Friday, December 31, 2010

Ah, ’tis a bra brit moonlit nit tonit...

...and I’m of a mind this year not to settle for pale imitations of “Auld Lang Syne” but to go with Bobby Burns’s original version.

And after you have listened to it, you may read about it until you’re blue in the face right here.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Unaccustomed as I am am am to public speaking speaking speaking...

I want to thank Lord Yorkshire Pudding of Pudding Towers, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England (for readers from other planets, that’s in the U.K.) for giving this blog an award that allows me to display the following one-of-a-kind objet d’art:

I think.

I mean, I wouldn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth or anything, but even as I gratefully and humbly accept this award for Best Blogger in his street in Canton, Georgia I can’t help remembering that just one short year ago, at the end of 2009, Lord Pudding named me Top American Blogger of 2009.

Lo, how the mighty are fallen. Or at least not riding as high as in days of yore.

Still, any award is better than no award, so in the spirit of hands-across-the-sea camaraderie, hail-fellow-well-met bonhomie, and the peace-on-earth-good-will-toward men congeniality currently but only temporarily in vogue, I say a simple, heartfelt “Thank you.”

I now relinquish the microphone phone phone, with one parting shot question estion estion:

Who died and left Pudding in charge of end-of-year gala award banquets?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Poems that really make you think, or 2010 (and maybe even rhymeswithplague) as Father William

The following is from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia:

“You Are Old, Father William” is a poem by Lewis Carroll that appears in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). It is recited by Alice in Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar" (Chapter 3 in the original manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground). Alice informs the caterpillar that she has previously tried to repeat “How Doth the Little Busy Bee” and has had it all come wrong as “How Doth the Little Crocodile". The caterpillar asks her to repeat “You are old, Father William”, and she recites.

Like most poems in Alice, the poem is a parody of a poem then well-known to children, of Robert Southey’s didactic poem “The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them”, originally published in 1799. Like the other poems parodied by Lewis Carroll in Alice, this original poem is now mostly forgotten, and only the parody is remembered. Carroll’s parody “undermines the pious didacticism of Southey’s original and gives Father William an eccentric vitality that rebounds upon his idiot questioner”. Martin Gardner calls it “one of the undisputed masterpieces of nonsense verse”.

[End of Wikipedia passage]

Here’s the poem:

You Are Old, Father William
by Lewis Carroll

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head --
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old," said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door -—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment —- one shilling the box -—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak -—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth," said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose -—
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

Call me odd if you like, but I do not think of this as only a nonsense poem. Of course it makes us laugh, but I also view it as a parable that can benefit us all, if we have ears to hear.

If ever a year stood on its head, turned a back-somersault in at the door, finished the goose, or balanced an eel on the end of its nose, it has been 2010. And, yes, I am thinking specifically of the British and American elections as well as the current state of the British and American economies.

Only some of those phrases, however, apply to your correspondent. As for other phrases in the poem, such as “old,” “hair become very white,” “grown uncommonly fat,” and “awfully clever” -- well, the jury is still out. But even if the jury returns an unfavorable verdict, your correspondent remains absolutely convinced that he possesses an eccentric vitality that rebounds upon his idiot questioners. In his defense, however, and as an indication of his great humility, please note that he does not say, “he and he alone.”

Lewis Carroll (pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832 - 1898)

“The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo.”

When Father William rhymeswithplague 2010 is long forgotten, past victories or defeats have faded into obscurity, and the triumphs and tragedies of everyday living have worked themselves into the fabric of our respective lives, may we all find in 2011 less difficulty in managing our flamingo.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

“What a pretty wolf little Stinkface has become.”

Although Christmas is over for another year, my Boxing Day gift to the readers of this blog is Daniel Pinkwater reading his Christmas tale, “Wolf Christmas,” on National Public Radio (6:10).

For those of you who would rather read than listen, a transcript is also available at the same link.

We received three inches of snow on Christmas afternoon and evening, the first time the Atlanta area has had snow on Christmas day in over a century (if you don't count a few flurries back in 1983). The white stuff started falling around 11:00 a.m. and continued for nearly twelve hours. This amazing and wondrous state of events has nothing whatsoever to do with Boxing Day, little Stinkface, Uncle Louie, Aunt Fang, or Daniel Pinkwater.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Don’t worry, Dorothy. Rahm Emanuel will be mayor soon....

I saw this picture on Sam’s blog and had to have it on mine (blog envy, thy name is rhymeswithplague). You may be asking, “Sam who?” and you have every right to do so. But that’s for me to know and you to find out.

In other news, the spirit of Christmas seems to have taken the day off. But, just like General Douglas MacArthur, he will return.

I’m counting on it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The new math

10,000 × 10,000 × American pi (3.08745538) = E pluribus unum

Check your work here and also here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Quelle est cette odeur agréable?

Here is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City performing “Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing?” (4:47)

That archaic, somewhat stilted-sounding English title is a translation of the words of the traditional 17th-century French carol “Quelle est cette odeur agréable?” that John Gay incorporated into his Beggar’s Opera in 1728.

Some might think that banks of violins and cellos are the very definition of schmaltz -- can anyone say Mantovani? -- but I think this is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music I have ever heard. Mrs. RWP, though, says it is not her cup of tea.

Here are the English lyrics as translated by A. B. Ramsay:

1. Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing,
Stealing our senses all away?
Never the like did come a-blowing,
Shepherds, in flow’ry fields of May!
Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing,
Stealing our senses all away?

2. What is that light so brilliant, breaking
Here in the night across our eyes?
Never so bright, the day-star waking,
Started to climb the morning skies!
What is that light so brilliant, breaking,
Here in the night across our eyes?

3. Bethlehem! there in manger lying,
Find your Redeemer haste away,
Run ye with eager footsteps vying!
Worship the Saviour born today.
Bethlehem! there in manger lying,
Find your Redeemer haste away.

If you simply must have the original French lyrics, click here. You may note that several English translations are available; the one I have shared with you is the one sung by the choir in the video clip.

As usual, I am one of the last to get the word. One list I saw shows that this song is available on more than 50 classical recordings. But even though it has been around for several centuries, I had never heard it until last Thursday evening when Dawna T. sang it accompanied at the piano by her sister, Lisa K., during their Family Christmas Concert at a church in Marietta. (I was part of the concert too. I accompanied Dawna on “The Perfect Rose,” her son Michael on a cello solo of “What Child Is This?” and Lisa on “O Holy Night.” Lisa wore an emerald velvet gown; Dawna wore a purple one. I was resplendent in a black tuxedo.)

The lyrics, of course, refer to the infant Christ, the baby Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. What struck me as ironic (nay, downright humorous!) is that the odeur agréable that so mystified the songwriter was a barnyard stable filled with cows, sheep, donkeys, and (let’s face it) manure. So the actual odeur must have been anything but agréable at the time. Comparing Christ’s presence to the fragrance of a rose has been quite common through the centuries, though, and has resulted in such songs as “The Perfect Rose,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” and, of course, from now on in my own mind, “Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing?”

I think I will go back and listen to it again.

No Rosicrucians were harmed in the creation of this blogpost.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Condoleezza Rice 1, Katie Couric 0

Here is a very interesting video clip, a very interesting video clip indeed.

I never saw it on TV. Did you? Perhaps the fact that it is a little over six minutes long prevented its ever being broadcast by the mainstream media in the 30-second-sound-bite world we have become.

[Oops! I made a language boo-boo. By leaving out a few words and speaking in a sort of shorthand, I actually just asked, "Did you never saw it on TV?" when what I meant to say, obviously, was "Did you see it?" A thousand pardons.]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When with the ever-circling years comes ’round the age of gold

December has been busy, and for all intents and practical purposes, I seem to have stopped blogging. Not forever, I hope. But definitely for this week. Life is busy, life is full.

Last week we attended the Georgia Ballet’s presentation of The Nutcracker. Two of our grandchildren were in the performance. As always, it (and they) were exquisite. Our grandson had a solo in Act I as the Toy Soldier, and was part of a trio of teenage boys in Act II who danced as the Cavalier’s Attendants. Our granddaughter was a soldier fighting with the mice in Act I, an Umbrella Girl in the Tea portion of Act II, and one of Mother Ginger’s children.

Our weekly staff meeting at the church took place Monday from 11:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Afterward, I rehearsed with the pastor, who will be singing a solo in next Sunday morning’s service. While I was gone from home, Tim B., my son’s friend, performed a random act of Christmas kindness for Mrs. RWP and me. He sent two of his workmen over to move our furniture and re-stretch the carpet throughout our house, which had started to resemble the Sea of Galilee on a stormy day. It saved us a chunk of money and made our home much more attractive (translation: less tacky).

Last night Mrs. RWP and I attended (brought homemade cupcakes to, actually) a Christmas party for the residents of Hope House, a group home for mentally-challenged adult men. Currently there are five residents: Greg, David, Mike, Randy, and Nick. A good time was had by all. As if by magic, food appeared in abundance, as did many gifts. Officially, the party was a project of the UMW (United Methodist Women), but a goodly number of UMM (United Methodist Men) were in attendance as well. Mrs. RWP’s cupcakes were to die for: German chocolate with cream cheese icing, with either red sprinkles or green sprinkles sprinkled (what else?) over the tops.

Tonight my presence is required at a rehearsal of a musical program at which I will be the person at the piano. Some old friends of mine, David and Lisa K. and Dawna and Daniel T., are presenting a Family Christmas Concert at Grace Community Church in Marietta. Out of the blue, Lisa sent me a Facebook message last week asking whether I could participate in the program. When I say “Out of the blue” I mean that the last time I had any communication with Lisa was seventeen years ago when she sang at my daughter’s wedding. So it was a pleasant surprise. Both Lisa and Dawna, who are sisters, have beautiful trained voices. David plays the trumpet and conducts a jazz orchestra. I think Daniel sings as well. The last time I saw these two couples, they jointly had no children and Lisa was expecting her first child. Now there are nine children altogether, four Lisa’s and five Dawna’s. Time flies when you’re having fun. Lisa’s oldest, John, is quite the trumpet player himself, and Dawna’s Michael is an accomplished cellist.

Thursday night is the musical presentation itself. I hope to see Dick and Martha S. (Lisa’s and Dawna’s parents) there as well. Dick was at one time either a violinist in or the conductor of -- I can't remember which -- the symphony orchestra in Helena, Montana, and Martha played the viola. A few years ago Dick and Martha both suffered broken backs when the deck at their house collapsed and they fell fourteen feet to the ground. Martha is also a breast-cancer survivor. It will be good to see them again.

Sunday morning at our church we are having a Service of Lessons and Carols, so I am busy rehearsing for that as well. I will be playing the familiar Ukrainian Carol (Carol of the Bells), singing a solo, accompanying the pastor’s solo, and playing for all of the congregational singing (of which there will be a lot more than usual), and generally making a nuisance of myself.

I have to put up our tree somewhere in there in my spare time. Also, we have not bought one single Christmas present yet.

Those are but some of the reasons why, for all intents and practical purposes, I have stopped blogging. But for someone who has stopped blogging, I think I just acquitted myself pretty darned well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What can I say? It’s that time of year again...

A couple of posts back you heard Christina Rossetti’s poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” sung by the Gloucester Cathedral choir. The tune, known as CRANHAM, was written by Gustav Holst in 1906.

A different musical setting of the same text was written more recently by Harold Darke, and in 2008 it was voted the greatest Christmas carol of all time in a poll of choral experts and choirmasters. Here it is:

“In the Bleak Midwinter” (musical setting by Harold Darke), sung by Kings College Choir, Cambridge (4:18)

I think both versions are absolutely beautiful.

Here are some more numbers by the Kings College Choir from their 2008 Christmas concert. If you don’t have 24 minutes, 59 seconds right now to listen to all of them at one sitting, choose a favorite or two and come back later for the rest:

“Once In Royal David’s City” (4:29)

“Sussex Carol” arr. by Philip Ledger (1:55)

“The Holly and the Ivy” arr. H. Walford Davies (2:45)

“Angels From the Realms of Glory” arr. Philip Ledger (2:50)

“What Sweeter Music” John Rutter (4:06)

“The First Nowell” arr. David Willcocks (4:31)

“O Come, All Ye Faithful” arr. by Stephen Cleobury (4:23)

I hope you enjoy the Kings College Choir as much as I always do. But even if nobody listens to them but me, I will still be happy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

C.Q., C.Q., calling all Albanians, C.Q., C.Q.

When I was 14 I heard my cousin Philip, who was 19 or 20, say into his ham radio microphone, “C.Q., C.Q., calling C.Q.” and I asked him why he did that. He answered that saying those two letters sounds just like saying the English words, “Seek you, seek you” so the phrase is used to elicit a response from another ham radio operator out there in the ether or great beyond or whatever it is. The last part of that sentence beginning with the words “out there” are my words, not his.

Live and learn.

Which brings me to my reason for this post.

I am still living, and I have this desperate need to keep learning.

My mother-in-law died in Orlando, Florida, in 1986 at the age of 79. She was born in Fier, Albania, in 1907 and lived there until 1926, when she married my father-in-law and came to the United States. When my children (who are now in their forties) were small, she used to say a little rhyme to them as she played with them. I should have asked her to write it down for me, but I was young and foolish.

Which is where you come in.

Any and all Albanians who happen to be reading this post, I need your help. Can you tell me what she was saying, what it meant (if it meant anything), or if it was just a nonsense rhyme? It seems to start off loosely based on numbers (see table at end of post). Since I don't write Albanian, I can give you only a phonetic rendering:

Oona-mahna, doota-mahna, tray-a-roni, karsa-koni, lain-see, plain-see, bahna-bahna, chooka-dahna, (something), (something), poopsie, KROOPSIE!

It’s sort of an Albanian equivalent, I think, of playing pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man, make me a cake as fast as you can.

Any help you can give me with the missing parts and the actual Albanian spelling will be greatly appreciated.

For everyone else, here for your reading pleasure and edification is a short course in learning how to say numbers in Albanian. Included is my own rough pronunciation guide:

0...... zero (zare-oh, roll the r)
1...... një (n’yeh, like a Spanish n with a tilde)
2...... dy (dooh, short oo as in book, but book (bukë) means bread in Albanian)
3...... tre (treh, roll the r)
4...... katër (katter)
5...... pesë (pess)
6...... gjashtë (g’yahsht)
7...... shtatë (shtaht)
8...... tetë (tet)
9...... nëntë (nahnt)
10.... dhjetë (thee-yet)
11.... njëmbëdhjetë (n’yeh meh thee-yet)
12.... dymbëdhjete (dooh meh thee-yet)
13.... trembëdhjetë (treh meh thee-yet)
14.... katërmbëdhjetë (katter meh thee-yet)
15.... pesëmbëdhjetë (pess meh thee-yet)
16.... gjashtëmbëdhjetë (g’yahsht meh thee-yet)
17.... shtatëmbëdhjetë (shtaht meh thee-yet)
18.... tetëmbëdhjetë (tet meh thee-yet)
19.... nëntëmbëdhjetë (nahnt meh thee-yet)
20.... njëzet (n’yeh zet)
21.... njëzet e një (n’yeh zet eh n’yeh)
22.... njëzet e dy (n’yeh zet eh dooh)
23.... njëzet e tre (n'yeh zet eh treh)
30.... tridhjetë (trih thee-yet)
40.... dyzet (dooh zet)
50.... pesëdhjetë (pess thee-yet)
60.... gjashtëdhjetë (g’yahsht thee-yet)
70.... shtatëdhjetë (shtaht thee-yet)
80.... tetëdhjetë (tet thee-yet)
90.... nëntëdhjetë (nahnt thee-yet)
100... njëqind (n’yeh kind, last syllable rhymes with sinned)
101... njëqind e një (n’yeh kind eh n’yeh)
102... njëqind e dy (n’yeh kind eh dooh)
111... njëqind e njëmbëdhjetë (n’yeh kind eh n’yeh meh thee-yet)
125... njëqind e njëzetepesë (n’yeh kind eh n’yeh zet pess)
200... dyqind (dooh kind)
500... pesëqind (pess kind)
1000... një mijë (n’yeh mee)
1,000,000... një milion (n’yeh meel-yahn)

There now, wasn’t that simple?

I didn’t think so either.

This has been another fascinating post from rhymeswithplague.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

As Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls might have said...

Picture it: Dublin, 1742. (Hint: You’re supposed to click there.)

If you want to read all about Dorothy Zbornak, Rose Nylund, Blanche Devereaux, and the aforementioned Sophia Petrillo, click here.

If you would rather read about George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah, of which “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” (the musical number in the link at the top of this post) is a part, click here.

And if you live in New Zealand and your name is Katherine DeChevalle (or if you create drawings and paintings using various media no matter what your name is or where you live), I especially direct your attention to the section entitled “Word-painting” in the link in the previous paragraph. The rest of you can also check it out if you like.

Speaking of painting, the following painting depicts either George Frideric Handel or Sophia Petrillo:

I won’t keep you in the dark. The person pictured above is none other than:
THIS is Sophia Petrillo:

I can see how you might get them confused.

This post has been presented for your musical, artistic, and spiritual edification on the Second Sunday of Advent, 2010.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

One of the main reasons I love December... this song , sung by the choir of Gloucester Cathedral in Gloucester, England.

The main thing to remember about Gloucester is that it is pronounced glawster and that it is in glawstersher and not, as many Americans think, Glaowchester in Glaowchestershyre. The English are strange in other ways too: they pronounce Leicester as lester and Thames as temz, they hold their knife in one hand and their fork in the other throughout their meal, and they smush their peas into their mashed potatoes.

Just about everything a person could want to know about the song (“In the Bleak Midwinter”) is in this article.

Just about everything a person could want to know about Gloucester Cathedral is in this article.

Just about everything a person could want to know about the city of Gloucester, England, is in this article.

If you want to know about anything else, you’re pretty much on your own. Give people a fact and they learn one new thing. Teach people how to find facts themselves and they will never stop learning.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (A Trilogy in Five Parts), called it the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

It is also the name of a domino game people in Texas played when I was a kid. They still do. Not the same people, of course. It has bids and trumps and is something like bridge. I have never heard of it ever being played anywhere else.

It will be, for a few more weeks, the age of the youngest of my three children.

But I have devoted a whole post to the number 42 for one reason and one reason only. As of a couple of days ago, it is the number of official followers of this blog. Unofficially, however, there are at least 17,643 of you lurking about. I can feel it in my bones.

At the rate I am gaining official followers, I should be able to give a victory speech in a park in Chicago in about three or four million years.

(Photo by Michelle Marcotte, appeared in the Nacogdoches, Texas, Daily Sentinel)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's so special about November 28th?

On this day in 1962, Jon Stewart was born. On this day in 1967, Anna Nicole Smith was born. On this day in 1976, Rosalind Russell died. On this day in 1980, Queen Mother Wilhelmina of the Netherlands died. On this day in 1582, in Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway paid a £40 bond for their marriage license.

But to me, probably because I am married to an Albanian-American, November 28th is and always will be Albanian Flag Day. Click here to see the Albanian flag and to hear the Albanian national anthem.

Today also would have been the wedding anniversary of my parents-in-law. They were married on November 28, 1926, in Fier, Albania, when Ksanthipi (the bride) was 19 and Dhimitri (the groom) was 31. In 1963, I married their daughter.

Here they are in 1930, in Philadelphia, on their fourth anniversary.

And here is a closer view:

They were married almost 57 years. Dhimitri (who became Jim when he became an American citizen) died in 1983 at the age of 88. Ksanthipi (who became Carrie) died just three years later, in 1986, at the age of 79.

I created this post on Albanian Flag Day and their anniversary in their memory.

Here are some other interesting facts about November 28th.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lo, how a what???

Here are two facts:

1. Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent.
2. I’m finally beginning to lose it.

I am usually quite accurate about spelling (I always won the weekly spelling bees in school), but this week I had one of those moments. Most of you know that I was hired this past September to provide music at a Methodist Church. To be technically accurate, the church doesn’t have an organ or a piano; it has an electronic thingie called a Yamaha Clavinova that can make a plethora of sounds. It can do everything but toast bread. However, of the many possible toots and bells and whistles settings available, I confine myself to using just three: grand piano, tubular chimes, and pipe organ. The rest can just disappear for all I care. Some people somewhere may actually want to hear “Holy, Holy, Holy!” played badly on the saxophone or a rendition of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” on the tuba, but they won’t be hearing either one from me.

When I began, the pastor asked me to select the hymns each week in addition to playing a prelude, an offertory, and a postlude. The names of the prelude and postlude are not printed in the weekly bulletin, but the hymns and offertory are.

Anyhoo, on Tuesday I told Patty, the church’s administrative assistant, that the offertory for this Sunday (the First Sunday in Advent, remember?) would be “Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming.” I wrote it down for her. What I should have written, of course, was “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (the English title of a 15th-century German carol called “Es ist ein Ros ent­sprung­en”).

Ere and e’er mean two different things.

A rose ere (before) blooming is no rose at all, just a bunch of foliage and thorns, but a rose e’er (ever) blooming, now that’s something to contemplate while the offering plate is passed.

Normally the church office is staffed Monday through Thursday. However, because this week was Thanksgiving week, the office was staffed on Monday and Tuesday only. Normally Patty puts the bulletin together on Wednesday and prints it on Thursday morning. By the time I realized my error, it was Tuesday evening, Patty had long since gone home, not just for the day but for the week, and the bulletins were already printed. Come Sunday, my error is going to be out there for the local Methodist churchgoing public to see, and for those with discerning eyes I shall be exposed as less than a perfect speller.

Oh, the shame of it all.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little melodramatic, or as The Amplified Bible might put it, “Okay [fine, all right], maybe [possibly, perhaps] I’m [merely] being a little [more] melodramatic [than usual].”

I will try to see the bigger picture. So I misspelled a word. Big deal.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and I must bring this post to a close.

Before you leave, though, please pick Door #1 . . . . . Door #2 . . . . . or Door #3.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

From the archives: Thanksgiving Day

Norman Rockwell said it much better with paint than I can with words, but the familiar words of an old song are my prayer for America today:

Bless This House

Bless this house, O Lord, we pray,
Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out.

Bless the roof and chimneys tall,
Let Thy peace lie over all.
Bless this door that it may prove
Ever open to joy and love.

Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s heavenly light.
Bless the hearth ablazing there,
With smoke ascending like a prayer.

Bless the folk who dwell within,
Keep us pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be
Fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee,
Bless us all that one day we
May dwell, O Lord, with Thee.

(copyright 1927 by May H. Brahe & Helen Taylor)

[This post was first published in November 2008 and again last year. The only change I would make is to say that the words of the song are my prayer for families all over the world, not just in America. --RWP]

Monday, November 22, 2010


(click on photo to enlarge)

But not just any orchids.


A dozen of them. On our dining room table.

My version of the most famous quatrain from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám would go like this:

“A Dozen Orchids underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
Ah, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”

because a Dozen Orchids will beat a Book of Verses every time.

The plant with white flowers that are speckled with purple was a gift from a friend who came to dinner about 14 months ago. The plant with purple flowers I purchased myself about three months ago from our local Kroger supermarket’s florist section to help make Mrs. RWP an even happier camper.

I apologize for the quality of the image. It was made with my cell phone, sent to my daughter’s cell phone, and returned to my computer in an e-mail message. Such are the measures one must take when one (a) doesn’t own a digital camera or a scanner and (b) refuses to pay money to the cell phone company for broadband.

Wikipedia says there are over 26,000 species of orchids. The only ones I know are Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, Cymbidium, and those enormous ones all the girls used to wear to the proms.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jethro, you may qualify for a government grant.

So said the e-mail I received the other day. Fortunately, my ISP (Internet Service Provider) kindly and accurately put it into my spam folder, but still...

There it was, plain as day: Jethro, you may qualify for a grant.

Here’s the rest of the message:

“How can you take advantage of your own tax dollars?
Apply for a government grant!
Each year thousands of people just like you receive grant money from the government.
Federal grants can be used for:

* Individuals, housing, healthcare
* Education for minorities
* Small businesses, Non-profits, and more!

Why not see if you qualify? Apply now!
Apply for a government grant today!”

There is a Jethro residing at my address. He has lived here for nearly five years now.

The only problem is, this is Jethro:

I believe the operative word in that offer is may...

Mr. Internet Peddler, Jethro appreciates it, really he does, but please take your wares elsewhere! If I'm not mistaken, there’s a black Labrador down the road from me who has a few tax dollars to spare.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Comparing apples and oranges

In two recent columns at the online edition of the Daily Mail, John Humphrys wrote about two seemingly unrelated topics:
(1) conditions in today’s China and (2) the appalling way English teenagers speak their language.

The second article says the young folk are not using their “full linguistic potential.”

I think they’ll be just fine. Eventually they will grow up and become contributing members of society. Not all of them, of course, but enough. Happens every generation.

But the phrase “not using their full linguistic potential” could be put to better use in the other article to describe the plight of the 1.3 billion persons living in the People’s Republic of China, where there is a decided lack of true freedom of speech despite their own protestations to the contrary. Things have greatly improved, they insist.

Great gains have been made in recent years, granted, but the authoritarian Communist rulers remain firmly in control.

For example, this world-famous photograph from 1989 is still banned in China, as is any mention of the events that occurred in and around Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

All things considered, English teenagers have things pretty good. Our Chinese friends, not so much.

[Editor's note: I created this post about a week ago, before the recent riots by young people in London and before the release of Aung San Suu Kyi after seven years of house arrest in Myanmar, but those events just underscore what I'm saying, I think. -- RWP]

Monday, November 15, 2010

X'32', X'45', what’s a few years among friends?

Last Friday, Mrs. RWP and I were invited to lunch at Greenwood’s, a great restaurant located in an old house in Roswell, next door to a restaurant/bar/live music venue called The Swallow in the Hollow, which is just down the street from a city hall that makes the town look as though it could be the capital of a small country. I’m not kidding. Out in front of Greenwood’s, along the street, were multitudinous strawberry pots filled with blossoming flowers and odoriferous garlic plants (next one to use the words multitudinous and odoriferous in the same blogpost wins a years supply of tompoezen or Jaffa cake, take your pick). In the entrance courtyard I spotted a bust of Elvis. A small lizard ran up a brick wall, pausing halfway. We are a strange bunch in Georgia, but it simply can’t be helped. I blame it on the fact that the Yankees won The War.

An old friend and former manager, Jim R., was in town on his yearly trip back east from his retirement home along the Pacific Ocean in northern California. Another old friend and former manager, Linda S., had gathered a small group together for a small celebration.

It turned out great. Tim R. was there, who was 24 when he came to our group and is now 48, and Larry A. and his wife Diane, along with Mrs. RWP and me. A few years back, Larry was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis but appears to be doing well. Another friend, Pat T., wasn’t able to attend because of a long-scheduled dental appointment that simply couldn’t be put off.

Mrs. RWP and I both had shrimp and grits, a dish that makes people in other parts of the world and even other parts of our own country go “Eeeewwwww!” but is really quite tasty. Then we shared a huge slice of coconut cream pie. Don’t make a face at the combination; some of the others at the table had catfish and blackeyed-peas and blackberry pie.

I told you we were a strange bunch.

We reminisced about old times and old friends for nearly three hours at our table in the back room. We laughed and laughed. In the end, Jim R. paid for the whole shebang even though we all protested, and he said we must get together again next year.

About this post’s title, when I turned 50 I was presented at the office with a cake that was decorated to look like an open grave in a cemetery. The epitaph on the headstone said R.I.P., X'32' (50 in decimal is 32 in hexadecimal, a base-16 numbering system that computer professionals understand; 16 times 3 equals 48, plus 2 more make 50. Get it?). Now I am X'45' (I bet you can figure it out for yourself). In case you were wondering, the hexadecimal digits are
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, and F.

I joined that group of what is now called IT professionals in 1980, three weeks before I turned 39 (X'27'). Some had been together in Western Electric Company (WECo for short) since the mid-sixties, and most of the group stayed intact through thick and thin, expansions and contractions, divestitures (thank you, AT&T), spinoffs (thank you, Lucent Technologies), and outsourcings (thank you, IBM Global Services) until retirement caught up with us all.

I repeat, what’s a few years among friends?

Unforgettable, that’s what.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater

November is Jacaranda time in Brisbane, Australia. Check it out.

November is also Jacaranda time in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. Check it out.

(The two links above take you to the blog of a woman named Helsie who lives in Australia.)

And November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Check it out.

In November 1966, my dad underwent exploratory abdominal surgery and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It had already metastasized. On March 3, 1967, he succumbed to the disease.

Over forty years later, the statistics have not improved, according to actor Patrick Swayze’s widow. She said on Good Morning, America this week that the life expectancy of someone after having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is three to six months. Patrick, who had the disease, lived for 22 months after diagnosis because he was an extraordinary human being.

Here’s hoping that an emphasis on wearing purple ribbons each November will result in the same sort of attention and funding increase for pancreatic cancer research that an emphasis on wearing pink ribbons each October has done for funding for breast cancer research.

I’m going to do my part.

I apologize if the title of this post offends you. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but it was one way of getting your attention. The more I think about it, though, it describes the monster that is pancreatic cancer very well. And I bet you’ll never think about purple in quite the same way ever again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

What we have here is a fail-yah to communicate.

[start semi-rant mode]

We have just come through the American election of 2010.

The liberals think the conservatives don’t get the message. The conservatives think the liberals don’t get the message. The president thinks the American people don’t get the message. The American people think the president doesn’t get the message. The Democrats think the Republicans don’t get the message. The Republicans think the Democrats don’t get the message. The Libertarians and Tea Party members think no one else gets the message. Everyone thinks he or she is right. It’s the other person, obviously, who is wrong.

Clearly, in the words of Strother Martin in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, what we have here is a fail-yah to communicate.

President Obama now says (in an interview aired on November 7, 2010, on the CBS-TV program 60 Minutes) that he doesn’t plan to change his agenda but will attempt to communicate better because people failed to understand his message. My own opinion is that people now understand his message very clearly. Perhaps they didn’t two years ago, but now they do, based not on what he has said but on what he has done. And a very clear majority of the American voting public have firmly rejected it (except in a few apparently very liberal places where people like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer and Barney Frank managed, astoundingly, to get themselves re-elected). The president, however, seems to care more about what people in other countries think than what the majority of Americans think. We are expected to follow like sheep and accept whatever he has decided is best for us.

I have an announcement, folks: The American system doesn’t work that way. In fact, it works just the other way; he is supposed to do what the American voters want. In what used to be America (that is, according to the U.S. Constitution), the people were in charge. Abraham Lincoln probably phrased it best as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” (and just so you know, Abraham Lincoln was not a Democrat; he was the first Republican president.) But right now President Obama does not appear very Abraham Lincolnesque. Instead, he seems to be Strother Martin and the rest of us have become Paul Newman.

Denial, my friends, is not a river in Egypt.

[end semi-rant mode]

If you are a U.S. citizen, whether you agree or disagree with me, I’d love to hear from you. But for this one post, if you are not a U.S. citizen, please follow Archie Bunker’s advice to his wife, Edith, and stifle yourself.

However, if you want to move here and become a citizen of the United States and vote in our elections, I say, in the words of Edith Bunker herself: “I welcome you with open arms.”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mrs. RWP tried something new for Halloween...

She made a pumpkin cake! Well, actually she didn’t. She made a chocolate cake that looks like a pumpkin, which is different. Isn’t it? A pumpkin cake would be made out of pumpkin. Wouldn’t it?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away...

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, my nearly 70 years, my almost 840 months, my over 25,000 days of living on this planet of ours, I was a poll worker at an election precinct. I was not, as alleged by my daughter-in-law’s mother, a poll dancer. It’s a play on words, get it? Poll dancer/pole dancer? I think she was joking. I pray to God (with apologies to Snowbrush) that she was joking.

To become a poll worker, all I had to do was fill out an application back in August, submit it to our county’s Board of Elections, be accepted, be assigned to one of the county’s 44 precincts, and attend a half-day of training at the county office building in October. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to the precinct in which I vote, so I didn’t have far to drive on election day.

It turned out to be a long day. I had set my alarm for 4:50 a.m. because 6:00 a.m. was the time we had been told to arrive at the precinct. However, I awoke awaked awakened woke up opened my eyes at 3:15 a.m. and never shut them again. Shortly after 6:00 a.m., we raised our right hands and swore or affirmed certain things and went right to work following the laminated procedures so that the polls could open at 7:00 a.m. for the voters waiting in line. And all over Georgia, in 159 counties and over 2900 precincts, other people were doing the same things. In all 50 states, lots of other people were doing the same things.

Nearly 1150 persons voted in our precinct on Tuesday, and I knew only about 25 of them personally. The rest were complete strangers to me. The county provided us with various 21st-century electronic devices (scanners, computer data bases, touch screens) to help us carry out our assigned tasks. By “us” I mean two groups, the seven persons who were assigned to our precinct and all of the poll workers in all of the other precincts. During the day I had the pleasure of helping four new U.S. citizens who hailed from Brazil, Australia, Ireland, and Vietnam vote in an American election.

The polls closed at 7:00 p.m. and our work ended around 8:00 p.m., 14 hours after we had raised our right hands and 17 hours after I had started my day. I drove home and slept the sleep of the just.

It was a wonderful day. It was a memorable day. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I plan to. For once, I had served my community instead of expecting my community to serve me. Some of us are old enough to remember having heard President John F. Kennedy say something about that at the end of his inaugural address in 1961.

Don’t tell anybody, but I actually felt like dancing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

When October goes...

Barry Manilow has never been my favorite singer, and I have heard him when he was in better voice, but there’s something about this particular clip that reaches way down inside me and turns me inside out.

When October Goes (4:50)

I get the almost-a-cliché metaphor about a person’s lifespan (“Oh, it’s a long, long time from May to December, and the days grow short when you reach September” and so forth), and the leaves have turned red and gold and many of them have already fallen, and flocks of geese are in the air making their way south, and my mother died in the month of October in 1957, so this time of year always makes me a bit melancholy, but still...Barry Manilow?

There’s a little quiver in his voice -- and, yes, it may even be fabricated for effect -- but when he sings this song he somehow seems on the verge of losing his composure altogether. Maybe that’s what I’m responding to viscerally, I don’t know, the fact that we’re all in this thing together and we’re all putting on some sort of act and we’re all always dangerously close to losing control and letting everybody see how we really feel, and we certainly wouldn’t want to let that happen. Would we?

But still...

Barry Manilow?

Or it could be that it’s the day before the American elections.

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
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:

2 Emperors of Japan:

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 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.


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:


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.


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.

I will be laboring (<i>British,</i> labouring) under a handicap for the next couple of weeks (<i>British,</i> fortnight)

More about that below. First, though, I want to add an addendum (what else would you do with an addendum?) to my previous post about phone...