Category Archives: History

Do Not Feed the Living Languages!

Language changes with the times. This is why the Romance languages, that is those that evolved from Rome’s Latin, eventually differentiated into French, Spanish, Italian, etc. In times such as ours, there are many changes due to advances in technology, or even threats like the novel corona virus.

When I was in school, we were taught that words were categorized by gender while people were described by sex. Sometime, oddly enough either during or shortly after the Sexual Revolution, someone decided that using the words people and sex together was unsightly, offensive, or something. People suddenly were categorized by gender, just like words.

By doing so, even your great-great-aunt Prudence wouldn’t be offended. Of course she grew up referring to people by sex and probably lived on a farm on which the animals repeatedly engaged in scandalous behavior.

In any case, we have it all modernized.

However, in other languages the gender and word thing didn’t go away. The Romance languages still assign a gender to nouns as do the German language. In German, a fork is feminine, a spoon masculine and a knife neutral.

We still have vestiges of the gender comment in modern English. A ship, for example, is referred to as she.

But what’s important is that we keep people and sex apart.*

 

I wonder if any guy has told his significant other, “Wow! You look really gendery tonight?”

 

Heroes

When I was growing up, there were heroes I looked up to.

  • Chuck Yeager–the first person to break the sound barrier in level flight.
  • John Glenn–the first American to orbit the earth and later US Senator
  • Neil Armstrong–The first man on the moon
  • Gene Kranz–NASA Flight Director for Gemini and Apollo

Each of these people did something noteworthy–PLUS three of the four are from my home state of Ohio. Gene Kranz graduated from the same high school I did.

Women who did great things in the 1960s didn’t get the spotlight, or even worse, the credit went to a male instead of the female who actually did the work. VADM Grace Hopper, NASA’s Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and their colleagues would not be publicly acknowledged until decades after they had achieved great things..

The closest I came to considering a celebrity as a hero was Jimmy Stewart. I liked his laid back style, but I admired the fact that he enlisted in the Army as a private as soon as he could, became a pilot, and volunteered to fly B-24s over Europe. After the war, he remained in the Air Force Reserve, attaining the rank of brigadier general.

Who are today’s heroes? Who do our children and grandchildren look up to? Who inspires them?

Premeditated Twinkie Offenses

I have no inherent dislike or paranoia about guns. I served in a war zone and carried a weapon. I like to go to a range and plunk at targets.

However, there are those today who are purchasing guns to protect their “stuff” in the event of shortages. It’s disturbing to think that anyone would kill another person over a loaf of bread, a side of beef, or a twinkie.* Talk about premeditated murder.

Somewhere around 250-280 AD, there was a pandemic–probably smallpox. The Roman death rate was around 30 percent, but in areas with a Christian presence it dropped to 10 percent. Why? The Romans deserted their sick friends and relatives to avoid catching the disease. Christians, even knowing that they might catch the disease, cared for one another.

 

* These are probably the same people who physically fought their way through the crowd to grab 18 cases of toilet paper.

Christmas Thoughts

This blog is written from the perspective of a Christian, with no intended slight to my friends and readers of other faiths.

It’s highly likely that Jesus was not born on December 25th. In fact, we have no evidence as to what His birthday might be. Early Christians were not historians and shared their thoughts to convey the theological message rather than to chronicle events as journalists. Many, if not most, early Christians expected Jesus to return during their lifetime, so they saw little reason to record an accurate history.

It’s only fair that we don’t know Jesus exact birthday. Those who came before His birth didn’t know when He would come, so it puts all of us in the same boat.

Did Christians co-opt a midwinter pagan festival? Probably. I think it was an early form of ecumenism. The word gospel means “Good News,” and shutting down peoples’ holidays would not be perceived as good news. Instead, additional content was added to the existing event.

So in that same spirit, enjoy a wonderful Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or any other holiday you can find between now and New Years.

Oh, and here’s another interesting fact about Christmas. Many people take offense at it being referred to as Xmas and see it as removing Christ from Christmas. Actually the X is not an X. It is the Greek letter chi, the first letter of the Greek word Christos–Christ.

Christos

Christos

 

When in Doubt–History

I love history–but you probably knew that. History, at least as taught, is imperfect because of two reasons:

  1. History is written by the winners, and it some times takes a century or more mitigate such bias.
  2. Much of the blood, sweat, tears, excitement, and intrigue gets removed, leaving only names and dates. Boring!!!

So here are some historical “facts” that I found interesting. I call them “facts” because we believe them to be true, but frequently,  as more research is done, we have to revise our understanding in light of additional evidence.

The “facts” I share are of no particular significance. I just find them interesting.

  • Creases in pants were once considered the opposite of fashionable. The upper crust had clothes custom tailored while those of less wealth purchased “off-the-shelf,” pre-made clothing. The crease indicated that the garment had sat on a shelf for a long time.
  • The term “an officer and a gentleman” refers to the fact that the elites were entitled to and enjoyed preferential treatment, including being assigned the senior positions on a ship. The “men,” on the other hand were commoners, often assigned to ships after being kidnapped. More than a few sailors started out at the pub enjoying free drinks but woke up, not only with a hangover, but also on board a ship at sea.
  • There is a legend that when the Emperor Charlemagne died, he was interred in a tomb sitting on a throne wearing a crown, holding a scepter, with his hand on his sword. Grave robbers, intending to steal the valuables with which he was interred, entered the tomb. They claimed that the seated body of Charlemagne began to draw the sword from its sheath. They did not stick around to find out what happened next.

Politics As Usual

I actually do try not to pick sides as the brouhaha in Washington, DC continues.

Remember that very old riddle?

Q: How can you tell when politicians are lying?
A: Their lips are moving.

I’m old enough to have watched (and, believe it or not, still remember) the Watergate hearings. That was when Earl Landgrebe (R, Indiana) said: “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.”

Try to imagine the members of Congress as scientists debating a mathematical theorem.

“2 + 2 = 5, and don’t try to convince me otherwise!”

“No, it’s 6 and your mother wears combat boots!”*

Never mind, it takes more imagination than I can muster.

 

* Actually, not at all unusual these days–Ladies, thank you for your service.

Real-Life Rey

With the new Star Wars coming out in about a week, there is a lot of excitement. While there has always been excitement before each new episode, The Rise of Skywalker is expected to answer a lot of questions about Rey, the nobody from nowhere who became the main protagonist (i.e., “hero” without any gender issues) of a beloved story.

We are drawn to stories in which a reluctant and unlikely hero takes on an impossible challenge–it must be hard-coded into our psyche. We see this fascination in both history and legend—David in the Bible, Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Ring, and most recently, Rey. Wired Magazine commented that Rey is not only a role model hero for young women, but inspires young men as well. That’s not really surprising, given her courage and commitment.

What is common among all these (and similar) tales is that they feature a person who commits to something that they view as important—more important than themselves. Maybe we all wish that we would find some cause so compelling that we would commit ourselves totally .

There are about 8 billion people on earth; nearly 200 sovereign states; millions of corporations, businesses, churches and other organizations. Do they present us with the real-life Reys? Not so much.

However, thank God, we have at least one.

Greta Thunberg on Twitter: "“Now I Am Speaking to the ...

 

Life Support

Generally, I try to blog about things that are interesting and–as far as I can tell–either based on facts OR obviously fictitious for entertainment value. This does not mean that I attempt to remain ignorant about other issues such as race, sex, politics, etc. I just try to keep my nonfactual opinions on such issues to myself.

I read a great deal, although less than I would like due to time constraints. I enjoy some science fiction, which is really philosophy with space ships and aliens. I enjoy biographies of important historical people because it gives me hope when I see that great men and women were imperfect yet achieved great things.*

I read a lot of technical material because no one rises in righteous indignation to protest Ohms law. Electricity performs in a given way—change one of the variables and the result changes predictably. I like facts. Opinions and commentary, spin and gas-lighting are not facts, no matter how many times they are repeated.

Recently, I read a post by Erik Lind on Quora.com that posited, “The Internet is like life support for propaganda. . . ”

It made me think.

 

*Stan Lee used this model in 1962 when he wrote the story of nerdy, neurotic, unpopular Peter Parker being transformed into Spiderman. Peter’s first use of his new power was to attempt to make money, which inadvertently resulted in the death of his Uncle Ben.

Then and Now

Thanksgiving is 0ver–the table has been cleared and the dishes washed. Everyone is complaining (bragging?) about being sleepy. I’m willing to back my words up with action and actually doze off.  (Oh the extent that we’ll reach to prove our points).

Holidays make me reminisce about how things were done in my youth. The food hasn’t changed much and we are still using my grandmothers trivets. They have been broken, carefully repaired, and kept in circulation.

The biggest changes? In my youth there were three networks and at least two of them were showing football on Thanksgiving. Everyone tended to watch the same game and critique it among themselves.

Today, there are a gazillion channels (give or take), but as soon as one person leaves the table, everybody else immediately grab their smartphones. There is no need to discuss what they are watching because everyone is probably watching something different.

Houses have certainly changed. My parents’ and grandparents’ homes still had  a flip up metal door that connected the outside to a room in the basement that had a built-in ramp. That room,was called the coal room  and the ramp, a coal chute. Our furnace had been designed as a coal fired furnace but had been converted to natural gas, so we never had the coal truck back up to the house and dump a load of coal down the coal chute.

However, the most Thanksgivingy thing were the stoves. Almost everybody had updated their kitchens, which invariably included a new stove. The old stove was moved to the basement and connected to the gas line. For big family get togethers, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, both stoves were in full operation. Items that took longer, such as the turkey were cooked down in the basement oven while the foods that needed more frequent attention were cooked upstairs.

Things change, though. We had ham instead of turkey (by majority vote) and we used the kitchen stove to cook everything, because we don’t have a backup stove in the basement. This shortfall was caused, at least in part, by the fact that our house does not have a basement.

Thoughts on DC

I recently spent some time in our nation’s capital. I hate the traffic, so I usually rely on the Metro, taxis, or Uber. This time I decided to walk to various places and take in the sights and think of weird things:

Washington, DC tries to discourage driving, so many people use scooters, bicycles, and skateboards to get around. Naturally, there are also joggers. However, in the residential areas there are a lot of brick sidewalks, which tend to be uneven. Was this by accident, a cruel joke, or a business move by orthopedic surgeons?

Television coverage of the district includes lots of people yelling and screaming at one another. However, when walking, people rarely greet anyone they don’t know. On the other hand, when driving, they LOVE using their car horns. I guess it reminds them of yelling and screaming.

There are quaint row houses, with many of them being quite old. We stayed in one (AirBnB) during a family trip, and they are quite nice albeit expensive. It was amazing how many were being gutted and the whole interior rebuilt–not just remodeled. I guess if you can afford to buy one, you can afford to hollow out the inside and completely rebuild

As nice as those homes are, I noticed that many have bars on the doors and windows. The bars could be for security, or maybe the bars are to help the politicians who live in them feel right at home

Veterans Day

Veterans Day (no apostrophe) honors all those who served in the US Military, past and present.

Sometimes people–including some in uniform–make a differentiation between active duty military and reserve members. I am of two minds on this. First, most of the military officers I served with in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait were reserve or national guard. It wasn’t until we began sending individual augmentees that the active duty numbers swelled.

Vice Admiral John Cotton asked if the reserve members who were killed were any less dead than active members. Obviously not.

The other view does have some merit, but not in the way that you might expect. Back in the 1980’s, so the story goes, the status of reservists rose with the Royal Australian Navy. Like most members of the Commonwealth, their Navy uniform has a curl above the stripes indicating an officer’s rank. For years, reserve officers in the Royal Australian Navy had an “R” inside the curl, but when it was proposed that the uniform should be the same for active and reserve. Naturally, there was a lot of discussion.

When asked if the R should be removed for reservists, one reserve officer answered that the R should be retained. This met with approval by the active duty officers, until the officer continued.

“I certainly don’t want people thinking that this is the only way I can earn a living.”

Musical Redux

It was totally predictable–marketing people freely disclosed their intentions decades ago. Nevertheless, it’s discouraging. It hearkens too much to Love, Actually when the word Christmas is squeezed into the classic rock song “Love Is All Around Me.”

What? You ask.

The use of rock and roll songs from baby boomers’ younger days to sell all manner of pharmaceuticals, now that we’re older. Songs by Blondie, The Doors, Steppenwolf, and the Who augment the television advertisements that bombard us.

Hey, didn’t the Who sing “I hope I die before I get old”?

Political Ads

It’s that time again—the airwaves are cluttered with negative political ads. I parodied these a few years ago by claiming that George Washington should not be elected President because:

  • He wasn’t born a United States citizen (because there was no United States when he was born).
  • He had served—as an officer, no less—in a British military unit (during the French and Indian War).
  • He owned slaves.
  • He distilled whiskey (corn could rot in the silos, while whiskey didn’t spoil).
  • He named his home—Mount Vernon—after British Admiral Edward Vernon.

All true, but today, someone would spin them to discourage people from voting for Washington. With negative political ads facts are inconsequential—it’s the spin that counts.

Why do politicians rely so much on negative ads? Negative ads work.

If we think about it, negative ads reflect poorly on politicians.

But what does the success of negative ads say about us?

Wallowing in the News

It seems like the Internet now focuses so much on negativity:

Cardiologists say avoid this food . . . .

Movie Star denies hiding millions in secret Swiss bank accounts . . . .

When did Obama become a Republican?

You get the drift. The other spots on the news websites are filled with rumors about celebrities–who’s dying, who’s cheating, who’s raising kittens–the whole nine yards.

At least I no longer have to sneak a peak at the tabloids in the supermarket.

Much Ado About Nothing – How We Describe Our Hometowns

Back in the stone age, when I was young, we described different parts of town with specific words. In northwest Ohio there was downtown, but no uptown. There was the East Side, the West End and South Toledo. North Toledo was described by the various neighborhoods–Polish, German, Lebanese, etc.

That was simple. In August, Mom would take me downtown to buy school clothes, which, by October, by the way, I’d managed to mangle.

Over time, downtown disappeared, replaced by shopping malls—which also meant that the local stores such as Tiedtke’s and Lamson’s also disappeared.

Oh, there was still a downtown, but it was the haunt of lawyers, bankers, and others who were in a different caste from my family. There was the main branch of the public library, but libraries don’t define an area.

Where I live now, there is a city center with the various city offices and courts, but except for the main branch of the library, that’s it. Unless there is a food truck event, there isn’t a restaurant or even a drive-through, fast-food, franchise place in the “downtown” area.

There are (more or less) seven cities in this area: Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach (in alphabetical order so as not to offend anyone). The area has had various monikers—Hampton Roads, The Historic Triangle,* Tidewater, Virginia Beach (it’s the tourist attraction, after all), but none of them have ever been adequate. We’re still working on it. However, if there are lakes, rivers, the Chesapeake Bay, beaches, and the Atlantic Ocean, there are more pressing issues than deciding on a metropolitan name.

We divide our area into the Peninsula, which includes Hampton and Newport News (along with Williamsburg, Croaker and Norge), the South Side, with the other cities, and various other areas like the Eastern Shore and the Outer Banks just over the line in North Carolina.

 

*Jamestown—the first permanent English settlement, Williamsburg—an early capital of Virginia and arguably a birthplace of American Independence, and Yorktown—the last major battle of the American Revolution, after which British General Lord Cornwallis’s troops surrendered to George Washington.

Commitment

Have you ever read the Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America? Most people don’t recognize that as the actual title of what we call the Declaration of Independence. Written in Philadelphia, approved on 2 July 1776, and published two days later on the fourth of July.

Those who signed the document risked much if they failed. If they were lucky, they would be hanged “until dead.” The practice of hanging, drawing, and quartering was the prescribed punishment for high treason. In this case, the condemned would be hanged, cut down while still (barely) alive, often disemboweled (again, while still alive), then beheaded and their body cut into pieces.

These founding fathers had to work hard to reach common ground since they had agreed that unanimous consent was required so as not to force brother against brother so many vehement arguments led to revisions that the authors vehemently opposed. The issue of slavery was particularly difficult, and striking a phrase prohibiting slavery did, in fact, lead to the war of brother against brother.

While most of the body of the declaration deals with the grievances against King George the third, I believe the most important part is at the end.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Who among us has that kind of commitment today?

 

D-Day

D-Day. How soon we forget.

To many people, 75 years ago makes something ancient history, but even so, we can–and we need to–learn.

75 years ago kids just out of high school enlisted or were drafted. Basic training turned them into men in a few months. Then these young men faced overwhelming odds landing against withering fire at places with tactical names like Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches. Others parachuted or crash-landed in gliders behind enemy lines.

Many would never have the chance to be old men, middle aged, or a fathers, or married. Some died for the cause of freedom, but would never live long enough to vote.

2700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6603 Americans claimed territory in France–two and a half feet wide, 8 feet long, and 6 feet deep. Others were never found.

President John F. Kennedy, in his 1961 inaugural speech challenged us–“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That generation, now almost gone, did.

Wuttchoo Say???

I like to read, but more than once I’ve been embarrassed when I mispronounced a word that I’d read often but had never spoken before. So, one of the many things in life that befuddles me is how we handle foreign words. It is especially vexing when the word is translated from a phonetic language. Theoretically, since that society has its own written character and does not rely on the English alphabet it would seem that getting the pronunciation–rather than the spelling–right would be important.

For example, the United States has a naval base at Yokosuka, Japan. It’s actually pronounced yuh-KOO-skuh. Why didn’t we spell it phonetically as Yokuska? Japan uses a combination of kanji and kana, which bear no resemblance to the English alphabet. Incidentally, they refer to their home as Nippon, even though we somehow mangled that into Japan.

Not too far from Japan is China, which, based on its size and population is hard to miss. If you forgot, we did not recognize China after World War II until Richard Nixon was President. Its capital is Beijing, but for years (or maybe centuries?), we wrote it as Peking for (pronounced pay KING). Did some cartographer forget that English actually has phonemes for “b” and “j”? I’ve tried saying Beijing many different ways, but no matter what I do, it never sounds like Peking.

The Arabic world has its own form of writing with 28 consonants, no regular vowels (they indicate some vowel sounds by a superscript), AND NO English letters. Nevertheless, when we translate Arabic names to English, we tend complicate them. For example, why did someone plunk an “h” smack dab in the middle Baghdad (the word, not the city)? For years we wrote the name of their sacred scripture as the Koran (which tells you how to say it), but now it is often written as Qur’an. I can pronounce Koran, but if I hadn’t seen that first, I’d be clueless as to how to pronounce Qur’an.

Then of course there’s the Arabian Gulf State of Qatar, which I’ve been told can be pronounced “cutter,” “guitar” or “gutter,” without offending anyone. Somehow I think it would be polite to copy the pronunciation that those who live there use.

Of course, we’re just as imprecise with our own words, which is why Lima is pronounced LIE muh for the city in Ohio, but LEE muh for the city in Peru.

It’s no wonder that many people do not enjoy reading—or should that be
REDD ing, as in Pennsylvania?

A House Divided

It’s always good to reflect on the thoughts of great philosophers–Socrates, Plato, or Monty Python.

Graham Chapman: I think all right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired.
All: Yes, yes…
Graham Chapman: I’m certainly not! And I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.
MC: Mrs. Havoc-Jones?
Mrs. Havoc-Jones: Well, I meet a lot of people and I’m convinced that the vast majority of wrong-thinking people are right.

Since this was performed about fifty years ago, I wonder how they knew.

[There was supposed to be a picture here, but WordPress’s new improved editor wouldn’t accept the upload. Too bad, because it was silly, very silly.]

 

 

Putting Things in Perspective

University of Virginia Men’s Basketball
2019 Champions

I’ve lived in Virginia for most my younger children’s lives. My older son and his family live in Virginian. My daughter-in-law’s family lives in Virginia. My younger children are fortunate enough to receive their college educations at prestigious Virginia Universities. I love Virginia History from Sir Walter Raleigh, the Powhatan people, Washington, Lee, Jefferson, and NASA mathematician, Kathrine Johnson.

I love that Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary but had his tombstone celebrate:

Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia

I consider myself a Virginian.

However, when TV sports experts announced that the recent UVA basketball championship “Will be remembered forever!” I saw a bit of exaggeration. With Americans, we’re talking about people who can’t tell you Virginia’s role in slave trading or why Washington, DC is half its planned size because they returned Virginia’s donation of land.

But they will remember the 2019 Basketball Championship?