Tuesday, March 4, 2014

If You Teach a Cat Humility, the World Will Beat a Path to Your Dog

Popcorn by The Colonel # 86

by Aunt Buttons

☢ Henry James famously said, “Tell a dream, lose a reader.” That’s hard to interpret. Isn’t telling an important dream worth losing one reader? Or are we to assume that the phrasing was just sloppy for “Tell a dream, lose all readers”?

☢ Or maybe the saying was just what sloppy writers call “an overexaggeration”? Surely there exist dreams, even fever dreams, that rivet in the retelling. Here’s an example from “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi:

☢ “I dreamt of rats. They spoke to me. They called me ‘cousin.’ And I dreamt of being caught, dreamt of sedative smoke, tar, glue, and strange lights the size of the sun, switching from red to green so fast I had no time to react.”

☢ Porochista Khakpour says that Helen Oyeyemi is in essence “a writer of rather enchanting horror stories.” What a mean and odd thing for a reviewer to say about an author whose work the reviewer praises highly. Talk about losing readers. The reviewer should review Strunk & White, too, as “rather” is one of those “leeches in the pond of prose, sucking the life from words.”

☢ On genealogical research: "Don't shake your family tree too hard, because you never know what fruits and nuts will come raining down." --Roy Marshrigger

"We made history here tonight": Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for a new generation
☢ Speculate intelligently: what is the birth date of the nearest common ancestor of everyone in the above picture? Our speculation? Ides of March 1014 CE.

☢ Waking up gradually is one of life’s pleasures. Few would argue that it’s more pleasant to wake up abruptly. Yet there is room for argument over whether it is nicer to fall asleep abruptly or gradually. We favor the former -- if sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care, why not get to it?

☢ “Spring is ready. The birds are here, the plants are waiting under the snow, but the cold didn’t get the memo to go away.” --Brian O’Rourke, philanthropist, philosopher, and restaurateur

☢ Speaking of restaurants, a cartoon in a recent New Yorker showed a quicksand bog with several couples in varying degrees of sunkenness, from ankle-deep to just faces above the surface. One husband was looking at his watch, frowning at a more-sunk couple, and saying to his spouse, “I’m sure we got here before them.”

☢ It is said that English is hard to learn, because it’s irregular, has a million-word vocabulary,  and has exception to every rule and exceptions to most exceptions (another slant on “American exceptionalism”).

☢ One response is that no language is difficult to its native speakers, and if you delete the medical and legal dictionaries from the English lexicon, you’re left with about 175,000 words, which is not an order of magnitude more than French, German, or Spanish, and you can function perfectly well in English with a vocabulary of 1500 words, except in academia, which requires a passel of lollapaloozas.

☢ Some believers can accept a creator God who wound up the universe and then left town on business, but who doesn’t these days get involved in details like the doings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or helping Grandpa get over pneumonia more quickly because little Rhianna prayed for him. Jesus painted a word-picture of an involved Father attentive to every sparrow-fall.

☢ A believer in an involved deity has an even more daunting job these days -- a God who cares about every subatomic particle in every piece of space dust in a billion galaxies, the sum of which makes up four percent of all matter (the other 96% being “dark,” or non-baryonic, matter, with which God presumably also has an intimate relationship, maintaining every bit in existence by an ongoing act of the divine will).

☢ Some nonbelievers think belief, or at least religion -- the response to belief -- is not just unfounded but toxic. They see culpable cowardice in silent dissent, and hear battle trumpets to which decency calls them to respond with energy and courage.

☢ "Atheism" and "nonbelief" are negative terms. Anent the Boer War, G.K. Chesterton said, “I’m not anti-war, I’m pro-Boer.” Atheists need a less negative descriptive name. “Reality-based community” is too polemic. Then again, maybe it’s a fool’s errand to look for a non-negative name for a group whose members' only common denominator is not believing in gods.

☢ Here are two drafting problems that bedevil lawyers: (1) how to describe a period of time without using smaller periods as its start and end points (points and periods are clean different things); and (2) how to list examples without using the judicially vexed phrase “including without limitation,” as in "fruit, including without limitation tomatoes."

☢ And here are two drafting solutions to those problems: (1) “from the point that starts January 1 to the point that ends December 31”; and (2) “tomatoes and all other similar and dissimilar fruit.”

☢ "Welcome to the OCD Coffee Shop. We have separate recycling bins for coffee cups, coffee-cup sleeves, coffee-cup stirrers, coffee-cup lids, and coffee-cup lids with lipstick on them. Thank you for paying exact change, including tip."

☢ At a recent meeting of a book club to discuss “Ancient Light” by John Banville, one member took umbrage at the author’s frequent use of obscure words, on the ground that he must be showing off to compensate for not having gone to college. There was a time when New England farmers knew their Homer in Greek. "Ancient Light" is the third part of a trilogy. Trilogies may bite, but they're not on that account trilobites. "My computer's so old, it measures its RAM in trilobytes."

☢ Happy Roman New Year! Ancient Romans started their 10-month years with March, after many days of non-calendrical time following the end of the previous December, the tenth month. That odd approach to winter mirrored their approach to night, which didn’t count as either the day before or after.

☢ That situation created a problem of how to assign a birth date to a baby born at night. The solution was to assign a baby born in the first half of the night (before midnight, the “noon of night”) to the previous day, and a baby born in the second half of the night to the following day.

☢ Although the population of Ukraine is only about 46 million (between Poland at about 39 million and Germany at about 82 million), it’s the largest country by land area entirely within Europe. Russia is larger, but Russia is partly in Asia (although European Russia is larger than Ukraine). France claims to be larger than Ukraine, but only by counting overseas French territories on the flimsy pretext that they're not colonies, but part of metropolitan France.

“I like my dental hygienist. I think she’s very pretty. So in the waiting room before I have my teeth cleaned, I eat a box of Oreos.” --Steven Wright

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