Monthly Archives: January 2010

AOL’s “You’ve got mail!”—let’s change it . . .

I recently found the comment below on a web site that promotes proper use of the English language. I visited both sites, the one from whence the comment came as well as the one that received it. As do all such sites (including mine), both have flaws. I believe that perfection in any endeavor is desirable and should be sought, but I concede that perfection is impossible. One can always find, via the nitpicking process, something to cite and criticize, albeit constructively, as is this posting. The site commented on is seriously flawed, but I am pleased to give the teacher’s site an overall rating of excellent, simply because it is superior to many others of that ilk.

First a disclaimer: I must state, with all seriousness aside, that the following diatribe is presented in an effort to change something that is probably unchangeable. Any attempt to effect that change is comparable to a situation in which an unstoppable moving object collides with an unmovable stationary object—nothing will change.

This is the comment that prompted my posting:

escher dax Says:

January 2, 2010 at 5:47 am

Glad to have found your site! As a teacher, I’m always looking for examples of what not to do. I’ve got you bookmarked now — very useful site!

dax (

Oh, please, tell me it isn’t so—I’ve got you bookmarked now?

And you are a teacher!

Long, long ago in the first one-third of the past century, in a time shrouded in the mists of antiquity, in a time during which the first six links in the chain of education were called grammar school, I was taught (forcibly) that the verb to have does not require a helper.

It accomplishes its task admirably without one iota of assistance.

I realize that I am swimming upstream in my quest to help others understand that simple statement—nay, what I am doing is hissing—oops, I believe I misspelled that word—into the wind, an act that accomplishes nothing more than soiling my clothing.

I am struggling to resign myself to accept the almost universal misuse of the verb to have,” the use of which distorts my vision and sears my hearing, but I’m having difficulty accepting it. I realize that my struggle, my battle to restore law and order to the proper use of that verb, is probably futile.

My enemies in this battle are legion.

They include such worthies as AOL (America On Line). The exclamation You’ve got mail! has resounded loudly and clearly ever since the inception of AOL—that erroneous use of the verb to have has corrupted several generations of English-speaking listeners and is still counting. The same erroneous use is reflected in the speech of our nation’s mayors, governors, senators, representatives, our president, in speech used in the hallowed halls of our ivy league institutions and even in the speech used by persons of tremendous intellect (none of the afore mentioned persons qualify for that distinction).

How can one possibly win over such an opponent as AOL? I realize that the company is presently on the ropes, but it has shown resilience in the past and will probably survive. I have little hope that it will ever change its trademark signature—You’ve got mail!

I can’t do this alone—I need help, so I am calling on our nation’s English-speaking population (including bilingual persons) for assistance. Let’s use the power of our numbers to effect this change. Let’s work to correct AOL’s misuse of the verb to have from You’ve got mail! to You have mail!

If we are successful in our efforts, its proper use may not spread rapidly but it would be a good start.

Let’s use the concentrated power of our millions. Let’s contact AOL and threaten to cancel our membership. Let’s bring pressure to bear on family members. Let’s contact our local friends and neighbors, our e-mail recipients, our Facebook friends, our senators, our representatives, the members of the Supreme Court and our president—in fine, let’s contact everyone that is subjected to the improper use of the verb to have (and that’s everyone), and specifically to the notice that, You’ve got mail!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

In his search for reality, Decartes systematically doubted everything his senses perceived, and finally concluded that the one thing he could not doubt was the fact that he doubted—hence this statement—Cogito, ergo sum—I think, therefore I am. Decartes reasoned that he was not an illusion, that he was real, and from that position he concluded that life and the world around him was real.

Don’t laugh—for centuries men argued on how many angels could stand on the head of a pin—seriously! And for centuries men argued about which of these came first—the chicken or the egg. They eventually abandoned the angels-on-a-pin argument, but finally decided that the chicken came before the egg.

They reached their decision by reasoning that the first chicken began life as a chicken, a being endowed with its ultimate chickenness (so to speak). It was created perfect by its creator and therefore is not moving toward perfection. It’s safe to say that a chicken, any chicken regardless of its pedigree, will never become anything more than a chicken, no matter how hard it might try. It will, of course, ultimately change its shape and form dramatically, but it will never improve on its chickenness.

The egg, by its very nature, is imperfect and is moving toward perfection, and unless it stumbles on the road to perfection and is eaten, whether fried, scrambled, hard-boiled or raw, or perhaps dies from natural (or unnatural) causes, it will ultimately achieve perfection—it will become a chicken. Ergo, in the beginning, the time of the big bang, the time of creation, the time in which the creator created the heavens and the earth and everything thereon (and rested on the seventh), there was neither chicken nor egg.

Had the egg come first, it would have presented the paradox of perfection arising from imperfection. The heavy thinkers of their day couldn’t possible support that one. A contradicting argument (if one needs one) would be that every chicken egg ever laid and to be laid, whether past, present or future has within itself the seeds of perfection, the potential of becoming a chicken. It needs only to be nurtured with the proper degree of heat for the proper number of days, and voila!—a perfect chicken emerges, albeit it very small as are all newborns, relative of course to the size of the parents.

The greatest potential for perfection in life resides in a far different sort of egg, an egg that forms the human embryo and requires fertilization, a pleasurable transaction which guarantees that human life as we know it will continue throughout eternity, or at least as long as the big bang continues—ah, not that big bang—I refer to the continuing expansion of our universe throughout space, an expansion that some believe was caused by a tremendous event called the big bang.

Unless my failing memory fails me the chicken, along with flora and other fauna, was created on the fifth day, the same day on which that famous existential couple, Adam and Eve, were created—existential in the sense that they took sole responsibility for giving their lives meaning and for living those lives passionately and sincerely (note the emphasis on passionately). In the words of the late Paul Harvey:

“And now you know the rest of the story!”

The very first perfect chicken, through a process provided by its creator, produced the first imperfect egg. The chicken obviously had to come first in order to start things, to produce the egg, an imperfect something that ultimately becomes a perfect chicken, and the process continues to this day and will continue on through eternity, or at least as long as chickens lay.

Got it?

I know, I know—the first imperfect egg came from a perfect chicken, so on the surface it would appear that imperfection can come from perfection, but that doesn’t count on the first time—hey, give the early thinkers a bit of slack!

Beware! Dumb joke approaching (I’m tendering an apology in advance, so be nice):

“It’s not the fault of that apple on the tree—it was that pear (pair) on the ground.”

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Posted by on January 30, 2010 in Humor, Writing


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UTSA’s 1992 search for a provost . . .

I submitted this letter to the San Antonio Light almost 19 years ago, but I don’t remember whether it was published. If I were inclined to guess, my guess would be that it was published—and if not, I can say in all modesty that it should have been.

First, a brief one paragraph history of the SAN ANTONIO LIGHT, a daily newspaper that flourished for more than 100 years in San Antonio, Texas, but is now defunct:

The San Antonio Light, a daily afternoon and Sunday morning newspaper in San Antonio, Texas began as the San Antonio Surprise in 1881. The paper subsequently morphed through a series of titles including the Evening Light, the Daily Light, the Light and Gazette, and finally settled on the San Antonio Light title in 1911. The Light was published continuously until late 1992 and was then closed, shortly after its purchase by the Hearst Corporation.

This is the letter I submitted to the Light, a submission prompted by the search  by UTSA (University of Texas at San Antonio) to fill the position of provost at the university:

Letter to the editor, San Antonio Light

May 22, 1992

PO Box 161

To UTSA President Kirkpatrick:

In its search for the person best qualified to fill the number two position of provost at UTSA, your 13-member committee narrowed the field of applicants to one Anglo and one Hispanic. You selected the Anglo, and immediately protests poured in from various Hispanic student and faculty groups, political and community organizations and individual Hispanics, all charging bias and insensitivity and some calling for your resignation.

The Anglo declined the job offer, saying he would stay in Toledo “because we truly believe in the future of this community and this university.” Following his declination, you said the committee would continue seeking someone for the post.


You have a qualified person who wants the job, and was considered by the committee to be in the top one percent in a field of 200 applicants. He was the second best applicant in a listing of qualified applicants, the runner-up (so to speak) to the Anglo who was offered the job.

Why should the search be continued?

Let’s use the analogy of the annual competition for the Miss America title. The choices are narrowed to two people—one is crowned  and the other is named first runner-up for the title. If for any reason Miss America is later disqualified or is unable to perform her duties, the committee does not “continue seeking someone for the post.” The title and the crown go to the first runner-up.

While the competition for provost was no beauty contest, there were two clear winners. Scott McNall was selected to fill the position of provost at UTSA but has indicated that he is not available to perform the duties. Albert Ramirez was considered to be the first “runner-up,” and he is available and willing to perform the duties.

He should be given the job. Any other action tends to confirm theHispanic community’s perceptions of bias and insensitivity.


I don’t remember who was ultimately selected for the job. I would like to believe the Hispanic applicant was selected and if so, I would like to believe that my letter contributed to his selection.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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A letter to Laura . . .

This posting was prompted by a comment made by a viewer on one of my previous postings (see at’s-reeling/).

The original posting was prompted by an apostrophe placed in the surname Obama. It was meant to form a contraction, “Obama is,” an other-than-normal contraction and somewhat misleading. Obama’s is the possessive form of a singular noun, and the apostrophe thus implies that the president possesses a reeling, whatever that might be. “Obama’s reeling” was the heading of a letter to the editor of San Antonio’s Express-News, the only daily newspaper (and fading fast) in the seventh most populous city in the United States. The subject of the letter was Massachusetts’ recent  election to fill the Senate seat held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy. The race was between a Democrat and a Republican. Would anyone want to hazard a guess as to which candidate won?

You’re right!

I felt that this venue was more appropriate than replying directly to the viewer’s comment on that posting—any reply I made would have been buried and would have rarely, if ever, been exposed to the brilliant light of a separate posting.

As an incidental but closely related thought, I recently encountered this phrase on a blog: “I’d have,” meaning “I would have . . .” I consider “I’d” to be an improper contraction, and ambiguous even if it were proper—it could also mean “I did have” or “I should have,” etc. Would anyone want to hazard a guess as to whose website it was on?

You’re right!

And now on to Laura’s comment and my letter to her:

From: (

William Strunk, Jr. (1869–1946).  The Elements of Style.  1918


1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with ’s.

Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

Charles’s friend

Burns’s poems

the witch’s malice

This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.

Note: (The italics and bolding in Strunk’s rule above are mine).

This is Laura’s comment on my posting:

“The Chicago Manual of Style agrees with Strunk and White re: forming the possessive of a proper noun ending in S by adding an apostrophe and S. Also, I’m wondering if you meant “feign” and not “fain,” which doesn’t seem to fit neatly in your sentence. — Laura.” (

Letter to Laura . . .

Hi, Laura,

Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the comment. Please note that I approved it exactly as you posted it—I’m sure you are aware that I could have edited the comment to fit my taste, and had I chosen to do so I could have deleted it in its entirety. You, however, cannot edit your comment after it is posted, nor can you edit my reply—that leaves me free to change, rebut or delete any comment that is less than complimentary. I chose to let your comment stand as submitted in order to expand my response via this posting.

As used in that sentence, the phrase fain to know means if one desires to know, or is inclined to know or is willing to know (desirous, inclined and willing are three of fain’s many definitions). Had I used the word feign, it would have meant pretend to know. I know that fain is archaic and sparsely (if ever) used in today’s writings, but I do not feel that I misused it in my posting. As for my choice of a word “which doesn’t seem to fit neatly” in the sentence, I am satisfied with its fit and its neatness—nay, I’m more than satisfied—I am proud of both attributes.

On your trek through a flourishing crop of words in the process of nitpicking, you managed to harvest only one nit, and that one nit apparently prompted you to rate the posting with a negative thumbs down. I say apparently because I can’t be sure that the thumbs down is yours. However, this I know with certainty—yours is the only comment on the posting, and of the five votes existing at this time four are mine, so I must surmise that the thumbs down vote is yours.

A grammatical note—I realize that the graphic for the voting process shows only one thumb up and one thumb down. I use the plurals (thumbs up and thumbs down) because I cannot remember ever hearing someone giving someone a singular thumb up or thumb down—sounds a bit naughty.

Yes, I vote on my own postings, and I always give myself a thumbs up vote—to do otherwise would be self-defeating, so to speak. Please let me know whether the lone negative vote is yours, and if it is not I will willingly—just willingly, not humbly—tender a public apology.

I give nothing less than excellent ratings to any posting, whether items posted by me or by other bloggers (I suspect you would agree with me that consistency is a desirable trait). I strive mightily to adhere to the adage that says, “If you can’t say anything positive, don’t say anything.”

As an aside, I believe the practice of one voting on one’s own posting is widespread, a belief that is supported by a comprehensive poll of several (three) bloggers. Such actions are simply the result of writers tooting their own horn, a perfectly normal and common practice that is neither prohibited nor restricted by rule or law.

As regards your statement that The Chicago Manual of Style agrees with Strunk:

I do not agree with your statement, nor do I trust or agree with anyone or anything related to Chicago, whether that person or thing be animal, vegetable, mineral, publication or president. I visited the Chicago Manual of Style online, but went no farther than the second page (the result of a search phrase) because I was unwilling to subscribe and pay for the “privilege” of going farther. However, the results of my search (admittedly brief) appear to contradict your contention that the Chicago Manual of Style agrees with William Strunk’s The Element of Style, circa 1918. In fact, the Chicago Manual of Style appears to leave a fair amount of choice for ways to show the possessive forms of words ending in ess—Strunk offers no alternatives and states that we should “Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.”

Check it out at I used the search phrase possessive of words ending in s and it returned eight entries dealing with that subject.

Here are the first two entries:

7.21:   Words and names ending in unpronounced “s”

To avoid an awkward appearance, an apostrophe without an s may be used for the possessive of singular words and names ending in an unpronounced s.

The following is a personal note, intended to clarify the term unpronounced: The ess is pronounced, but it takes the sound of ze, the twenty-sixth (and final) letter in the English alphabet.

7.23: An alternative practice

options outlined above may prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s

Those entries do not show agreement with Strunk—they show that there are alternatives that may be used to “avoid an awkward appearance,” and they give the option of “simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s” in stark contrast to Strunk’s imperative to “Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.” Two of the examples given are Charles’s friend and Burns’s poems, both wrong and neither in complete agreement with the Chicago Manual of Style.

Laura, I spent some time on your site at I enjoyed my visit, and had you provided a counter for votes similar to the one I use on my blog, I would have rated your work excellent. You are quite thorough and successful in your quest to find errors in the writings of others, and you effectively use humor in pointing out the errors albeit, in my opinion, humor tinged with a certain measure of contempt for the inept writer.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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The future of television . . .

A few minutes before I started this posting I suffered, and on a certain level enjoyed, my first exposure to a Hooter’s television commercial touting its More than a mouthful Monday offering. The commercial showed a closeup of a tray loaded with a prodigious amount of food laughingly termed a hamburger and served to Hooters’ customers on demand every Monday. This image does not show the Monday special—this appears to be chicken wings—but the shirts worn by the waitpersons reflect and effectively showcase the name of the restaurant chain—Hooters.

The More than a mouthful Monday slogan is a not-very-subtle reference to a sexual adage, one born in the mists of antiquity and one that exists in our lexicon to this day. Some women—those probably not eligible to be Hooter’s serving persons—maintain that in the matter of breast size, more than a mouthful is wasted, and some men support that adage—not many, perhaps, but some.

And here I must digress to report that there are some men that apply the same adage to themselves, namely that more than a mouthful is wasted, and some women support them in that belief—not many, perhaps, but some.

Picture this: A Hooter’s girl, one that has appeared in various commercials for the company, walks toward the camera with a heaping platter of food—the More than a mouthful Monday special. She holds the platter with one hand, on a level with her breasts, while in the background a beautiful buxom blond belle bellies up to the bar in a blouse that bares both breasts (how’s that for alliteration!). Her breasts are not completely bared, of course, but enough flesh shows to prompt a viewer to formulate an image of the entire area, a rather substantial plot whether defined in square inches, weight or lingerie size.

Projection: That which lies ahead of us is not just a matter of speculation. Soft-core pornography exists now, both on regular and cable television (cable pushes the envelope farther than does regular network television, but the gap is closing rapidly). I believe that hard-core porno, now available only on cable channels on a pay-per-view basis, will in the no-so-distant future be routinely aired, available to anyone of any age or gender. That availability will be limited only by their access to the television and their ability to select channels, either by pushing buttons on the television or by using the remote control.

Ultimately we will ascend to a society that protects free speech to its utmost limits, or we will descend into a cauldron of filth. We will ascend or descend depending on our individual preferences, but regardless of how we view the movement, it will be permitted and sanctioned by the First Amendment to our constitution. That amendment prohibits Congress from making laws infringing on certain rights, including a prohibition against infringing on our freedom of speech.

Hey, porn producers, directors, camera men, writers and perhaps most important, actors, cannot indefinitely be denied freedom of speech by being limited to pay-per-view cable channels. They view their products as art, and constantly seek to upgrade and improve their pubic—oops, I meant public, image. Such people and their products are protected by the First Amendment and its guarantee of free speech—they have a constitutional right to practice and purvey their specialties in all venues.

It will happen—it’s in our constitution, and it’s only a matter of time. I probably won’t be around to see it (bummer!), but most of our current population will be subjected to such television fare, whether willingly or unwillingly. And on further thought, perhaps I may be able to see it, either looking down on it or up to it—as the Spanish-speaking folks say:

“Quien sabe?” (who knows?)

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Posted by on January 25, 2010 in actor and acting, Humor, Writing


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Letter to the editor, San Antonio Light—Big trees and big gaffes . . .

SAN ANTONIO LIGHT: The San Antonio Light, a daily afternoon and Sunday morning newspaper in San Antonio, Texas began as the San Antonio Surprise in 1881. The paper subsequently morphed through a series of titles including the Evening Light, the Daily Light, the Light and Gazette, and finally settled on the San Antonio Light title in 1911. The Light was published continuously until late in 1992, and closed shortly after its purchase by the Hearst Corporation.

This posting is a letter that I submitted to the editors of the San Antonio Light way back in 1990, and in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that it was never published. Apparently my letter touched a nerve, or perhaps several nerves, because it was neither printed nor acknowledged.

November 26, 1990

Letters to the Editor, San Antonio Light

PO Box 161

San Antonio, TX 78291

Susan McAtee’s article on big trees in your VIVA section on Sunday, 25 November featured some dimensions that sent me scrambling for my calculator and the World Almanac. Susan cited the General Sherman giant sequoia as the largest tree on the National Registry of Big Trees, with a diameter of 998 inches.

A quick application of “pie-are-square” revealed that such a tree hollowed out would accommodate a home of 5,179 square feet with the outer walls one foot thick. Since official measurements are taken at a point four and one-half feet above ground, floor space at ground level might be even greater. A tree that large would accommodate a ten lane freeway, each lane 8 feet wide with a median of 3.2 feet (and I thought one lane built through a tree was impressive).

I wonder how Susan fared in Geometry 101. Diameter is the distance across a circle, or in the case of trees, the thickness of the trunk. Circumference is the distance around the circle, the distance around the tree trunk. The General Sherman, last measured in 1975, has a diameter of 26.5 feet and a circumference of 83.2 feet. Either Susan confused diameter with circumference or the General Sherman has experienced phenomenal growth in the past 15 years.

Her apparent confusion also extended to a cherry tree (64 inches in diameter, or 5.3 feet), a maple (80 inches in diameter, or 6.7 feet), and the Goose Island live oak, a whopping 422 inches in diameter. Try to imagine a tree 35 feet thick and only 44 feet tall—such a tree defies imagination!

The article would have benefitted from outside proofing, perhaps in collaboration with  Bill Graves of Uvalde, Texas, the person that was interviewed for the story. And except for the misleading statistics the feature was interesting—well written and informative.

And that was my letter to the editor. This next bit of information may be adding insult to injury, but here’s another statistic concerning the San Antonio Light. When the Light closed in 1992, two years after the Big Tree feature appeared in its VIVA section, it employed 600 people including 134 editorial staff. With that many editorial staffers, surely at least one could have been assigned to corroborate the Big Trees dimensions. And I can’t help wondering whether the writer of the Big Trees feature was one of those remaining 134 staffers. I don’t know how well the writer fared after receipt of the letter, but if she remained on staff as a writer she must have had a very close relationship, familial or otherwise, with the people upstairs.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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School teachers rock!

I recently received this e-mail, Teacher arrested at JFK, from a relative in Dallas, and I felt that it should be disseminated as widely as possible. It was very difficult to confirm with Snopes because of the profusion of articles dealing with the arrest of teachers including arrests for DUI, indecent exposure, drug theft, leading prayer, dealing crack, having sex with minors, early dismissal, slaying stepdaughter, brainwashing kids, kicking students in karate class, murdering another teacher, etc., etc.

The scope of these arrests and their reasons reflect poorly on our historically vaunted teaching profession, but they comprise an infinitesimal part of the whole—they amount to no more than the teeny-weeniest part of the iceberg’s tip. The greater part of the educational iceberg is comprised of teachers that are largely and historically overlooked and underpaid. They are the ones that work and fight in the trenches, the ones that dedicate their days, their nights and their lives to helping families and other elements of society mold students into outstanding adults, and the ones that are in a great measure successful in their efforts.

The story of the teacher’s arrest is untrue, of course, but it’s funny and it’s very creative, obviously penned by someone familiar with mathematics (I’m not very familiar with mathematics, but would like to believe that I’m familiar with creativity in the written word). I am using it in this posting because it enables me to expound on my feelings and my respect for teachers—and I feel that I’m qualified to express my feelings and my respect because I’ve been paddled by some of the very best—seriously!

This is the story as I received it in an e-mail:

Teacher arrested at JFK

A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a compass, a slide-rule and a calculator.

At a morning press conference Attorney General Eric Holder said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement. The man was not identified, but the Attorney General said that he has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

“Al-Gebra is a problem for us,” Attorney General Holder said.

“They derive solutions by means and extremes, and they sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute values.”

“They use secret code names such as “X” and “Y” and refer to themselves as “unknowns,” but we have determined that they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval, with coordinates in every country.

“As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, “There are three sides to every triangle.” (The Snopes article added the following item: The teacher was found carrying code books written in an arcane language called “calculus,” which the NSA is currently attempting to decode)

When asked to comment on the arrest President Obama said, “If God had wanted us to have weapons of math instruction, he would have given us more fingers and toes.”

White House aides told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or profound statement by the President.

It is believed that the Nobel Prize for Physics will follow. (This was not included in the Snopes article)

The comment attributed to President Obama was attributed by Snopes to Hillary Clinton as follows:

When asked to comment on the arrest, Senator Hillary Clinton said, “If nature had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, she would have given us more fingers and toes.”

House aides told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or more profound statement by the senator.

On a personal note, I believe that neither President Obama nor Hillary Clinton made the statement. I don’t believe it because the statement is funny, and neither person is capable of exhibiting that level of humor. I have not detected one whit of humor in either person at any time since they stepped into the national spotlight.

Those that laugh when a person says something intended to be funny are not always laughing with them—quite often they are laughing at them.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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