the minor premise

the minor premise

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Now where will I get my weekly grammar fix?

Earlier this month, I lamented the laying off of Nat Hentoff by the Village Voice.

Today I learned that James_J._Kilpatrick is retiring from the newspaper business at the age of 88.

Kilpatrick's picture and byline are among my earliest newspaper memories; he began writing a syndicated column (having already spent years as a writer and editor) in 1964. I think I was aware of his column even before I had graduated from the funnies page to the grownup sections of the paper. As several of the newspapers of my youth in Virginia carried his column, I often read it. (Kilpatrick edited the Richmond Times-Dispatch before "retiring" to Supreme Court news and column writing.)

In recent years, I've enjoyed (not to mention clipped for future reference) his "Writer's Art" column.

Kilpatrick has earned his time off, I suppose. But I'm going to miss those treatises on dangling participials, purple prose, and obscure words.

Thanks for your efforts in support of good writing, Mr. Kilpatrick. You have made it possible for many a grammar geek to keep his (or her) sense of humor in the face of declining literary standards.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yard Eco, Jan '09 Edition

The American Robins turned up Sunday, along with a big flock of blackbirds: mostly or entirely redwings, as far as I could see. I had actually been hearing the blackbirds in trees around the neighborhood since late the previous week; they just hadn't visited our yard. Yesterday there were quite a few common grackles around and one pair hung around the feeders a bit, the male actually on the feeder while the female kept to the gound nearby.

A few goldfinches have come back to the feeders recently after a brief hiatus. They are just beginning to get their breeding plumage. I only see about three at a time, usually, though I suppose things will pick up as it gets warmer. Several house finches are also hanging around. One of the females had awful conjunctivitis with the left eye swollen shut. She may have ridden it out as I later noticed a female with a sticky-looking patch of feathers just behind and below her left eye. Dark-eyed juncos have been hanging out under the feeders, occasionally flying up to browse there directly, in groups of perhaps a dozen. Chipping sparrows are frequenting the feeders as usual, as are quite a few mourning doves.

As always, there is the local pair of cardinals. I think they are a new pair. The male that held down our yard last year lost all the feathers on his head (whether through disease or an encounter with something bigger and meaner than he was I'm not sure) and looked like a pint-sized red vulture for several weeks before we lost track of him. It's possible he grew them back, I suppose, but the male there now looks more youthful and less battered. Could be offspring, I suppose, as the old pair seemed to be pretty successful at fledging youngsters every summer.


Monday, January 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Sporting Events, or Bout Time

I have loved sports all my life. When I was younger, I enjoyed the usual sports, especially football and basketball. While life choices, injury, physical limitations and, yes, lack of talent made sports less a part of my life after age 17, I still enjoy sports both as a participant and a spectator. This past weekend, I was able to do both, and experience two very different cultures while doing so.

I fence as a hobby, and this weekend I participated in fencing tournament. My weapon of choice is epee. While the other weapons (foil, sabre) are encumbered with esoteric rules governing scoring and target area, epee fencing is simplicity itself. If you hit your opponent without being hit, you score. If both fencers hit simultaneously, they both score. The epee fencer can hit any part of his opponent -- the sword arm is frequently the target of choice because it is the part of the body closest to the fencer. Despite the relative simplicty of the game, skill and strategy are both necessary to do well. To do really well, athleticism is also a plus. A fencing bout contains a bit of ceremony, with salutes and handshakes required at the proper times. The sport does involve contact, and bruises are not unusual, especially in epee. However, despite the exertion, the particpants are almost always civil on and off the fencing strip.

There were few spectators at the tournament who were not participants themselves. Included in the participants and coaches were a published author, businessmen, college instructors, and students.

My portion of the tournament did not go very well. After starting relatively well in the preliminary rounds (2 wins, 2 losses), I lost to a lower seeded fencer, lost two places in the standings and was eliminated from competition.

My second sports outing of the day involved a very different atmosphere. A coworker had been encouraging me to go see her participate in her sport of choice: roller derby. Prior to her invitation, I had not even thought of the sport for decades. Indeed, what I remembered was less sport and more "sports entertainment," very much like professional wrestling. When I was a kid, between weekend episodes of the Three Stooges or the Li'l Rascals, I would occasionally tune into matches involving the Washington Tiger-Cats, who would whiz around a banked rink flinging their opponents into and over the protective rail. The teams were co-ed, with men and women alternating periods. Characters like Little Richard Brown and Big Bertha were the stars, and my brother and I would reinact the matches in our socks on the tiled floor in the basement rec room. For a look at roller derby of this era, see the film Kansas City Bomber.

The 2009 version of roller derby bore some resemblance to the "game" I remembered from 1970's UHF TV. The teams fielded five skaters each, with one skater, designated as the "jammer," able to score points. The bout was held at a local roller rink, so the track on which the women skated was completely flat. The teams were entirely female, and some played up the vixen angle a little. Spectacle was the order of the day, with odd costumes, mascots, and wild names for the skaters and referees based on violent wordplay: Jule C. Blood, Anita Straitjacket, I. Candy Stroyu. The particpants did roller derby as an avocation; all came from and went back to their "normal" lives and jobs outside the rink.

Interestingly, the skaters actually contested the bout -- the outcome did not appear scripted at all. In fact, the score was somewhat of a blowout: Richland County Regulators 191, Soul City Sirens 106. The sport was rough, but the violence was not excessive. While there were plenty of falls and some hard hits, there were no fights and only two stoppages for injury. Both injured skaters were able to leave the rink under their own power. Success and failure depended on athleticism, teamwork, strategy and technique. Penalties were meted out for infractions, and the referees (of which there were many) called a fair game. All of this was in contrast to my childhood memories.

The bout attracted many spectators, almost all of whom paid upwards of $10 for the privilige. While I do not know the vocations of the skaters (save my one coworker), my daughter did overhear two spectators remark that they had just been released from prison.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Dialog in the Key of Life

Catholics for Obama: Is Barack Obama really Pro-Life? The answer is “yes.”

The Examiner: President Barack Obama on Friday struck down the Bush administration's ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information. . . .

The President: My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency. . . .

The Examiner: A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said Obama signed the executive order, without coverage by the media, late on Friday afternoon.

Catholics for Obama: [R]ather than trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, an ineffective strategy for 40 years, Senator Obama will reduce abortions.

The President: Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Catholics for Obama: Is Barack Obama really Pro-Life? The answer is . . . .

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

". . . Doomed to Repeat It"

As I was driving home today, I caught a little bit of the hubbub about the the Rev Joseph Lowery's benediction at the Obama inaugural. I could not believe my ears -- not because the passage was offensive, but because I had heard something similar before.

When I was in college, I was a DJ at the college radio station. It was the final days of the good old vinyl record -- the newfanged CD was around, but not yet widespread. One of these old vinyl gems was Richard Nixon Superstar by David Frye. One of my favorite bits from the album was entitled "The Blacks" and involved a visit to the Nixon White House by Muhammad Ali. You can hear the first 45 seconds of the piece here. At the end of the skit, as I remember it, Ali becomes exasperated with Nixon's false hospitality and indicates that in America "if you're white, that's all right; if you're brown, don't come around; if you're red, you might as well be dead . . . ." The Rev. Lowry almost could have taken his inspiration from David Frye's Ali:

Lord, . . . , we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.

P.S. My old roommate and I always regretted not stealing that album upon our graduation. In the coming years, the station converted to CDs, and the copy of Richard Nixon Superstar was used as a weight on the bottom of a banner hanging outside the radio station window. The album is out of print, and very hard to find. If you are ever able to find a copy of the album, listen to "The Blacks" and see if it doesn't remind you of the good Reverend's benediction.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Poetic Injustice

Even though President Obama picked Elizabeth Alexander to write his inaugural poem instead of me, I wrote one anyway. Actually, I sort of borrowed some, substituted some words and smashed them together into one poem.

Dedication Poem
by Dminor

Whose fete this is I think I know.
His house is now in DC, so
He will not see me blogging here,
Wondering how his term will go.(1)

I thought that I would never see
A President sworn in like thee:

Gala whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the treas'ry's flowing breast;

Inaugural both night and day,
With Rick Warren on hand to pray;

A pick that draws an evil stare
From LGBT people there.(2)

The problem is all inside your head
it says to me
Now how do you square it with
I understand you need some marching
bands to see
Must there be 90 bands
before you govern?(3)

How will you change things? Let me count the ways.
You'll change the size of government and when
The right complains, you'll check the votes again
For you have majorities well in place.(4)

"Forward, the bailout plan!"
Was there a dismay'd man?
Not tho' taxpayer knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to get behind,
Theirs not to borrow blind,
Their kids the bill assigned:
Into the Stimulus Plan
Go many billions.(5)

With spending, spending everywhere
"That will help, I think."
Spending, spending everywhere
But GDP still shrinks(6)

It's small business this, middle class that, upper class go away;
But it's "thank you, Joe the Plumber," when there is tax to pay.(7)

Our future's calling, dark and deep,
And you made promises to keep,
The country's fate: to laugh or weep?
The country's fate: to laugh or weep?(8)

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good luck, bub.(9)

We'll all need it. Our success depends on you.

If you were wondering what poems I stole from borrowed, they are listed below (apologies to all authors):

(1) "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost
(2) "Trees," by Joyce Kilmer
(3) "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," by Paul Simon
(4) "Sonnet 43," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
(5) "Charge of the Light Brigade," by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
(6) "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(7) "Tommy," by Rudyard Kipling
(8) "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost (again)
(9) "Inaugural Poem," by Maya Angelou

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

License Suspended

Good old DC is putting its best face on for the Anointing, putting a restriction prohibiting purience for profit around the Capitol and elsewhere in the seat of our government. While I understand this is a temporary measure, I wish they would leave these up in the congressional and senatorial office buildings. They might come in handy.

Hat Tip: Huffington Post


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Things Really Are Bigger in Texas

This item from John McCaslin's column caught my eye this morning:

"Dear John," reads the "Dear John" letter from Houston.

"In light of your political coverage area, I am writing to you regarding ... Barack Obama's inauguration and to introduce you to Presidential Park and Gardens ... scheduled to open in September of 2009. The park will feature 43 larger-than-life statues of all the United States presidents ... and the Obama sculpture is currently in development with plans for completion by Presidents Day.

"The presidential sculptures are all at least 18 feet in size and weigh an average of 7,000 pounds apiece."

I don't know about you, but this columnist can't wait to travel to Texas and lay my eyes on an 18-foot-tall, overweight replica of Chester A. Arthur.

Chester Arthur, heck. I'd like to see William Howard Taft.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Where Are They Hidin' Biden?

As we are now one week out from the inauguration I thought I'd take a break from chronicling ironies and do something suitable for that event instead. We haven't written any songs lately, and I'd been mentioning to D that we really were overdue. We bounced around a few ideas that fizzled. (We weren't sure that titling an oratorio The Obamessiah wasn't outright blasphemy and decided we'd better not chance it. Besides, we suspect that Handel is above our pay grade.) Over the weekend, the muse struck (I think she nailed me with a dobro) and I came up with the ditty below.

Even before Election day, the VP-elect seemed an afterthought. Some supporters of the president-elect were a bit fuzzy about who exactly occupied that second slot. My conspiracy theorist side wondered privately about the psychological implications of those DNC campaign signs--the dark blue ones with "Obama" in glaring white and "Biden" fading away in a lighter shade of blue. I was extremely amused one day when I passed one in which (not sure if it was a trick of the light or an especially dark print run) the VP's name was barely visible at other than ten feet dead ahead.

Since the election, the old boy seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. I noticed a news story recently mentioning his return from Afghanistan (so that's where they stashed him!) but other than that he's of remarkably little interest to anybody who anchors TV news, buys ink by the barrel, worked on his campaign, voted for him... I have to wonder if they remember who he is...


Sung to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd's What's Your Name?, with apologies to Gary Rossington and the memory of Ronnie Van Zant.

Well, it's 'Nauguration Day, Washington, D.C.
Six thousand folks in town
For every Port-A-Potty*-- oooh whee!
Barack Obama's sworn in and he's standin' tall--
But who's the old guy with him?
I can't remember him at all.

What's his name? The VP--
What's his name?
Can't keep him straight--in my mind;
Still, it's nice he came.

Back at the hotel
Ballroom, they got such strife:
It seems the Veep showed up to
Celebrate and dance with the wife-- (all night!)
Well, the police said he'd need ID or he'd have to go--
I guess the Big Night Out's a
Krispy Kreme and cup of Joe.

What's his name? The VP--
What's his name?
Came from which state?--I dunno--
Well, it's all the same...

Nine o' clock the next day
He's under the Dome
'Til the Pro Tem comes from the Chamber
To send him off home-- (don'tcha roam!)
Off he goes to the White House instead:
"Barack! He needs my help!"
And from inside the Oval Office
Comes the frantic yelp:

"What was his name? My VP--
What's his name?
Shootin' you straight--can't recall--
Tell me who's to blame?
What's his name? My VP--
What's his name?
Nobody seems to know--
But it's nice he came."

*See DUmmiefunnies for statistics.

Earlier parodies here.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Irony of Ironies #1

D has been messing around on Wikio again lately, presumably in order to appear busy when I approach with the "I have a job for you" look in my eye. But he did find a few items that I thought set off the Irony-O-Meter. I figured they were worth a quick post. Here is the first: (that's DD as in direct democracy) put up this post including C-SPAN footage of Congress tallying up the electoral votes and certifying Barack Obama as president-elect. There was, of course, great rejoicing in the combox.

I'm not partial to the idea of direct democracy, except perhaps for some local matters, for reasons that if I recall are covered in The Federalist Papers. That and the bit of trivia that Switzerland didn't have national female suffrage until 1973, mainly because there were some cantons that couldn't be persuaded to enter the 20th century until then. Thus I found it interesting that a publication dedicated to the concept would be rhapsodizing about a particularly impressive example of the workings of representative democracy.

I guess that representative democracy thing is all right if it's working in your favor.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Crystal Ball Return

Over at the American Catholic, a number of contributors listed out his predictions for the coming year. While the prediction game is fun (I engage in it myself on occasion ), sometimes it is more fun to look back at predictions made about the present time to see how well the past pundits prognosticated.

The Usborne Book of the Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond (Amazon listing here), written by Kenneth Gatland and published in 1979, lists predictions for the decades of the 1980's and 1990's. Let's look at a few of them and see how Mr. Gatland fared.

"Satellites in Earth orbit beam educational programmes to many countries in the underdeveloped Third World."

Does "Baywatch" count as educational programming?

"Wind turbines - modern windmill designs - are developed which can supply electricity economically"

Unless you live on Martha's Vineyard

"Domestic computers run household equipment. Electronic chores include keeping accounts, ordering supplies, suggesting menus, cooking meals and keeping a diary for the people living in the house."

I believe those diaries are now called "blogs."

"Newspapers supplied to homes either via a computer printout or
in electronic form over the TV screen."

Got that one right, but who prints them out?

"First domestic robots used as household 'slaves' to do simple tasks."

I hear the Roombas are organizing for abolition.

"Good insulation and other energy saving features built into all new houses."

But I had to buy one from the 1970's!

Solar Panels in general use to heat water in homes. Solar-electric cells used ot generate electricity for some uses, such as recharging batteries.

Not quite yet, but we're getting there.

First deliveries of electronic mail. Hand-written letters are electroically copied, sent via a satellite-link to their destination, wher ethe incoming message is printed out.

Just the fax ma'am; email is a lot smoother than that!

Hat tip to Classical Gas Emissions


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

I love living in Georgia

Where else would I find this idiom on the gardening page of my local paper?

If you were given a poinsettia for Christmas or bought several to decorate your home for the holiday season, don't just chunk them in the trash. One local expert on the plant says you can keep a poinsettia year-round with a little TLC.

I was fixin' to bust a gut when I saw this!

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

The End of an Era

It's actually been a few days since this was announced, but I didn't hear about it until this morning. The Village Voice has laid off Nat Hentoff.

Now 83, Hentoff had been writing for the paper since 1958--almost as long as it's been in existence:
“With all due immodesty, I think it doesn’t help to lose me because people have told me they read The Voice not only for me, but certainly for me,” was his wry comment on the layoff, which was ostensibly brought on by the Voice's financial woes.

As folks say around here, that ain't just whistlin' Dixie. But for Hentoff, I'm hard pressed to think of any other reason why I might have ever gone to the Voice's website. From what I've seen there, I've had to conclude that about half the material in it (excluding ads, which seem to account for the lion's share of the site) is of interest only to New Yorkers and possibly those visiting the city and looking for things to do there. The other half appears to consist of sordid depravity this middle-aged country girl couldn't begin to envision. That doesn't add up to a whole lot of readin' fer those of us out here in the boonies.

As a college girl, I became a Hentoff fan through his syndicated columns in the Washington Post and other newspapers. While out of the country during the 90's, I got my fix of him, George Will, and a few other good writers by way of them newfangled internets (once we got online.) This inevitably led me to the Voice's site, but I abandoned them a couple of years ago in favor of Jewish World Review on observing that, strangely enough, Hentoff's pro-life columns didn't seem to be getting published there anymore (did the paper's takeover by Time have anything to do with that? Hmmm.) While desperate times may call for desperate measures, I'm suspicious that the columnist's refusal to walk in lockstep with leftists whose respect for the civil rights of others is limited to the extrauterine able-bodied may have made tough times a handy excuse for the editorial board to rid itself of a turbulent writer.

I believe the sacking of Hentoff, who's been in the business long enough to have interviewed Che Guevara (he wasn't wowed, by the way,) will ultimately be a greater loss than a savings to the Voice. It seems I am not alone in this view.

Enjoy what remains of your slow decline, Voice. I'm sticking with Nat.