Friday, April 20, 2018

THINK ABOUT IT...


Here's a curmudgeonly article I concocted for the magazine. It was meant to be a companion piece to a article about the pulling down of controversial memorial statues, along with a article about one statue honoree whose contributions, in retrospect, are unpalatable to us today. None of the articles saw print. They were deemed to be a bit too controversial for our community content. 

Recent developments have seen the removal from Central Park of that statue honoree, Dr.J. Marion Sims, the "Father of Gynecology," who is now known to have experimented, without anesthesia, on slave women. The stature was moved to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Already exiled to that cemetery in 2012 was the statue memorial to Civic VirtueA cemetery seems like great place for any controversial statues because the residents, including my in-laws in Green-Wood, really won't care, and their visitors are few and far between. 
Now - 

Think about it...

...Is it good – or is it bad - that we live in an age where not only are we aware of past and present injustices, we want to, and have the privilege and the means to, discuss them, dissect them, and deconstruct them? It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a magic wand to right them.

America’s history is, among other things good – and bad – a continuation of the history of the world. Man’s inhumanity to man has been a means of power, profit, and the promulgation of selected ideals and causes since time began.

Very few of us would score well on a test of our aptitude for being a judge, a mediator, or a diplomat. In any given situation, most of us will fall heavily on the side toward which our lifelong-learned biases propel us.

History is rife with injustices. For many reasons, the basic one being lack of widespread and timely communications, past generations knew less, had less to say, and few to say it to. An old Chinese proverb holds that “Heaven is high and the emperor is far away.” And so the local injustices, petty or serious, went on locally, and the emperor’s word, his laws, his injustices, often affected relatively few. We Americans are focused on our own problems, often only casually interested in the injustice going on in the rest of the world. Is that good, or is that bad?

Today we have mass, speedy communications. From the Washington Post in print and online, to Twitter, the word spreads quickly about injustice, perceived or real. Political, social, or economic, it all comes under the heading of human injustice. Every day the rhetoric seems to be more heated.

It is good – or is it bad – that people feel free to comment and criticize from their own personal pulpit and prospective? For example, trivial though it may seem, was it good - or was it bad – that the fashion industry was chastised for not complaining how the Neo-Nazis were dressed at a protest?
Is it good – or is it bad – that there is a movement to remove any statue or monument to those involved in the Civil War?
Is it good – or is it bad – that it has come to the point where our country is up in arms about arms?
Is it good – or is it bad – that our congressional leaders of opposing parties go back and forth with accusations, blame, and partisan posing?
Is it good - or is it bad - that a list of questions like these could go on for pages?

Everyone and anyone is free to voice and justify their opinion about injustice – it’s our right as Americans. More people are voicing and justifying their ideas for solutions, but too few are listening to them with open, educated minds.

Sometimes it’s thought that we really don’t want to wipe out injustice because all we’d have left to discuss would be the wind and the weather and what to have for supper. We’d have no different flags to fly or anthems to sing, no statues to raise or to tear down, no profit to be made. In this age of justification, that’s simplistic, but not far from the truth.

Is that good, or is that bad? Think about it.




Saturday, April 14, 2018

TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS


 “You’re much too much, and just too very, very
      To ever be in Webster’s Dictionary.”



As Kleenex has become generic for facial tissue, and Vaseline for petroleum jelly, so too has Webster’s become generic for dictionary. We don’t just say “look it up,” we say “check your Webster’s.” It was on April 14, 1828, that Noah’s Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language was published. One hundred and ninety years later, we do have Google for a quick look-see, and spell-check for our electronic writing, but there’s nothing like getting your hands on a hefty Webster’s for a complete definition, pronunciation, and the correct spelling of any word in question.

Born in 1758, Noah Webster graduated as a lawyer from Yale and passed the bar. Unable to find work in the law, he opened his own school. It was the teacher in him that was dissatisfied: generally with the state of education in the new Untied States, and specifically with instruction in the English language. He disapproved of having to use British textbooks in the classroom, and set out to correct the situation. At the age of 25, he published the first of three parts of his A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. That first part was The American Spelling Book, later known as “the Blue Backed Speller,” which is still in print. He later published part two, a grammar, and part three, a reader consisting of American pieces written to promote democracy and responsible conduct.

Webster continued on as a journalist, essayist, and lecturer, and in an effort to protect his own rights as well those of other authors, he lobbied extensively for stringent and uniform copyright laws. In 1806, he published the Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. It was the minor precursor of An American Dictionary of the English Language that he began in the following year.

The American Dictionary “Americanized” words in British usage, changing words like colour and neighbour to color and neighbor, musick to music, and theatre to theater. For the first time, it separated the i’s from the j’s, and the u’s from the v’s in the alphabet. It included new words like skunk and hickory, gleaned from the Native Americans, and also included words in languages like French and Spanish that had become common in American usage. The dictionary contained about 70,000 words, small in comparison to the over 200,000 words, current and obsolete, included in the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED, but large in comparison to the common vocabulary of the day. Above all, it began the standardization of spelling. Webster argued that standardized spelling would be a big factor in uniting the separate regions of the new United States. We may speak with regional accents, but we read and write without them.

The dictionary and a later edition never sold too well: In 1828, it sold for about $15 to $20, about $400 in today’s currency. That was too high price for the average American to pay. Webster’s estate sold the rights and the unsold copies of the 1841 edition to the publishers G. & C. Merriam Company.


Billing itself as “the world’s most trusted dictionary,” trusted for spelling, definitions, and pronunciation, the dictionary became The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, currently available in editions priced from $1.98 on up. (By comparison, the OED will cost you around $1,100, but do you usually need to know that many words?) In 1982, the company name was changed to Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, and in a twist of fate, it is now owned by a British publisher, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Will we Americans go back to colour, neighbour, and theatre? Not ruddy likely.

-------
This is another I wrote for the community magazine. I still don't understand some of Webster's spelling choices, but he isn't around for me to interview. 


Friday, April 6, 2018

THE HUMBLE PENCIL


This is a fun piece I did for our community magazine. My posting is a bit late for National Pencil Day - that was March 30th. When I was googling for pictures this morning, I came upon this entry from Graf von Faber-Castell for the "perfect pencil" Perfect that is if you've a mind to spend a mere $10,000.00 for it. Really?  I'll take two.

Prefect: pencil, sharpener, and eraser.
I'd think folks who own this pencil would make no mistakes.


Behold the humble pencil, an item we take for granted until we need one and can’t find one. Behold the humble pencil eraser, another item we take for granted until we need to erase what we just wrote and find we’ve made so many previous mistakes that the eraser is useless.

Just a pencil

 
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact birthday of the pencil. Man has been using various writing tools for ages, one of them was the stylus, and that was usually made of lead. The people at pencils.com tell us that in 1564, a large deposit of what was thought to be lead was discovered in England. It proved to be graphite, a form of carbon, a mineral that could be processed to form a writing or drawing stick. The first such sticks were wrapped with sheepskin, but soon there came the invention of the wood casing for the graphite. In the late seventeenth century, pencils went into mass production.



Shortly after the discovery of that graphite deposit, there were ideas for holders for replaceable pencil sticks, what we call leads. The earliest known mechanical pencil was found on a ship that sank in 1791. The first refillable mechanical pencil as we know it today was patented in England in 1822. Now there are custom mechanical pencils that sell for hundreds of dollars, not-so-humble solid gold versions that sell for thousands, and the ubiquitous plastic-barreled versions that sell for about five for a dollar. They all write well, they all have erasers. 



It isn’t difficult to pinpoint the exact birthday of the pencil eraser: March 30, 1858. On that day, the clever Hyman Lipman patented the first eraser attached to a pencil. This Philadelphian could be the hero of American school children, but not of European school children: most of their pencils are eraserless. (Pencil tops, caps, or separate blocks, we call them erasers. The British call them rubbers. We wear rubbers or rubber boots, they wear Wellies. But I digress…)



The spread of electronic communication has not diminished the need for pencils. The major pencil manufacturers report that worldwide sales are growing nicely. All this leads us to the fact that the “powers that be,” having an exact date for Lipman’s invention, declared March 30 to be National Pencil Day. Chew on a pencil to celebrate.

This could be a bunch from my husband's workshop.
All carpenters and woodworkers love pencil stubs


Pencil Trivia

·        Lead pencils are now made using a mixture of clay and graphite.

·        Hyman Lipman’s patent, sold for a small fortune, was later invalidated because it was deemed to be only a combination of two existing items.

·        Henry Thoreau, when he wasn’t writing, made pencils.

·        Though many authors preferred writing in pencil, John Steinbeck used over 300 pencils while writing one of his novels. (Who counted them?)

·        Eraser caps were invented to prolong the use of a pencil after its original eraser was worn away.

·        While colored pigments, chalks, and waxes were used for art work from ancient times, they didn’t appear in pencil form until the early twentieth century.

·        Common pencils can be used as pipe tobacco tampers, back scratchers, bookmarks, chignon holders, chopsticks, drum sticks, even splints. (Handy, aren’t they?)

·        One of the few sports that relies on pencils is golf, and golf pencils are short so that they fit easily in a pocket in the golfer’s pants or bag. They are handy to clean off golf cleats, and they’re eraserless, we suppose, to discourage cheating.






Friday, March 30, 2018

MAXIMALISM AND ME




You've heard of the minimalists, meet a maximalist. Spell check likes minimalist, but not maximalist, though there is such a word. The first definition of maximalist that comes up on Google is “(especially in politics) a person who holds extreme views and is not prepared to compromise.”  Well, that’s not me at all, at all. (Well, maybe sometimes!) But Google goes on to quote Wikipedia and say “In the arts, maximalism, a reaction against minimalism, is an esthetic of excess and redundancy. The philosophy can be summarized as "more is more", contrasting with the minimalist motto "less is more."



Less is more at this house. I’ve been downsizing for years, and I’ve got several cupboard and closet shelves that are empty. Empty can be a great concept. There is one area where more is more: on my walls. On a lark, I took a count of all the items hung on the walls of this house, Current, never final, count: 210 - 52 in the kitchen alone. Frank and I never set out to collect any one thing, we don’t have a lot of dust collectors in this house, but it seems we’ve amassed quite a number of things to decorate our walls. They range from handed-down prints and etchings, to W.W.II postcards, to prints, photos, and souvenirs we’ve collected for ourselves. There are several quilts, and lots of needlework done for us by one very special person.



The website Houzz talks about gallery walls – I have several of them. One nice thing about wall-hung things is that you rarely have to dust them. The other is that just a glance at them, in the same way you’d glance at the title on the spine of a favorite book, can evoke a small wave of memories and delight.






Friday, March 23, 2018

DID SOMEONE SAY IT WAS SPRING?

DID SOMEONE SAY IT WAS SPRING?

Here in northern South Carolina this morning, it was at the freezing mark. Up in the Northeast they are suffering their fourth nor'easter in a month. Though the vernal equinox happened this past week, you couldn't prove it by the weather - it's crazy all over the country. (Yep, Mr Trump, there's no global warming effect.)
I found this poem in April last year, on the now defunct The Writer's Almanac. The cadence of the poem reminded me of that of one of my favorites, Barbara Frietchie, by John Greenleaf Whittier. John Greenleaf Whittier. As a kid, I was intrigued by multi-syllabled triple names like his and Robert Louis Stevenson's, and I loved their poems that danced - as this one does.



Greeting to Spring (Not Without Trepidation)
by Robert Lax

Over the back of the Florida basker,
over the froth of the Firth of Forth,
Up from Tahiti and Madagascar,
Lo, the sun walks north.
The first bright day makes sing the slackers
While leaves explode like firecrackers,
The duck flies forth to greet the spring
And sweetly municipal pigeons sing.
Where the duck quacks, where the bird sings,
We will speak of past things.
Come out with your marbles, come out with your Croup,
The grass is as green as a Girl Scout troop;
In the Mall the stone acoustics stand
Like a listening ear for the Goldman band.
At an outside table, where the sun’s bright glare is,
We will speak of darkened Paris.
Meanwhile, like attendants who hasten the hoofs
Of the ponies who trot in the shadow of roofs,
The sun, in his running, will hasten the plan
Of plants and fishes, beast and man.
We’ll turn our eyes to the sogging ground
And guess if the earth is cracked or round.
Over the plans of the parties at strife,
Over the planes in the waiting north,
Over the average man and his wife,
Lo, the sun walks forth!

Friday, March 16, 2018

SHELTER SITES


Just as there are shelter magazines like Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and Better Homes and Gardens, there are what I call shelter websites. Depending on the frequency of their emails, or perhaps I’ve bookmarked them, I check at least one every day. My favorite is Houzz, but I get updates from The Spruce, Real Simple, and others. Every once in a while I save an interesting picture or idea from one of them. One never knows from whence inspiration will some, do one?

But lately I’ve been shutting down on these websites. My house is probably in its last decorating scheme. I’m not going out to get a new shade of paint for the walls, or to reupholster my couch. I’m not going to rearrange my living room. So except for being able to admire some beautifully decorated rooms, genuine eye candy, I really don’t need to take up time at my laptop to view such shelter sites. Besides which…

I am an organized person, and I don’t need 10 Ideas for Decluttering Your Kitchen, 10 Tips for Using Leftovers, (I rarely have leftovers) or 10 Hacks for Paring Down Your Wardrobe. That last one – hacks – really annoys the heck out of me. A hack is a hackney, a cab. Or it’s what you do to cut down a tree. Maybe they use hack to cut down a problem, as they do for cutting into someone’s computer. Anyway…

One of the most annoying things to me is the concept of a “retreat.” I’ve blogged about this in years past, and the concept still annoys me. Houzz has oodles of articles on bathroom retreats. Just search for “retreat” on their website, and you’ll find over a thousand of them. I usually get a chuckle visualizing the poor, harried folks who must retreat from their fraught, stressed lives and beat a hasty retreat from it all.

So that’s my rambling for the morning. I had nothing pithy or clever to post on today’s blog, so I thought I’d do a minor rant.

Next time, the curmudgeon in me may take on the subject of the strange hairdos many of the gals are sporting these days. They look like they’ve been in a high wind, or they wound their curlers wrong. Maybe next time…



Saturday, March 10, 2018

THE IDES OF MARCH


Here's another one I wrote for the community magazine. They did publish it, but with a bit of de-personalization. Well, that's o.k. This rhyme is one that has stuck with me for all the year since I first learned it - and that's over sixty years ago. It's amazing how poems or phrases, even advertising jingles, stick in our minds for ages. 



“In March, July, October and May, the ides fall on the fifteenth day.” That little ditty is courtesy of my high school Latin teacher, Mr. Matthews. Later, I was told by one of the magazine editors that the full rhyme is

"In March, July, October, May,
The Ides are on the fifteenth day,
The Nones the seventh; but all besides
Have two days less for Nones and Ides."

In this day and age, we occasionally hear references to the ides of a month. What really are ides? Or, what is ides: the word can be both singular and plural. The ides were one of the Roman ways to keep track of the days of the month. From their name for the first day of any month, kalends, we get our word calendar. The Romans went along with a more ancient way of calculating the days, and that was basically a lunar system. They had “full,” or 31-day months, and “hollow” months that were less than full. That makes some sense. In Latin, the word for full is plenas. The word for hollow is cavas. From the Roman plenas and plenum, and the like, we get our word plenary. From cavas, cavus, and cavum and the like we get our words cavity, and cave.

They used the word nones to designate a day within the month, usually the seventh or fifth day, if the month was full or hollow. (Ecclesiastically, nones are the fifth or seventh canonical hours, usually the ninth hour of the medieval day that started at sunrise.) The nones were nine days before the ides. The ides were the day before the middle of the month. Got that? They didn’t seem to be too interested in the rest of any month, though they did mark their calendars to know on which days certain activities like assemblies or the initiating of law suits were permissible, or which were public holidays. In times before that, the distinction of the phases of the moon and the months and days were certainly important for plowing, planting, and harvesting.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Julius Caesar, Caesar is told by a soothsayer to “beware the ides of March.” An ominous and ambiguous warning if there ever was one, but emphatic and fitting for the drama nevertheless. That sayer of sooth should have said “Caesar, your buddies are out to do you in.” There were, of course, other reasons for Caesar’s pals to do him in, but perhaps one of the causes of their discontent that he messed with tradition and moved the New Year celebration from March 15 to January 1.

So now you’ve increased your trove of trivial information – aye, the ‘ides’ have it.

Friday, March 2, 2018

EAR TO THE GROUND




Someone I know who was asked what was going on in the neighborhood replied that he’ll keep his “ear to the ground.”  I got a “visual” of that: someone with his ear to the ground. Then I added eye on the ball, nose to the grindstone, hands across the water. The guy would have to be a contortionist.

Silly.  

(But I kinda like the picture I found when I googled for an image to go with this quickie post. I say, I say, I do like those glutes!)

Friday, February 23, 2018

THE CAREGIVER




Now I know why it’s best that women have their babies while they’re young. You’ve got to be young and resilient to be able to function all day after having to get up and attend to a baby’s needs so many times during the night. And all after having gone through the birth process not too long before that. I once asked my mother how she managed four children, one with special needs, and an invalid husband, injured during World War II. Her answer: “I was young.” Oh, yes, now I get it. You’ve got to be young. I am 75, no longer young.

About a month ago, Frank twisted and fell and suffered a compression fracture of one of his vertebrae. Seeing as how he wasn’t in tiptop shape, after two small strokes and at the age of 86, he did need a lot of tending once he was home from the hospital.

Tending to dressing him, tending to his back brace that keeps moving up, tending to going to get whatever it was he needed – I’ve been walking my legs off. Above all, the hardest thing is tending to helping him in and out of bed all night when he has to “use the facilities.” For a while there, that was every hour or two. It’s getting better in that respect. He no longer has to wear the brace all night, so he is more comfortable, and most nights he’s awakening only twice. My sleep has been affected because I am alert to whatever noises he makes that will indicate to me to whatever he needs. I often know he wants to go to the bathroom before he does.

It was the same last night, but - yay team! – this morning he got up and out of bed alone. He’d said he thought he could do it on his own, and he proved himself to be correct. For a while there, we’d been going two steps forward and one step back. Now it seems like every day is another step forward.

You do whatever needs to be done, and I’ve been caregiving since Frank had his first stroke, but never with this intensity. Friends have told me to watch out for my own well-being during this time of extra effort. They say that too many caregivers succumb before their spouses. I can see the truth in that, because there have been a few times when I was so tired and frustrated that just wanted to sit down and go on strike – and maybe utter a few choice words. Whew!

My thoughts go out to both young mothers and old caregivers. Hang in here, and take care of yourself.




Saturday, February 17, 2018

“O TEMPORA, O MORES!”


               
    
Even as far back as the last century BCE, Cicero had those words to say about the morals and corruption of his age. Morals were lax and corruption was rampant. Every age has had its problems, every age had its elders looking back on what they perceived to be better times, safer times, much more moral times, and looking forward to change.

There have been great scandals, religious, political, and secular, in all ages.  Starting in the last century, with the increased popularity of history books and novels, television, and movies, we became increasingly aware of the changes in what society deems to be taboo on the smaller, social stage.
For example, a small one, up until the Roaring Twenties, a lady was considered “fast” if she showed her ankles. Bosoms were either covered or revealed at various times throughout the ages. A few centuries ago in society, if a lady shared more than three dances with a gentleman, it was expected that they were to marry. But that wasn’t as bad as being caught kissing: the marriage had to take place as soon as possible, lest the lady be “ruined” and she and her family bear the shame. (No shame fell to the gentleman or his family.) When it was first introduced, the waltz was looked upon with horror. In Victorian times, even such words as “arms” and “legs” were considered as disgusting. They were referred to as “limbs.”

The movies are excellent sources for chronicling how our morals and social mores have changed, especially in the last hundred years. Picture the 1934 picture It Happened One Night. Remember when Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert had to share a motel room (all movie bedrooms then had twin beds) and they hung a sheet, the “Walls of Jericho,” between the beds, for propriety’s sake? Then fast forward to 1967 and The Graduate. The Hollywood movie moral code had relaxed somewhat. We saw Ben and Mrs. Robinson together in bed – she, obviously, though not blatantly, naked. Their affair was a bit racy for the times, but acceptable.



In the years of the great movies, the movie stars were up to just a much “hanky-panky” as ever before and ever since. In the centuries prior to the movie era, such goings-on were just not mentioned, and were usually managed discretely. Come the movie era and the tabloids, and the wider circulation of news, the Hollywood powers-that-be made sure the press kept mum about offs-screen affairs that would affect the box office receipts if the general public ever got wind of what was going on. The Kathrine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy romance was a prime example of this, and in the racy atmosphere of Hollywood there were quite a few. In that era some great movies were made, and off-screen relationships were kept private. For the most part, the Hollywood community went along with it. Today, there’s still a racy atmosphere in Hollywood, and anywhere else celebrities, royals, and other newsworthy people are found. The press is no longer suppressible as it was in the days of Hepburn and Tracy or, as it was in England, when Edward VIII courted Wallis Simpson. There are always those in the know (Nudge. Nudge. Wink! Wink!) but they’re not telling.



Now, with hardly a gasp, news and photos of romantic relationships of many kinds pop up in all but the most serious news media. In the entertainment aspect of the news, “The Press” is no longer just the press – it is “The Paparazzi,” “the paps.” They’re ready to pounce for an exposé, armed with their microphones, their long lenses, and their “burning questions.” The general public now takes most of it in stride.

Today we have a good laugh at some, but not all, of what was considered socially unacceptable in years gone by. Education and exposure are changing our views and attitudes; changing our minds.



Today, and I do mean currently, we’ve opened the nasty can of worms that is sexual harassment. Was it ever “socially acceptable”? Never - though it was too often condoned and rarely brought into the light of day. The victims endured it in silence, lest they suffer whatever consequences their tormentors could dish out. Well, the sun is shining now on that nasty pastime, bringing hidden situations to light, and making the “perps" accountable for the morals and corruption of our own age

“The times they are a changin’ and all for the better.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

AND THE WINNER IS....

In the last few months, I've been doing more of my weekly shopping at a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market. I've always been a coupon clipper, and having double coupons at the local Harris Teeter, along with a lot of their discounts and BOGOs, I thought I was doing fairly well there. Dream on.
In these last months, I've not had the impressive coupon and discount totals I usually did, saving up to 35% a year on my groceries, but my overall spending is down. Nevermind the savings, what am I spending? What's the bottom line? There are one or two rare items that I can't find at my Walmart - those great Wickels and Red Oval Crackers to name the ones I'll get at Teeter, or at Publix when I want to spend $50 to use their $10 coupon off a gas card.

So - I've been trying the Walmart Great Value versions of name brand or Teeter store brand foods. I've yet to find any of the WM store brand items that I'd never buy again. Most are very good - after all, unlike the A&P that did make many of their own Ann Page foods, Walmart contracts with big producers to make their Great Vale items. One item I'd yet to try was their tuna. We like solid albacore in water. Some of the brand name tuna I'd opened lately was disappointing, to say the least. This morning I had an eye-opener.
I needed to prepare tuna salad for more than two servings, so I opened a can of Chicken of the Sea "Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water." Then I opened the next can below, a can of Great Value "Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water." The difference was so startling, I had to take pictures. Do you believe this?


And here they are dumped out of the cans. (I didn't dare dump the loose stuff on the cutting board.)


The Chicken of the Sea smelled a wee bit fishy, the Great Value tuna smelled like the sea. When mixed with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and some dried onion flakes, they made a nice salad, but ...

Which tuna would you rather have? I do some dinners with tuna. My New Age Tuna Noodle Casserole For Two and my Papas Aliñas will be the better for this really solid tuna.

So  the winner is Walmart, and my budget is grateful.



Saturday, February 3, 2018

WINTER OLYMPICS – VERSION TWENTY-THREE


As my oldest granddaughter once said: "Here my are!" I've not posted for a few weeks because I've been otherwise occupied with Frank's everyday needs. Back on February 20th, he fell and suffered a compression fracture of his L1 vertebra: piercing pangs of pain. So I've become his gofer and  bathroom assistant. Though I've lost a bit of sleep because of nighttime potty trips, it all keeps me busy, I've lost several pounds (a nice side effect) and I'm doing the exercises along with him. It's good for me. 
I passed up posting several of my essays. Frankly, some of them are really a little to "dry."  Here's one that I enjoyed researching for the magazine.  The Olympics couldn't come at a better time for a house-bound man like Frank. We've always enjoyed watching the games - summer and winter - and this year will be no exception.



On October 24 last year, the Olympic torch was lit in Greece. It was on its way, over 5,000 miles, to light the flame in South Korea at the opening ceremonies of the XXIII Winter Games on February 9. There were 16 different events at the first Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France, and there will be 102 in Pyeongchang. Some of the games to be held couldn’t even have been imagined in 1924.



The Chamonix games consisted of several events in figure skating, speed skating, Nordic skiing, bobsleigh, ice hockey, and curling. Though many people are unfamiliar with the sport of curling, it was an Olympic demonstration sport in the first games, and was given official status in 1998.
Today’s games include all of those, plus Alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, luge, and skeleton. As with the speed skating events where there are now short track and longer distance events, figure skating, where they no longer have to do compulsory figures, and Nordic skiing have also lengthened their event lists.



Both the Winter and Summer Olympics have had their controversies: arguments over commercialism and corporate sponsorship, doping, bribery, and cost overruns for host cities. Good and bad, happy and sad, news-wise, the Winter Olympics have fared better, usually taking a back seat to the summer events. We remember 1968 summer games in Mexico City for the fists raised in protest on the podium, and for the Fosbury Flop. 1972 in Munich brought the lethal hostage crisis, but it also gave Mark Spitz his record-breaking seven gold medals. At the 1976 games in Montreal, Nadia Comăneci scored the first perfect 10.0, but those games also brought protests against apartheid.



Sixteen countries participated in those first Winter Olympics. Over the years, Norway, which won the most medals in those games, has also won the most medals: 329. You might expect that, because so many of the events are, after all, Nordic. They practically invented skis. The United States comes in second with 282. In those first Winter Olympics, Charles Jewtraw, from New York State, won the gold in the men’s 500 meter speed skating, the first gold of the games.

Come February, we’re midway in the ice hockey and basketball seasons. The Super Bowl is usually in the books, the baseball season is yet to come, and auto racing of any kind is on winter break, as are many other popular outdoor sports. At this relatively quiet time of the year the Winter Olympics, televised since the games in Squaw Valley, have given us some very memorable moments.

At those 1960 Olympics, American David Jenkins won the gold medal in men’s figure skating and Carol Heiss won the women’s gold. Since then, we’ve watched the likes of Peggy Fleming, Scott Hamilton and Dorothy Hamill do the same. Another memorable skating moment was watching England’s Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean bring the ice dancing competition out of its staid traditions into the modern era with their stunning interpretation of a bolero.

Torvill and Dean

In skiing, we’ve watched the likes of the Mahre brothers, Phil and Steve, Bode Miller, Picabo Street, and Lindsey Vonn wipe out or win big on the slopes. In speed skating the names Eric Hayden and Apolo Ohno strike a familiar note, as do those of Bonnie Blair and Leah Poulos. The biggest and best winter memory for most of us is the “Miracle on Ice.”
In Lake Placid, in 1980, the teams played rounds in two groups. Our American team, consisting mostly of collegiate players, beat some of the historically best teams in the game, and topped their group with Sweden second. The final round robin games were played against the Soviet Union, a team of most professional players who had won the gold medal in the last four games, and the team from Finland. Never even slated to get out of the preliminary rounds, our American team beat the Soviets and then the Finns to take the gold. Goal! “Do you believe in miracles?”
Many of us remember seeing the final game live – but we didn’t. Because of complaints that the game would be held in the wee hours of the European morning, the game was held in the afternoon, and was played on tape delay here in the states. Live or on tape, the excitement was the same.



Will these 2018 games hold the same excitement and offer the same memories? We hope so. NBC will be televising everything live – no more tape delay just to entice you in prime time. Here on the east coast we are 13 hours behind South Korea – in effect, their morning will be our evening. Anyone particularly interested in any one sport may have to adjust their personal schedules to accommodate watching their favorites compete.
    
U.S.A.!! – U.S.A.!!






Friday, January 19, 2018

THE FATHER OF THE FAIRY TALE - CHARLES PERRAULT


That’s Charles Perrault, not CBS’ “On the Road” Charles Kuralt, though both were story-tellers. On first reading the names, you might rhyme them. Not even close!  Perrault’ is pronounced in the French way, and you know what that means: ‘pehr-OH’

So why should you know the name Charles Perrault? This man, born 390 years ago this month, wrote some of the fairy tales we love to this day. He is considered the Father of the Fairy Tale.

Grandfatherly-looking gentleman -
and that has to be a wig he's wearing.
During his fairly long life, Perrault was, by training, a lawyer, working in the government as one of the officials charged with royal buildings, among them, le Château de Versailles. Indeed, he wrote the guide to the labyrinth and its fountains. Promoting literature and the arts, he also wrote poems, treatises, and commemorative pieces. He was part of the ongoing and often violent debate called “Ancients and Moderns,” that argued the relative merits of ancient Greek and Roman literature versus those of the contemporary writers. During this Age of Reason, at the height of French literature, the times of Louis XIV, the late years of the Renaissance, Perrault wrote for the modernists.

Be that as it may, after an interesting life and having just lost his government post, at the age of 67 he published his collection of fairy tales named “Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals.” Of course you know “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.” What child of the Disney era doesn’t? “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Blue Beard” are his creations too.

The infamous Bluebeard -
a cautionary tale, if there ever was one

Perrault’s collection was subtitled “Contes de ma mère l’Oye” in French, or in English, “Tales of Mother Goose.” This is cited as being the beginning of “Mother Goose” collections. When the tales were first translated into English, the editors added more stories and nursery rhymes. In the long printing history of “Mother Goose” recipe for the mix of these two has varied from publication to publication.

Fairy tales and fables, stories and poems, had certainly been around before Perraul’s time. They were usually meant as life lessons for children, and every parent had cautionary tales to pass on to the next generation. Perrault recognized the need to flesh out simple folk-tales, creating what then were fairly grim stories. For example, “Little Red Riding Hood” was meant to warn young ladies not to listen to strangers lest, like the heroine, they wind up as the wolf’s dinner. In the original version, that’s exactly what happened. “All the better to eat you with, my dear.” And no woodsman came to her rescue, as he does in more modern versions of the story. 

You know who these two are.

And speaking of grim, the brothers Grimm are often credited with writing tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but Perrault wrote them down over a century before. Getting the tales into print solidified them, so to speak, and preserved them for a population that was increasingly literate and less in the habit of telling folk tales as an evening’s entertainment.

Cinderella - and not your Disney version.
There are many more illustrated versions of the story.
This is by Gustav Doré.

 Today, in this age of almost universal literacy, we’ve books and electronic devices to provide the lessons. We usually read to our little ones, rather than pass down or make up stories, and consider as quaint the stories from Perrault, the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, even Aesop. Quaint or not, lessons are universal – we just dress them in modern clothes.



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

ARE YOU ANXIOUS?

He makes a lot of folks anxious, doesn't he?

Anxious

Excited

Eager

Over a year ago, my Canadian friend wrote this is her New Year’s email:

Well, it’s 2017, and now we’ll see how your fearless leader makes out as the new President of the United States.  He makes me very, very anxious, that man does, and I’m not even a U.S. citizen!  I hope and pray for the best.  These times are like that so-called Chinese curse:  May you live in “interesting” times.

Interesting times indeed. The year has been very interesting indeed, and that man still makes a good majority of us anxious. That’s “anxious” use in the true sense of the word: there’s a definite sense of anxiety.

I’d really like to smack the first person who used the word “anxious” in place of the word “eager,” and got that definition accepted into common usage. In my handy, dandy Random House College Dictionary dated 1984, there is no such usage.



Saturday, January 13, 2018

THE FATHER OF PINYIN



Every once in a while, Google celebrates a person I’ve never heard of. Today is one of those days – they celebrate the 112th birthday of Zhou Youguang, the Chinese “economist, banker, linguist, sinologist, publisher and supercentenarian, known as the “father of Pinyin.” (I had to look up that supercentenarian – it means he lived over 100 years – he lived exactly 111 years, to be exact.) This man was a polymath, as one can guess from the range of his expertise, and he lived through some very turbulent times.

Google gives this brief definition of Pinyin, taken from Wikipedia. (And what would the curious mind do without those two?) The definition also gives the various ways to pronounce pinyin, which means “spell sound.” There’s the reason for my interest: pronunciation, actually, pronunciation versus spelling.

Pinyin
Language writing system
Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. Wikipedia
Yale Romanization: Pingyām [developed in the 1940's to help G.I.s communicate with their Chinese counterparts]
Bopomofoㄆㄧㄣ ㄣ   [a phonetic script]
Wade–Giles: P‘in-yin [the old pronunciation system used in the west]
Jyutping: Ping jam   [Cantonese pronunciation]
Hokkien POJ: peng-im/pheng-im [pronunciation in most of China's southeast]

I’ve always wondered why the Latinized spelling of Chinese words, at least the spellings we use today, too often doesn’t match the sound of the word. The western world used the Wade-Giles pronunciations up until the late 1970s. In 1955, the Chinese government set about revising their language to increase literacy. They charged Youguang with the task of revising the way the language is represented using the Latin alphabet. They changed Peking, the Wade-Giles spelling and pronunciation, to Beijing. O.K. they could do that.




Beijing is pronounced bei (bay) jing – spot on
Guangzhou is pronounced guang zhow – close
Feng Shui is pronounced fung schway – not close at all

So, that I what I learned in the hour or so since I turned on my PC this morning. I’m still wondering why some spellings aren’t closer to their pronunciation, but now I know that pronunciations vary within China, as they do here in America, and I know who gets the blame: Zhou Youguang. I can still learn a lot in my old age.





Thursday, January 11, 2018

OUR COLORS ARE RUNNING

This post is about flags, not the expression on his face.

They broke in to yesterday afternoon's TV programs on the "broadcast" channels to televise the press conference of our President and Norway's Prime Minister, Erna Solberg. I was involved in something else, so I wasn't paying too much attention.

I looked up and first recognized the Norwegian flag. I never fail to spot that flag, even if it is only one in a U.N. type flag array. (In this household we are very partial to anything Norwegian.) So I listened for a while. I had no idea of the question that had just been asked of him, but the man was going on about Hillary Clinton. What in the world could she have to do with our relations with Norway? Nothing. He just threw her into the mix, three times in fact, as I later learned. He'll take any opportunity to bolster himself. Don't get me started on what I think of that man.

But I digress... One thing that struck me, flag-spotter that I am, was the relative states of those red, white, and blue flags. The colors of the Norwegian flag are crisp and clean. The colors of the American flag are running. That white is getting a bit pink. It's time to replace a few things at the White House.



Friday, January 5, 2018

MCMLXVIII - 1968 – FIFTY YEARS GONE BY

Historians mark 1968 as one of the most important years in the last century of our country’s history. Good things were happening, but the year was rife with hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, plane crashes and sea craft sinking, racial demonstrations, student unrest, bombings, shoot-outs, and world-wide protests against many ills. Some of my readers might be too young to remember the major events of the year, but many were in their adult years, and they well remember, if not the specific date and year, then the incident itself.

1968 started off, history wise, in January, with the Pueblo Incident. The North Koreans captured the U.S. Navy’s lightly armed intelligence ship, the USS Pueblo, in what they said were their waters, and what the U.S. maintained were international waters. The crew was detained and tortured. It took almost a year to resolve the problem and bring the men home by that Christmas. The North Koreans, still a problem, still have the ship.

In that same month, in a customary time of truce during the Lunar New Year, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. After the incident, public support of the war began to wane, and historians see this bloody battle as the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War. The My Lai incident took place in March, and the war raged on.

While those two incidents touched many of us, they happened overseas. In the next few months, history hit right at home. We all remember where we were in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and we likely remember where we were in April and June of 1968, when the Reverend Martin Luther King and then-Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy were also gunned down. Their assassins were found and convicted, but as with JFK’s shooting, the conspiracy theories are still with us.

In October of 1968, perhaps reacting to and empowered by the assassinations and by protests and demonstrations across our country, the gold and bronze medalists at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, in a silent protest against racial bias in the U.S., raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” We scarcely remember their sport or their names but, sadly, we can’t be unaware that such racial bias continues today.
 
In 1968, the world in continued on, as it usually does, with its basic schedule of events. There were games and awards, elections, inventions, and debuts and introductions, weddings and funerals. Among them were some of the good things:

·         The Winter Olympics were held in Grenoble, France, where Norway won the most medals
·          “60 Minutes” debuted, and is still airing, minus Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney, on CBS
·         “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In debuted on NBC” (Sock it to who?)
·         “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” debuted on network TV
·         Boeing introduce the first 747, the jumbo jet that could carry 374 passengers
·         Oscars for the best movie of 1968 went to Oliver! And Katharine Hepburn, in The Lion in Winter, and Barbra Streisand (“Hello, gorgeous.”) in Funny Girl, tied for Best Actress
·         The Beatles produced the two-record “White Album” 
·         It was the year of Super Bowl II – the Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders,
·         And the year the Detroit Tigers, down 3-1, came back to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in the World Series
·         Richard Nixon was nominated as the Republican candidate, and Hubert Humphrey as Democratic candidate for President
·         Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis
·         “The Mother of All Demos” demonstrated the first computer mouse, and almost all of the other basic elements, both hardware and software, of the modern, personal computing we use today
·         The Gold Standard was repealed
·         The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index closed over 100 for the first time (It’s now way over 2500 and rising.)

And in December, the crew of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders became the first humans to travel around the moon. This very successful mission was a wonderful close to a year that had seen too many tragic events. In his book, A Man on the Moon, about the Apollo Program, Andrew Chaikin relates that after they returned home, the astronauts got hundreds of telegrams and letters, one of which was particularly meaningful. The telegram said “You saved 1968.”




                                                       “Ob-la-di  Ob-la-dah, life goes on”