Saturday, March 12, 2016

“Oh, Look! It’s Mr. Grumbletummy!” -- The Colonel Carries On #22

by Trick E. Riddle

People look even worse in mug shots than on passports and driver’s licenses. But Amanda Schweickert, above, who was arrested for speeding, driving without a license, and driving an unregistered car, looks like the angel who told Adam and Eve to get out of Eden. Also of interest is her fake registration plate, depicted below. Folk art for our times.

 “I haven’t seen you in so long I thought you’d fallen off the face of the earth or, better yet, died.” --Cold remark

Today's password: "blue sneaker." Visual reinforcer: 

 “I love Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Eminem -- especially the melodic stuff. But I don’t know whether you can hear it in my books.” --after James Patterson, author of bestsellers

 “I’m hesitant to write a memoir, for fear someone in my family will call me a liar. I don’t want to alienate my relatives. I’d rather have relatives than a book.” -after Edwidge Danticat

 “The best way to keep a secret is to publish it, because no one reads. In a week, it’s old news, and you’re safe.” --after Edmund White

 Quiz: What was Attila the Hun’s middle name? Answer: “The.”

 Say it like you mean it: “Awa pop a lube op, a lop ham boom.” Was that so hard? Can you think of a nicer earworm?

 “Donald Trump loves himself first, last, and everywhere in between.” — Jenny Beth Martin

 “Throw yourself into things. Do nothing by elves.” --The Fiercely Independent Shoemaker

Above (center, with mustache), Lord Kitchener during his days as front man for the world music group “Fez Fellas” (motto “Forward in all directions!”)

 I like the name of the real musical group: “Upstate Rubdown.”

 Another real musical thing: “Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin.”

 “The plural of anecdote is data.” --where grammar meets statistics

 “I thought he’d gone off the twist.” --overheard

The above photo deserves a funny caption contest. Put your suggestions in the comments. No limit on entries per person.

Above: Modern Sparta.

 "The Parable of the Prodigal Son" would be better called "The Parable of the Man With Two Sons" or "The Parable of the Prodigal Father."

 “I’m not a Trump supporter ... but I don’t believe he is racist or anti-Semitic. I think he is simply … Trumpian. His own thing, his own self. Which is, of course, very American. As I’ve said many times, he is an American original, an adornment to the scene. An addition to the gaiety of life. An amazing float in the parade. I just don’t think he ought to be president.” --Jay Nordlinger

Correction: an earlier report mistakenly described the above photo as depicting Nancy (left) and Ronald Reagan at a White House Christmas observance. The man on the right is Mr. San T Claus. Quality Nonsense regrets the error.

 Car Talk receptionist: Isabel Ringing

Before (left) and after: Julia Roberts hawks her rejuvenation cream

 “You were born to dance upon nothing” is a lovely old expression that means you will end up on the gallows, you will die by hanging.

 A friend objected to “it’s” as a contraction of “it has,” citing the supposed awfulness of  “it’s increased poverty among the hill people.” I’ve no objection to the contraction, but would spell out “it has” in the given example to eliminate the reader’s brief uncertainty over whether “increased” is a verb or an adjective.

 No such problem with “It’s Been A Hard Day’s Night.”  

 “Being right is not the same as governing well.” --said of some of Prime Minister Thatcher’s decisions in office

 Once Thatcher asked an officer in the intelligence services whether they employed forgers. Sometimes we do, he admitted. “How do you check their references?” she asked.

 A “wind drought” is not, as I first thought, a drought caused by wind sucking all the moisture from the soil; it’s too little wind, so the windmills don’t lay enough ergs. If metaphorical “droughts” continue to multiply (energy drought, gas drought), the day may come when the retronym “water drought” takes its place next to “acoustic guitar.”

 “My life now is happier than it’s ever been, more full of joyful experiences, [but] life still hurts too much for it to be wise for one ever to become attached to it." --attribution misplaced

 “That true love and true detachment can coexist is the fundamental truth at the core of both Christianity and Buddhism: A person must lay down his life in order to save it.” --same guy

Above (center, in baseball cap) Lord Kitchener pointing to the part of the stands into which he was about to hit a home run. His promising baseball career ended prematurely in a dispute over his refusal to wear the standard Yankee uniform and to lose the ‘stache.

 “We used to know that there is a difference between a gin mill and the campaign trail — and a difference, further still, between the campaign trail’s rough-and-tumble and the decorum of a debate stage. It is the difference that tells you that wearing shorts on the beach is not license to wear shorts at a wake.”

 “If you read my description of this film and think, ‘I’d hate that,’ you’re probably right. But I think there is an audience for this movie, and trust that the film and its audience will find each other.” --reviewer's name misplaced

 “I’ll be glad when the Florida primary is over, because I’m tired of hearing it mispronounced ‘Flor-da.’ Isn’t it ironic that both ‘Florida’ and ‘orange’ lose their middle vowels?” --Sarah J. Liner

 The phrase “error all compact” refers to brief erroneous expressions that cannot be refuted briefly. But any listener is likely to be put off when debater A says “X” and debater B says it would take more than the available time to refute “X.” So if B hopes to win the debate, B must have a reasonably compact response to “X” that at least indicates where a fuller response would go.

 An imaginary dialogue of mother and two sons:
Aidan : “Mommy, am I a Shondell?”
Dermot: “Me, too!”
Lucy: “Now, boys, have you been into the Crystal Blue Persuasion again?”

 The online question was, “Who was Ruby Begonia?” The answer voted “least helpful” was the following: 

“Are you a person who doesn't make lists or keep notes, someone who makes lists and notes in simple little notebooks you  grab from the school supplies aisle, or the kind of person who goes to the bookstore to get the fancy leatherette hardcover notebooks?”

 Sometimes linguistic drift over time makes old stuff not entirely intelligible without effort, like Shakespeare. Here’s a non-Bard example: “If there be such a thing as truth, it must infallibly be struck out by the collision of mind with mind.” --William Godwin, philosopher and novelist (1756-1836). (Digression: God save us from philosopher-novelists.) 

In that quotation, does “struck out” mean “removed” or “revealed”? Replacing one with the other reverses the meaning of the adage. Reflection suggests “revealed,” but gee whiz: “struck out”?

 Sayings may get polished through time and mismemory. John Paul Jones may have said in a toast, “Our country: in her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, but right or wrong, our country!” I needn’t say how it has been remembered.

 Similarly, John Adams may have said:

“Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she [America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” –John Quincy Adams, speech to the U.S. House of Representatives on July 4, 1821, in celebration of Independence Day

But it is remembered as “We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but the custodians only of our own.” Fair enough, I guess.

It has been said that “only” is the "most misplaced modifier in English." Shouldn’t John Quincy Adams have said “custodians of only our own”?

 I long wondered about “wit of the staircase”: was it an upward staircase, as in the host ascending to the upstairs bedroom after the party was over, or a downward staircase, as in the guest descending to the street? The following may put the issue to bed.

 "Eighteenth-century French philosopher and writer Denis Diderot was at a dinner party, engaged in debate over a topic that he knew well. But perhaps he wasn't himself on that evening -- a bit self-conscious, distracted, worried about looking foolish. When challenged on some point, Diderot found himself at a loss for words, incapable of cobbling together a clever response. Soon after, he left the party.

"Once outside, on his way down the staircase, Diderot contin­ued to replay that humiliating moment in his mind, searching in vain for the perfect retort. Just as he reached the bottom of the stairs, he found it. Should he turn around, walk back up the stairs, and return to the party to deliver his witty comeback? Of course not. It was too late. The moment -- and, with it, the opportunity -- had passed. Regret washed over him. If only he'd had the presence of mind to find those words when he needed them.

"Reflecting on this experience in 1773, Diderot wrote, 'A sensi­tive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument leveled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he reaches] the bottom of the stairs.'

"And so he coined the phrase l'esprit d'escalier -- the spirit of the stairs, or staircase wit. In Yiddish it's trepverter. Germans call it treppenwitz. It's been called elevator wit ... My personal favorite is afterwit. But the idea is the same -- it's the incisive remark you come up with too late. It's the hindered comeback. The orphaned retort. And it carries with it a sense of regret, disappointment, humiliation. We all want a do-over. But we'll never get one.” --Amy Cuddy

A big bonus is the suggestion of “agenbite of afterwit.”

L’esprit d’escalier (or “The Sweatshop of Wit”)

 Francis Bacon, a very great man, is known for much, perhaps not least for his aphorism, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, writing an exact man.”

He also said, “Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.” (Emphasis added.)

That hits me close to home, because a good deal of my reading seems to result in culling nuggets to share, with my only contribution an implicit “Isn’t that cool?”

 “We should not be simply fighting evil in the name of good, but struggling against the certainties of people who claim always to know where good and evil are to be found.” -Tzvetan Todorov, philosopher (b. 1 Mar 1939)

 "Red Hot Chili Pipers" is a bagpipe band

 In olden days, we used to have to translate literally, then idiomatically, like this:

Original: “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.”
Literal: “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”
Idiomatic: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Original: “mutatis mutandis”
Literal: “with things that had to be changed having been changed”
Idiomatic: “after all necessary changes”

Original: “les grands esprits se recontrent
Literal: “great minds encounter each other”
Idiomatic: “great minds think alike”

 “Until we get single-payer health care in this country, there’ll be different strokes for different folks.” I made that up.

 In 1962 William F. Buckley Jr. had written to the editors of The Individualist, the newsletter of Young Conservative Club of Walt Whitman High School (in the Bronx), responding to their inquiry about something he had written in Up from Liberalism concerning “final truths.” He wrote:

“In the passage you quote from Up From Liberalism I intended, indeed, to refer to the religious truth that is our central heritage and to the moral philosophy and human insight that derive from it.

“Sometimes this position is referred to (in a phrase going back, I believe, to the days of the Roman Empire) as 'the morality of the last days'—by which is meant the world-view of men who know that death is close.

“But, in the long view, we all stand sentenced to death, and whether it comes in 1995 or tomorrow makes no difference. That is why the morality of the last days always applies to what is ‘finally important in human experience.’

“All our techniques of social welfare, all our science, all our comfort, all our liberty, all our democracy and foreign aid and grandiloquent orations—all that means nothing to me and nothing to you in the moment when we go.

“At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light.

“That is what is finally important; it has not changed; and it will not change. It is truth, which shall ever abide in the future. And if it is ‘reactionary’ to hold a truth that will be valid for all future time, then words have lost their meaning, and men their reason.”

  Political discourse has come a long way since 1962:

“Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, he referred to my hands — ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”

 The “many worlds” theory in physics posits the existence of other universes besides the one that expanded from “our” Big Bang.

One variant of the theory holds that all possible universes actually exist. This blows the mind in a way prefigured by the Borges story, “The Library of Babel.” The library contained all possible books -- the works of Shakespeare, the works with one letter different, with two letters different, with three, etc.

If all possible universes exist, one universe has the full Library of Babel, another the Library with one volume missing, another with a different volume missing, etc., one with two missing, another with a different pair missing, etc., one with three missing, and so on.

If you like vivid particularization, consider an infinite number of universes in which you were born at the second at which you were born in this universe, an infinite number in which you were born a second later, etc., an infinite number in which you had no siblings, one sibling, two, thirteen, forty, ten thousand, etc.

With that background, imagine that you are at a decision point whether to shoplift a pencil, and ask yourself, “What difference does it make whether I steal the pencil? In an infinite number of universes, I do steal it, and in an infinite number I don’t. Who cares?”

Another example of theoretical physics complicating morality.

 Who likes trick questions? Here’s one: “How many times can you subtract 5 from 55?” The intuitive answer is 11, the result of dividing 55 by 5. Let’s put that aside for a moment.

Another possible answer is “once, because after you subtract 5 from 55, you have 50, and subtracting 5 from 50 is not the same as subtracting 5 from 55.”

That answer has the feel of Lincoln’s answer to his own question about how many legs a mule has if you call the tail a leg. “Four, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

Another possible answer is, an infinite number of times, because an infinite supply of 55s and 5s exist. If you wish to pursue this line of thought, consult the works of Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead.

The last possible answer I will put forth requires you to imagine an 11-block tower of size-5 blocks. The tower is 55 units tall. If 10 friends and I each pull one block from the tower at the same time, we will have subtracted 5 from 55 eleven times, leaving zero.

That last answer agrees with the intuitive answer we put aside at the start, so we have come full circle.

The takeaway: some questions have multiple right answers, the rightness of which depends on point of view. Don’t carry this insight too far.

Some important questions have one or more wrong answers that are more beautiful, more enlightening, and more useful than a right answer. (That observation is a bow to the complexity of reality, not a license to lie.)

 Another trick question: For how long does a golf club remain in contact with the ball?

One right answer is “half a thousandth of a second” (or “0.5 milliseconds”). But that answer assumes that a golfer is hitting the ball with the club.

The answer might be different if we assume that the golfer has superglued the ball to the club to make a wall ornament for his man cave, or if we assume the golfer has thrown the ball into the volcano but has kept the club (or vice  versa).

So words can have different meanings, and some meanings have no words, like the beauty of one’s true love.

 “[F]rom the perspective of the State Department official, war is the declaration that his organization has failed of its purpose. He sees it as bad public relations for his entire function. Thus, even when the nation’s interests would be overwhelmingly better served by war than by the continuation of diplomacy, the State Department man will prefer diplomacy. It’s in his [domain], and enhances his prestige by enhancing the prestige of his trade.

“It’s not too much to say that averting war regardless of its desirability or justifiability is near the top of every State Department functionary’s list of priorities. In this pursuit, the State Department will often find itself opposing even peacetime operations of the military designed to improve its effectiveness, such as the acquisition of new weapons or the enlargement of its ranks.” --John Derbyshire

 "Zen is not a particular state but the normal state: silent, peaceful, unagitated.”
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