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Posts Tagged ‘Society’

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.

— William Arthur Ward

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Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.

— Winston Churchill

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People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

— Isaac Asimov

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Judge each day not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

— Robert Louis Stevenson

Ward WA

Ward

Stevenson RL-2

Stevenson

 

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Sometimes, I hear it said that English (modern English, which is the fourth variation to evolve over the last 1,400 years) is a difficult language to learn. I also hear that it’s relatively easy.

The real answer is that it depends. Depends on the similarity of your native language to English. Depends on your brain’s affinity for languages.

And here’s another angle to consider: language weirdness.

A few years ago, Idibon, a technology company that specialized in the analysis of languages for global operations such as Google and Facebook, assessed the world’s languages based on how weird they are. In other words, the degree to which they are unique and unlike other languages.

On the weirdness scale, English was ranked number 33 out of 239 world languages. That’s fairly high, but 32 languages scored even weirder.

The prize for weirdest language went to Chalcatongo Mixtec, spoken in a remote part of the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. In second place was Nenets, the language of the Samoyed people, who are reindeer herders in Siberia. Number three was the Native American language Choctaw.

Being a wordsmith and knowing English relatively well (it is, after all, my thing), I consider my native tongue (1) pretty darn difficult and (2) seriously weird.

English grammar and sentence structure are fairly straightforward and sensible. But English is poised to trip you up because of constant contradictions and exceptions to the rules.

Why is the “h” silent in herb, hour, honest, and rhapsody, but not in house, home, human, and hospital?

If it isn’t words with multiple meanings that throw you a curve, it’s words with multiple pronunciations.

Or it’s colloquial words and phrases that don’t make sense.

Why in the world is a handbag called a pocketbook?

How can a newcomer to English know what “working the graveyard shift” means?

What about “It’s a piece of cake” or “I’ll take a rain check”?

You get the picture, right?

All in all, English is flexible, fun, quirky, and endlessly fascinating, but oh, so easy to botch.

Allow me to elaborate, beginning with an anonymous poem entitled “Why English is Hard to Learn.”

Weird-1

Methren. Shim. Very clever.

More examples of English weirdness:

— The word inappropriate means not appropriate; but the word invaluable means very valuable. Likewise, the word inconceivable means not conceivable; yet, the word inflammable means flammable.

— There is no egg in an eggplant; no ham in a hamburger; and neither pine nor apple in a pineapple.

— You can make amends, but you can’t make an amend.

— Goods are always shipped, whether sent by ship, truck, or oxcart.

— We park on the driveway and drive on the parkway.

— Your nose can run, and your feet can smell.

Slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing; wise man and wise guy do not.

— Your house can burn up or burn down.

— You can fill in a form, or you can fill out a form.

— An alarm can go off, or it can go on.

— The words tear and tier are pronounced the same. But if you shed a tear and tear your pants, they aren’t.

— Quicksand works slowly.

— Boxing rings are square.

Weird-2

Imagine that you are freshly arrived from the old country, and you set out to learn English. How would you react when presented with these statements?

— The bandage was wound around the wound.

— I had to desert my dessert in the desert.

— A shot rang out, and the dove dove into the bushes.

— There’s no time like the present, so it’s time to present the present.

— Farms produce produce.

— Being full, the landfill refused my refuse.

— No, I don’t object to the object.

— The drummer put a picture of a bass on his bass drum.

— The boss needs to get the lead out and lead.

— That book I just read, it was a great read.

English is weird, man. Truly weird.

Weird-3

Weird-4

 

 

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The concept in literature and the movies of a fictional universe, a fully-formed imaginary world, goes way back. Thomas More wrote Utopia in the 1500s. Conan the Barbarian appeared in the 1930s. The Lensman sci-fi novels came out between the 1930s and the 1960s.

We have the worlds of Middle Earth, Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. Not to mention the endless parade of comic book superheros. (A tiresome fad that I wish would go away, but, alas, will not.)

This proliferation of alternate realities surely says something about society, the national psyche, and the mentality of the average Joe.

But I’m not here to address that. I want to gripe about something that has mystified me for years — specifically, since 1977, when the original Star Wars movie came out.

Why, I want to know, do the characters and places in the Star Wars movies have such dopey, feeble names? With very few exceptions, Star Wars names are turkeys. Gutterballs.

In most fictional universes, the creators take special pride in the names they choose. Names are an opportunity to make a statement. Names can be revealing, evocative, dramatic. At minimum, you want them to be appealing and memorable.

Not in the world of Star Wars. In Star Wars, the names elicit a “Whaaaa???”

Take, for example, this list of duds:

– Chewbacca
– Lando Calrissian
– Jar Jar Binks
– Qui-Gon Jinn
– Poe Dameron

Yes, I know, Star Wars is popular and beloved. Those names and others are now familiar, and people have become accustomed to them. But as character names, what were the writers thinking? Were the names generated at random? Did they just string a few syllables together and move on?

With those possibilities in mind, consider these misfires:

– Emperor Palpatine
– Grand Moff Tarkin
– Darth Vader
– Count Dooku
– Yoda

Palpatine? Grand Moff? Dooku? Huh?

My first suspicion was that Georgia Lucas simply has a creative blind spot for names. Indeed, that may be the case. But when Disney assimilated Lucasfilm in 2012, the names, if anything, got worse.

For example, here are the main characters in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:

– Cassian Andor
– Jyn Erso
– Baze Malbus
– Chirrut Îmwe
– Bodhi Rook
– Saw Gerrera
– Mon Mothma

With a little effort, I was able to commit the first two names to memory. But the others? Ha!

In contrast, consider some of the character names created by J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling in their Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter novels.

Tolkien gave us these excellent and emotive names:

– Aragorn, son of Arathorn
– Thorin Oakenshield
– Smaug
– Arwen Evenstar
– Meriadoc Brandybuck

Rowling matched him with these:

– Hermione Granger
– Albus Dumbledore
– Severus Snape
– Nymphadora Tonks
– Draco Malfoy

As for place names, here are some destinations in Middle Earth:

– The Shire
– Rivendell
– Fanghorn Forest
– Mordor
Lothlórien

Place names in the world of Harry Potter:

– Hogwarts
– Little Whinging
– Slytherin House
– Ollivander’s, Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC
St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Meanwhile, in the Star Wars universe:

– Naboo
– Dagobah
– Mos Eisley
– Tatooine
– Hoth

The pattern is clear and painful.

Part of the explanation may be that, as a creative enterprise, Star Wars doesn’t come close to Tolkien or Rowling. Mind you, I’m as fond of Star Wars as the next guy. But viewing them as artistic works, if Tolkien is George Washington and Rowling is Abraham Lincoln, Star Wars is Donald Trump.

That aside, being a lesser form of art is no excuse for:

– Padmé Amidala
– Obi-Wan Kenobi
– Darth Maul
– Biggs Darklighter
– Jek Porkins

Remember, I brought up this subject because I find it curious and a little baffling. I didn’t say it was remotely significant or consequential.

But Jek Porkins? Seriously?

Jek Porkins

Jek “Piggy” Porkins, X-wing pilot for the Rebel Alliance, call sign Red Six, a casualty of the Battle of Yavin. (Yavin?)

 

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On board

Next war

Daddy

 

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Duel Epilogue

I’m here to report that my eight-year battle to eliminate an unwelcome tree in a local cemetery, a tree that had no business being there and was pushing a tombstone askew, a battle I thought I had won in 2014, in fact continued for four more years.

I didn’t reckon on the stump. The stump turned out to be remarkably stubborn.

The short version of the story is this: I noticed the tree in 2006, when I first moved to Jefferson. It was growing next to the grave of a pastor who died a century ago. It had grown so large that the headstone was beginning to tilt slightly.

No one else seemed to be doing anything about it, so I took it upon myself to eliminate the tree. In June 2014, after a lengthy campaign, I declared victory. At last, the blasted thing showed no more signs of life.

The complete story is in a celebratory blog post I wrote in 2014.

At the time, I assumed the stump would disintegrate fairly quickly. The day would come, I told myself confidently, when I would be able to uproot it with a swift kick, and the pastor could rest undisturbed again.

Secure in that knowledge, I stopped at the cemetery every few months to assess things. Each time, I would administer a kick in hopes of dislodging the stump. Each time, I left disappointed.

The seasons came and went. The stump did, in fact, dry out and crack. It became gray and shrunken. Random chunks broke off. No bark remained.

Twice, I gave it a few vigorous whacks with a sledgehammer,* but still to no avail. The stump remained as solid as a fire hydrant.

Then, about a year ago, I got the first indication that victory might be near. (Nearer. Nearing.) When I administered the customary swift kick, I heard a sharp crack, and the stump moved.

I still couldn’t dislodge it, but for the first time, it was slightly loose and wobbly.

Several trips to the cemetery later, just a few weeks ago, I administered the kick that proved to be final and victorious.

One evening after supper, on a lark, I drove to the cemetery and walked out to the pastor’s grave. There was the stump, old and worn, still wobbly, but still, literally, holding its ground.

This time, my kick succeeded.

I applied it smartly, as usual. To my amazement, the stump popped out of the ground, sailed a few feet, and landed on the grass with a thump. I stood there, blinking in disbelief.

After 12 years, the deed was done. The tree and the stump — gone at last.

And, by God, I prevailed. That tree was tenacious, but not as tenacious as me.

* In hindsight, I realize that entering a cemetery with a sledgehammer was a foolish move. I could have been arrested for intent to deface grave markers.

Stump

Rocky 1, tree 0.

 

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DEVONSHIRE, ENGLAND — The Aetherius Society, an organization of ding-a-lings who believe Jesus was an extraterrestrial from Venus, is planning a pilgrimage to the site where the group’s late founder claimed he saw Jesus arrive on Earth by spaceship in 1958.

The pilgrimage is set for July at Holdstone Down, a mountain where former taxi driver George King says he watched the spaceship land. King said Jesus was one of several Cosmic Masters, including Buddha and Confucius, who came to Earth to help mankind.

The Aetherius Society proclaims that its “philosophy and teachings come largely from highly advanced intelligences from the higher planes of Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn.”

King G

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA — City crews have removed more than 3,600 tons of trash from a five-block stretch of clogged storm drains along St. Charles Avenue. The haul included 46 tons of carnival beads, a Mardi Gras staple.

At the news conference, a spokesman said the city is considering a plan to install temporary “gutter buddies” during Mardi Gras to stop the beads from washing into the storm drains.

The removal was part of a project that began in 2017 after an August storm dumped six inches of rain on the city, flooding streets and underpasses and angering the citizenry. Officials said the four-month project cleared 15,000 of the city’s storm drains, leaving 43,000 to go.

Mardi Gras

PETERHEAD, SCOTLAND — In February, six police cars and an armed response team went into action after a local man reported finding a tiger crouched inside his cow shed.

I got a hell of a scare,” farmer Bruce Grubb told police as they took defensive positions around the building. During the standoff, officers contacted a nearby wildlife park and were told that no tigers were missing.

After 45 minutes, an officer drove his vehicle close enough to the shed to see inside. He found that the tiger was in fact a large stuffed animal.

The relieved responders emphasized that Grubb was sincere, not a prankster, but how the toy tiger got in the shed is unclear.

Grubb gave the stuffed tiger to the officers to keep as a mascot.

Toy tiger

 

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Before the internet made it so easy, people shared funny stuff in another way: they photocopied whatever it was — humorous image, joke, botched headline — and shared it by mail.

Don’t laugh. Not too long ago, that was cutting-edge technology.

It’s also a fact that lots of the material now online is old, dating back to the snail mail days. I was reminded of that recently when I ran across the list below of “Things My Mother Taught Me.”

I’m pretty sure I photocopied this at some point and sent it to my mom. If I didn’t, shame on me.

———

My mother taught me about religion.
“You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”

My mother taught me about time travel.
“If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!”

My mother taught me logic.
“Because I said so, that’s why.”

My mother taught me foresight.
“Be sure to wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.”

My mother taught me about irony.
“Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

My mother taught me about osmosis.
“Shut your mouth and eat your supper!”

My mother taught me consideration.
“Go outside if you’re going kill each other. I just finished cleaning.”

My mother taught me about contortionism.
“Just look at the dirt on the back of your neck!”

My mother taught me about hyperbole.
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, don’t exaggerate!”

My mother taught me about anticipation.
“Just you wait until we get home.”

My mother taught me about the circle of life.
“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it!”

My mother taught me about stamina.
“You’ll sit there until every bite of that spinach is gone.”

My mother taught me about the weather.
“It looks like a tornado swept through your room!”

My mother taught me about injustice.
“Think about the millions of children in the world who are less fortunate than you.”

My mother taught me about inevitability.
“When your father gets home, you’re really gonna get it!”

My mother taught me about physiology.
“Stop crossing your eyes. They’ll get stuck that way.”

My mother taught me to think ahead.
“If you don’t pass your spelling test, you’ll never get a good job.”

My mother taught me about ESP.
“Put on your sweater. I can tell when you’re cold.”

My mother taught me black humor.
“When that lawnmower cuts off your foot, don’t come running to me.”

My mother taught me how to become an adult.
“Eat your vegetables, or you won’t grow up.”

My mother taught me about genetics.
“You’re just like your father.”

My mother taught me about my roots.
“Do you think you were born in a barn?”

My mother taught me about wisdom.
“When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”

My mother taught me about justice.
“Someday, you’ll have kids, and they’ll turn out just like you!”

Momzilla

 

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