Sunday, October 28, 2012

Due to circumstances beyond your control... will experience delays in seeing your comments posted from now on. Until I decide otherwise, I will be moderating all comments. Those I like will be posted. Those I do not like will not be posted.

This week the moderation process may take even longer than usual because I will be working as a precinct clerk 12 hours a day in Georgia’s early voting process.

Yesterday the views of my blog reached an all-time high, 621. I do not want things to get out of hand. This ain’t the wild west, people.

Your comments are important to us.

The Management (that is, me)

[Editor's note, 28 October, 8 pm EDT. Get ready for a long, rambling sentence. According to Blogger, today I reached another all-time high in views, 1754, but Shooting Parrots tells me he can't leave more comments and that the one comment he did leave is awaiting moderation but that isn't true as I approved that comment, which is now visible, and Blogger tells me that no comments are awaiting moderation, so something may definitely be rotten in the state of Blogger, either in the number of views or the comments awaiting moderation department. I hope things will clear up by themselves because I don't have a clue as to what, if anything, I should or can do to rectify the situation. Some circumstances are beyond my control, too. --RWP]

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Speaking of John Charles Thomas... he is on Groucho Marx’s television program from sometime in the 1960s singing “The Golfer’s Lament” (3:33). Groucho joins him on the final chorus.

I am sorry, but I do not have a youtube video clip of Albert Hay Malotte singing anything.

But if John Charles Thomas can sing about golf, it follows as the night the day that Maria Callas can sing about pasta (2:16).

The ridiculous-sublime continuum, uh, continues.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You see one one-dimensional, autocratic tyrant, you’ve seen them all

1. “L’État, c’est moi.”
--attributed to Louis XIV (1638 - 1715)

2. “So across the board we are engaging them in building capacity in these countries and we have stood on the side of democracy. One thing I think Americans should be proud of: when Tunisians began to protest, this nation, me, my administration, stood with them earlier than just about any other country.”
--Barack Obama during the third Presidential Debate with Mitt Romney, 22 October 2012.

Moral: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

As a sort of parting gift to you to get you through my possible impending absence are Andrea Bocelli and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “The Lord’s Prayer” (4:25).

This particular piece of music was written by a man named Albert Hay Malotte (1895 - 1964), about whom I knew absolutely nothing until I read about him in that ever-changing fount of all knowledge, or not, Wikipedia.

Here is an excerpt:

“Malotte composed a number of film scores, including mostly uncredited music for animations from the Disney studios. Although two movies for which he composed scores won best Short Subject Academy Awards (Ferdinand the Bull in 1939 and The Ugly Duckling in 1940), he is best remembered for a setting of the Lord's Prayer. Written in 1935, it was recorded by the baritone John Charles Thomas, and remained highly popular for use as a solo in churches and at weddings in the US for some decades.”

My six degrees of separation, or two, or whatever, from both Albert Hay Malotte and John Charles Thomas is the fact that when I was a child living in a third-floor apartment in a house in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, around 1946 or 1947, I listened to that recording made by John Charles Thomas. It was one of two 78-rpm recordings that I played over and over on a huge wind-up, hand-cranked Victrola rather like this one:

The other recording I listened to over and over in those days was not sung by John Charles Thomas and it was not composed by Albert Hay Malotte. It was a country/western/hillbilly song called “I'm Goin’ Back to Whur I Come From” that included the immortal line, “whur the mockin’ bird is singin’ in the lilac bush” and here it is (2:51).

Parts of this post are ridiculous and parts of this post are sublime, and I’ll leave it to you to decide which are which.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Since the final debate between Messrs. Romney and Obama occurs this evening and time is of the essence....

...let’s cut to the chase.

Dr. Barbara Bellar, a candidate for the Illinois State Senate, District 18, said the following:

”So let me get this straight.

”We’re going to be gifted with a healthcare plan we are forced to purchase, and fined if we don’t, which purportedly covers at least ten million more people without adding a single new doctor, but provides for 16,000 new IRS* agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a Congress that didn’t read it but exempted themselves from it, and signed by a President who smokes, with funding administered by a Treasury Secretary who didn’t pay his taxes, for which we will be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect, by a government which has already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a Surgeon General who is obese, and financed by a country that’s broke.

”So what the blank could possibly go wrong?”

I did not make this up. Here’s a video to prove it.

* For my UK, Enzed, Aussie, Canadian et al friends, IRS means the Internal Revenue Service, the tax-collecting arm of the U.S. federal government.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Parkinson was right

I don’t know for certain, but I may not be posting much in the next week or two, or perhaps month or two.

It’s nothing against you, my loyal readers. It’s just that life’s responsibilities have gotten in the way of my incessant and constant need to post something on my blog.

And by “life’s responsibilities” I mean specifically both (a) the fact that between the early voting period and the actual election day I will spend seven long, full days and parts of a couple of others working for the county and (b) the fact that as the person solely responsible for music in our small church I need to plan and rehearse with people for the upcoming Advent and Christmas seasons.

Our church has not had a choir in several years. Even though it has a choir loft that can seat more than 20 singers, the current congregation as a whole is perhaps less interested in music than any group I have encountered before. Many (though not all) enjoy listening to it but few are interested in producing it. Since I arrived in the summer of 2010, we have managed to put together a small men’s ensemble and a small women’s ensemble -- it’s the ensembles that are small, not the men and women -- who have sung a couple of times during the year, although meeting for rehearsals has been like pulling teeth at times. The pastor wants both groups to sing again during December, so I need to find suitable pieces of music with the right degree of non-difficulty. There is also the children’s handbell choir to contend with be joyfully involved with once again. Some of last year’s participants have aged out into the youth department; other new children have come in who never played handbells before, and we have only a portion of the Sunday School hour in which to learn and rehearse over the next few weeks, as virtually no parent will commit to evening rehearsals during the school year. I do not want to antagonize the Sunday School teachers either. There will also be two Christmas Eve services, one at 5 p.m. and one at 11 p.m., that require music.

Did I tell you that my official title is “pianist”?

I don’t mean to whine, and it’s not that I’m overwhelmed with tasks exactly, but the responsibilities weigh heavily upon me.
I will have more than enough to do without trying to find additional time for blogging.

If you are not involved in local politics or music, you may not feel my pain. If you are involved in two or more important activities at once, you understand where I’m coming from.

As Parkinson’s Law states, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

You know what? Parkinson was right.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

We voted today which I mean, by the time you are reading this, if you read it on the same day I finally got around to posting it, yesterday. Is that clear?

The U.S. presidential election will be held on Tuesday, November 6th. Many states, however -- but certainly not all of them -- have instituted an “early voting” process. In Georgia it seems to be limited to the more populous counties.

Cherokee County’s early voting began on Monday. Our county has 44 precincts. From October 15th through October 26th -- except Saturdays or Sundays -- early voting is permitted at one location only, the County Board of Elections building in the town of Canton, which is the county seat. Beginning on Saturday, October 27th, and then again from Monday, October 27th, through Friday, November 2nd, four of the county libraries will be added as advance voting locations. Any registered voter who lives in Cherokee County can go to any one of the five locations to vote early. On election day itself (Tuesday, November 6th), when all 44 precincts will be staffed, voters must vote in the precinct in which they reside.

Monday night’s news was filled with shots of long lines waiting to vote early in various counties around metro Atlanta. And although more than 1,100 people voted on Monday in Cherokee County, we encountered no lines and no wait whatsoever when we showed up at the Board of Elections building Tuesday afternoon around 4:00 p.m.

We waltzed in and we waltzed out.

The whole thing, from start to finish, took less than ten minutes.

So there won’t be any standing in long lines on election day for me. Nosirree. Nosirree, Bob.

For me, there will be a lot of sitting at a table inside the precinct and helping people who have been standing in the long lines.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Se habla Español aqui

I saw a commercial on TV the other day about learning Spanish, French, or German online, free of charge. I immediately decided to take up Spanish and hied myself over to the site and allowed as how I would like to learn it posthaste.

So far, things seem to be going well. After only a few days, I'm already at level 6. I have no idea how many levels there are, though. Probably 157.

We Level 6 virtuosos can say many useful things in Spanish that are sure to come in handy every single day. Here are a few actual sentences I have learned:

1. Nosotros no tocamos la cebolla. (We do not touch the onion.)

2. ¿Oyes caballos? (Do you hear horses?)

3. Yo bebo vino blanco mientres como pollo. (I drink white wine while I eat chicken.)

4. Mi perro duerme sobre mi camisa. (My dog sleeps on top of my shirt.)

5. La niña bebes jugo de naranja. (The child drinks orange juice.)

Once I have mastered Spanish, I am definitely planning to learn German and take a refresher course in French.

After all, the price is right and I have a lot of time on my hands.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A pome for my readers

If Yorkshire Pudding can be a self-confessed poemoholic, I can at least give it the old college try:

A Blogger’s Lament
by rhymeswithplague (1941 - )

My posts are a-growin’,
But my comments are slowin’,
And soon there may be none at all.
I’ve an urge to keep writin’
But the fish are not bitin’;
I might as well talk to the wall.

My blog is a-waxin’,
My audience wanin’,
Just like that old moon up above.
I’ll still keep on sharin’
Though few seem a-carin’;
They have other people to love.

So I sit here a-pinin’
While my blog is declinin’,
Perhaps people think I have germs;
I don’t know what they’re thinkin’
But their thinkin’ is stinkin’;
I’ll go outside now and eat worms.

(End of pome)

I don’t know why, but those three extremely clever little stanzas (if I do say so myself), which just seemed to create themselves in about five minutes flat, have put me in mind of a song the members of our high school band used to sing while riding on the band bus to our school’s football games:

“Nobody likes me,
Everybody hates me,
I’m gonna eat some worms.
Long, slicky, slimy ones;
Short, fat, and grimy ones;
Itsy-bitsy, fuzzy-wuzzy worms.”

(End of song)

We also sang “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall” and “Helen had a steamboat” but they are obviously off-topic.

Really, where else are you going to read posts like these?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Today is the real Columbus Day opposed to the phony Columbus Day last Monday that was foisted upon us by our federal government during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration to ensure that government workers enjoyed a three-day weekend every year during October, one of their many three-day weekends each year, if I may be so bold as to point out the obvious to you.

Accordingly, I have decided to dig into my archives and re-publish an old post:

American History, rhymeswithplague-style

In the European version of things, the New World (that is, actual land in the Western Hemisphere as opposed to more ocean) was discovered by the Vikings or Leif Ericson or somebody more than a thousand years ago. This event was commemorated in the British comedy film, Carry On, Norse.

(Note.The native population of the New World, who pointed out that the European version of things is not always accurate, were considered irrelevant and a bit of a nuisance.)

Later, during the year that Michelangelo sculpted this and this for Lorenzo de’ Medici, Queen Isabella I of Castile sent out one Christoffa Corombo of Genoa, Italy, and his merry men in three ships called the Nina, the Piñata, and the Santa Gertrudis. Christoffa Corombo, whose name morphed into Christoforo Columbo in modern Italian and Christopher Columbus in English, was known as Cristóbal Colón in Spain. This is fortunate, because Cristóbal and Colón are the names of two places on the isthmus of Panama, where Spanish is the predominant language, and Panamanians might otherwise have thought Cristóbal was part of a gypsy fortune-teller’s act and Colón referred to the part of the body between the stomach and the anal sphincter.

It’s not every day a person gets to use the word isthmus, and I am honored to have been able to use it today.

Lorenzo de’ Medici died in Florence, but we aren’t going to go there.

Christoffa Christoforo Cristóbal Christopher Isabella’s new friend set out from Spain on August 3, 1492, and returned a few months later saying he had claimed the entire New World for Spain on October 12, 1492, just because he had landed on a small island in the Bahamas. He returned to Lisbon, Portugal, in March 1493, and made four voyages in all to the New World, causing thousands of schoolchildren over the ensuing centuries to have to recite this little poem from memory:

“In fourteen hundred ninety-three,
Columbus sailed the deep blue sea.
He had done the same thing too
In fourteen hundred ninety-two.
He liked to sail so he sailed some more
In fourteen hundred ninety-four.
Though hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers fourteen ninety-five,
He made more trips ’til Spain said ‘Nix’;
He died in the year fifteen naught-six.”

Or something like that.

Portugal was definitely not a happy camper and wanted Pope Alexander VI to divide the newly discovered lands between Spain and Portugal. He did so, although by whose authority is a little murky, along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands, leading King Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella’s husband and also her second cousin, to wonder aloud, “How much is a league, exactly?”

A century later the English navy defeated the Spanish armada, Portugal had faded into obscurity, and it became a moot point how much a league is exactly, because the English, the French, the Dutch, and the Swedish (and, for all I know, the Maltese, the Luxembourgers, the Lithuanians, and the inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides) began to explore the northern part of North America and claim it for themselves. Spain had everything else in the new hemisphere from Mexico south except Brazil, which belonged to Portugal, and that is why to this day Brazilians write San Paulo as São Paulo.

Eventually the French had Quebec, downtown Pittsburgh, the federal prison in Joliet, Illinois, and Louisiana, which at that time included Montana. The English threw the French out in 1763, however, at the end of the Seven Years’ War, which had begun, conveniently, in 1756. The French got to keep Louisiana for another forty years, which is why one of the first sentences everyone learns in French is “Quelle temp est-il?” and another one is “Laissez les bons temps roulez!” Then they sold it to Thomas Jefferson, who considered going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras one of his unalienable rights.

Not to be outdone, the American colonists threw England out in 1776 after Patrick Henry cried, “Give me the Statue of Liberty or give me death” but Lord Cornwallis didn’t surrender until 1783 at Yorktown, not to be confused with York (Pennsylvania), New York (New York), or Yorkshire (home of Leeds, York, Sheffield, Bradford, and Hull, which, despite what you may think, is not the name of a Wall Street law firm).

Shortly after that, everything became George W. Bush’s fault.

[Editor's note. “American History, rhymeswithplague-style” was originally published on August 23, 2010, which was not Columbus Day either. --RWP]

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It was Heraclitus, I think

...who said in the fifth century B.C., “The only permanent thing is change,” only he said it in Greek, of course, unless he didn’t say it at all, which is also a possibility. And if he didn’t say it at all, he said something very much like it: “No man steps in the same river twice” -- except it turns out he didn’t say that either. But “The only permanent thing is change” is a fair summation of what he is supposed to have said or not said, if you get my drift. So much for my exhaustive research.

I have been thinking of Heraclitus the last few mornings when I have taken Jethro out for his daily constitutionals around dawn. Dawn itself changes every day, being a little later each morning as our Earth moves around in its orbit, imperceptibly, and the direct rays of the sun at its zenith get a little farther south each day toward the Tropic of Capricorn because of the 23-and-a-half degree tilt of Earth’s axis. And when the direct rays of the sun at its zenith reach the Tropic of Capricorn, they will reverse themselves and start to move northward and dawn will become a little earlier each morning once again until the Earth is on the opposite side of its orbit and the direct rays of the sun at its zenith reach the Tropic of Cancer, when the whole 365-and-one-quarter-days cycle begins again.

I know too much astronomical trivia for my own good.

Anyway, as I was saying, I’ve been taking Jethro out around dawn and gazing up into the sky at a time when it isn’t night any more but it really isn’t day yet either. And do you know what I see?

Four lights.

The waning moon, the planet Venus, the dog star Sirius, and -- high overhead -- the planet Jupiter.

I know, to quote Carl Sagan, that there are “billions and billions” of stars out there, some of which, if I had ventured outdoors an hour earlier, I could have seen plainly. And even though they were all still there, I couldn’t see them at all. And had I waited another hour, even the four lights I did see would have been obscured in the light of old Sol.

You just know I’m going to make a Christian comment here.

Here goes:

In a universe where everything is changing constantly, where even rivers change in the length of time it takes to put your foot in, take it out, and put it in again, where one day Angelina Jolie is going to marry Brad Pitt and the next day she’s not, I’m so glad that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variation or shadow of turning (James 1:17).

Yes, I am.

(Image from

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We might as well go ahead and get it over with

I mean, if Yorkshire Pudding (not his real name) can write about Yorkshire puddings, I’ll see his Yorkshire pudding and raise him a haggis.

In a comment on my previous post about F.M. Moore wearing a kilt, a commenter brought up the subject of Scottish restaurants, which made me think of Scottish food, which made me think of haggis, which made me think, naturally, of poetry.

If you’re not familiar with haggis, you can read all about it here.

When you’re finished retching, we can proceed.

I’ll wait.

So, being Scottish and all, Robert Burns wrote a poem in 1787 called “Address To a Haggis” because he had already written poems to a mouse and to a louse and was trying to plumb the depths, as it were, for more material.

I am going to show you the poem, but first, as a public service,
I am going to list nigh onto 30 explanatory notes (Scotsmen say things like “nigh onto” all the time) because without them you will never understand Burns’s poem:

Explanatory Notes for the Non-Scottish
1. sonsie = jolly/cheerful
2. aboon = above
3. painch = paunch/stomach
4. thairm = intestine
5. hurdies = buttocks
6. dicht = wipe, here with the idea of sharpening
7. slicht = skill
8. reeking = steaming
9. deil = devil
10. swall’d = swollen
11. kytes = bellies
12. belyve = soon
13. bent like = tight as
14. auld Guidman = the man of the house
15. rive = tear, i.e. burst
16. olio = stew, from Spanish olla’/stew pot
17. staw = make sick
18. scunner = disgust
19. nieve = fist
20. nit = louse’s egg, i.e. tiny
21. wallie = mighty
22. nieve = fist
23. sned = cut off
24. thristle = thistle
25. skinkin ware = watery soup
26. jaups = slops about
27. luggies = two-“eared” (handled) continental bowls

And now, here is the poem:

Address To a Haggis
by Robert Burns (1759 - 1796)

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
“Bethankit” hums.

Is there that o’re his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect scunner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whistle;
An' legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thristle.

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

(End of poem)

You know something? It is my considered opinion that even with nigh onto 30 explanatory notes, you still will never understand Burns’s poem.

But I hope that Ian, a lad with a Scottish name who lives in Lancashire and shoots parrots in his spare time, has had his fill of things Scottish today.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I’ll be in Scotland afore ye

(Photo by John Sarver, 30 September 2012)

I wanted to show you this photo, even though it’s a bit blurry,
of my friend F.M. Moore, Jr. -- it was taken last Sunday evening when about 20 of us gathered at a restaurant to celebrate his 80th birthday. The restaurant was a very good Italian one. I find it quite amusing, however, that the birthday celebration of a man who for many years directed large church choirs was held in a place named Altobeli’s.

You probably noticed that my friend is not wearing what the well-dressed Atlantan usually wears -- a straw hat, faded denim overalls, no shirt, bare feet, and some hay between the teeth -- but is decked out instead in full Scottish regalia. The outfit is authentic. F.M. told us that he had wanted it from the minute he saw it in a store in Edinburgh, Scotland, several years ago. His daughter purchased it as a surprise for him, but he never wore it until last Sunday.

F.M. has been called only that -- F.M. -- his entire life. No one, not even his daughters, seemed to know his full name, and he never divulged it. Maybe no one ever asked. It is not unusual in the American South for a man to go by his initials only. I went to school with a D.K. and a J.W. and an L.W., and my daughter-in-law’s grandmother’s second husband was called H.O., just like the tracks in model railroading. But I digress. F.M. is one of the world’s great story tellers, and one day not too long ago when he was telling a story that involved his parents, he happened to mention that their names were Leona and Frank. Something clicked in my brain.

“F.M.,” I said, “is your name Francis Marion?”

He looked quite surprised and said that it was. He asked me how I knew that.

I really don’t know how I knew that, except that Frank is sometimes used as a nickname for Francis, F.M. is a Junior, and the only Francis M. I ever heard of in my entire life is the American Revolutionary War military leader, General Francis Marion of South Carolina, who practically invented guerilla warfare and is known as the Swamp Fox.

At the end of his birthday evening, F.M. divulged his name to the guests. So far, though, no one has dared called him the Swamp Fox.

So now I know two Francis Marions. One of them is crafty and one of them -- I refer you to the photograph -- is drafty.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Let's hear it for autumn and also for James Whitcomb Riley

My new cyberfriend LightExpectations blogged about autumn today. This post is for her, and it is also for Jeannelle of Iowa, but I don’t know whether she still reads my blog.

It is also for all you city people who never lived on a farm, and all you highly educated folks out there who probably think you’re better than everybody else but still could learn a thing or two.

The following poem by James Whitcomb Riley, which hearkens back to a simpler time and a more agrarian society, may be just what the doctor ordered:

When the Frost is on the Punkin
by James Whitcomb Riley (1849 - 1916)

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then the time a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here —
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock —
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries — kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below — the clover overhead! —
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don’t know how to tell it — but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin’ boardin', and they’d call around on me —
I’d want to ’commodate ’em — all the whole-indurin’ flock —
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

If I had to pick my favorite part of that poem besides the frost and the punkin and the fodder and the shock, it would have to be the rooster’s hallylooyer.

According to that Wikipedia article, Riley’s chief legacy was “his influence in fostering the creation of a midwestern cultural identity and his contributions to the Golden Age of Indiana Literature.” I don’t know about you but I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Indiana Literature, let alone a whole Golden Age of It. It seems we all can still learn a thing or two.

James Whitcomb Riley was not a great poet, but he is an interesting one. Back in the day, we had to read the poem above in school and also his “Little Orphant Annie” with the end of each stanza warning that the Gobble-uns’ll git you ef you don’t watch out!” -- I thought you might like it as Halloween approaches.

If you feel you just can’t get enough of James Whitcomb Riley, here is a link to 449 of his poems (he wrote more than a thousand, the majority in dialect) that should prove you wrong.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Electoral College for Dummies (2012 edition)

[Editor’s note. This post is almost identical to an earlier post of mine called Electoral College for Dummies that I sprung on an unsuspecting world created on November 3, 2008, except for one important difference. The little green map has been updated to reflect the current makeup of the electoral college, which has changed since the last presidential election because of the decennial re-apportionment (now there’s a mouthful) following the census of 2010. --RWP]

I am assuming here at the beginning of this post (always a bad idea) that you already know two things:

(1) That when you cast your vote one month from tomorrow (or earlier in some states) you will not be voting for the candidates whose names are on the ballot but for a slate of electors who will represent your state in something called the electoral college, and...

(2) That the number of electoral votes a state is entitled to cast in the electoral college is determined by adding together the number of its U.S. Senators (there are two from every state) and the number of its U.S. Representatives to Congress (one from each congressional district, the total number of which can change every ten years based on the state’s official population as reported in the most recent U.S. Census, which may not bear much resemblance to the state’s actual population).

I have to assume you already know these things because you cannot learn them from the article I am about to share with you. So, dear reader, if you are a real glutton for punishment and are wondering how in the heck that electoral college thing works, reproduced below is the complete text of an article at a website called, with its original paragraphing and spacing intact.

All righty, then, class, let’s begin:

Electoral College

The United States Electoral College is the official name of the group of Presidential Electors who are chosen every four years to cast the electoral vote and thereby elect the President and Vice President of the United States. It was established by Article Two, Section One of the United States Constitution, which provides for a quadrennial election of Presidential Electors in each state. The electoral process was modified in 1804 with the ratification of the 12th Amendment and again in 1961 with the ratification of the 23rd Amendment.

The Electoral College is administered at the national level by the National Archives and Records Administration via its Office of the Federal Register. The actual meetings of electors in each state are administered by state officials. The Presidential Electors meet in their respective state capitals in December, 41 days following the election, at which time they cast their electoral votes. Thus the “electoral college” never meets as one national body. They ballot for President, then ballot for vice president. Afterward, the Electors sign a document called the Certificate of Vote which sets forth the number of votes cast for these two offices and is signed by all Electors. Multiple copies of the Certificate of Vote are signed, in order to provide multiple originals in case one is lost. One copy is sent to president of the Senate (i.e. the sitting Vice President of the United States); the certificates are placed in two special mahogany boxes where they await a joint session of the new Congress where they are opened and counted. Candidates must receive a majority of the electoral vote to be declared the president-elect or vice-president-elect. If no candidate for President receives an absolute electoral majority 270 votes out of the 538 possible, then the new House of Representatives is required to go into session immediately to vote for President. (This would likely just occur when more than two candidates receive electoral votes, but could theoretically happen in a two-person contest, if each received exactly 269 electoral votes). In this case, the House of Representatives chooses from the three candidates who received the most electoral votes, but could not establish a majority of votes in the College. The House votes en-bloc by state for this purpose (that is, one vote per state, which is determined by the majority decision of the delegation from that state; if a state delegation is evenly split, a deadlock normally results, and that state is considered as abstaining). This vote would be repeated if necessary until one candidate receives the votes of more than half the state delegations -- at least 26 state votes, given the current number, 50, of states in the union. If no candidate for Vice President receives an absolute majority of electoral votes, then the United States Senate must do the same, with the top two vote getters for that office as candidates. The Senate votes in the normal manner in this case, not by States. It is unclear if the sitting Vice President would be entitled to cast his usual tie-breaking vote if the Senate should be evenly split on the matter. If the House of Representatives has not chosen a winner in time for the inauguration (noon on January 20), then the Constitution of the United States specifies that the new Vice President becomes Acting President until the House selects a President. If the winner of the Vice Presidential election is not known by then either, then under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the Speaker of the House of Representatives would become Acting President until the House selects a President or the Senate selects a Vice President. On the one hand, the Twelfth Amendment specifies that the Senate should choose the Vice President, and it does not admit of a time limit on the selection process. On the other hand, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment allows the President to nominate a Vice President if a vacancy should occur. As of 2006, the House of Representatives has elected the President on two occasions, in 1801 and in 1825. The Senate has chosen the Vice President once, in 1837.

[end of article]

There now, isn’t that simple?

Here’s a pretty map to look at until your head stops spinning:

I think the map will enlarge if you click on it.

There are two things the website neglected to tell us:

(1) Nowhere in the process does it say that the slates of electors in each state must vote for the candidate who received the most popular votes in their state on Election Day; each elector can actually do as he or she jolly well pleases.

(2) If those two special boxes aren’t mahogany, the whole election is null and void and has to be done over.

(Note to the gullible: Only one of the two preceding statements is true.)

Now that you are no longer a rank dummy on the subject, you may have thought of a question or two concerning the electoral college yourself, such as: What was the original process before the Constitution had any amendments? How did the the 12th amendment change the process? How did the 23rd amendment change the process? What about the District of Columbia? Why was there no Presidential Succession Act until 1947? Which two presidents were selected by the House of Representatives in 1801 and 1825? Which vice-president, and whose, was selected by the Senate in 1837? What does quadrennial mean?

As they used to say on Mission Impossible, your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to find out for yourself the answers to these questions.

Here are the original cast members of Mission Impossible. Instead of worrying about how well your candidate will do, try to name them all without help. Can you do it?

If your head is starting to spin again, put it between your legs for a couple of minutes, take two aspirin, and call me in the morning. Or you could try gazing at that map again.

[Update from 2008. It has now been exactly four weeks since the election and absolutely no one has bothered to try to identify the cast members of Mission Impossible. So, in the interest of spreading knowledge and truth everywhere, I will. In no particular order, they are Peter Graves, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Martin Landau, and Peter Lupus. There, now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Barbara Bain and Martin Landau were husband and wife, and Peter Graves was the brother of James Arness of Gunsmoke fame. Also, Warren Beatty is Shirley MacLaine’s brother, and for the really ancient among you, Ricardo Montalban married Loretta Young’s sister, and Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Wilkes to Leslie Howard’s Ashley in Gone With The Wind) was the sister of Joan Fontaine (Jane Eyre to Orson Welles’s Rochester in Jane Eyre). Not a single one of those fascinating tidbits of show-biz trivia has anything to do with either Mission Impossible or the workings of the Electoral College. --RWP, 12/2/2008]

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I don’t mean to sound maudlin, but...

...fifty-five years ago today, at around 7:45 a.m. Central Daylight Time on a Friday morning, my mother died in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 4, 1957. She was 47.

I was 16. I was at home alone getting ready to leave for school. I had been a Senior for about a month. My dad had left the house about 6:15 that morning to ride in a car pool to work at the General Dynamics aircraft factory, 34 miles away, with three other men from our community. Dad had worked there for ten years. I think the car pool stopped by St. Joseph’s on the way home from work Wednesday afternoon so that my dad could have a short visit with my mother.

I had not seen her since the preceding Sunday afternoon because she had wanted me to concentrate on my school work. We did not own a car and depended completely on others for transportation. There was no public transit between our rural community and downtown Fort Worth, which I think was about 14 miles away. Someone had taken my dad and me after church to the hospital for a visit. Mama had been there for about a month at that time, and her condition was worsening. When I was seven or eight years old, she learned that she had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy of her right breast and the removal of lymph nodes from her right side and armpit. In those days people said if you lived five years after cancer surgery, you were cured. After seven years had gone by, Mama’s abdomen began to swell and more cancer was discovered. The doctors at St. Joseph’s inserted an irradiated gold needle into her abdomen -- I’m unclear as to what was really going on, whether it involved cobalt or some other form of early radiation therapy -- but she was unable to tolerate it, so they stopped the treatment and said she had about a year of life left.

I was dressed and waiting for Mrs. Brockett, a teacher who lived on our lane, to come by and take me to the high school, which was two miles away. The telephone rang about 7:30; I picked it up and said, “Hello?”

A female voice said “Mr. Brague?” and since my dad had gone to work and I was the only Mr. Brague around I said “Yes.” The voice identified herself as someone from St. Joseph’s Hospital and said, “If you want to see your wife you need to get here soon because she’s not going to last very much longer.” I said, “I’m her teenaged son. You want to talk to my dad.” I gave her the telephone number where he could be reached at General Dynamics and hung up the phone.

Everything after that is a blur.

I didn’t go to school that day. I don’t remember that I talked to Mrs. Brockett but I must have. I sat there weeping and remember being especially devastated that I hadn’t seen my mother for five days and that she died alone. After an hour or so a couple of neighbor women came in and began sweeping the floors and dusting the furniture and washing the dishes. My dad came home about midday, I think, though I have no idea how he got there.

Mama had decided a few months earlier to have a closed-casket funeral service because she had lost so much weight from the disease and didn’t want people gawking at her. My father and I did not go to the funeral home or any wake on either Friday night or Saturday. Mama’s funeral was Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. at the Methodist Church in Mansfield. I do remember that Rev. Ernest Piott spoke and Mrs. Ruth Sprinkle Morris, Doug’s wife, sang “Lead, Kindly Light” and the Albert Hay Malotte version of “The Lord’s Prayer.” I don’t know who played the organ, probably white-haired Miss Cora Galloway, who had retired and whose place I had taken a couple of years earlier.
I know Mama is buried in the Emerald Hills Cemetery in the town of Kennedale, and I know I went there that Sunday afternoon, but I cannot remember going or being there.

Mrs. Sally Huffman, the lady I called my “other mother,” told me later that she had almost called me Thursday after school to see if I would like to go to the hospital that evening to visit Mama, but something came up and she didn’t make the call.

I still wish she had.

When I returned to school on Monday (because my dad insisted that life must go on and we mustn’t take excessive time grieving), people were talking about something called Sputnik that had happened on Friday. I had no idea what they were talking about.

If I have written of this before, please forgive me. There are some wounds that time does not heal.

by Emily Dickinson

My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

[Note to my readers. If you have left a comment on similar posts of mine in previous years, I am not expecting you to comment again. I just find that I need to remember this anniversary in a public way annually. Thanks for your patience with me. --RWP]

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The name Bob is orange

So says my blogging friend LightExpectaions, who is a synesthete, which means she has a condition called synesthesia. There are several types of synesthesia, and hers enables her to see the colors of letters and numbers. I know. I never heard of it either. But it is apparently real. I think this is not the same as those New-Agey types who claim to be able to read people’s auras. They are just plain weird, and LightExpectations has never struck me as weird. She told me a few posts back that the word “lothario” is blue, and who am I to argue?

I just wonder whether all people with LightExpectation’s type of synesthesia see letters and numbers and words the same way or if each person’s color palate is unique to that person. I mean, Joe Blow’s version might see “Bob” as green and “lothario” as purple, and Sally Pimienta’s version might see “Bob” as turquoise and “lothario” as chartreuse.

I know that Wikipedia is not a definitive reference source, but here’s its article on synesthesia if you want to learn more.

All of which made me think of this song, which was sung by Kitty Kallen back in 1962:

“My Coloring Book” (3:18)

I don’t know what color it is, but I found it quite poignant.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.

Shooting Parrots and I had a little exchange in the comments yesterday about how they do money in the UK. You know, tuppence, thruppence, ha’pennies and such. Shillings. Quid. Crowns and pounds and guineas. And all of it is beyond my grasp. It is quite incomprehensible to me.

But I came away from the conversation thinking of Walt Disney’s favorite song.

You know the one.

It’s from Mary Poppins (3:49).

Now, that I can understand.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Five years is a long time, children

It’s how long I’ve been blogging, as of three days ago.

1,827 days (including two extra for leap years 2008 and 2012).

43,848 hours.

2,630,880 minutes.

157,852,800 seconds.

And if you had been paying down our national debt of around $16 trillion at the rate of one dollar per second during that entire time, what would you have?

I’ll tell you what you would have. Children, you would have 101359.25461695959780250967990432 more five-year periods to go before our current national debt would be paid off, that’s what you would have.

But if you were rich, richer even than Mr. Romney, and had been able to pay $100 per second instead of that one measly dollar, you would have paid $15,785,280,000 during the past five years and only 1012.60254616959597802509667990432 more five-year periods to go before our current national debt will be paid off.

I just thought you’d like to know for budget-planning purposes.

But here’s the kicker. If every last one of the 311,000,000 Americans had paid down our national debt of $16 trillion at the rate of one dollar per second during the last five years, we would have raised $49,065,350,400,000,000 by now. That’s $49 quadrillion, children, way more than our national debt. Even more than Michelle Obama spends on clothes.

Isn’t it amazing what we can do when we all work together?

This whole exercise is predicated on each American having $157,766,400 with which to have been paying down the national debt during the last five years.

There’s a fly in every ointment.

[Editor’s note. These calculations do not appear to be correct if you are a resident of a British Commonwealth of Nations country, where what we call a billion you call a thousand million and what we call a trillion you call a billion, and so on. --RWP]

He ain't heavy, Father, he's my chicken

(Editor's note: The following meme is not original with me. It appeared for the umpteenth time today on Facebook so I decided to capt...