Saturday, January 28, 2012

One thing leads to another

On one of my favorite Christian blogs the other day, I was reading a three-post series by a woman others affectionately call Martha of Ireland in which, among other things, she quoted G. K. Chesterton, specifically from his 1908 book “Orthodoxy”:

[Editor’s note. My non-Christian readers may want to skip over this part, but I hope you don't. --RWP]

“This is the thrilling romance of orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable.

...It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom—that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

and then a reader (not me) replied:

“Not to be a modernist or snob or worse yet a dull heretic, but do you think orthodoxy has changed since the days of Chesterton, Martha? It doesn’t seem like a whirling adventure. Is it still?”

and Martha said:

“Yes, I think so. It hasn’t really changed; orthodoxy is viewed as the dull, safe, routine consensus of the majority, while the new thing and daring interpretation is seen as bold, lively and a jolt of adrenaline to the system.

But daring interpretations and new lights on old texts have a strange way of being the same old thing dressed up in new clothes, and the cutting-edge modernity of one decade becomes the stale, dated fashion relics of the next. Meanwhile, orthodoxy goes plodding on, swerving around the pothole on the left and the diversion on the right, all the time being sneered at or patted on the head as ‘simple faith for simple folks’ and swimming against the current of the age.”

[Editor’s note. Non-Christian readers who opted to skip may resume reading at this point. --RWP]

...all of which prompted me to stop and read Wikipedia’s article on G. K. Chesterton and while doing that I happened to read that Chesterton’s friend Edmund Bentley invented the clerihew, which diverted my attention to Wikipedia’s article on the clerihew, and that article included links to articles about both Balliol rhymes (about which nothing more will be said here) and double dactyls, which are one of my favorite forms of light verse.

I especially liked this double dactyl by John Hollander:

Higgledy piggledy,
Benjamin Harrison,
Twenty-third president
Was, and, as such,

Served between Clevelands and
Save for this trivial
Didn’t do much.

It made me think, naturally, of Newt Gingrich.

“Whoa!” I can hear you thinking, “Hold your horses just a minute! What does a clerihew about Benjamin Harrison have to do with Newt Gingrich?”

I’m glad you asked.

As we all know (or should), Benjamin Harrison, America’s 23rd president, was the grandson of America’s ninth president, the eminently forgettable William Henry Harrison, a Whig who was elected President in 1840 on the slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” (Tippecanoe was Harrison, who originally gained national fame for leading U.S. forces against American Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, and the “Tyler too” part of the equation was his vice-presidential running mate, John Tyler). Upon the untimely death of William Henry Harrison from pneumonia in April 1841, one month after his inauguration (it is believed that he caught the pneumonia at his inauguration), Tyler became America’s tenth president.

Well, as luck would have it, there was a story in the news this week that two of John Tyler’s grandsons are still alive. Yes! A hundred and seventy years later! Tyler, our most prolific president, was born in 1790 and fathered fifteen children, eight with his first wife, who had died, and seven more with his second wife, Julia Gardiner, thirty years his junior, whom he married during his Presidency. Their youngest, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, was born in 1853 when former President Tyler was 63 years old. Lyon Gardiner Tyler fathered six children of his own, two of them with his much younger second wife, Sue Ruffin, whom he married in 1923 when he was 70. Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. was born in 1925 and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928. These are the two presidential grandsons who are still with us today, aged 87 and 83, respectively.

If you didn’t get all that, here is a summary in pictorial form:

So anyway, these two gentlemen were interviewed this week by members of our ever-vigilant press. And this news article reveals that one of them thinks Newt Gingrich is “a big jerk” -- not, as it turns out, because of his political views, but because, as this other news article states, “He needs to stick with the same wife.”

It’s a little late for that. Newt has been married three times. His first wife was Jackie, his second wife was Maryanne, and his current (and, it is hoped by all and sundry, not the least being the surviving grandson of President Tyler, his last) wife is Calista.

How to end this post and tie it all up in a neat package? Hmmm. How’s this?

If Calista goes the way of her predecessors (I trust and pray that she won’t, especially since Newt left the Southern Baptists and joined the Roman Catholics), I’m pretty sure Newt’s number four wife will not be Martha of Ireland.

But you know how one thing leads to another.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I received an email yesterday purporting to be from a high school friend with whom I had made contact again about a year ago on Facebook. Let’s call him Tommy Hilfiger (not his real name, although there could be, I suppose, a person somewhere in the world actually named Tommy Hilfiger, but the chances are slim). For purposes of illustration, all email addresses in the following exchanges have been changed. The original email I received read as follows:

Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 9:03 AM
From: Tommy Hilfiger
Subject: My AwFul Trip Help...............Tommy Hilfiger
Size: 5 KB

I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, Sorry I did not inform you about my trip. I actually made a quick trip to London and unfortunately attacked and mugged at gun point on the way to my hotel,all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off me but luckily I still have my passport with me.

I’ve been to the embassy and the Police here but they’re not helping issues at all and my return flight leaves anytime from now but I`m having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let me leave until I settle the bills.

I need your urgent help am freaked out


My first reaction was, “Poor guy.” My almost immediate second reaction was, “The facts could even be real, but this could be from the thief/mugger himself in an attempt to rip off Tommy’s friends as well.” I wasn’t born yesterday. Far from it.

Right off the bat I knew I wasn’t going to send Tommy any money because, let’s face it, I don’t have any money to send.
I am not without compassion, however, and still believing it could be Tommy (although I had my doubts) I sent a reply just before I left home for the weekly staff meeting at church. It looked like this when I checked my Sent Mail folder later in the day:

Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 10:32 AM
Cc: Tommy Hilfiger
Subject: Re: My AwFul Trip Help...............Tommy Hilfiger
Size: 2 KB

I’m on my way out the door to a meeting, but here’s my advice:


Contact your Credit Card issuers immediately to have them cancel your accounts and send new cards to you there so you can pay your hotel bill. At least you have a place to stay until they arrive. Maybe the Embassy can assist you in doing this.


Rhymes W. Plague
(not my real name either, although there could be, I suppose, a person somewhere in the world actually named Rhymes W. Plague, but the chances, like my own svelte self, are slim)

When my meeting at the church was over, I called Mrs. RWP to tell her I was on my way home, and she said, “Your friend wants you to send him money. Don't sent him any money,” and I replied, “I don't intend to. It’s probably a scam attempt from some con artist. It’s not really from Tommy at all.”

When I arrived home, I read the second email from “Tommy”:

Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 10:59 AM
From: Tommy Hilfiger
Subject: Re: My AwFul Trip Help...............Tommy Hilfiger
Size: 10 KB

Glad you replied back, I have nothing left on me right now but am very lucky to have my life and passports with me, it would have been worst if the muggers had made away with my passports.

I think is a good idea to contact my credit card comepany but the hotel manager has made me understand that there credit card machine is faulty so all i need now is $1,520 USD, You can have it wired to my name via any Western Union Outlet around you..... I’ll have to show my passport as ID to pick it up here and i promise to pay you back as soon as I get back home hopefully today. Here is my info where you will wire the money to:

Name: Tommy Hilfiger
Location: 51 Whitehall London, SW1A 2BX
Country: United Kingdom

As soon as it has been done, kindly get back to me with the western union confirmation number... Let me know if you are heading to the Western Union outlet now.


Well, that was the end of our correspondence. I went back and examined the emails more closely, and I noticed something odd.

The original email said it came from Tommy Hilfiger at, but my reply was routed instead to a with a CC to Tommy Hilfiger at One vowel changed. Hmmmm. Very strange and very slick and likely to be overlooked by the casual reader.

I am not your casual reader.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


It’s not a dirty word.

Depending on whether you support the controlling majority party or the minority party in government, it can be either beautiful or ugly, though. And it is also one more thing: necessary.

As most Americans are aware, our government in the United States is composed of three branches -- the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. The President is head of the Executive branch. The Supreme Court Justices are top dogs in the Judicial branch. The Legislative branch, which makes our laws, consists of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

In the Senate, every state has two members, no more and no less. This puts all states on an equal footing in the Senate.

The number of members a state has in the House of Representatives, however, depends on that state’s population. Every ten years our country takes a national census. There have been 23 censuses censusi censusim such counts taken in the United States, the first one in 1790.

Over the years since our country’s founding, the size of the House of Representatives was first increased with each passing decade as the population grew. In the first Congress, in 1788, a total of 65 members represented the original 13 states, and with a population of 3,929,000 each member represented about 60,000 persons. By 1913, however, there were 435 members representing 48 states, and with a population of 92,228,000 each member represented on average about 212,000 persons. Then, after the 1920 census was taken, an increase to 483 members was proposed. Since the size of the House of Representatives was fast becoming unwieldy, someone yelled, “Whoa, Nellie!” (not literally) and the number was frozen at 435. It has stayed at 435 ever since.

But the population kept growing and shifting. Some states gained population and some states lost population. In 1959 two states, Alaska and Hawaii, were added, bringing the total to 50. In 2000, our twenty-second census showed that the U.S. population had reached 281,421,000 and each of the 435 elected members represented about 509,000 persons during the past decade. In the twenty-third census, which was completed in 2010, our population reached 308,745,000 and each of the 435 members will represent, on average, about 709,000 persons for the next ten years. Well, at least at the beginning of the period, as the population continues to grow.

By contrast, the United Kingdom had a population of 60,587,000 people in 2006 and each of the 650 elected members of Parliament represents about 93,000 people.

In the U.S., each of the 50 states must re-draw its Congressional district boundaries after every national census so that its people are more or less equally distributed across its districts.

Georgia, where I live, currently sends 13 representatives to Congress. Our districts currently look like this:

As soon as the latest reapportionment takes effect, Georgia will send 14 representatives to Congress and the districts will be redrawn to look like this:

Cherokee County (county seat: Canton) is currently a part of Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District of Georgia (the middle one of the three green areas to the right of the light blue area near the top of the first map), which is currently represented by Rep. Tom Price of Roswell, an orthopedic surgeon. We will become a part of Georgia’s Eleventh Congressional District of Georgia (the light blue area to the right of the red area on the second map), which is currently represented by Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta, an obstetrician.

Here is a nice chart you can click on in ever so many places to find out how the U.S. House of Representatives has changed during its history.

[Editor’s note.If you click on the link in the previous paragraph and poke around among the charts, be advised that the “Number of Representatives” figures for the various years are a bit misleading. I can’t make heads or tails of them. Sometimes they are the total number of representatives a state sends, and sometimes they are the number of additional representatives a state will be granted. So the maps are neither fish nor fowl, but some sort of strange combination of the two. If you can sort it all out, let me know. --RWP]

Monday, January 23, 2012

The joy of discovery

Every day I learn new things.

Today, for example, I have already learned:

* There is a science-fiction book called The Day of the Triffids that was written in 1951 by John Wyndham.

* John Wyndham is the pen name of one John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris.

* An oophorectomy is the operation of removing one or both ovaries.

...and it’s only 9:30 a.m.

Caveat emptor

According to a comment he left recently on one of my posts, back in 1958 when Putz and I were both in high school Science Clubs and he was a tennis star, his dad bought a 1958 Chevrolet Impala. [Editor’s note. Never try to make sense out of any of Putz’s comments. --RWP]

It was probably after seeing this:

Unlike Putz’s dad, my dad waited and bought a 1959 Chevrolet Impala, better in every respect than a 1958 Chevrolet Impala. Or so a certain portion of the automobile industry, specifically the Chevrolet Division of General Motors, would have had you believe.

Take the taillights, for instance. Take especially the taillights:

It was an example of planned obsolescence, a strategy that has worked successfully in the automobile industry for decades. Proof: When 1960 automobiles came along, nobody wanted 1959 models any more.

Now the tactic has been picked up by several other industries as well. Think cell phones (2G, 3G, 4G, probably OMG), computer operating systems (Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 98 (2nd edition), Windows 2000 Millenium edition, XP, Vista, System/7, and presumably on into the future ad infinitum), and toothpaste (Now with whiteners!, Now with advanced whitening agents!, Now scientifically formulated for tartar control!, Now helps sensitive gums!, Now keeps your breath minty fresh!, Now new and improved!, Now better than ever!).

In fact, think about almost any industry or technology or product and you will find planned obsolescence constantly being shoved down our throats.

Ah, the power of advertising!

And we, apparently, are a nation of sheep who are easily led around by the nose, eagerly taking the bait hook, line, and sinker. [Editor’s note. Talk about your mixed metaphors. --RWP]

Which all goes to prove only one thing: You pays your money, and you takes your chances.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Midday giggle

I’m reading a very interesting book about anti-gravity and I just haven’t been able to put it down.

Silverback 142, Rhymeswithplague 142

It isn’t a football score or a basketball score or, Heaven help us, a baseball score. It isn’t the number of blog followers.

Ian of Leeds/Sebring a.k.a Silverback, not to be confused with either the Ian who shoots parrots or the Ian who has Lord Pudding for a papa, posted the other day that he has had visitors from 142 countries, the most recent one having been Réunion. I commented that I had kept track of my little flags too and that my blog had received visitors from 141 countries, the most recent one having been Fiji.

Advantage, Silverback.

Now, happily, I can report that we are tied at 142. This week I had a first-time visitor from Cambodia.


What a perfect time to foist on show you a poem I wrote a long time ago with the unlikely title of “The Ogden Nash Travel Agency”:

The Ogden Nash Travel Agency
by Robert H. Brague

The next time you go to Cambodia,
Be sure that you see Angkor Wat;
The Khmer Rouge will all say hellodia,
But some other natives may not.
Avoid controversial discussion
In the capital city, Phnom Penh;
Prefer Chinese cooking to Russian --
You may want to go there agenh.

When sailing upon the Aegean,
Remark on the dullness of Crete.
To do otherwise is plebian;
’Twill help make your visit complete.
Don’t make the mistake in the Bosphorus
Of calling the place Dardanelles;
A slip here could mean total losphorus:
We’d be laughed at from here to Seychelles.

While backpacking through Micronesia,
You’ll have, we expect, a real ball!
The folk there go all out to plesia;
Some natives wear nothing atoll.
They’ll know that you’re not a wahine (“wah-heeny”)
If you don’t sport an all-over tan.
For modesty, take a bikini;
It’s called the American plan.

A weekend in Mesopotamia
Or one on the coast of Brazil?
Do both! Go on, splurge! We don’t blamia
For wanting to have a real thrill!
So float down the mighty Kaskaskia
Or tour Vladivostok by bus;
Just one little thing we would askia:
Please purchase your tickets from us.

This is now the third time I have included this particular poem on my blog but it is the first time it has included illustrative links. It also appeared once on Billy Ray Barnwell’s blog, but that is neither here nor there. Well, actually, it is there. The most notable customers ever to avail themselves of the services provided by the Ogden Nash Travel Agency are none other than our old friends Lord and Lady Pudding, who are currently touring in the Pacific.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

These grapes are sweet ones

So Lord Pudding of Pudding Towers, Sheffield, Yorkshire, United Kingdom, finally met Katherine de Chevalle of Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, in the flesh. Face to face. They sat down over roast kiwi (I don’t think so) and green tomato chutney, some of which he left on her tablecloth.

Other than that one unfortunate detail, the encounter was reported by both parties to have been a smashing success. He likened the meeting to Dr. David Livingstone meeting Henry Stanley, or Paul McCartney meeting John Lennon. She called it a pleasant lunch and a super couple of hours and allowed as how she was quite sorry to see them (Lord and Lady P.) go.

I am not jealous. I am not jealous. I am not jealous.

What helps make my jealousy easier to bear is the fact that Mrs. RWP and I are the recipients of a lovely painting of grapes by the aforementioned Ms. de Chevalle, who was kind enough to award them to me at the end of a competition on her blog celebrating her having had 20,000 visitors.

One minute they were in New Zealand and the next minute (actual elapsed time courtesy of the postal service: about three weeks) they were in my house. We had them framed:

...and they now share a breakfast room corner with this ceramic plaque...

...which Mrs. RWP won as an infant when her great-uncle entered her name in a church raffle as Baby [Surname] before he even knew what name she had been given.

Our breakfast room corner...

...will soon gain another resident, a counted cross-stitch of a basket of fruit that Mrs. RWP completed in 2008 but which we also only recently had framed:

...and now you know the rest of the story.

I want to mark this auspicious occasion by wishing General Robert E. Lee of Virginia a very happy 205th birthday today.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mystery woman

A fellow I knew back in high school, Fred Stone, contacted me a few months ago after one of his nieces happened to run across my blog. Since then, Fred and I have exchanged many e-mails renewing old acquaintance and catching up on happenings of the last fifty-mppfh years. He was one year behind me in school and in those days we attended the same church youth group.

This week he sent me this photo from 1958 of our high school’s science club (click on the photo to make it larger):

Between us, we can name every person but one in the photograph. Standing, from left to right, are Wayne Riley, Marshall Tyson, moi, Mr. Steelman (the science teacher), Bruce Hornell, and John Paul Norvell. Seated, from right to left (just to be different), are Richard Stone, Mary Elizabeth North, Fred (no relation to Richard), Glenda Geyer, and someone neither Fred nor I can identify.

Unless someone can tell us her name, she must forever remain The Mystery Woman.

His guess was Mitzi Gaynor.

That Fred is such a card.

This is my 900th post.

Update, August 13, 2013: Stop the presses! From a year and a half into the future (from this post’s perspective), Fred Stone just informed me that our Mystery Woman is no longer a mystery! Someone has identified her as Betty Jean Shetter, a name I actually remember from high school. I don’t know why neither of us recognized her. All’s well that ends well, though. And I have now written 1,235 posts. --RWP

Monday, January 16, 2012

The content of her character

I’m old enough to remember Mahalia Jackson (1911 - 1972).

She didn’t really know how to sing, but boy, could she sing.
She wasn’t trained, but her voice was powerful. She took breaths in funny places. I once heard her sing “My country (breath) ’tih (breath) zov thee (breath) sweet land (breath) of lih (breath) bar tee (breath) of thee I (breath) sing.”

Southern gospel was what she was known for, songs like “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” and “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” and Thomas A. Dorsey’s “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” to name a few. Here’s your trivia fact for the day: Della Reese, at the age of 13, became a backup singer in Mahalia Jackson’s gospel group.

Mostly what got me every time I heard Mahalia Jackson sing, the thing that reached out and grabbed my attention, was her smile and her sparkling eyes. Love just seemed to ooze from her in all directions.

Eventually mainstream America became aware of her, and she became a “phenomenon” of sorts, appearing on such network television shows as Sesame Street, What’s My Line, The Flip Wilson Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Hollywood Palace.

I choose on this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday to post about a woman who had a great effect on Dr. King and undoubtedly helped shape him into the force for good that he became.

Here is Mahalia Jackson singing “Without A Song” (6:21) in Berlin in 1967.

Don’t critique her voice. Watch her face.

If you need a little help understanding the lyrics, here they are:

Without a song the day would never end
Without a song the road would never bend
When things go wrong, a man ain’t got a friend
Without a song

That field of corn would never see a plow
That field of corn would be deserted now
A man is born but he’s no good no-how
Without a song

I got my troubles and woe but sure as I know that Jordan will roll
I’ll get along as long as a song is strong in my soul

I’ll never know what makes the rain to fall
I’ll never know what makes the grass so tall
I only know there ain’t no love at all
Without a song.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Games people play

“You can while away the hours conferrin’ with the flowers, consultin’ with the rain.”

So sang our old friend Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

Of course, he didn’t have a brain.

When I run out of constructive things to do online, I while away the hours playing a game called Bookworm.

What a perfect segue from my last post!

Try it. You might like it. But I warn you:

It’s addicting.
It’s frustrating.
It’s downright infuriating.
It’s all of the above.

It can even be fun, especially when you find you have reached Grand Archivist level and are no longer a lowly Encyclopedia Salesman.

Mrs. RWP, on the other hand, goes for Spider Solitaire and Mahjongg.

Offline, we like Mexican Train Dominoes and Skip-Bo and Phase 10.

What games do you like to play, and why do you like them?

I remind you again that this is a family-friendly blog, so keep your answers G-rated.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I don’t know whether you noticed, but...

Ever since November, I have been trying to publish a post every single day. I have not always succeeded, and there are some gaps, but I figured if I couldn’t impress you with my talent I would overwhelm you with my sheer verbosity.

The experiment is now at an end.

It is too much for a man of my age and limited brain capacity
to attempt such a feat. I hereby resolve to leave demonstrations of electronic strength and prowess to the younger, hipper crowd.

Besides, Mrs. RWP wants to use the computer.

We are a one-computer family.

We have entered the 21st century, but just barely. We do not text. We do not have an iPad or an iPhone, and we do not listen to iTunes. We do not own anything containing the words Bluetooth or Tivo. We have satellite TV, but we don’t subscribe to any any of the premium channels. We have a page on Facebook, but we don’t Twitter or Tweet or whatever it is the young folks do (I have a feeling they’re doing a lot more than Twittering and Tweeting, but that’s just me).

What I really like to do is curl up with a good book.

Not a Kindle or that other thing. A book.

You remember books. Here’s one printed in 1455:

(Photo by Kevin Eng, 28 May 2009, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)

According to Wikipedia, “The Gutenberg Bible (also known as the 42-line Bible, the Mazarin Bible or the B42) was the first major book printed with movable type in the west and the first major book produced on a printing press anywhere in the world. It marked the start of the Gutenberg Revolution and the age of the printed book in the west. Widely praised for its high aesthetic and artistic qualities, the book has an iconic status. It is an edition of the Vulgate, printed by Johannes Gutenberg, in Mainz, Germany, in the 1450s. Forty-eight copies, or substantial portions of copies, survive, and they are considered by many sources to be the most valuable books in the world.” The copy above has resided in the New York Public Library since 1847.

Compared to the Gutenberg Bible, all subsequently-printed publications are, to use a word Madonna Louise Ciccone used yesterday to describe Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, reductive.

Speaking of reductive, neither one of them will ever hold a candle to Norma Jean Baker (4:49).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Something is rotten in the state of Vrindavan

In yesterday’s tour through things South Asian, we learned that Rasa Lila, The Dance of Divine Love, takes place one night when the gopis of Vrindavan, upon hearing the sound of Krishna’s flute, sneak away from their households and families to the forest to dance with Krishna throughout the night, which Krishna supernaturally stretches to the length of one Night of Brahma, a Hindu unit of time lasting approximately 4.32 billion years.

I believe this calls for what aficionados of theater and film call suspension of disbelief.

I googled “gopis” and learned that gopi is Sanskrit for “cowherd-girl” and that there are 108 gopis in all. Here is a painting called Krishna Balaram With Gopies in Vrindavan:

This is where my suspension of disbelief began to crumble.

I mean, how many cowherd-girls have enough disposable income to deck themselves out in the manner of the five elegantly dressed, perfectly coifed, bejeweled females in that painting?

None, that’s how many. None.

And if you look closely, all five cowherd-girls look exactly alike. How often does that happen?

Extra points will be awarded if you can name all of the Dionne quintuplets without looking.

I mean no disrespect, but I think the Dionne quintuplets (Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie) look more like cowherd-girls than the cowherd-girls.

I think our little foray into the beliefs of South Asia must come to an end without our having determined whether one Night of Brahma, a Hindu unit of time, actually lasts approximately 4.32 billion years. If you want to explore Hindu units of time further, though, this might be a good place to get your feet wet.

Only after you have committed to memory all of the information about Hindu measurements of time should you attempt to learn anything more about Hinduism. Otherwise, your head will probably explode.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

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

January 11th. Wednesday. The middle of the week blahs. An ordinary day.

If you think there’s nothing about which to post, you have another think coming.

Here is a list of events that happened, people who were born, and people who died on January 11th. There are enough links in there to keep you in posts for years and years.

For example, Muhammed led an army of 10,000 to conquer Mecca in 630. Theodora was crowned Empress of the Byzantine Empire in 1055. Vladislav II became King of Bohemia in 1158. The first recorded lottery in England occurred in 1569. Mt. Etna erupted in Sicily, Italy, in 1693. Ching-Thang Khomba was crowned King of Manipur in 1779. William Herschel discovered Titania and Oberon, two moons of Uranus, in 1787. Alabama seceded from the United States in 1861. The Anglo-Zulu War began in 1879. Romania annexed Transylvania in 1919. Insulin was first used to treat diabetes in a human patient in 1922. Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California in 1935. Japan declared war on the Netherlands and invaded the Netherlands East Indies in 1942 and also captured Kuala Lumpur. Enver Hoxha declared the People’s Republic of Albania with himself as president in 1946. East Pakistan renamed itself Bangladesh in 1972. Alexander Hamilton and Pierre Mendès France were born (not in the same year). Francis Scott Key and Thomas Hardy died (ditto). In 2010, Miep Gies, the woman who discovered Anne Frank’s diary, died.

Lots of raw material from which to choose.

I have decided to declare January 11th as “Do It Yourself” Day in Blogworld.

Have at it.

[Editor’s note. I happened to fixate on Ching-Thang-Khomba, who was crowned King of Manipur in 1779. Clicking on Ching-Thang-Khomba revealed that his full name was Ningthou Ching-Thang Khomba and that he also was known as Rajarshi Bhagya Chandra, Jai Singh Maharaja and that he lived from 1748 until 1799 and that he was the inventor of the Ras Lila dance, which I had never heard of. So I clicked on Ras Lila Dance and learned that rasa lila, The Dance of Divine Love, takes place one night when the gopis of Vrindavan, upon hearing the sound of Krishna’s flute, sneak away from their households and families to the forest to dance with Krishna throughout the night, which Krishna supernaturally stretches to the length of one Night of Brahma, a Hindu unit of time lasting approximately 4.32 billion years. In the Krishna Bhakti traditions, the rasa-lila is considered to be one of the highest and most esoteric of Krishna’s pastimes. In these traditions, romantic love between human beings in the material world is seen as merely a diminished, illusionary reflection of the soul’s original, ecstatic spiritual love for Krishna, God, in the spiritual world.

See what I mean?

And if you click on the gopis of Vrindivan, there’s just no telling what you may end up discovering. -- RWP]

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

If a certain person manages to keep the old ticker going for 28 more days...

...she will have been the Queen of England for 60 years.

Let’s hear it for Her Majesty!

And if she doesn't, this fellow will take her place:

Note that he appears to be listing a bit to starboard at the prospect.

And if for any reason he is unable to complete his reign, the first runner-up will be named Miss America King of all England, and a few other places besides.

The first runner-up is:

(Photo by Robert Payne, 12 June 2010, used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Prince William!

He appears to be a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic: Palmolive - it’s neither palm nor olive. Discuss. [Editor's note. This paragraph was brought to you courtesy of Linda Richman, a character of actor Mike Myers on the Saturday Night Live television show. --RWP]

Or maybe Prince William is tight-lipped at being asked to ride in the same carriage as the Duchess of Cornwall. One never knows, does one?

But it’s good to know that the succession process is all taken care of, isn’t it?

In the meantime, on this side of the pond, we wish Her Majesty a long, long life (even longer than it has been already) and congratulate her on tying the 60-year reign of George III (1760 - 1820), although she is still four years short of the 64-year reign of Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901) and twelve years short of the 72-year reign of King Louis XIV of France (1643 - 1715).

Here she is on her coronation day in 1953, with Prince Philip:

This post should make up for my recent U.S.-centric post about 2011 in review. I’m, well, you know.

[Editor’s note. For a recent photo of Her Majesty, go to yesterday’s post (January 9th) and click on the links in the formula for the pascal until you find her. --RWP]

Monday, January 9, 2012

A post for both halves of your brain to start the week off right


It’s not a foreign word. It isn’t even a word at all, so don’t try to pronounce it. (How many of you remember the time on Sesame Street when Big Bird saw ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ and sang “Ab-keddef-gajihkel-monop-quristuv-wixyz, it’s the most remarkable word I’ve ever seen, Ab-keddef-gajihkel-monop-quristuv-wixyz, I wish I knew exactly what I mean”?)

Singers everywhere will recognize the conglomeration of consonants BDFLMNPTV-V-V as a vocal exercise sung on the following musical syllables:


The accompanist then modulates a half-step upward, and the singers commence their BDFLMNPTV-V-Ving again in the new key, and so on and so forth, until only first sopranos who can hit the high notes without busting a gut are left. I’m kidding, but only slightly. Most choir directors seem to be either sopranos or tenors who refuse to accept the vocal limitations of altos and basses. Altos and basses do not become choir directors.

Of course, there is the ever-popular old standby “Mee-May-Mah-Mo-Mu” and its many variations (“Nee-Nay-Nah-No-Nu” and “Bee-Bay-Bah-Bo-Bu” and, well, you get the idea) using the pentatonic scale.

If you don’t know what the pentatonic scale is, go to the back of the line.

Another popular warmup vocal exercise for singers hereabouts is “Who washed Washington’s white woolen underwear when Washington's washer woman went west?” in which all the words except one are sung on the same tone. The penultimate word is sung a half-step lower than the others. Repeat in the next higher key, following modulation by the accompanist. Again. Again. About thirteen times in all.

If you don’t know what penultimate means, go to somewhere near the back of the line.

Last of all, you mustn’t forget to limber up your body, sort of like this, with less bouncing.

We would begin practicing the anthem for Sunday now, but the rehearsal time has expired.

If you are more interested in math and physics than music, you can use the following formula to determine the frequency of a tuning fork (the frequency of a tuning fork depends on its dimensions and the material from which it is made):


f is the frequency the fork vibrates at in Hertz,
1.875 is the smallest positive solution of cos(x)cosh(x) = -1,
l is the length of the prongs in meters,
E is the Young’s modulus of the material the fork is made from in pascals,
I is the second moment of area of the cross-section in meters to the fourth power,
ρ is the density of the material the fork is made from in kilograms per cubic meter, and
A is the cross-sectional area of the prongs (tines) in square meters.

If you don’t know what Young’s modulus and pascals are, or that cross-sections even have moments, go to somewhere near the back of the line.

For those who simply must know, Young’s modulus, also known as the tensile modulus, is a measure of the stiffness of an elastic material and is a quantity used to characterize materials. It is defined as the ratio of the uniaxial stress over the uniaxial strain in the range of stress in which Hooke’s Law holds.

For your own good, I would discourage you from thinking too much about either the length of the prongs in meters or the cross-sectional area of the prongs in square meters, especially in connection with the stiffness of an elastic material.

And the pascal? Well, the pascal (symbol: Pa) is the SI derived unit of pressure, internal pressure, stress, Young’s modulus and tensile strength, named after the French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and philosopher Blaise Pascal. It is a measure of force per unit area, defined as one newton per square meter. In everyday life, the pascal is perhaps best known from meteorological barometric pressure reports, where it occurs in the form of hectopascals (1 hPa ≡ 100 Pa) or kilopascals (1 kPa ≡ 1000 Pa). In other contexts, the kilopascal is commonly used, for example on bicycle tire labels. One hectopascal corresponds to about 0.1% of atmospheric pressure slightly above sea level; one kilopascal is about 1% of atmospheric pressure. One hectopascal is equivalent to one millibar; one standard atmosphere is exactly equal to 101.325 kPa or 1013.25 hPa or 101325 Pa. The correspondent Imperial unit is pounds per square inch (psi).

The pascal can be expressed using SI derived units, or alternatively solely SI base units, as:

where N is the newton, m is the meter, kg is the kilogram, and s is the second.

Happy now? I do hope both sides of your brain have had a good workout.

Now go take on the world.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

From the archives (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):

[Editor’s note. Only one change is needed to make this post current: in the final sentence, change 75 to 77. I feel old. --RWP]

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Don’t look back or you might turn into a pillar of salt

Now that we are an entire week -- yes, kiddies, seven whole days -- into this, the happiest of all possible happy new years, I want to introduce you to Dave Barry’s Year In Review: The 2011 Festival of Sleaze so that you can laugh as hard as I did.

So there’s the link up there in the previous paragraph. I’m a man of my word.

The article is five pages long but unfortunately you will not be able to see pages three, four, and five unless you BECOME A SUBSCRIBER, FOR FREE, of the website of The Washington Post. Dave’s article is so hilarious that I recommend that you take the time to do just that (you will be given an opportunity after you finish reading the first two pages) so that you can read what Dave Barry wrote about the entire year 2011 and not just the first couple of months. When you apply, you can lie about your birth date if you like. No one cares.

We do what we can for your reading enjoyment, but there are some things you must do for yourself.

Here is Today’s Question From the field of science and industry:

Would Katherine Graham have thought this was any way to run
a railroad?

One of these is a photo of Katherine Graham and one is not.

Friday, January 6, 2012

What’s Nhu, er, New?

My blog now has 91 followers, for which and for whom I am grateful.

I’m a bit confused, however.

The latest addition, Suamayphotocopy, doesn’t appear to be a person at all but a list of all the photocopiers known to humankind. In Vietnamese, yet.

And, even more disturbing, the name of the blog, when you get there, is not suamayphotocopy at all. No, my friends, it is suachuamayphotocopy, which borders on the downright deceptive, I’d say.

I appreciate each and every one of my followers, even those of you who are pretending to be a list of photocopiers. As the lyrics of an old hymn go, “Farther along, we’ll know all about it. Farther along, we’ll understand why. Cheer up, my brother [Editor's note. Or sister. --RWP], live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it all by and by.”

I just wish I could read Vietnamese.

In case my quirky sense of humor doesn’t cross the Pacific well, I hasten to add that I am just teasing with this post. I am not upset at you, suamay or suachuamay or whoever you are. You can have any kind of site you like, even one that is a list of photocopiers with Vietnamese notes.

Wait, it’s the site that has Vietnamese notes, not the photocopiers. Isn’t that right?

I hope so.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

As Epiphany approaches

...let us listen to Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Staade sing, in Italian and Latin, the beautiful “Gesù Bambino” by Pietro Yon.

Miss von Staade was heard to say afterward, “Che manicotti grandi avete, nonna!”

And Miss Battle replied, “Il migliore con quale spingerli verso il fondo della scena, il mio caro!”

Here is the English translation:

Miss von Staade: “What big sleeves you have, Grandma!”

Miss Battle: “The better to upstage you with, my dear!”

Here are Pietro Yon’s original Italian lyrics:

Nell’umile capanna
nel freddo e povertá
é nato il Santo pargolo
che il mondo adorerá

Osanna, osanna cantano
con giubilante cor
i tuoi pastori ed angeli
o re di luce e amor

venite adoremus
venite adoremus
venite adoremus

O bel bambin non piangere
non piangere, Redentor!
la mamma tua cullandoti
ti bacia, O Salvator

Osanna, osanna cantano
con giubilante cor
i tuoi pastori ed angeli
o re di luce e amor

venite adoremus
venite adoremus
venite adoremus

Ah! venite adoremus
Ah! adoremus Dominum
venite, venite
venite adoremus

Here are English lyrics by Frederick H. Martens (they are not a literal translation of the Italian):

When blossoms flowered ’mid the snows
Upon a winter night
Was born the Child, the Christmas Rose
The King of Love and Light.

The angels sang, the shepherds sang
The grateful earth rejoiced
And at His blessed birth the stars
Their exultation voiced.

O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

Again the heart with rapture glows
To greet the holy night
That gave the world its Christmas Rose
Its King of Love and Light.

Let ev’ry voice acclaim His name
The grateful chorus swell
From paradise to earth He came
That we with Him might dwell.

O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

Here is a literal translation of the Italian:

In a humble hut
In the cold and poverty
Was born the Holy baby
That the world adores

"Hosanna, Hosanna" sing
With jubilant heart
The shepherds and angels
Of the king of light and love

O come let us adore
O come let us adore
O come let us adore
The Lord.

O beautiful baby, do not cry
Do not cry, Redeemer!
Your mother is rocking
Kisses to you, O Saviour

"Hosanna, Hosanna" sing
With jubilant heart
The shepherds and angels
Of the king of light and love

O come let us adore
O come let us adore
O come let us adore
The Lord

Let’s hear it for poetic license.

Editor’s note. I am absolutely stoked (as the young folks say) to learn that the Italian word for sleeves is manicotti. Perhaps pasta e fagioli means cummerbund.--RWP

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Who is this man?

It’s not Jesus. It’s not Zeus. It’s not even Buffalo Bill Cody on his baptismal day.

Give up?

Why, it’s none other than Rabindrath Tagore (1861 – 1941), the Bengali polymath who reshaped his region's literature and music. A Pirali Brahmin from Kolkata (Calcutta), he was the author of Gitanjali and became the first non-European Nobel laureate by earning the 1913 Prize in Literature. Also, as we learned in yesterday’s post, he was the first person to apply the honorific Mahatma (“Great Soul” in Sanskrit) to Mohandas K. Ghandhi.

According to Wikipedia, “In translation his poetry was viewed as spiritual and mercurial; his seemingly mesmeric personality, flowing hair, and other-worldly dress earned him a prophet-like reputation in the West. His elegant prose and magical poetry remain largely unknown outside Bengal.”

And “As an exponent of the Bengal Renaissance he advanced a vast canon that comprised paintings, sketches and doodles, hundreds of texts, and some two thousand songs; his legacy endures also in the institution he founded, Visva-Bharati University.”

And “He composed two national anthems: the Republic of India’s Jana Gana Mana and Bangladesh’s Amar Shonar Bangla.”

You can read all about him (there’s lots more) here.

Here is Jana Gana Mana (4:21) and here is Amar Shonar Bangla (4:22).

Blogging is so broadening.

I tried very hard to find Roseanne Roseannadanna and her uncle, Rabbi Hosanna Roseannadanna, singing Jana Gana Mana but, alas, such a video was nowhere to be found on YouTube.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Seven Blunders of the World

Here we are with brand-new baby 2012 on our hands, as well as all the problems and joys that a new baby brings. (For example, today is the day the Republicans in Iowa are holding their caucuses.)

I thought it would be good for us to start teaching baby 2012 now the things that will make it a very good year when it is all grown up. I thought we might start with Gandhi’s Seven Blunders of the World.

Yes, Gandhi. That Gandhi.

I like to think I’m a fairly observant and well-read person, but every day, even at the age of 70, I am still learning new things. I didn’t know beans about The Seven Blunders of the World before I happened across them today. I didn’t know Gandhi was the person who wrote them down. I didn’t even know that Gandhi’s first name was not Mahatma.

That’s right. Mahatma turns out to be an honorific meaning “Great Soul” in Sanskrit, and it was first applied to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi by Rabindranath Tagore. So says Wikipedia. In India, Gandhi is also called Bapu (“father” in Gujarati) and officially honored as the Father of the Nation.

(Mohandas K. Gandhi, 1869 - 1948)

But enough about Mohandas. You can read more about him on your own if you like. We were teaching baby 2012 about The Seven Blunders of the World, remember?

The Seven Blunders of the World is a list that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi gave to his grandson Arun Gandhi, written on a piece of paper, on their final day together, shortly before his assassination. The seven blunders are:

Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Worship without sacrifice.
Politics without principle.

To this list, Arun Gandhi added an eighth blunder, rights without responsibilities.

I think that list is enough to start baby 2012 off in the right direction. It should certainly give the rest of us pause, and much food for thought.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas: It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

...and you wanna know something? It ain’t over. Not until January 6th, when it’s Epiphany.

Here is the funniest, saddest, most poignant, most hilarious radio skit I have ever run across. It’s “Family Christmas,” complete with scripted sound effects, from Garrison Keillor (one of America’s treasures) and friends on A Prairie Home Companion.

Unless this one is.

I just can’t decide.

<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...