Friday, January 29, 2010

It seems like yesterday

For those of you who don't read Silverback's blog regularly, his post yesterday was a tribute to the crew of the Challenger space shuttle that exploded on January 28, 1986, twenty-eight years ago.

The crew consisted of Francis R. (Dick) Scobee (commander), Michael J. Smith (pilot), Judith A. Resnik (mission specialist), Ronald E. McNair (mission specialist), Ellison S. Onizuka (mission specialist), Gregory P. Jarvis (payload specialist), and Sharon Christa McAuliffe (schoolteacher). The last two were civilans, not employees of the Federal Government, and they are the ones in the center of the back row in this photograph:

I don't know whether it is still the same, but launches from Cape Canaveral used to have a tremendously exhilarating effect on people living in Florida. Mrs. RWP and I watched one from a balcony in New Smyrna Beach, 28 miles north of the Cape, and it was spectacular. Another time we were staying in Kissimmee with friends at their condo for a week, and one morning the four of us decided to drive down to see another couple in Winter Haven. We had turned south off I-4 onto U.S. 27 and were somewhere between Haines City and Lake Wales when we saw a shuttle rising off to the east along the coast. We must have been 75 miles as the crow flies from the Cape, but it was clear as day and a beautiful sight.

I will never forget the nighttime launch of Apollo 17 as long as I live. We were living in Boca Raton and the children were small. The launch had been delayed a bit earlier in the evening, so we had put the children to bed, but we woke them about twenty minutes after midnight and took them out into the back yard, not really knowing what we might be able to see. Way off to the north the sky was filled with clouds, but when the big Saturn V rocket lifted off at 12:33 a.m., the entire northern sky was lit up like day. Apollo 17 appeared to be very close, five or ten miles away, maybe just up the road in Delray Beach, but it was 175 miles to the north. It was a sight I shall always remember. Here is a photo of the launch site itself:

Perhaps even more thrilling than seeing a shuttle launch, though, was feeling one. Mrs. RWP and I saw -- and felt -- one daytime shuttle launch from the middle of the Indian River, having ridden down from New Smyrna Beach with a few others on a “luncheon cruise” with leaping dolphins for company and an occasional cormorant standing on a post in mid-river drying its outspread wings.

We must have gotten within two or three miles of the launch pad, very close, when our boat was stopped by the Coast Guard at the edge of the Space Center property and we could advance no further. But what an awesome moment it was to experience the sound waves from the shuttle pass through our bodies with a roar, entering at the chest and departing at the shoulders.

I have one last memory to share with you. In 1962 I was an enlisted man in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at McCoy Air Force Base south of Orlando. Alan Sheppard had achieved fame earlier on a sub-orbital flight, and a couple of Russians had already orbited the earth, but John Glenn would become the first American to do so, circling the earth three times and traveling more than 75,000 miles in less than five hours. I suppose we were about forty or fifty miles from the launch site. As his journey began, we left our radios and televisions and rushed outdoors to see what we could see, and sure enough, there was his missile with the capsule atop, rising in the distance, just above the treetops. We watched until it was out of sight.

Is it any wonder that we return to Florida again and again?

The weather, of course, has nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Today is a day like all other days, except you are there

If Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were alive today, he would be celebrating his 254th birthday.

If Lewis Carroll (born Charles Dodgson -- doesn't everyone have a nom de plume?) were alive today, he would be celebrating his 145th birthday.

If Jackson Pollock were alive today, he would be celebrating his 98th birthday.

If Jesus Christ were alive today...oh, wait, he is.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Early on a Frost-y mornin’, look away...

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. --T. S. Eliot

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
-–The Eagles

The Roads Taken
by Robert Henry Brague, 1/26/2010

Three roads triverged in a mottled wood,
And I took all three, one at a time, because
Each one doubled back on itself, and at last
I found myself alone in the clearing,
Wond’ring how that happened, wond’ring what I
Had got myself into exactly, some sort of game
Apparently, from which there is no exit,
Just more of the same, ever more and more of
The same, over and over, ad infinitum.
“Ah, said my brain, “so this is how it is,
Thinking one is making progress, moving
along nicely, only to discover at end of day
That one is back at the starting point.
If ever I manage to extricate myself from
This labyrinthine maze I will never return.”
Someone will be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Three roads triverged in a wood, and I --
I took them all ’neath the puzzled sky,
And that has made not one whit of difference.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Even prose can be poetic

Earlier this morning I was reading today’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac when the whole thing turned into a rhyming poem. Today, it turns out, is the birthday of Virginia Woolf. Her first masterpiece, it said, was Mrs. Dalloway. After going on some more about Virginia Woolf (it also mentioned her To the Lighthouse and The Waves and her long essay, A Room of One’s Own), another factoid announced that today is also the birthday of the man who wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an' men / Gang aft agley” and “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, / And never brought to mind?” and “O my luve’s like a red, red rose, / That’s newly sprung in June; O my luve’s like the melodie / That’s sweetly played in tune” -- none other than Robert Burns, who, said The Writer’s Almanac, was born in 1759 in Scotland in the town of -- wait for it -- Alloway.

All of a sudden it struck me that Dalloway and Alloway rhyme and I thought of (a) my childhood friend John Galloway and (b) how the entire reading for today in The Writer’s Almanac was suddenly transformed from dull prose into a kind of lovely poem that someone like Ogden Nash might have written on a very good day.

The effect was short-lived, however, because a short final paragraph in which the writer of The Writer’s Almanac used the phrase “Burns’ poems” when any editor worth his or her salt knows it should be “Burns’s poems” brought me back to reality.

If you think “Burns’ poems” is just fine you obviously have never read The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. Strunk, who was White’s English professor at Cornell in 1919, had written the little book himself as a textbook for his classes. White re-published it in later years, adding an Introduction.

Here is Rule 1 from Will Strunk’s first chapter, Elementary Rules of Usage:

1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ’s.

Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

Charles’s friend
Burns’s poems
the witch’s malice

Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names in es and is, the possessive Jesus’, and such forms as for conscience’ sake, for righteousness’ sake. But such forms as Moses’ laws, Isis’ temple are commonly replaced by

the laws of Moses
the temple of Isis

The pronominal possessives hers, its, theirs, yours, and ours have no apostrophe. Indefinite pronouns, however, use the apostrophe to show possession.

one’s rights
somebody else’s umbrella

A common error is to write it’s for its, or vice versa. The first is a contraction, meaning “it is.” The second is a possessive.

It’s a wise dog that scratches its own fleas.

(End of first page of Chapter 1 of The Elements of Style)

E.B. White, in his Introduction to the second edition of Strunk’s book, said:

“Some years ago, when the heir to the throne of England was a child, I noticed a headline in the Times about Bonnie Prince Charlie: “CHARLES’ TONSILS OUT.” Immediately Rule 1 leapt to mind.

Charles’s friend
Burns’s poems
the witch’s malice

Clearly, Will Strunk had foreseen, as far back as 1918, the dangerous tonsillectomy of a prince, in which the surgeon removes the tonsils and the Times copy desk removes the final s. I commend Rule 1 to the Times, and I trust that Charles’s throat, not Charles’ throat, is in fine shape today.”

I note happily that Will Strunk foresaw not only Charles’s tonsillectomy but also today’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac with the phrase “Burns’ poems” that jumped out of the blue to shatter my Alloway-Dalloway-Galloway reverie and return me to the cold light of day.

Just for good measure, I am going to throw in here Rule 13 in Strunk’s own words:

13. Omit needless words.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

E.B. Write called that paragraph “sixty-three words that could change the world.”

Elements of Style has its critics. Not everyone likes it or agrees with its rules. The world changes, time marches on, and language is not static.

But I like what Dorothy Parker said in her review of Elements for Esquire magazine in 1957: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

How Definitions Change Over Time

.........................Old 41...........................

....................................................................New 41.........................

Old 41 is, of course, former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush (1989-1993), the 41st President of the United States. He has been called “Old 41” to differentiate him from his son, George Walker Bush, the 43rd U.S. President (2001-2009).

The new 41 is U.S. Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts (2010-?), who will fill “the people’s seat” (or, as it is known by Democrats, “Teddy Kennedy’s seat”). Until Brown’s overwhelming victory in a special election last Tuesday, the make-up of the U.S. Senate was 60 Democrats, 40 Republications, making it “filibuster-proof” because 60 votes are required to cut off debate on certain issues before the Senate. But with Brown as the 41st Republican Senator, the Democrats’ ability to end a Republican-led filibuster (filibusters are used to delay final votes and to bring public attention to issues) or to approve such bills without the cooperation of a single Republican (who needs bipartisanship?) has vanished. On other issues, however, a simple majority of 51 votes is all that is required to pass a bill.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Happy birthday, Angela

Fifty years ago I memorized a poem I had found somewhere. Something about it just reached out and grabbed me. It wasn’t part of a school assignment, and I don’t know the poem’s title or author. Today seemed like a good time to put it in my blog.

A builder builded a temple;
He wrought it with grace and skill; --
Pillars and groins and arches
All fashioned to work his will;
Men said when they saw its beauty,
“It shall never know decay.
Great is thy skill, O Builder.
Thy fame shall endure for aye.”

A teacher builded a temple
With loving and infinite care; --
Raising each arch with patience.
Laying each stone with prayer.
None saw her unceasing effort;
None knew of her wondrous plan;
For the temple the teacher builded
Was unseen by the eyes of man.

Gone is the builder’s temple; --
Crumbled into the dust. --
Low lies each stately pillar,
Food for consuming rust;
But the temple the teacher builded
Will last while the ages roll; --
For that beautiful, unseen temple
Is a child’s immortal soul.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

And now, if your blindfolds are all in place, panel...

Will tonight’s mystery guests enter and sign in, please!

Actually, panel, tonight we have not one but twelve mystery guests!

Six of them are human and six of them are equine.

Panel, you may now remove your blindfolds.

Your task, panel, is simply this: Without consulting Wikipedia or Google or any other search engine or enyclopedia, either online or offline, identify each of our human mystery guests and each of our equine mystery guests.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One of those things was not like the others

“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind; the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” So sang Peter, Paul, and Mary many moons ago in response to all the questions in all those verses by Bob Dylan.

But the question being answered today is not Bob Dylan’s; it’s mine from yesterday: Which one of the seven people pictured in my January 19 post doesn’t have what the other six have?

There were not many entries, and even though there was a very big clue right in front of your eyes, no one guessed the right answer. Pity.

The answer, my friend, is not blowin’ in the wind. The answer is in the next paragraph.

I showed you photos of actress Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker), trumpeter Louis Armstrong, songstress (is that a word?) Dolly Parton, poet/author Edgar Allan Poe, Olympic athlete Al Joyner, rock-star druggie Janis Joplin, and military leader Robert E. Lee; and I told you that six of them have something in common. Well, for your information, the one who didn’t have what the other six had was Louis Armstrong. So I won’t keep you waiting any longer. The time to reveal the difference has come -- drum roll please! -- All the people in yesterday’s post except Louis Armstrong had January 19th birthdays. Louis Armstrong, not to be outdone, had a July 4th birthday.

For the record (no pun intended), nobody in this photo was born on January 19 either.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Six of these seven have something in common

If you can’t identify them all, they are (or were):

Jean Stapleton (20th-century American actress in her role as Edith Bunker on All In The Family)
Louis Armstrong (20th-century American musician)
Dolly Parton (20th-century American singer/songwriter/performer)
Edgar Allan Poe (19th-century American author)
Al Joyner (20th-century American Olympian athlete)
Janis Joplin (20th-century American singer/songwriter/performer)
Robert E. Lee (19th-century American military leader)

Which one doesn’t have what the other six have (or had)?

For purposes of this quiz, Olympic medals, Emmys, Oscars, Grammys, Tonys, and the ability to play the trumpet don’t count.

Here is a big hint: The contest ends at midnight tonight. Look for the answer tomorrow!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Things I lie awake at night thinking about

Or, for you grammar police out there, maybe that should be Things about which I lie awake at night thinking, or Things about which I lie awake thinking at night, or maybe Things about which, thinking, I lie awake at night, or...oh, forget it. Let’s just go with Headscratchers.

Ready? Here goes:

Why are the residents of some countries called xxxish (English, British, Scottish, Irish, Turkish, Finnish, Swedish, Polish, Danish, Spanish) and some are called xxxese (Portuguese, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, Maltese, Nepalese) and some are called xxxian (Albanian, Indonesian, Arabian, Australian -- okay, they just added an N -- but how did we get Brazilian, Canadian, Argentinian, Iranian, Norwegian?) and some are called xxxan (American, Mexican, Costa Rican, Nicaraguan, Cuban) and some are called xxxi (Kuwaiti, Iraqi, Pakistani, Israeli) and some are called xxxers (New Zealanders) and some are even called xxxic (Icelandic), but the people in Wales are called Welsh? Is it scrunched-up British pronunciation for “Walesish” in the same scrunched-up way they say “Lester-sher” for “Leicestershire” and “Gloster-sher” for “Gloucestershire” and “Wuster-sher” for “Worcestershire” and “Tems” for “Thames” and “Sinjinswood” for “St. Johns Wood” and...well, I could go on and on. I think that last sentence was supposed to end with a question mark, but I’m not sure.

Some countries add a consonant just to be different: Congolese, Peruvian, Panamanian. Why?

And the -ish, -ese, -ian, -an, -i, and -ic folks are all adjectives, but the -ers in New Zealand are nouns. Why is that? I’m beginning to sound like Andy Rooney.


People in the Philippines are called Filipino. Why not Filipini or Filippinian or Filippinish? Did the world really need yet another suffix? And is Filipino an adjective or a noun? Inquiring minds want to know. And what happened to the Ph, anyhow?

Why not Norwayers? Nicaraguish? Walesian?

Why are people in the Netherlands Dutch?

I mean, who decides these things?

And it’s not just countries, either. It’s also true of the states in the U.S. -- we also have xxxians (Pennsylvanians, Virginians, North and South Carolinians, Californians, which all make sense, but why Floridians and Oregonians and Kentuckians?) and xxxers (New Yorkers, Marylanders, Rhode Islanders) and a whole lot of xxxans (Texans, Oklahomans, New Mexicans, Kansans, Nebraskans, Iowans, Tennesseeans, Utahans, Ohioans, Idahoans, Louisianans, North and South Dakotans, Minnesotans, Alaskans, Hawaiians), but who thought up Illini, Michiganders, and State of Mainers? I would have preferred Illinoisies and Mainiacs.

Are people in Arkansas Arkansasans or Arkansawyers? Pat?

If Michigan has Michiganders, shouldn’t the female residents be Michigeese and each individual female a Michigoose?

What do you call somebody from Massachusetts?

The Old Testament is filled with xxxites: Israelites, Canaanites, Jebusites, Amorites, Amalekites, Hittites, Edomites, Moabites, Stalactites, Stalagmites...oops, I got carried away. Why are there no -ites today?

The same sort of differences exist in names of cities. Some end in -town and others end in -ton, and still others end in -burg or -polis. I could give you examples, but I’m tired.

On another note entirely, who did put the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A midwinter night's dream?

Ah, January, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of -- what else? -- ice skating! If yours doesn’t, better get with the program, ducky!

I’m thinking now of one of the most famous moments in all of ice skating history. I mean besides that time in 1994 when Tonya Harding’s bodyguard whacked Nancy Kerrigan across the knee with
a metal pipe.

No, I’m thinking of the time ten years earlier (has it been 26 years already?) when Jane Torvall and Christopher Dean of Nottingham, England, became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time (for a single program) when they received twelve perfect 6.0 scores, including artistic impression scores of 6.0 from all nine judges, for doing this:

Well, actually, they did a bit more than that. Specifically, on January 6, 1984, at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Torvill and Dean did this, accompanied by Ravel’s Bolero.

Okay, I admit that the world of figure skating has also had a bad moment or two. Here’s one we’d rather all forget (and by we I don’t mean to imply that I am a part of the world of figure skating, just a representative of the general populace at large):

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Midweek miscellany

I told you a lie. Not intentionally. But a lie, nonetheless. It turns out that Dr. John Linna of Neenah, Wisconsin, is not a 69-year-old retired Lutheran minister. Dr. John Linna of Neenah, Wisconsin, is a seventy-year-old retired Lutheran minister. So sue me.

Maybe something that isn’t true is not a lie if the person who said it thought it was true when he or she said it. (When does “intelligence” become “flawed intelligence” become “falsehood” become “lied through his teeth”? We’re still sorting that one out as a society, aren’t we? A recent U.S. president is still being vilified in many quarters because of this very question.)

Be that as it may, Dr. John Linna has posted another knee-slapper on his blog:

“I gotta tell ya them Science people got it all over us dumb flat earth lay people type guys.
Take this Global Warming stuff.
Dere was no question da earth was getting warmer.
I mean even us dummies could see that polar ice melting and feel with da poor polar bears.
But to make C02 da cause that was brilliant.
They had dis graph made by a computer and ya know it showed that correlation between the C02 and the warming. Ya it did.
Well it did for a while. But den da warming didn’t keep up with da graph.
Minor glitch they said.
Well even us dumb flat earth people know computer projections aren’t hundirt per cent.
But then C02 kept going up ( ve tried our best to stop it it) but da warming didn’t.
In fact for three years the United States got colder.
Now Europe got dat colder too.
At dis point us dumb flat earth lay people would give up . Possibly C02 isn’t the culprit.
Dumb us.
The Science is settled but the vocabulary needs dat adjustment.
So the scientists gave us Global Climate Change.
Now whatever comes ve can blame dat on C02.
If we freeze den its C02
If we cook then its c02
If there is a drought then C02
If we have a flood C02.
If we have a huricane C02.
If we don’t have many hurricanes C02.
Boy I’m sure glad that science is settled.
Otherwise us dumb flat earth lay people would be looking for other causes. Dumb us
We might think sun spots or magnetic shifts, or big cities.
But we can’t do much bout those.
We can fight dat C02.
I love dat Science.”

In case you care to have a look for yourself, Dr. John’s blog is called Fortress Linna . I warn you, though, don't go over there. You will get all caught up in a little town called Pigeon Falls that is in Dr. John’s basement and then you will have to go back and read hundreds of posts so that you can understand even half of what you are reading, and unless you understand Ukrainian you will also have to find a good language translator site. You may even begin to believe in dragons.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


All of the cold weather in recent days has reminded me of some other cold places I have experienced:

Three Nebraska winters with the U.S. Air Force;
Three Poughkeepsie, New York, winters when I worked with IBM (followed, I'm happy to report, by seven much warmer winters in Boca Raton, Florida);
The month of February in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1969;
A frigid, snowy week in Michigan in early January 1982 when the temperature in Atlanta was even lower than the temperature in Detroit;
Several weeks in and near Chicago during the winter of 1984 while working for AT&T.

Speaking of Chicago, I happened to be the only occupant in an elevator in the Sheraton Hotel on Michigan Avenue when a very blond family stepped in speaking something besides English to one another. As I had spent a month in Sweden fifteen years earlier (Feb. 1 to Mar. 1, 1969 - brrrrrr!), I knew they were Scandinavian, not because of their blondness but because of the lilt of their speech. I had managed to pick up a few Swedish phrases (Var finst der herrtoaletten?, that sort of thing), so after a few seconds of wondering whether my fellow passengers were Swedish or Norwegian or Danish, I took a chance and asked, “Har ni svensk?” (Are you Swedish?)

Their eyes lit up. “Oh, ja!” they said, and began speaking rapidly to me in their native tongue. I had no idea what they were saying. My floor had arrived, and as I left the elevator I said, “Förlåt, jag förstår inte svenska.” (Sorry, I don’t understand Swedish.)

I have always wondered what those very blond Swedes said to one another after the elevator doors closed.


I don’t know who irritates me more, Regis Philbin or Kelly Ripa.

Hoda Kotb or Kathie Lee Gifford.

Joy Behar or Rosie O’Donnell.

Judge Judy or...well, nobody irritates me more than Judge Judy.

I probably watch too much daytime television. It’s a wonder I find time to blog.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Blogislative ping-pong

A few days ago, my blogger friend Dr. John Linna of Neenah, Wisconsin, or Dr. John Neenah of Linna, Wisconsin, whichever it is (I can never remember), posted the following clever piece of original writing on his blog:

Once the Great God Super Science spoke and said:

“There is Global Warming caused by greenhouse gases. The science is settled.”

From then until now it has been the task of the Super Science Priest to protect and advance this truth.

No other statement of possibility could be allowed as any other statement was clearly incompossible.

The evil forces of the fossil fuel companies sought to harl the poor dumb lay people so they could continue selling their evil product.

But the Super Science priests knew the truth. The science is settled. You could not harl them.

The Science is settled.

A few former Super Science priests sold out to the fossil fuel companies.

They said they had been wrong. There was no global warming caused by greenhouse gases.

The real priests wanted to thropple them, but of course in this age that is not allowed.

So they did the next best thing. They declared them to be no longer scientists because if they were true scientists they would believe in global warming caused by greenhouse gases because the science is settled.

When the science is settled you may no longer ask questions, publish negative papers, or demand to know the basic data.

The science is settled.

If a few scientists fudged a little, that makes no difference.

The science is settled.

The good news for the true believers is that the vast majority of real scientists believe in global warming caused by greenhouse gases and that the science is settled.

Only three kinds of people don’t hold this truth:

1. Unreal scientists paid off by the fossil fuel companies
2. Dumb flat-earth lay people
3. Evil manipulators like that fat radio guy.

But despite them the science is settled.

When you gather for weekly worship in the Global Warming Science temples, remember it is your task to spread the truth and stamp out heresy. Only Global Warming caused by greenhouse gases may stand.

For Super Science has spoken and the science is settled.

(End of quotation)

Dr. John is a 69-year-old retired Lutheran minister. Aside from the fact that I myself am not now nor have I ever been a retired Lutheran minister, or even a retired Lutheran, though I will admit to being retired and will also turn 69 just like Dr. John on my next birthday, and also aside from the fact that I have no idea what “incompossible” and “harl” and “thropple” mean, I felt compelled, compelled I tell you, to leave the following comment on Dr. John’s blog:

A reformation occurred in Super Science a while back, which you forgot to mention. The term now used among the Reformed Super Scientists (RSS-Minnesota Synod) is Climate Change because that term helps explain both global warming and global cooling, which the Super Scientists had overlooked. The RSS do believe that greenhouses gases are in, around, over, under, and at the root of everyone’s problems and only reformed science has the answer. However, a new denomination referring to themselves as Sun Spotters (SS) arose after a scientist named Martin Truther posted some stuff on a door somewhere. All of the groups believe that if science says it, that settles it, and if science can’t settle it, it can’t be settled.

Then I left a second comment that contained only three words:

Sola Sun Spots.

Everyone ignored my comments, but the good Dr. John himself left a comment on my blog later, thanking me for commenting on his blog (we are the Alphonse and Gaston of the blogging world), and the only reason I even mention any of this now is to let you in on the latest news. Meeting in synod secretly somewhere in Minnesota, the Sun Spotters (SS) have decided to change their name to avoid any chance of being mistaken for the Super Scientists (SS) who started the ruckus in the first place.

Would you like to know the new name the Sun Spotters have come up with?

Okay, I will tell you. Wait for it. Here it comes.


This has absolutely nothing to do with the latest icy blasts from Old Man Winter, but it gets me through my days.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Guess whose birthday it is today!

Well, let’s see. There’s David Bowie (1947), and Stephen Hawking (1942), and Little Anthony (of Little Anthony and the Imperials who sang, “You don’t remember me, but I remember you, ’twas not so long ago, you broke my heart in two, Tears On My Pillow, pain in my heart caused by you”) (1940), and Yvette Mimieux (she played Rod Taylor’s girlfriend in the year A.D. 802,701 in the 1960 movie The Time Machine) (1939), and Bob Eubanks (emcee of The Newlywed Game) (1938), and Shirley Bassey (1937), and Soupy Sales (1926), and Larry Storch (1923), and Butterfly McQueen (“Lawdy, Miss Scarlett, I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies”) (1911), and Jose Ferrer (1909), and composer Robert Schumann (1810).

Oh, yes, and this fellow, whose name escapes me at the moment. He would have been 75 years old today (1935):

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A story for Epiphany

Once upon a time there was the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, AT&T, or Ma Bell to you, and within Ma Bell there could be found Bell Labs (her research and development arm), Western Electric Co. (her manufacturing arm), and lots of little Bell Operating Companies (BOCs) (her legs for getting telephones to and collecting lots of money from the general public), 24 to be exact, including two that were wholly owned subsidiaries:

1. New England Telephone
2. Southern New England Telephone (wholly-owned subsidiary #1)
3. New York Telephone
4. New Jersey Bell
5. Bell of Pennsylvania
6. Diamond State Telephone (Delaware to you)
7. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone of Maryland
8. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone of West Virginia
9. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone of Virginia
10. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone of Washington, D.C.
11. Southern Bell
12. South Central Bell
13. Ohio Bell
14. Cincinnati Bell (wholly-owned subsidiary #2)
15. Indiana Bell
16. Michigan Bell
17. Illinois Bell
18. Wisconsin Bell
19. Northwestern Bell
20. Southwestern Bell
21. Mountain Bell
22. Nevada Bell
23. Pacific Bell
24. Pacific Northwest Bell

There were lots of other telephone companies too, like giant General Telephone and itty-bitty Blue Ridge Telephone Company and others scattered all over the country, but they were independent and had nothing to do with Ma Bell, AT&T, or the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

But the big, bad Federal Government said to AT&T, “No, no, no, you are a monopoly and you must divest yourselves of all of those operating companies on January 1, 1984.” So AT&T, Ma Bell to you, looked into her open grave and said, “Children, it is time to stand on your own two, er, 48 feet, sort of.” And even though Ma Bell kept her research and development arm (Bell Labs) and her manufacturing arm (Western Electric Co., though its name had been changed to AT&T Technologies), she gave away her 24 children to seven umbrella companies called Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), and Ma Bell was no more. Some of the RBOCs thrived and their stock soared and some of the RBOCs slowly went down the tubes. The seven RBOCs were:

1. NYNEX (NY for New York and NE for New England and X for eXchanges)
2. Bell Atlantic
3. BellSouth
4. Ameritech
5. SBC Communications (S for Southwestern and B for Bell)
6. U.S. West
7. Pacific Telesis

One of the RBOCs, Southwestern Bell, retained its old identity through the transition and continued performing one of its primary functions, producing and distributing the yellow pages.

Years went by. AT&T opened PhoneCenter stores all over the country, and then decided to close them. Cellphones were invented. In 1995, Bell Labs and Western Electric (though its name had been changed again, first to AT&T Information Systems and then to AT&T Network Systems) were spun off into a new company, Lucent Technologies, and began interacting with such entities as AT&T-BCS (Business Communications Systems) and AT&T-GBS (General Business Systems) and AT&T-LBS (Large Business Systems) and AT&T-GBCS (whatever). More name changes occurred and rival companies called MCI and Verizon and Sprint and Vonage and Skype and magicJack sprang up and flourished, or not, with ever cheaper and ever more lightweight plastic throwaway phones. Southwestern Bell began a joint venture with BellSouth called Cingular to market cellphones, eventually BellSouth was swallowed up by Southwestern Bell, and the name Cingular eventually changed to AT&T Mobility. AT&T opened up retail stores again but didn’t call them PhoneCenters. The more things changed, the more they seemed to remain the same.

The RBOCs merged and expanded and changed shape and AT&T decided to get out of the telephone manufacturing business altogether. Southwestern Bell bought AT&T, changing its own name to AT&T in the process, and moved the new AT&T’s headquarters from New Jersey, where it had been that state’s largest employer, to San Antonio, Texas, and then to Dallas, Texas, from whence it shall come to judge the quick and the dead. No, wait, that’s something else. Lucent Technologies, which had been Western Electric Co. long ago, and then AT&T Technologies, and then AT&T Information Systems, and then AT&T Network Systems, disappeared into was bought by a giant telecommunication company in France named Alcatel and moved its headquarters to Paris.

There is no end to this story; it will go on and on, and no one knows whether the new AT&T, which is for all intents and purposes really the old Southwestern Bell, will live happily ever after, but the moral of this story on this Epiphany is this:

Some men are so busy following their own stars and making money and inventing gadgets and being entrepreneurial that they no longer have time to seek Him, but wise men still do.

[Full disclosure: I went to work for Western Electric Co. on Feb. 25, 1980, and retired from Lucent Technologies on March 1, 2000. My monthly pension is currently paid by Alcatel-Lucent.]

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Here a bowl, there a bowl, everywhere a bowl bowl.

A little over a year ago -- on Dec, 18, 2008, to be exact -- I shared with you a list of the 34 bowl games played at the end of the 2008 college football season. I am chagrined mortified pleased as punch (Hubert Humphrey used to say that) to share the post-2009 season list with you today:

1. Dec. 19 - New Mexico Bowl (Wyoming vs. Fresno State), played at University Stadium in Albuquerque, NM
2. Dec. 19 - St. Petersburg Bowl (Rutgers vs. Central Florida), played at Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL
3. Dec. 20 - R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (Southern Mississippi vs. Middle Tennessee State), played at the Superdome in New Orleans, LA
4. Dec. 22 - MAACO Bowl (Brigham Young University vs. Oregon State), played at Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
5. Dec. 23 - San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (Utah vs. California), played at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
6. Dec. 24 - Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (Southern Methodist University vs. Nevada), played at Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI
7. Dec. 26 - Meineke Car Care Bowl (North Carolina vs. Pittsburgh), played at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
8. Dec. 26 - Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (Ohio vs. Marshall), played at Ford Field, Detroit, MI
9. Dec. 26 - Emerald Bowl (Boston College vs. University of Southern California), played at AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA
10. Dec. 27 - Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl (Clemson vs. Kentucky), played at LP Field, Nashville, TN
11. Dec. 28 - AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl (Texas A&M vs. Georgia), played at Independence Stadium, Shreveport, LA
12. Dec. 29 - EagleBank Bowl (Temple vs. UCLA), played at RFK Stadium, Washington, DC
13. Dec. 29 - Champs Sports Bowl (Miami vs. Wisconsin), played at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, FL
14. Dec. 30 - Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl (Bowling Green vs. Idaho), played at Bronco Stadium, Boise, ID
15. Dec. 30 - Pacific Life Holiday Bowl (Nebraska vs. Arizona), played at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
16. Dec. 31 - Texas Bowl (Missouri vs. Navy), played at Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
17. Dec. 31 - Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (Air Force vs. Houston), played at Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX
18. Dec. 31 - Brut Sun Bowl (Stanford vs. Oklahoma), played at Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, TX
19. Dec. 31 - Insight Bowl (Minnesota vs. Iowa State), played at Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
20. Dec. 31 - Chick-fil-A Bowl (Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee), played at the Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
21. Jan. 1 - Outback Bowl (Auburn vs. Northwestern), played at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
22. Jan. 1 - Konica Minolta Gator Bowl (Florida State University vs. West Virginia), played at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville, FL
23. Jan. 1 - Capital One Bowl (Penn State vs. LSU), played at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, FL
24. Jan. 1 - Rose Bowl (Ohio State vs. Oregon), played at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
25. Jan. 1 - Allstate Sugar Bowl (Florida vs. Cincinnati), played at the Superdome, New Orleans, LA
26. Jan. 2 - International Bowl (South Florida vs. Northern Illinois), played at Rogers Centre, Toronto, Canada
27. Jan. 2 - Bowl (Connecticut vs. South Carolina), played at Legion Field, Birmingham, AL
28. Jan. 2 - AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic (Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss), played at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX
29. Jan. 2 - AutoZone Liberty Bowl (East Carolina vs. Arkansas), played at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, TN
30. Jan. 2 - Valero Alamo Bowl (Michigan State vs. Texas Tech), played at the Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
31. Jan. 4 - Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Texas Christian University vs. Boise State), played at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
32. Jan. 5 - FedEx Orange Bowl (Georgia Tech vs. Iowa), played at Dolphin Stadium, Miami, FL
33. Jan. 6 - GMAC Bowl (Troy vs. Central Michigan), played at Ladd Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL
34. Jan. 7 - BCS National Championship Game (Alabama vs. Texas), played at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA

I feel a rant coming on.

If you want to know the scores, the winners, the losers, whether any of the coaches have been fired, whether any of the cheerleaders are available for dating, and other items of apparently vital importance to the viewing audience, you will have to look elsewhere. I have no intention of providing such information to you. The only reason I published the list again was so that you could be as boggled as I am at the thought of how college football has changed beyond recognition deteriorated progressed to its current state of bizarre sponsorships. We now have the AT&T Cotton Bowl, the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Brut Sun Bowl, and the FedEx Orange Bowl. The Peach Bowl has disappeared completely and in its place we have the Chick-fil-A Bowl. And just what exactly is an R+L Carrier and a Who is Roady? Don’t get me started.

When I was young (don’t you just hate it when old people start their sentences that way?) there were not many bowl games. Only the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, and the Cotton Bowl were televised. Later the Gator Bowl joined them, and the Fiesta Bowl, and the Sun Bowl. Newcomers like the Liberty Bowl, the Citrus Bowl, and the Peach Bowl came along. Somewhere along the way, things got out of hand and American college football went completely berserk. Now there are 34 bowls vying for your time, attention, viewing loyalty, and alumni dollars.

Where will it stop? No one can say.

I stopped caring a long time ago. Who participates in or wins the Bowl or the Meineke Car Care Bowl or the Chick-fil-A Bowl or the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl or even, God help us, the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl is of no consequence to me. None at all. They do not even register on my radar screen. But advertisers everywhere, take note: You need not care what I think. I am not part of the coveted demographic group of 18-to-49-year-olds, the designated target audience for your advertising budgets.

Speaking of Hubert Humphrey, he’s the one on the left in the photo below. Apparently having to spend a lot of time in the company of Lyndon Johnson could make even “The Happy Warrior” a bit glum.

Or perhaps there is another reason. Perhaps Hubert just learned that Slippery Rock lost to Fisk in the Mayo Clinic Blue Cross Blue Shield Bowl.

Rant ended. Seacrest out.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Remembrance of things past.

Last night, while Ryan Seacrest and the stroke-surviving Dick Clark hailed in the New Year by showing us the crowds in New York City’s Times Square, Mrs. RWP and I stayed at home dog-sitting, an activity wherein one does not sit on dogs but merely watches them for their owners (our unexpectedly-visiting-from-Florida son and daughter-in-law) whilst said owners party with their friends. We kissed (Mrs. RWP and I, not the dogs) at midnight, which kiss was promptly followed by both dogs barking furiously for long periods when fireworks went off in various places around the countryside.

Our best New Year’s Eve may have been in 1976 when our children were small and we woke them at 11:45 pm and let them march around the neighborhood in their pajamas, banging on pots and pans with wooden spoons. Great fun for them, but I had to buy the missus a whole new set of pots and pans afterwards as we had not foreseen that they would be rendered useless for cooking in the process (the pots and pans, not the children).

The dogs, in case anyone is interested, are Sharpie, a four-year-old black Lab male weighing upwards of sixty pounds, and Jethro, our own five-year-old cream-colored Havanese male weighing about eighteen pounds. A good time was had by all.

2010 Already?

A lot can happen in ten years.

Ten years ago, on January 1, 2000, there was no such thing as Nintendo DS, XBOX, Wii, iPhone, iPod, iTunes,...the list goes on and on. True, there was something called a Blackberry, but all it could be used for was to page someone.

On January 1, 2000, a university professor named Barack Obama was thinking about becoming a Congressman from Illinois. He ran for the U.S. House of Representatives later that year and lost.

The World Trade Center towers were the tallest buildings in New York City.

Susan Boyle was caring for her aged mother in a little town in Scotland.

Lady Gaga was thirteen years old.

The Jonas Brothers were still in utero. Not really, but almost.

Ten years ago, no one in America had ever heard of Simon Cowell.

Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Diana DeGarmo, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, David Archuleta, Kris Allen, and Adam Lambert were all just names in phone books.

Dr. Phil appeared occasionally as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

In Britain, Mrs. Camilla Parker-Bowles was sometimes referred to in print as “the Rottweiler.”

I suppose some things never change.

<b> Mundane is also a word</b>

My blogger friend Rachel Phillips is currently in the midst of a series of posts (three so far) about a trip she took with her friends Liz...