Friday, September 28, 2018

Happy anniversary to me, or What happened to the Aral Sea shouldn't happen to a blog

At one time the Aral Sea in Central Asia was the fourth-largest freshwater lake in the world. Almost as big as Ireland, it covered 26,300 square miles (68,000 km2) and appeared on maps of Asia just east of the Caspian Sea in what was then the USSR (or, if you prefer Cyrillic, the CCCP). If the Aral Sea were still there, today it would straddle the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, it isn't there any more.

It began shrinking around 1960, and its slow disappearance over the last half-century is illustrated in the following map:

Not much remains but the rusting hulls of ships atop the dry desert sands, many miles from towns that once bustled with activities related to the fishing industry .

Although I like to think I keep up with current events, I had no idea that this long decline had occurred. It was off my radar completely.

Did you know that the Aral Sea has a middle name?

Well, it does. It’s Stockra. I made it up just now so that I could mention a book written in 1990 by David Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aral Stockra Sea, you know, those people portrayed on Downton Abbey and their friends.

Well, I thought it was funny.

What happened to the Aral Sea is not due to global warming. But it was caused by humans when the government decided to divert the water from the rivers that fed the huge lake to irrigate the land for the growing of cotton. In the process, the Aral Sea has just about disappeared.

Today, on the eleventh anniversary of this blog (yes, friends, it began on September 28, 2007), it is my fervent hope that it will continue for a long time and not dry up like the Aral Sea. I have learned far more from you, dear readers, than you have learned from me during these eleven years, so I will bring this post to a close with a little something from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, the opening of a song that Deborah Kerr sang to the children of the king of Siam:

It's a very ancient saying
But a true and honest thought
That if you become a teacher (or blogger),
By your pupils (or readers) you'll be taught.

As a teacher/blogger I've been learning,
You'll forgive me if I boast,
But I've now become an expert
On the subject I like most:

Getting to know you.

At this point, all the children of the King of Siam say, 'Ahhhhhh'.

In this metaphor, sometimes I am Deborah Kerr (no snickering in the back) and you are the children of the king of Siam, and sometimes you are Deborah Kerr and I am the children of the king of Siam.

Now that I think about it, eleven years is a long time not to know from one day to the next whether you are Deborah Kerr or the children of the king of Siam.

But at least we haven't dried up and disappeared like the Aral Sea.

Not yet.

For extra credit, read "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be" by John Keats and write a 500-word essay using personificaation to compare the poem to the Aral Sea.

Sunday, September 23, 2018


We humans are such strange creatures. For example, I read this headline today:

Author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' arrested for allegedly murdering husband

and immediately I thought, 'That's impossible'.

Now before you start quibbling with me or scratching your head in confusion, let me explain what I mean.

It is impossible to allegedly murder someone. Either you murder someone or you don't murder someone, but you cannot allegedly murder someone. Someone can allege that you have murdered someone, true, but I repeat: You cannot allegedly murder someone.

It is certainly possible, as I just said, to allege that someone has murdered someone, but under our system it must wait for a jury of one's peers to decide, based on evidence presented in a court of law, the guilt or innocence of such a person. Keep in mind that in our society one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and it is only after having been proven guilty that it might be said that what was alleged -- that someone had murdered someone -- was, in fact, true.

Therefore, in an attempt to head off lawsuits for unequivocally declaring that a person has murdered someone (although that may well be the case) before the judicial process has run its course, our print journalists and radio/TV newsbroadcasters daily make such ridiculous statements as 'Author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' arrested for allegedly murdering husband'.

How might we say that better? Certainly not by saying

Author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' allegedly arrested for murdering husband

because an arrest definitely took place. The arrest is not alleged. The murder is.

Perhaps this is better:

Author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' arrested for murdering husband, allegedly

Part of the problem is that editors and publishers want headlines to be short, so words are omitted. It would be much nearer the truth to write a complete sentence:

Because the author of the book 'How to Murder Your Husband' is alleged to have murdered her husband, she has been arrested.

but if headlines were that accurate there would be no need for an article to follow it except to provide details such as the woman's name and address and the date the event occurred. Alleged event. The method she used might prove interesting as well, such as by clobbering him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb or plunging him through with shish-ka-bob skewers or putting belladonna in his tapioca.

Having talked that subject to death (literally), let us now turn our attention to...

Panel One

In the following passage from Through the Looking Glass by Mr. Charles L. Dodgson, whose pen name was Lewis Carroll, Alice, who has unexpectedly found herself in Wonderland, is speaking with Humpty Dumpty, who is sitting on a wall. You may discover that the passage explains some thimgs you never knew before:

'You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,' said Alice. 'Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called "Jabberwocky"?'

'Let's hear it,' said Humpty Dumpty. 'I can explain all the poems that ever were invented — and a good many that haven't been invented just yet.'

This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse:

''Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.'

'That's enough to begin with,' Humpty Dumpty interrupted: 'there are plenty of hard words there. "Brillig" means four o'clock in the afternoon — the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.'

'That'll do very well,' said Alice: 'and "slithy"?'

'Well, "slithy" means "lithe and slimy". "Lithe" is the same as "active". You see it's like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.'

'I see it now,' Alice remarked thoughtfully: 'and what are "toves"?'

'Well, "toves" are something like badgers — they're something like lizards — and they're something like corkscrews.'

'They must be very curious-looking creatures.'

'They are that,' said Humpty Dumpty; 'also they make their nests under sun-dials — also they live on cheese.'

'And what's to "gyre" and to "gimble"?'

'To "gyre" is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To "gimble" is to make holes like a gimlet.'

'And "the wabe" is the grass-plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?' said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.

'Of course it is. It's called "wabe" you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it —'

'And a long way beyond it on each side,' Alice added.

'Exactly so. Well then, "mimsy" is "flimsy and miserable" (there's another portmanteau for you). And a "borogove" is a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round — something like a live mop.'

'And then "mome raths"?' said Alice. 'I'm afraid I'm giving you a great deal of trouble.'

'Well, a "rath" is a sort of green pig: but "mome" I'm not certain about. I think it's short for "from home" — meaning that they'd lost their way, you know.'

'And what does "outgrabe" mean?'

'Well, "outgribing" is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however, you'll hear it done, maybe — down in the wood yonder — and, when you've once heard it, you'll be quite content. Who's been repeating all that hard stuff to you?'

'I read it in a book,' said Alice.

(end of passage)

Here is Jabberwocky in its entirety.

I do wish Humpty Dumpty (that is, Lewis Carroll, that is, Charles L. Dodgson) had explained the rest of the poem. I can guess at whiffling and burbled and galumphing, but I don't have a clue about manxsome, frumious, or frabjous.

Moving right along, here’s...

Panel Two

This passage is from Chapter 6:

“There’s glory for you!” [said Humpty Dumpty].

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t -- till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that’s all.”

(End of quotation)

Humpty Dumpty has a point. Take the word 'john’. It can be a man's name, a toilet, or a prostitute’s paying customer.

Panel Three

Here from Chapter 7 is part of a conversation between Alice and the March Hare at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party:

`Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. `I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.–I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

`Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

`Exactly so,’ said Alice.

`Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

`I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least -– at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

`Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, `that “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe”!’

(end of passage)

So what do I want you to take away from this post?

Saying what you mean and meaning what you say ought to be the goals of everyone, from Alice in Wonderland to the alleged writer of the alleged headline about the alleged woman author of the alleged book ‘How To Murder Your Husband’ who allegedly murdered her alleged husband.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A few poems, or Trees have leaves and roots and branches, not all Texans live on ranches

In my old hometown of Mansfield, Texas, 60 years ago, there was an electrician and repairer of television sets named Beverly Bratton. Let me back up and start over. As far as I know, there were no television sets named Beverly Bratton in my old hometown 60 years ago. What I meant to say was that our local electrician and television repairer was named Beverly Bratton, and the point I'm trying to get to is Beverly was a man.

Not a transgendered man, mind you, but a born-male baby whose parents gave a name that sounded decidedly female.

It has happened before. George Beverly Shea, whom everyone called Bev, sang at just about every Billy Graham crusade. Joyce Kilmer, a man, wrote a poem called "Trees". Johnny Cash famously sang about a boy named Sue (3:46) in his San Quentin Prison concert.

If you know of other examples of boys with girls' names, tell me in the comments.

Here, from 1913, is "Trees":

by Joyce Kilmer (1886 - 1918)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer looked like this in 1908, when he was attending Columbia University:

Many years later, poet Ogden Nash wrote:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree;
Indeed, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.

Here is Ogden Nash in his youth:

Here he is later in life weariing a spiffy houndstooth jacket, the money for which might have been better spent on dental work:

And many years after that -- today, in fact -- yours truly wrote the following:

Blogposts are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.

Here I am at age 37:

I end this post with these trees, whose age I do not know:

Friday, September 14, 2018

More Dad sayings

Yesterday I told you a couple of things my dad used to say, like ‘Pull my finger’ and ‘Listen my children, take my advice, pull down your pants and slide on the ice’. No sooner had I pressed PUBLISH when a few other things my dad used to say (he died in 1967) popped up in my mind from the depths of wherever they had been hiding.

I thought I’d share them with you as well:

1. ‘Use your head for something besides keeping your ears apart’.

2. ‘Put your hand on your “huh” and see if your heart’s beating’. (whenever someone* said “Huh?”)

3. ‘ “I see”, said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw’.

4. ‘Can’t never did anything’.

5. ‘Cat fur to make kitten britches’. (whenever someone* said “What fer?” instead of “What for?”) (Note. People in Texas say "What fer?" and people in Missouri say "What far?")

6. ‘I should hope to kiss a pig’. (which meant "Definitely!" and not what you might expect, "Never!")

7. 'Rise and shine, it's daylight in the swamps!'

*The someone was usually me.

I miss him and I don't miss him at the same time.

Your assignment: Pick your favorite(s) and give reasons.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dad sayings

Long before Captain Hawkeye Pierce said something similar on M*A*S*H, my dad used to say, 'Listen my children, take my advice, pull down your pants and slide on the ice'.

I never did that, but -- ever the daredevil -- I find that I am beginning to favour British spelling and punctuation in my old age (77). You know what they say, there's no fool like an old fool, and I am just trying to keep up my end of the bargain.

I'm feeling silly today. Did you notice?

Laughter is good for the soul.

With a dad like mine, is it any wonder I turned out the way I did?

He also said, 'Pull my finger’, but I won't go in that direction today.

What did your dad used to say?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Since it's 9/11 (British, 11/9)

Ponder this op-ed piece from today's edition of The New York Daily News.


To whom it may concern

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.

I'm working on a post. It just takes me a little longer nowadays.

I just realized that the only whom to whom it may be of concern is probably me.

You're not all out there hanging on my every word.

You're not all waiting with 'bated breath, impatiently drumming your fingers for more, more, more.

Message received and understood.

Lesson learned.

"O wad som Pow'r the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us."

Robert Burns.

I now return, slightly older and slightly wiser, to the proverbial drawing board.

See you later.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Odds and ends and reminiscences

An old man stares back at me from my bathroom mirror, a man I do not recognize although he does seem strangely familiar. It seems impossible, but this year makes 60 years since I graduated from high school.

In my school days in my part of small-town and rural America, gender roles were set in concrete. Girls took Home Economics* (cooking in the fall, sewing in the spring) and boys took Vocational Agriculture (Vo Ag for short), even boys like me who had absolutely no interest in farming or agriculture. In our school district the "choose an elective" list was rather short. I took vocational agriculture for one year only, 9th grade, my first year of high school. I learned a lot, actually, and was a member of several teams at competitive interscholastic meets. Land judging, dairy cattle judging, beef cattle judging, hog judging, poultry judging, grading of eggs, you name it, I did it. You don't want to know how to determine whether a hen is a good layer of eggs; the answer has nothing to do with looking in the nest. I can still identify various breeds of cattle and hogs and chickens. My project for the year -- we all had to have one -- was raising a Hampshire pig whom (or which) I dubbed Lady Henrietta. At the end of the year my dad had her slaughtered and we enjoyed (if that is the right word) ham and bacon and pork for some time afterward.

*nowadays it's called Consumer Science.

After my 9th-grade year my electives included Typing, Shorthand, Concert Band, Marching Band, and Chorus. Although I wanted to take Drivers Education (my parents did not own a car), I could not because the only period Drivers Ed was taught conflicted with Band. As a result, I didn't learn how to drive a car until I was almost 22 years old; it happened after Ellie and I became engaged. I thought it would look rather strange for the bride to drive the car away from the church. Necessity is the mother of both invention and getting your rear in gear (to continue the automotive metaphor) when the occasion calls for it.

Boys never took Home Ec and girls never took Vo Ag. But boys took Typing if they wished even though most of the students were girls who aspired to enter the working world as secretaries. No boy in my school had ever signed up for Shorthand until I came along. I figured it would help me take notes in college in the days before cassette tape recorders, and I was right. What I took, in case you were wondering, was Gregg Diamond Jubilee Shorthand With Brief Forms. I can't remember if that was the actual name of the class, but it's how I remember it. I was valedictorian of the class of 1958, and the following year, when Tommy C. became the second boy in the history of the school to take Shorthand, he became valedictorian of the class of 1959. Whether there is a cause and effect there, I cannot say.

The shorthand stood me in good stead through the years, and most people seemed surprised that I knew how to do it. One of my supervisors at IBM, Jim P., wasn't surprised, though, as he had formerly been one of three male executive secretaries to Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder and CEO of IBM. From what I understand, when an IBM executive traveled in the earlier decades of the twentieth century, it was a no-no for a woman secretary to travel with him. Hence, chaps like Jim P. were in demand.

In case you didn't notice, I'm just rambling with this post and going nowhere in particular.

Speaking of band, here's a photo of my youngest grandson, now a senior in high school, playing his trumpet with some of the members of his school's band. He looks very intense, and all grown up.

Finally, here's Mrs. RWP's latest creation, a crocheted baby blanket (it's the blanket that's crocheted, not the baby) for a young couple at our church. The color (British, colour) is not true because the photo was taken late in the afternoon in a room on the east side of our house. Although it appears to be almost lavender, it is in reality a beautiful shade of pink.

And now, for the big reveal, here it is unfolded:

Tomorrow would have been my parents' wedding anniversary, and the day after that is the day my wife's mother died in 1986 and our second grandchild was born in 1996.

I think I have run out of things to tell you.

For your reading pleasure, this post has contained nothing at all about either Aretha Franklin or Senator John McCain, which is all that has been on television this week in the good old U S of A.

See you next time.

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

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