Wednesday, November 29, 2017

So when is Hanukkah, er, Chanukah, anyway?

November is almost over. December hasn't yet begun. Thanksgiving is history and Christmas hasn't yet arrived. But not to worry. There are other days to observe or ignore, as the case may be. For example, yesterday (November 28th) was Albanian Flag Day, commemorating the Albanian Declaration of Independence on 28 November 1912 and the rise of the Albanian flag in Vlora, coinciding with the day in which Scanderbeg raised the same flag in Kruje, on 28 November 1443.

It was also the 91st anniversary of the wedding of my wife's parents, Ksanthipi Rista and Dhimitri Kuçi, may they rest in peace, who were married on November 28, 1926, in Fier, Albania.

Moving right along, in December there is St. Nicholas Day. St. Lucia's Day. Kwanzaa. Ōmisoka. Eid in some years but not others.

And don't forget Hanukkah, or Chanukah, if you prefer. The trick with this one is not saying "Happy Hanukkah" or "Chappy Chanukah" too early or too late. A moveable feast, Hanukkah/Chanukah begins every year at sundown on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev and lasts for eight days. Since the Hebrew calendar sometimes has 12 months and sometimes has 13 months, it is also a moveable feast all by itself.

According to our old friend Wikipedia, the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning that months are based on lunar months, but years are based on solar years. ... In leap years (such as 5774) an additional month, Adar I (30 days) is added after Shevat, and the regular Adar is referred to as "Adar II."

Okay. A word of explanation. We all know that the earth's yearly trip around the sun takes approximately 365.25 days and every fourth year (.25 times 4) we add in one extra day and call it a leap year. Fewer of us know that the moon's monthly trip around the earth takes approximately 29.5 days, so to use whole numbers it takes 59 days for the moon to make two trips around the earth. Accordingly, to use whole numbers, the Hebrews decided to alternate the number of days in a month, 29 one month and 30 the next, making -- voila! -- 59 days every two months. If you multiply 59 days every two months by six to get a 12-month total, you come up with 354 days. The mathematically astute among you will grasp immediately that the Hebrew calendar, being lunar, is about 11 days shorter than 365 days. Confused? Here are the names of the Hebrew months with the number of days shown in parentheses: Nisan (30), Iyar (29), Sivan (30), Tammuz (29), Av (30), Elul (29), Tishrei (30), Marchesvan or Cheshvan (sometimes 29, sometimes 30), Kislev (sometimes 30, sometimes 29), Tevet (29), Shevat (30), and Adar (29).

As we said, a year in the Hebrew calendar is around 354 days (it can be 353 or 355, but let's keep it simple). As we learned several paragraphs ago, in leap years (such as 5774), an additional month, Adar I (30 days) is added after Shevat, and the regular Adar is referred to as "Adar II." So some years have 12 months in the Hebrew calendar and some years have 13 months in the Hebrew calendar, and to make things even more confusing the year starts in the spring instead of on January 1st. It is as though the western calendar and the Hebrew calendar never, well hardly ever, coincide. Never the twain shall meet, almost.

This explains why Hanukkah/Chanukah varies from year to year. It always begins on the 25th of Kislev, but Kislev keeps jumping around for those of us who do not follow the Hebrew calendar. Last year, for the first time in a while, Hanukkah started at sundown on Christmas Eve and ended on New Year's Day. This phenomenon will not occur again until the year 2027.

For your edification, here are the dates for the eight-day holiday known as Hanukkah (or Chanukah) for the next few years:

2017: Tuesday, December 12 through Wednesday, December 20
2018: Sunday, December 2 through Monday, December 10
2019: Sunday, December 22 through Monday, December 30
2020: Thursday, December 10 through Friday, December 18
2021: Sunday, November 28, 2021 through Monday, December 6
2022: Sunday, December 18 through Monday, December 26

There is now no excuse for your wishing your Jewish friends, if you have any Jewish friends, a "Happy Hanukkah"/"Chappy Chanukah" either too early or too late for it to sound sincere.

We close today's post with a nod in the direction of one Alexander Pope, for reasons that should be obvious:

A Little Learning
(from “An Essay On Criticism”)
by Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744)

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts;
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthened way;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Does Macy's tell Gimbel's?

[Editor's note. This post is adapted and expanded from an article that first appeared in Senior Life In Georgia, to whom I am indebted. The title above is my own invention. --RWP]

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away the city of Atlanta, Thanksgiving night was a special time. The Annual Lighting of Rich's Great Tree marked the beginning of the Christmas season. Back then, most stores waited until Thanksgiving was over to start advertising for Christmas. Every Thanksgiving, after nothing was left of the turkey but the carcass, and the guests around the dining room table were but a memory, over 100,000 people often made their way to downtown Atlanta to gather in the street below the 4-story glass bridge that connected Rich's Department Store's Store for Homes and Rich's Department Store's Store for Fashion. The streets were closed off, the buses and trolleys were rerouted, the lights were all turned out in and around the area (including street lights), and one level of the bridge at a time would come to life with wonderful choirs singing Christmas carols. After all levels were lit, a powerful soloist would sing "O Holy Night!" and at the climax of the song (...O night di-VINE!!!) the Great Tree on top of the bridge would spring to life in all of its glory as huge bells began to ring in the Christmas season in Atlanta! Then, all those who watched this beautiful event joined hands and sang "Silent Night" together, There was no time in Atlanta, before or since those years, when Christmas was more glorious for adults and children.

Alas, Rich's and its chief local competitor, Davison's, are no more. They were absorbed into the big northern conglomerate known as Macy's. Eventually the downtown building that had become Macy's closed its doors and the company dispersed itself to several suburban malls. The Lighting of the Great Tree still continues after 70 years, but a couple of decades ago it was moved to the roof of Lenox Square Mall in Buckhead, the most affluent section of the city. (It doesn't get more affluent than Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.) Somehow the effect is not the same. This year's event took place last Sunday, November 19th, four days before Thanksgiving. Nobody waits for Thanksgiving to be over any more -- why wait when there is merchandise to be sold, when there are customers to be separated from their hard-earned money, and when there are profits to be made? Some eager establishments start before Halloween.

So many local traditions —- Officer Don on television, the Pink Pig train ride at Rich's, Lewis Grizzard's and Celestine Sibley's newspaper columns, Ludlow Porch's hilarious radio programs —- all of them gone with the wind.

Eventually I will be too.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Frugal is as frugal does

Today (the day I'm writing this post, not necessarily the day you're reading it) is the 54th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and I have not heard a single mention of it on the telly or wireless (translation for American readers: television or radio). Plenty of stuff about Judge Roy Moore and Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose and the death of David Cassidy (a.k.a. Keith Partridge) and the pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey by the current pardoner-in-chief, but nothing at all about The Day That Apparently Will Not Live In Infamy.

Moving right along....

Our household expenses have become a little lower lately, and I thought I would share the reasons with you.

1. Our monthly telephone bill hovered around $170 USD per month for some time, and part of the reason was that it included monthly payments on two Apple iPhones and an additional line for an Android G-pad. I saved $12 per month by de-activating the G-pad line since I wasn't using it all that much, and I saved (if you can call it that) another $22 per month when one of the iPhones was finally paid in full (it took only 30, count 'em, 30 months). So now our monthly telephone bill has dropped to $136 per month. In only another two or three years the other iPhone will be paid for as well and the telephone bill will drop again. I am pleased, but I have no idea whether our bill is in the high, medium, or low range as telephone bills go. Let me know what you think.

2. We had been paying $48 per quarter for once-a-week trash and garbage removal and use of a 95-gallon wheeled cart to roll it out to the curb. A couple of years ago the bill rose to $51 per quarter because I requested a second, smaller (65 gallon) cart from the company to recycle glass, metal, paper, and cardboard. Last year the company increased their rate to $54 quarterly (just because they could, citing rising costs at their end), while simultaneously notifying all customers that glass would no longer be accepted for recycling as it had become non-profitable. Pay more and get less, as it were. I hope I'm not boring you. Anyhoo, last week we received the latest bill from the trash removal and recycling people in the amount of $69.95 for the coming quarter (Nov. 1st through Jan. 31st). Turns out that the old company has been purchased by a new company that will charge $54.95 quarterly for trash removal plus $15.00 quarterly for recycling. I did what any right-thinking payer of household bills would do. I called up the company and cancelled recycling and told them to pick up their 65-gallon cart posthaste. Henceforth the recyclable stuff will go in the plastic bags with the garbage, some of which is bio-degradable and some not, but that doesn't matter one whit when it all goes into non-biodegradable plastic bags and put into a landfill. I will save $5.00 each month (times three months in a quarter equals $15 per quarter -- I was always good at math) simply by rejecting their price rise.

I could think of some more savings, but you get the picture. Thirty-nine dollars ($39.00) per month, which would have come to $468 per year, now remains in our household budget. I'm sure the environmental people will not be pleased, but I'm determined to be impervious to their criticism.

Perhaps it is a case of "penny wise, pound foolish" as we also have a new bill of $250 per month for the next year and a half as I attempt to pay to the hospital the portion of their ministrations to me last summer that our vaunted Medicare Advantage (ha!) health plan did not cover.

One step forward and two steps back.

It was ever thus.

And so it goes (and goes, and goes).

I close with what both Ephraim Levi and Horace Van Der Gelder said to Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!: "Money, you should pardon the expression, is like manure. It doesn't do any good unless you spread it around."

Friday, November 17, 2017

'Tis the season to be busy

First, the obligatory family photos of the Alabama branch of the rhymeswithplague clan, the mama in that branch being our daughter. Here she is with her older son (center) and his father, her husband of nearly 25 years:

The occasion was the Chamber Winds concert at the university our grandson attends, in which he is co-principal French Horn player at the ripe old age of 17.

Next, here is our daughter with her younger son one day later. This time the occasion was the annual winter concert in Birmingham of the All-County Bands and Choirs from Elementary, Middle, and High Schools in Jefferson County, Alabama. Our grandson was one of the trumpet players in the High School band. Our daughter, an assistant principal in a middle school, helped accompany the Elementary Choir on her flute.

The preliminary obligatories having been completed, let us now move on to other subjects.

1. Today we received our first Christmas card of the season. It came all the way from the home of Michelle, Ken, and Rosie-Roo (their dog) in merrie olde England, where Michele (also known as our blogging friend All Consuming) created it herself. In other words, it is a treasure. Here's the outside:

...and here's the inside:

Michelle created lots of other Christmas cards too, and you can see them by clicking right here. While you're doing that, I shall be trying to figure out (a) why Michelle would send me a Rorschach test for Christmas and (b) why it contains not only some very cute birds but also some bird droppings, Santa Claus sticking his tongue out, Jeff Goldblum in his signature role as The Fly, Chucky the Clown, and possibly a panoramic view of the Battle of Balaclava from the Crimean War in 1854.

2. We are taking care of our older son's dog, Chester, until Sunday evening. Chester arrived last night from his home an hour away so that the humans in his family could get an early start today on a quick trip to North Carolina to see this weekend's football game at Duke University and bring their son back home with them for the Thanksgiving holiday. Chester is a mix of Labrador and Dachshund and is a rich chocolate brown color. Here he is resting on our leather couch because he is plumb tuckered out from all the excitement.

That's enough for now. I'm plumb tuckered out too even though I haven't done very much at all when compared to this lady.

Chester sends doggy regards to Rosie-Roo.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Boo-boos in media, example #17,643

Somebody went to a lot of trouble creating this poster and putting it up on Facebook on the anniversary of last year's presidential election, but the numbers are just plain wrong:

Actually, the 2016 electoral college vote in the U.S. presidential election was:

Donald Trump 304
Hillary Clinton 227 (not 277)
Others 4

Others? You betcha. Keep reading.

As we all should know by now, the U.S. does not elect a president by popular vote. If it did, Hillary Clinton would be president. Instead, each state chooses a slate of electors who meet later in the 50 state capitals as an Electoral College that actually selects a president and vice-president.

In the Electoral College vote last December 19, for the first time since 1808, multiple faithless electors voted against their pledged qualified presidential candidate. Five Democrats rebelled in Washington and Hawaii, while two Republicans rebelled in Texas. Two Democratic electors, one in Minnesota and one in Colorado, were replaced after voting for Bernie Sanders and John Kasich, respectively. Electors in Maine conducted a second vote after one of its members voted for Sanders; the elector then voted for Clinton. Likewise, for the first time since 1896, multiple faithless electors voted against the pledged qualified vice presidential candidate.

One Clinton elector in Colorado attempted to vote for John Kasich. The single vote was ruled invalid by Colorado state law, the elector was dismissed, and an alternative elector was sworn in who voted for Clinton.

One Clinton elector in Minnesota voted for Bernie Sanders as President and Tulsi Gabbard as vice president; his votes were discarded and he was replaced by an alternate who voted for Clinton.

One Clinton elector in Maine voted for Bernie Sanders; this vote was invalidated as "improper" and the elector subsequently voted for Clinton.

Four Clinton electors in Washington did not vote for Clinton (three votes went to Colin Powell, and one to Faith Spotted Eagle).

One Trump elector in Georgia resigned before the vote rather than vote for Trump and was replaced by an alternate.

Two Trump electors in Texas did not vote for Trump (one vote went to John Kasich, one to Ron Paul); one elector did not vote for Pence and instead voted for Carly Fiorina for Vice-President; a third resigned before the vote rather than vote for Trump and was replaced by an alternate.

One Clinton elector in Hawaii voted for Bernie Sanders.

Of the faithless votes, Colin Powell and Elizabeth Warren were the only two to receive more than one; Powell received three electoral votes for President and Warren received two for Vice President. Receiving one valid electoral vote each were Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul and Faith Spotted Eagle for President, and Carly Fiorina, Susan Collins, Winona LaDuke and Maria Cantwell for Vice President. Sanders is the first Jewish American to receive an electoral vote for President. LaDuke is the first Green Party member to receive an electoral vote, and Paul is the third member of the Libertarian Party to do so, following the party's presidential and vice-presidential nominees each getting one vote in 1972. It is the first election with faithless electors from more than one political party. The seven people to receive electoral votes for president were the most in a single election since 1796, and more than any other election since the enactment of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804.

And now, as radio newscaster Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story.

Yours for accuracy in media,

Thursday, November 9, 2017

I spent Saturday afternoon with a few thousand of my closest friends a college football game over in Alabama. Here are some of the highlights:

For those who were wondering, our team soundly defeated the other team. The final score was 59 to 23.

<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...