted]. [Redacted] says there have long been several versions of how [redacted] was named, none of which can be authenticated.

● [Redacted].

● [Redacted].

● [Redacted].

The rich agricultural and timber resources of the region attracted farmers, millworkers, and loggers. By [redacted], the town had a bank, three dry goods stores, two general stores, three grocery stores, two barber shops, five saloons, four hotels, a newspaper, a blacksmith, and even an opera house.

[Redacted] doesn't actually live in [redacted], she lives on an [redacted]-acre farm in the boonies out from [redacted], but her family is contemplating moving to be nearer their brand-new, first grandchild.

[Redacted] reminds me a lot of Mansfield, Texas, where I grew up, except I don't think Mansfield ever had an opera house. When we moved there in August 1947 the city limit sign said 'Population 774'. It is not like [redacted] any more. Mansfield has grown over the years, and the estimated population of my old home town in 2018 is 69,340. Surely it has more than two traffic lights now.

Here's a picture of the Farr-Best Theater that is still going strong as an events venue in the old one-block-long 'historic' downtown portion of Mansfield:

In the building with the green awning, right next-door to the theater, Mr. Farr, Mary Ann's father, also ran the Farr-Best Cafe where I downed many a hamburger, fried peach pie, and cherry coke in my yute.

Tell me a little about the town of your yute.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

As the young folks say, WTF??

For some strange reason unknown to me, for the last few days I have not been able to enter comments on my own blog or anyone else's from my iPhone. I can still enter them from my trusty desktop computer, but I can't carry that thing around with me everywhere I go. Not even some places. No way, José.

So there may be a slight delay in my responses to you until the Apple gremlins get themselves sorted out.

I can still compose posts on my iPhone, I just can't make comments.

Another one of Mama's sayings comes to mind: It'll all come out in the wash.

Unless it doesn't, of course.

I hope in this case that Mama was right.

My dad had a word for it -- an acronym, really -- that he learned in the Navy. Without translation, I now share it with you.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

If it's not karma, it must be something else

The only karma I know about is Putz's wife, Karmalee Barlow of Tooele, Utah.

I have had a terrible perplexing challenging few days.

Last Thursday our niece Rhonda in North Carolina was found unresponsive and without a pulse on the floor of her bedroom at 1:30 in the morning by her 83-year-old mother. The paramedics came and worked on her for 45 minutes, then transported her to the local hospital, where she died. She was 53. Yesterday would have been her 54th birthday. She was ten days younger than our oldest son. It has been a shock.

It was determined on Friday that our 12-year-old family car has a broken motor mount. I now have to decide between spending several hundred dollars to have it repaired or begin looking for another vehicle to replace it, not that I can afford one just now, but them's the breaks, I suppose. This news prevented us from being able to attend Rhonda's funeral.

Our little dog Abby lay down in the grass in our back yard yesterday afternoon and was promptly bitten by about 25 little black ants. I know the number because that's how many pinkish-red bites we counted on her abdomen. The vet, when called, said to give her half a Benadryl tablet every eight to 12 hours until she gets to feeling better.

They say good things come in threes. Maybe bad things do too. Or maybe it's just called "life".

Nevertheless, thanks to all of you for the happy blogaversary wishes on my last post.

I'll try to be cheerier henceforth.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Happy anniversary to me, or What happened to the Aral Sea shouldn't happen to a blog

At one time the Aral Sea in Central Asia was the fourth-largest freshwater lake in the world. Almost as big as Ireland, it covered 26,300 square miles (68,000 km2) and appeared on maps of Asia just east of the Caspian Sea in what was then the USSR (or, if you prefer Cyrillic, the CCCP). If the Aral Sea were still there, today it would straddle the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, it isn't there any more.

It began shrinking around 1960, and its slow disappearance over the last half-century is illustrated in the following map:

Not much remains but the rusting hulls of ships atop the dry desert sands, many miles from towns that once bustled with activities related to the fishing industry .

Although I like to think I keep up with current events, I had no idea that this long decline had occurred. It was off my radar completely.

Did you know that the Aral Sea has a middle name?

Well, it does. It’s Stockra. I made it up just now so that I could mention a book written in 1990 by David Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aral Stockra Sea, you know, those people portrayed on Downton Abbey and their friends.

Well, I thought it was funny.

What happened to the Aral Sea is not due to global warming. But it was caused by humans when the government decided to divert the water from the rivers that fed the huge lake to irrigate the land for the growing of cotton. In the process, the Aral Sea has just about disappeared.

Today, on the eleventh anniversary of this blog (yes, friends, it began on September 28, 2007), it is my fervent hope that it will continue for a long time and not dry up like the Aral Sea. I have learned far more from you, dear readers, than you have learned from me during these eleven years, so I will bring this post to a close with a little something from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, the opening of a song that Deborah Kerr sang to the children of the king of Siam:

It's a very ancient saying
But a true and honest thought
That if you become a teacher (or blogger),
By your pupils (or readers) you'll be taught.

As a teacher/blogger I've been learning,
You'll forgive me if I boast,
But I've now become an expert
On the subject I like most:

Getting to know you.

At this point, all the children of the King of Siam say, 'Ahhhhhh'.

In this metaphor, sometimes I am Deborah Kerr (no snickering in the back) and you are the children of the king of Siam, and sometimes you are Deborah Kerr and I am the children of the king of Siam.

Now that I think about it, eleven years is a long time not to know from one day to the next whether you are Deborah Kerr or the children of the king of Siam.

But at least we haven't dried up and disappeared like the Aral Sea.

Not yet.

For extra credit, read "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be" by John Keats and write a 500-word essay using personificaation to compare the poem to the Aral Sea.