Friday, November 30, 2018

Day by day by day by day by day in an eclectic and unpredictable fashion

I read recently that a blog is a kind of online diary. Maybe some blogs are, perhaps even most are, but mine isn't. Mine is a conglomeration, a hodgepodge of things that interest me or have caught my attention, things that bubble up to the surface from my unbelievably deep and fertile mind (it is to laugh), and yes, I suppose it does even serve as an online diary occasionally.

In the Wikipedia article entitled 'Diary' there is this amazing sentence:

The word "journal" may be sometimes used for "diary," but generally a diary has (or intends to have) daily entries, whereas journal-writing can be less frequent.

That is just preposterous. The "di" in diary is the Latin word for day, as in dies irae (day of wrath), and the "jour" in journal is the French word for day, as in Bon jour. A little poking around and we discover that our English word journal originated around 1325-75 as Middle English and was derived from the Old French journal (daily) which came from Late Latin diurnalis (diurnal). And we know that diurnal means during the day and nocturnal means during the night. So to say that a journal differs from a diary in that a diary has (or intends to have) daily entries, whereas journal-writing can be less frequent, is simply not true.

(It is interesting to note that the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly, which is written in Italian, includes the soprano aria 'Un bel di' which is usually translated as 'One fine day' so 'di' seems to be the Italian word for day as well, except that when I put the phrase 'one fine day' into Google Translate and asked that it be translated into Italian the result was 'un bel giorno', not 'un bel di', which fact reminds us that the Italian Buon giorno and the French Bon jour are related. But I digress.)

But what about The Ladies' Home Journal?, you may be asking. LHJ is a periodical that was launched in 1883 and published monthly for a very long time, even twice a month for a while, though now it is published quarterly. It's a journal, isn't it? It says so right there in the title.

I simply disregard your Ladies' Home Journal example by citing the ever-popular The Wall Street Journal, a daily newspaper. Also, do not try to confuse me with the facts as my mind is made up.

Is there no end to this bickering? Can't we all just get along?

For those of you who think I just quoted something Rodney King of 1991 police brutality fame said in 1992, I did not.

Rodney said, "Can we all get along? Can we get along?" and I said, "Can't we all just get along?"

They are not the same thing. Not at all. They are differnt.

You may have gathered that I have nothing of import to say today, but here's an interesting little treatise to read while you're figuring out what to do with your day. You really should read it; you might read something Frederick Douglass or even Ghandi said.

Getting back to our original topic, a blog is neither a diary nor a journal. It is a log. The word blog is short for Weblog. If more people used apostrophes (note that I did not say apostrophe's) correctly I would call it a 'blog, much in the same way my English friend Doug B. always wrote 'bus instead of bus because it is short for omnibus. You read it here first.

Before you go, listen to soprano Anna Netrebko sing 'Un bel di' from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (4:57) to a whole stadium full of music lovers. I like to watch Anna Netrebko. She is, how you say, zoftig, which is neither French nor Italian.

Now run along and play, and don't be negative.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Rant

Find-A-Grave is not reliable.

There, I said it and I'm glad.

I am the amateur genealogist in our family. My Family Tree Maker file has nearly 3,500 names in it what with all the aunts and uncles and in-laws and offspring and second cousins three times removed and all. I admit it. I do enjoy learning about relatives and even relatives of relatives. It's like a sickness, an itch that can't be scratched.

So I dig through online census pages and as many free things as I can find. I'm often tempted to break down and spend actual money to be able to look at old newspaper obituaries and ship passenger manifests and other stuff of which I am not even aware, but so far I have resisted the urge. I am nothing if not thrifty. Frugal. Okay, cheap.

In the meantime, it's an engaging hobby, but I have found that the site Find-A-Grave has bad information mixed in with the good and it's impossible to tell which is which unless you already know the truth.

Case in point: There's some accurate information about my stepmother, Mildred Louise Williams Houston Brague Fuller, such as her date and place of birth, date of death, and place of burial, and even a photograph of her headstone, but then it goes off the rails with erroneous information about her parents. Find-A-Grave says Mildred's parents were Charles Erasmus Williams and Maud Lee Gamewell, and that is just plain wrong, Wrong, WRONG. I knew her father, Russell Sterling Williams, Sr., personally and his second wife, Virginia, whom he married after his first wife, Pearl Cannon, died. I happen to know for a fact that the mother of Russ's 11 children was Pearl Cannon. Russ and Pearl's offspring were Cleo and Mildred and John and Margaret and Kenneth (who died in infancy) and Russ, Jr., and Marvin and Billy and Faye and Freddie and Sue. I knew all of them except Kenneth. How can Find-A-Grave be so right at times and then so wrong at other times? And what is even more important, how can researchers trust what they find if they also find information they know is not true?

Furthermore, while it is apparently very easy to enter erroneous information into Find-A-Grave, it is very difficult to get it corrected. I stay exasperated.

Another case in point: I found information about my biological father, who is buried at a certain cemetery in New Jersey. Find-A-Grave's page has his written information correct, but the photograph of his supposed grave is not his at all; it is actually another person with the same first and last name but a different middle initial, with different birth and death dates, and who -- if you do a little digging (no pun intended) -- is buried in a different cemetery in a different town.

My stepmother Mildred is probably unique in that all three of her three husbands are buried around her. Find-A-Grave, however, lists a fourth husband out of the blue that none of us have ever heard of, an obvious mistake.


I wish people who think they are helping would do a little more research and verify their information before they publish it for the world to see.

And I hesitate to pay money to access information when the free information cannot be trusted to be accurate.

Would you?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A different sort of Thanksgiving post, or "Not baaaad," Tom said sheepishly

The photograph above was taken by Neil Theasby of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, who granted me permission to use it.

When I saw all those sheep, I thought of a verse in the middle of Psalm 100:

1 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
2 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
3 Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
5 For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.


That is one crowded pasture. Actually those sheep are not in a pasture at all but more of a fenced corral on a public footpath where Neil happened to be taking one of his daily three-hour walks through the countryside, taking photographs all the while.

Neil is somewhat weird. You and I, of course, are not.

I also noticed that there were black sheep and white sheep in the photograph. Historically the phrase 'black sheep' came to mean bad, disapproved, rogue, cantankerous, and so forth. Dictionary.com says a black sheep is 'a person who causes shame or embarrassment because of deviation from the accepted standards of his or her group' and refers readers to the words pariah, outcast, prodigal, reject, and reprobate.

I think this is very unfair to categorize sheep in this way. Different should not have derogatory connotations. Differences are just that -- differences.

If we are the sheep of His pasture, then He must be our shepherd. Psalm 23 declares that He is:

'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul'.

According to one of his disciples named John, Jesus had quite a lot to say about sheep. Here is Jesus speaking in John's tenth chapter:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.

Later in the same chapter Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). Other writers of the New Testament refer to Jesus Christ as the great shepherd (Hebrews 13:20), and the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). A few years ago I was inspired by these and other verses to write the following poem and even set it to music:

1. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, cares for His sheep
He gave His life for them freely when He came.
His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him
And He calls each one by name.

... He calls His sheep by name
....He calls His sheep by name.
....The Lord is my shepherd,
....He bore my sin and shame,
....And He calls His sheep by name.

2. Jesus, the Great Shepherd guides us each day
Making us eager to do His blessed will,
And though we may falter along life's way
He is calling us, calling us still.

....He calls His sheep by name
....He calls His sheep by name.
....The Lord is my shepherd,
....He bore my sin and shame,
....And He calls His sheep by name.

3. Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, soon will appear,
He'll bring crowns of glory that cannot fade away.
With the archangel's voice and the trumpet of God
He will shout on that glorious day.

....And he will call His sheep by name
....He will call His sheep by name.
....Today and forever, eternally the same,
....He calls His sheep by name,
....He calls His sheep by name.

I bring this post to a close with an interesting observation I heard recently: The devil knows our name but calls us by our sin. The Lord knows our sin but calls us by our name.

Thanks be to God.

At least I took your mind off turkey.

Be a lamb now and run along.

Monday, November 19, 2018

American History ain't what it used to be (a tragedy in three acts)

As they say in England, I was gobsmacked. Or as they say in the U.S., I was flabbergasted. Or as they said in earlier times, I was astounded.

'About what?' you might be asking (and if you're not, move along, please, and make room for the others).

I will tell you about what.

American History. More specifically, the apparent lack of teaching about American history in the schools of today.

What got me all worked up was an episode of Jeopardy! on the telly a couple of nights ago.

It was Teen Tournamemt week on Jeopardy! during which some very bright 16-to-18-year-year-old contestants work their way through a series of quarter-final games, semi-final games, and two days of final games until a winner emerges. It is important to be the winner, because the winner gets to take home $100,000 USD. As it says up there in the title of the post, this is a tragedy in three acts, so I'll give you three examples of what should be commonly known facts about which these bright teenagers didn't have a clue.

Act I. During a semi-final game, the contestants were Maya (a senior from Peachtree City, Georgia), Caleb (a sophomore from someplace I don't recall), and Joe, I think his name was (a senior from San Diego, California). All three of them were displaying their knowledge on a variety of subjects, handily offering up their answers, always in the form of a question, such as names of sitcoms (What is The Big Bang Theory? What is Friends?), hip-hop and rap artists (we won't even go there), and tidbits of science and other subjects (What is thermodynamics? What is synecdoche?). Their abject ignorance of American history didn't surface until someone chose that category.

One question had to do with the dispute between Britain and the United States over the boundary of the Oregon Territory in the nineteenth century. It was finally resolved peacefully by setting the border between the U.S. and Canada at the 49th parallel, but not before candidate for U.S. President James Knox Polk campaigned on his willingness to go to war with Britain over the boundary if necessary. I don't remember the exact wording of the question but it was something like "This or fight became a political slogan in a dispute during the 1840s over the northern border of the Oregon Territory". Silence. No one buzzed in. Finally, just before the time expired, the young man from San Diego buzzed in and said, almost asked, "Forty-four?" and Alex Trebek said, 'No'. As every red-blooded student of nineteenth-century goings on should know, the correct answer is "Fifty-four Forty" meaning 54 degrees, 40 minutes North latitude. The disputed area (the area between 49 degrees North latitude and 54° 40' North latitude) is now known, friends, as the Canadian province of British Columbia. All's well that ends well, as someone once said (William Shakespeare, 1604).

Okay, that one was fairly esoteric unless you are an American History nut like me. So I relegated it to minor status and continued watching the show. One of the contestants then correctly identified the person who said 'Give me liberty or give me death' with the answer 'Who is Patrick Henry?' and I felt that hope was not lost.

I was wrong.

Act II. A few minutes later, someone chose the last remaining question in the category of American History, and Alex Trebek read the revealed fact: This man hoped that America would always have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Easy peasy. The last line of the most famous speech in America's history, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Silence. After a few seconds, Caleb buzzed in and said, 'Who is Thomas Jefferson?' When Alex said 'No', Joe from San Diego buzzed in and said, 'Who is Benjamin Franklin?'

Alex said 'No' again. Maya just stood there and never buzzed in at all.

Gobsmacked is too mild a term for how I felt. I found it very difficult to believe what I had just witnessed. These were not poor students, drop-out material. These were among the best and brightest our country has to offer. I was in shock. I was disillusioned. I was heartbroken. Not only was I gobsmacked, I felt like a resident of Pompeii on that day in 79AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.

Let us move on to Act III.

Act III. As luck would have it, the category of the Final Jeopardy question was the American Revolutionary Era, and the fact turned out to be this:

The Quakers turned her out in 1773 when she married an upholsterer and took over management of his business.

I solved it by examining the clue. The word Quakers fairly screams Pennsylvania (William Penn and all that). Upholsterers deal with the sewing of heavy cloth. The answer had to be Betsy Ross of Philadelphia (the largest city in Pennsylvania, the place where the Quakers lived), the woman who supposedly made the first American flag for General George Washington. I say supposedly because that seems to be a myth that has been debunked. Besides, what other prominent women of the American Revolutionary Era were there? Martha Washington's husband was not an upholsterer, nor was Abigail Adams's, nor was Dolly Madison's. Paul Revere was a silversmith, so his wife was off the list as well.

The familiar music played as the seconds ticked by, and soon it was time to reveal the answers. Caleb and Joe wrote nothing. When Alex Trebek said that Maya wrote the right answer, Betsy Ross, Maya exclaimed in disbelief, "I did??" and walked away as champion of the day, $25,000 richer.

Earlier in the week, in the same category, other teen contestants had not been able to identify American presidents from pictures of them, including Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Andrew Jackson, and Lyndon Johnson, although someone did correctly identify Franklin D. Roosevelt.

To put this post in perspective for readers in the British Isles and the British Commonwealth of Nations, it's unthinkable, rather like not knowing who Queen Victoria was.

What shall we say to these students?

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in themselves; it is in the American education system. Apparently the exposure of young minds to what went before has been deemed unimportant and unnecessary.

We may all live to regret that decision.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The number of God is 137

Douglas Adams famously told us in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42, but another opinion has emerged.

I have just learned that the number of God is 137.

Stay with me. I have not gone bonkers.

Yet.

A number of years ago I stumbled upon a website called InternetMonk (IM for short) and have been reading it off and on ever since. In spite of the name, it is not a Roman Catholic place. In fact, it was begun by a Southern Baptist man named Michael Spencer, who was a high school teacher in Kentucky, as a place for people wandering in what he called "the post-evangelical wilderness". After his death, IM continued with Mike Mercer, who is both a hospice chaplain and the pastor of an ELCA church in Indiana, at the helm. (For those who don't read alphabet soup, ELCA stands for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.) All sorts of people read and comment on IM. Unlike other religious blogs, the conversation in the comment section remains civil but can get a bit snarky at times. A lot of the readers wandered in the post-evangelical wilderness for a long time; some have found a home in Eastern Orthodoxy; a few fundamentalists (ex- and otherwise) show up now and then; it is an eclectic group. It is a real community where not everyone agrees but everyone can have a place at the table.

On Thursdays, a Canadian man who calls himself Mike the Geologist presents a variety of interesting scientific stuff that is usually above my pay grade, including a nine-week series earlier this year that was an extended review of the book Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship by John Polkinghorne. Mike writes in an engaging style, but (as I mentioned) his subjects are usually above my pay grade.

This week's offering, The Number of God, is worth a read. It is not filled with religious mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus, it is filled with scientific mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus (I'm kidding) like Planck's constant and Grand Unified Theory (GUT) and fine structure constant and even -- yes, friends -- the beloved Fibonacci sequence.

It's well worth a look. Mike the Geologist calls 137 "another one of those 'lucky coincidences' that seem to propel science forward". I hope you will click on the link.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A "heads up" to Hondurans in caravans somewhere in southern Mexico

Back in February 2010 I wrote a post about my father-in-law that included a photo of him in 1917, the year he emigrated to the United States from Albania. You can read the post and see the photo here.

I mentioned in that post that he became a naturalized citizen of his adopted country just seven years after arriving. This past summer his granddaughter, our niece who lived in North Carolina, sent us a package of things that included his naturalization certificate. I am so glad that she took the time to do that, because she died suddenly during the last week of September a few days before her 54th birthday.

Here is my father-in-law's Certificate of Naturalization as a United States citizen. Issued in 1924, it is a work of art and a pleasure to behold. So that you won't have to strain your eyes, I have transcribed it below the photograph.


No. 2013628 ....................................To be given to the person Naturalized.

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
CERTIFICATE OF NATURALIZATION

Petition, Volume 12 , Number 2407
Description of holder. Age, 29 years, height, 5 feet, 6 inches, color, White , complexion, Dark , color of eyes, Brown , color of hair, Black ; visible distinguishing marks, None.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx *
.(Strike through words referring to wife if husband was naturalized AFTER September 22, 1922.)
Names, ages and places of residence of minor children None.
.(Strike through words referring to children if holder of this certificate is a married woman.)
O R I G I N A L

State of New Jersey )
County of Atlanic )........S.S. ...........[Signature of James Cudse]
....................................................................(Signature of holder.)
.......... Be it remembered that James Cudse , then residing at number 2144 Atlantic Ave. Street, [City] of Atlantic City , [State] of New Jersey , who previous to [his] naturalization was a [subject] of The present Government of Turkey, having applied to be admitted a citizen of the United States of America pursuant to law, and, at a May term of the Common Pleas Court of Atlantic County , held at Mays Landing , on the 28th day of May , in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and twenty-four the court having found that the petitioner had resided continuously within the United States for at least five years and in this [State] for at least one year immediately preceding the date of the filing of [his] petition, and that said petitioner intends to reside permanently in the United States, had in all respects complied with the law in relation thereto, and that [he] was entitled to be so admitted, it was thereupon ordered by the said court that [he] be admitted as a citizen of the United States of America.

In testimony whereof the seal of said court is hereunto affixed on the 28th day of May in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and twenty-four and of our Independence the one hundred and forty-eighth.

...................................................................... [signature of Wm A. Blair]
...................................................................... County Clerk.
........................................................................(Official character of attestor.)

.*NOTE. Under act of September 22, 1922, husband's naturalization does not make wife a citizen.
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR


Several things interested me about the certificate. To make the preprinted form an all-purpose one, there were several choices to be made which I indicated above with brackets:

he/she
his/her
City/Town
State/Territory/District
citizen/subject

Note that James Cudse (who was born Dhimitri Kuçi in Vlonë, Albania) was termed "a subject of The present Government of Turkey" and not "a citizen of Albania". It is true that there was a large Albanian population in Turkey at the time, but my father-in-law was not one of them, and Albania had declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912. Here is an interesting paragraph about those times from Wikipedia's article about Albania:

"The modern nation state of Albania emerged in 1912 following the defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkan Wars. The modern Kingdom of Albania was invaded by Italy in 1939, which formed Greater Albania, before becoming a Nazi German protectorate in 1943. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, a Communist state titled the People's Socialist Republic of Albania was founded under the leadership of Enver Hoxha and the Party of Labour. The country experienced widespread social and political transformations in the communist era, as well as isolation from much of the international community. In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1991, the Socialist Republic was dissolved and the fourth Republic of Albania was established."

No mention is made of Turkey in that paragraph. I learned that there were around 5,0000,000 Albanians living in Turkey at the time. In another interesting article called "Albania - Turkey Relations" one reads of the 1923 Friendship Treaty between the two nations and of the 1923 Citizenship Agreement and the Lausanne Treaty, which Turkey applied differently to Muslim Albanians and Christian Albanians. Turkey considered all Orthodox Albanians to be Greeks. If you are a glutton for punishment or need something to help you sleep, read the section entitled "Balkan Wars, WWI, Interwar period, WWII (1912–1944)" in the Wikipedia article, "Albania-Turkey relations".

The reverse side of the certificate is blank except for a small stamp.


Looking at it closer, we see that James Cudse was issued a United States passport by the Department of State on October 28, 1926.


One month later, he married Ksanthipi Rista in the Orthodox Church of Fier, Albania, and brought his new wife back to America, along with her widowed grandmother. The grandmother, who was 75, lived for one more year before her death in Atlantic City.

Ksanthipi changed her name to Carrie and also became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1943. We have never found her certificate.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Hoodwinked or merely gullible?

I received the following email from my step-sister-in-law in Texas (my step-brother's wife), who just had a birthday:

We are all 2018 today –
Today the whole world is the same age! Today is a very special day. It happens only once every 1,000 years.
Your age + your year of birth = 2018. This is true for everyone.
It is strange and inexplicable! Try it and see! It will not happen again for another 1,000 years!


and thought immediately, 'That's ridiculous!'

It is not a very special day. Well, maybe it is, but it is not strange and inexplicable. It doesn't happen only once every 1,000 years.

I said in my reply that this was true all the time for everyone. It doesn't just happen in 2018. It happens every year. That's what one's age is, subtracting the year you were born from the current year. So it follows that adding your age to the year you were born, you will ALWAYS come up with the current year, provided that your actual birthdate has passed.

She wrote back that her son Sam and I were the only two to have figured this out and that we were real smarties!

My step-sister-in-law is not dumb, she just didn't think things through, or perhaps is easily swayed.

Her hair color is immaterial.

I take my compliments wherever I can find them, always remembering that Mama said to consider the source.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

What? November already?

I must be slipping. Here's the most beautiful song about October ever written. It's not really about October but it captures perfectly the mood I often find myself in around this time of year. The lyrics are by Johnny Mercer, whose widow gave them to Barry Manilow. Barry composed the music and performs the haunting result:

When October Goes (3:58)

If Putz were still around (and I'm not sure he isn't, although he hasn’t posted anything since January 2014), he would be clapping (and he may very well be).

Autumn is always nostalgia time for me. This year autumn has been late arriving. In just the last couple of days have the the familiar reds and golds and oranges and yellows returned to north Georgia. It's my favorite time of year.

Here's a poem of mine the leaves inspired a few years back. The Carolyn mentioned in the first line was Carolyn H., a longtime friend from our church. On June 29th of this year she died at the age of 86 in Pensacola, Florida. She may be clapping too.


October 25, 2004

Our friend Carolyn came over for lunch
And as we finished at the table
Someone said, “Let’s go for a ride!”
So into the car we piled,
Like children giddy with anticipation,
Not knowing where we were headed
But eager to be having an adventure;
And someone said, “Where shall we go?”
And we said, “We don’t know!”
And someone else said, “Name a direction!”
And because the fall thus far at home
Had been drab and disappointing,
We headed north toward the mountains, laughing.

Five hours later we returned,
Tired but invigorated,
Having been to Helen and Unicoi Gap
And Hiawassee and Lake Chatuge,
Making all of the hairpin turns
And ascending, always ascending, until
We crested and began to descend
Through another set of hairpin turns,
And all the while we oohed and ahhed
And said how glad we were that we had come,
Drinking in the brilliant reds, the dazzling yellows,
The shocking oranges of autumn, the mountains ablaze
Against a clear blue sky.


Here's to old times, old friends, new times, and new friends.

I hope I didn't leave anyone out.

My mother died on October 4, 1957. I hope she is clapping too.