Friday, December 13, 2019

A little light reading to stay out of trouble on Friday the 13th


It isn't just a boomer-generation rock group. It’s also an acronym.

Keep it simple, stupid1.

What I’m trying to say is this.

When speaking English, short words (which are often of Anglo-Saxon origin) are probably best. Long words (which are often of Latin origin) are not necessarily bad, but they can be confusing. Deceptive, even. If you want to communicate clearly, be crisp and direct. If you don’t care whether you communicate clearly, use the biggest words you can find and try to impress everyone with your vocabulary.

Let's examine a song of the season:

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say,
"Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee,
"Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,
You'll go down in history."

For purposes of this analysis, let's ignore the word 'Rudolph' because it is a proper noun (a name), and let's treat the hyphenated 'red-nosed' as two separate words.

The song has 87 words in all. When you ignore 'Rudolph', which occurs four times. 83 words are left. Let’s also omit duplicated words. 'The' appears 4 times in all. Take away 3 of them and we’re left with 80 words. Other words that appear more than once are red (2), nosed (2), nose (2), reindeer (5), and (2), you (3), it (2), say (2), him (2), and they (2). When all of the duplicates are removed, we’re left with 68 unique words, and of those 68, 57 have one syllable and 11 have two syllables.

But Rhymes, you say, that song is for children. Of course it is going to be simple.

Here’s the point: English is simple and direct, so use it as much as you can instead of big words borrowed from Latin like obfuscation and peripherally and obsequious and transcendentally and imperturbable.

Let’s look at Shakespeare. Here's a portion of Hamlet’s soliloquy:

To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Twelve and a half lines of deep thought and only four words with more than two syllables -- outrageous, opposing, consummation, and devoutly.

That's English.

I could give you many examples of simple but profound English. The 23rd Psalm in the King James Version of the Bible. The Lord's Prayer in the New Testament.

Here is the complete text of the address Abraham Lincoln gave at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln was not the main speaker for the dedication. Edward Everett, a well-known orator, was the chief speaker and spoke for two hours. Lincoln’s speech consisted of 272 words, lasted 2 minutes, and became known as one of the greatest speeches ever made by an American president. No one remembers what Edward Everett said.

Would we remember what Franklin D. Roosevelt said if instead of saying "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" he had said, "The sole contributing factor to our trepidation is, per se, trepidation"?

Would we remember what John F. Kennedy said if instead of saying "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" he had said, "Be not inquisitive regarding benefits an individual citizen might derive from one's natal government authority; be inquisitive regarding what an individual citizen might contribute to his or her natal government authority"?

Would we remember what Richard Nixon said if instead of saying "I am not a crook" he had said, "The undersigned does not concede to having the slightest modicum of felonious tendencies in his personality profile"?

Would we remember an old proverb if instead of saying "Too many cooks spoil the broth" we said "A plethora of individuals possessing culinary skills can produce a deleterious effect on the bouillabaisse"?

I think not.

There's always an exception that proves the rule, though. Would we remember Edgar Allan Poe if instead of saying "the tintinnabulation of the bells" he had said "chiming" or his cask contained Ripple instead of Amontillado?

Therefore, as much as possible, eschew obfuscation.

In other words, keep it simple, stupid1.

1No offense is intended to any reader personally. It's just a word that completes the acronym.

(Photo copyright by KissBoy25, 9 March 2013, used in accordance with CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mummy's favourite

The other day, when I mentioned Prince Andrew in this post, his name was followed (inexplicaby, to Americans) by a veritable alphabet soup of letters, specifically:


These may be obvious to any stiff-upper-lipped Brit, but I shall now reveal to the rest of the world just what the heck all that stuff means.

They are his medals.

One by one, they are:
  • KG - Knight of the Garter
  • GCVO - Grand Commander of the (Royal) Victorian Order
  • CD - Best as I can figure out, the Canadian Decoration
  • ADC(P) - Aide-de-camp (personal) to the sovereign

According to the Daily Mail (a staid, demure publication not unlike our own Wall Street Journal or New York Times)...

...Prince Andrew actually has (or had, as of 2011) seven medals. The others are the South Atlantic Campaign Medal (Falklands War), the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (given to Royal Family and trusted members of her household), and the New Zealand Commemoration Medal (1990). The Canadian Decoration mentioned in the earlier list was awarded in 2001.

You can read about them, and other fascinating stuff about the royal family, here.

Please do. There are a couple of lovely photos of the Queen when she was younger. The photos of Andrew are a bit bewildering. In one he is positively beaming, but in another he is glaring ominously at the camera. Perhaps he is thinking of his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, or wishing he were somewhere more pleasant, like a private island in the Caribbean.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Before it slips my mind completely

...I wanted to share with you that Kathy, a fairly new reader hereabouts, corrected me after I said that America's first Thanksgiving occurred at Plymouth, Massachussetts, in 1621.

It didn't.

I mean, it occurred, but it wasn't America's first one.

According to this fascinating article in The Washingtonian, that honor goes to Berkeley Plantation, a settlement on the James River in Virginia, in the Year Of Our Lord 1619.

So we shouldn't be remembering the Mayflower, we should be remembering the Margaret. We shouldn't be thinking of William Bradford, we should be thinking of John Woodlief. And we shouldn’t have eaten turkey, we should have eaten oysters and ham.

Unfortunately (or, as regarding our need to eat oysters, fortunately), Berkeley Plantation was destroyed by the Powhatan Indians in 1622.

Not very neighborly, not very neighborly at all.

Mr. Rogers would have been so disappointed.

This post is part of my effort to make it through December 7th without mentioning Pearl Bailey.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Apropos of nothing, or Odds and Ends R Us

Now that Prince Andrew Albert Christian Edward, Duke of York, KG, GCVO, CD, ADC(P) has been thrust into the public eye recently as a result of his having associated with the late, unlamented Jeffery Epstein and has also been relieved of his public duties (a.k.a fired) by his mum, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (full name Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor-Mountbatten), the royal family is on everyone's minds, tongues, and radar screens.


But I do have a question. I know that within the family the queen was called Lilibet as a child, but what was Princess Margaret called? Meg? Maggie? Hey, you?

Inquiring minds want to know and I am sure my many loyal U.K. readers (they constitute a plethora) will be rushing to inform me.

Again, NOT.

I once read a slim volume entitled Why Princess Margaret Will Never Be A Kappa Kappa Gamma. The reason, divulged breathlessly within, was that she smoked cigarettes in public.

They say that Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis smoked like a chimney, but it was always in private.

It may be a beautiful day in Mr. Rogers's neighborhood, but it is a slow week in mine. Thanksgiving has come and gone. Christmas isn't here yet, in spite of what the retailers are telling you. There are three whole weeks left until Christmas.

In our family this month, one grandson celebrates his 22nd birthday, one son and daughter-in-law celebrate their 28th anniversary, the same son and daughter-in-law just returned from a 10-day trip to Israel, and another grandson is moving to Africa. None of them is called Lilibet, to my knowledge.

I read that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, former Prince of Greece and Denmark, a sort of modern-day equivalent to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, has also stepped away from public activities. It's about time, in my opinion. The man is 98 years old, for crying out loud.

There are a few days of note in December. There's St. Nicholas Day on the 6th, and there's Pearl Harbor Day on the 7th, and there's Beethoven's birthday on the 16th.

If the world were not so PC these days (politically correct), I would trot out an old joke I used to tell annually, Did you hear about the guy who was half black and half Japanese? Every December 7th he attacks Pearl Bailey.

Well, I thought it was funny.

Today no one even knows who Pearl Bailey is or, more accurately, was.

If I asked you to name four actresses who played Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway, could you do it?

I can. Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, and Pearl Bailey. In the film version, however, Dolly Levi was played by Barbra Streisand

Today's young folks don't recognize any of those names except maybe Barbra Streisand. I know. I watch Jeopardy! five nights a week and am constantly amazed at the number of questions that no contestant knows the answer to. There is either no response from any contestant —- crickets — or the lone contestant who hazards a guess is astoundingly wrong. The other night in a category called "The Kennedys" the clue was a photo of a very old, very wrinkled Ethel Kennedy receiving a medal at the White House and the contestant who buzzed in said, "Who is Caroline?"

I'm not even kidding.

The phenomenon on Jeopardy! continues. On tonight’s episode, after being shown a photo of Carol Channing the lone contestant said, “Who is Phyllis Diller?”

Sometimes I wonder how Alex Trebek keeps a straight face.

I see that Prince Charles has passed Edward VII as not only the oldest Prince of Wales but also the longest-serving Prince of Wales.

My favorite line in Hello, Dolly! is near the end when Horace van der Gelder tells Dolly Levi, "Money, you should pardon the expression, is like manure. It doesn't do any good unless you spread it around."

I also remember when Barbra Streisand played Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and Fanny's mother, played by Kay Medford, was getting nowhere trying to dissuade Fanny from her infatuation with gambler and general ne-er-do-well Nicky Arnstein (played by Omar Sharif), and Fanny said, "But Ma, I love him". Her mother said, "Fanny, love him a little less. Help him a little more."

I'm rambling.

I do a lot of that, and more and more as time goes by. Eventually I will do less and less of it, and then you will stop hearing from me altogether.


In closing, and I know it can't come soon enough for some of you, I have one question left.

Anybody know what the Princess Royal is up to nowadays?

Monday, December 2, 2019

Thanksgiving is not just one day a year, or Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch

Our church has around 300 people attending currently, up from around 100 just a couple of years ago. There are about 40 in our general age range (somewhere between Social Security and Death). We have a monthly social event called Prime Timers, which I think is a much better name than The Over-The-Hillers or The Not Long For This Worlders or The One Foot In The Gravers. Some months we have a lunch at the church followed by table games or a songfest; sometimes we go somewhere in the church vans. In October they went to a restaurant in Jasper and drove up into the apple country in North Georgia. In November we were honored with a Thanksgiving Feast at the church on Heritage Sunday. In December we usually make a trip to a nice restaurant for a nominal fee which couldn't possibly cover the true cost. Last year, for example, we went to Buca de Beppo (Italian) and paid $5.00 each for an absolute banquet.

This year our director, Tammi, a lovely woman in her late fifties whom we have known since she was 13, announced that we will be going to Mellow Mushroom (pizza) next week. She asked that each person going contribute $9.00 to help cover food, games, prizes, decorations, and so forth. She always does a bang-up job and we appreciate her leadership. I don't think the Prime Timers are included in the church budget; I think Tammi volunteers her time and covers much of the costs herself. I could be wrong. Either way, she is a gem.

On the way to church every Sunday morning Mrs. RWP and I usually stop at Burger King for a quick breakfast of sausage, egg, and cheese croissants and hash-rounds (potatoes). Sometimes we have French Toastix with maple syrup instead. Yesterday we also stopped at our bank's ATM and withdrew $20 to give to Tammi. She wasn't at church this week, though, because her day job -- executive chef at an assisted-living/memory care facility -- needed her to work this weekend. Since the place she works is just a few blocks from the church, we drove over there before deciding where to eat lunch on the way home (Sunday is not a day of cooking at our house).

Ellie stayed in the car since I was just popping in and popping out. The facility's dining room is just off the main lobby area and it was full. Sunday dinner was in full swing. I knew Tammi was busy but I told the receptionist in the lobby that I needed to see Tammi and she went to get her. When she came out she was dressed in gleaming white like the angel she is. I gave her our money and was surprised to hear her ask, "Would you and Ellie like to eat with us?"

"Oh, no, we didn't come here to eat, we came here to give you the money," I said, adding, "but thank you very much for offering."

"Well, can I fix you two boxes to take with you?" she said, and I was quite surprised to hear myself saying, "That would be wonderful!"

She disappeared into the back and returned in a jiffy with the boxes, and we were on our way.

So as things turned out we didn't go to a restaurant after church yesterday. We took our boxes home and our little dog Señorita Juanita Rosita Conchita Abigail, Abby for short, was happy to see us earlier than usual. We dined royally on juicy chicken breast smothered in onion gravy with brown rice and green beans, and it was delicious.

And even though I'm sure some of my readers will not agree, God is good.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Post-Thanksgiving reflections

This past Thursday, November 28th, the fourth Thursday in November, was Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Canada's Thanksgiving Day occurs on the second Monday of October, which fell this year on October 14th. Ours used to vary between the fourth and fifth Thursdays in November when people referred to Thanksgiving as occurring on the last Thursday in November. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt, our 32nd president, it was nailed down to the fourth Thursday of November by Congress in 1941. I do not know if other countries observe a Thanksgiving Day, but if your country does, tell us about it and its origins in the comments.

America's first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Lucky thing, too, as Squanto, a local native American (formerly known as an Indian) who taught the settlers from Europe how to plant and raise crops, died in 1622. In 1789 our first President, George Washington, issued a proclamation concerning a day of thanksgiving, and Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President, issued another proclamation in 1861. In other words, it's a long-standing tradition here, even though for many it is merely a day for family get-togethers, big meals, and marathon watching of football games on television.

My blogger friend Linda asked what we were thankful for besides the usual stuff people say. I replied that I am thankful for indoor plumbing including flush toilets and hot and cold running water, because I grew up without them. I am thankful that we no longer live in a state that had 30-degrees-below-zero temperatures and icicles that reached from the roof to the ground. I am thankful for food in the refrigerator and a car that runs. I said that I was thankful that my children and grandchildren are in church and not in jail.

When my blogger friend Emma asked us to name things we were thankful for, I left the same list but added that although I did not put it on anyone's blog, I am also thankful for the air I breathe and the warmth of the sun. I am thankful for blue sky and green grass. I am thankful for the wonderful wife and companion who has walked beside me for 56 years. I am thankful for my little dog, a Chihuahua-Terrier mix whose name is Señorita Juanita Rosita Conchita Abigail, Abby for short. I am thankful for good health and for enough money to put gasoline (British, petrol) in that car.

I'm thankful for many things I cannot put into words.

And of course I am thankful for you.

What are you thankful for? Keep in mind that if the editor (that would be moi) considers any part of your answer to be rude, lewd, lascivious, or as appealing to one’s prurient interest or political leanings it will not be published.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Freddish and my reality

In this very interesting article in The Atlantic magazine about Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood fame, he is reported to have been very careful about how he spoke to children and what he said to them. People who worked with him on his television program dubbed his approach "Freddish" and eventually produced a pamphlet entitled "Let's Talk About Freddish".

According to the pamphlet, there were nine steps for translating something into Freddish:
  1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street. ​​​​​​
  2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.
  3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in “Ask your parents where it is safe to play.”
  4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
  5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.
  6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.
  7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
  8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
  9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.
Few of us are that scrupulous, but it should give us all pause and food for thought.

My dad didn't talk like Mr. Rogers. Sometimes he called me "Dummkopf" when he was particularly exasperated.

I ended up being named valedictorian of my graduating class. I think he was more surprised than anybody.

Sometimes, out of the blue, he would show me his hands and say, “The Navy trained these hands to kill”. Sometimes, for no reason at all, he would talk about the Medes and the Persians, or Ur of the Chaldees. Sometimes, as if to remind himself that a tirade may have gone on too long, he would quote Jesus Christ, "Whoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea".

It was hardly ever a beautiful day in my neighborhood.

If you had asked me back then if I loved him, I would have said, "No". I feared him. Today I think I can say that I love him. I have definitely forgiven him. With the passage of the years, especially after I had children of my own, I came to understand what he was trying to do (raise me to be a good man, point me in the right direction). He did the best he could with the tools at his disposal. He was honest, hard-working, and very difficult to live with.

If you think old Rhymeswithplague is a bit loopy at times, perhaps you can begin to understand why.

Even though it is almost six minutes long, I hope you will watch this video clip of the 1997 Daytime Emmys when Fred Rogers received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the 10 seconds of silence he gave us, I thought about my mother and one or two other people. I did not think about my father.