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Gather ye rosebuds . . .

More than 300 years ago the British poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) created a poem that included advice To Virgins to Make Much of Time. That advice, both then and now, applies to every person, to males as well as females and to couples as well as singles, whether same sex or opposite sex. Because of recent events I feel qualified to endorse his advice and pass it on to the people of today, regardless of their ages. I met Robert Herrick only yesterday while surfing the Internet. I believe his advice to Gather the rosebuds while ye may is universal and timeless. It gave me pause for thought, and it is in that spirit that I offer it to my readers.

To Virgins to Make Much of  Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the Sun,
The higher he’s a-getting;
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best, which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

 

 

 

 

I met and married my wife in 1952. We were both very young and we embarked on a 58-year odyssey in search of the Golden Fleece, as did Jason with his Argonauts. There are many interpretations of the significance of the Golden Fleece but some religious scholars, both ancient and contemporary, believe that it represents the
forgiveness of God, something that can neither be sought nor attained unless one knows God.

My wife knew God early in her life and she held steadfastly to that knowledge throughout her life. I found God only with her recent death. Her race is run, and that glorious lamp of heaven—my Sun, the light of my life—has set. I am nearing the final laps of my race, and thanks to my wife I approach the finish line with renewed hope, armed with the knowledge that a Supreme Being and divine providence exist.

The science of physics tells us that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, and that theorem postulates the existence of another being, one with many names—Satan, Lucifer, Beelzzbub, Devil and others. As one cannot visualize and believe in the existence of a mountain without visualizing and believing in a valley, so one cannot believe in God without believing in Satan, a being that is all-evil but perhaps not all-powerful. If the Devil were all powerful, it should follow that goodness and mercy and forgiveness and pain would not exist.

In that context, the Devil perhaps does the worst he can do given what he has to work with, and given the nature of the individuals concerned—namely, you and me. And perhaps God is all-good but not all-powerful, and therefore does the best he can given what he has to work with, and given the nature of the individuals concerned—namely, you and me.

This posting is not meant to be a dissertation on religion. I have neither the ability nor the desire to convert anyone to any religious belief or from one belief to another. My sole interest is to call my readers’ attention to the passing of time by offering up Robert Herrick’s poem, the gist of which can be summed up simply by the first two lines:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old Time is still a-flying

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

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Posted by on December 9, 2010 in Family, funeral, marriage, religion

 

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Reflections of a former Customs inspector…

I wrote this article soon after I began a three-year assignment, 1983-1986, at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was published in the 1984 fall issue of Customs Today, the official magazine of the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service has changed dramatically since that time. The number of ports on the southern border may have changed, some added and some deleted, and staffing has been increased and titles have changed, but the mission of Customs inspectors has not changed—I made no effort to reflect the changes in the article for this posting. It is reproduced here exactly as it appeared in the 1984 winter issue of Customs Today. Click here for an article published in the winter of 1986.

Reflections of a former inspector

This year some 300 million people will enter the United states. Whether they enter by air, land or sea each will be greeted by a uniformed Customs inspector. There are 5,000 of us covering the international airports and scattered along 96,000 miles of land and sea borders. Each year we clear for entry travelers whose numbers far surpass the total population of the United States. Expediting the entry of so many people leaves little time to visit, and everything must be strictly business. In this article I want to say some things that the lack of time usually prohibits, things that I hope will promote a better understanding of the Customs Service—its mission, its people and its history.

Our mission is to protect the revenue, industries, economy and environment of the United States, a large order by any standard. In addition to Customs statutes and state and local laws, we enforce more than 400 provisions of laws from 40 other federal agencies. We realize that very few travelers are lawbreakers, and of those few only a minute fraction break the law intentionally. Unfortunately, whether the law is broken intentionally or inadvertently, the lawbreaker cannot be identified by appearance, occupation or position in the community.

Since we cannot visually single out the offenders, completely innocent persons are often caused some degree of inconvenience on their entry into the United States. Such people sometimes feel that they are being checked because we suspect them of smuggling, that we are accusing them of dealing in illicit drugs and narcotics. In most cases we are simply trying to protect them. Our questions and our inspections may reveal something they have overlooked in their declarations or something they may have felt it unnecessary to declare, something that could adversely affect their health, their business interests or their environment.

Our job requires us to be able to meet and deal effectively with persons of widely divergent backgrounds. That divergence  includes the well known and the unknown, the rich and the poor and the in-between. It includes kings and consorts, consuls, clergy, congressmen and cabinet members. It includes priests, popes, premiers, presidents, pimps, prostitutes and fugitives from justice, and thieves, rapists and murderers. It includes drug dealers and pushers, addicts, derelicts and drunks. We are required to meet and deal effectively with people of every conceivable occupation, education level and age, race, religion, creed, color, nationality, ethnicity, ideological bent and political affiliation.

In each of these contacts our employer demands that we be professional, firm, fair and courteous. Courtesy is defined as being “pleasant, polite, respectful, considerate, helpful and patient, and the mandate for courtesy insists on strict adherence under difficult conditions and personal stress, and in the face of extreme provocation. In its efforts to inculcate such moral excellence The Customs Service continually stresses professionalism, courtesy and objectivity.

There are undoubtedly times that we lose our objectivity in conducting an inspection. We bring to the job our private problems, fears, frustrations, aspirations and prejudices, and these sometimes surface unbidden. However, we face the same characteristics in the people with whom we deal. The difference, of course, is that our conduct is officially mandated and proscribed, while they are free to vent their feelings and express their opinions with virtually no restrictions on attitude or language. We cannot respond in kind. They complain to our superiors and their complaints are heard. Investigations are conducted and if warranted, corrective and sometimes disciplinary actions are taken. We have no such recourse available to us.

We consider complaints, to a certain degree, to be an inevitable part of our job. People complain in order to correct a wrong, either real or imagined, and sometimes they complain in an effort to impress or to intimidate. We realize that most complaints are neither vindictive nor malicious, and simply require assurance that the situation is being investigated to determine if a problem exists and if so, assurance that corrective action will be taken to correct the problem.

Most of us have also accepted the fact that verbal abuse is part of the job, a hazard of the occupation. We usually manage to maintain at least a thin veneer of courtesy and patience through frequent and extreme instances of name-calling and suggestions, very explicit, on what we should do with our badge, and in some instances offers are made to do it for us.

That badge, our Service tells us, is best worn with some degree of humility, a dictate noble in concept but not easily followed. It is difficult to feel humble when so much pride is present—pride in being allowed to represent our nation t its borders, pride in being the first line of defense against the flow of illegal drugs and narcotics, and pride in the traditions and rich heritage of the United States Customs Service.

Our heritage began just fifteen years after this nation declared its independence. On July 4, 1979 George Washington signed the Tariff Act, and Customs was born. In the first year of operation our collectors raised $2 million, and by 1835 had made the nation debt free. For 125 years, until the federal income tax act was passed, Customs revenue was virtually the sole source of income for the United States.

The collection of Customs revenue has been entrusted to some illustrious Americans. John Lamb, hero of the battle of Fort Ticonderoga, was an early collector, as was the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Chester Arthur, twenty-first president of the United States, and Pat Garrett, the man that ended the career—and life—of Billy the Kid, Matthew Henson who, with Admiral Byrd, planted the U.S. flag at the North Pole in 1909—all served ably in the United States Customs Service.

Since their time we have grown with the nation. The Customs Service now has some 15,000 dedicated employees distributed among seven regions, 45 districts, 300 ports of entry at our nation’s international airports and land and sea borders, and foreign field offices in ten major world capitals. Since 1955 our total work force has doubled, but has in no way kept pace with a workload that has quadrupled and is still expanding.

With a workload of such magnitude, it is inevitable that some detentions and searches of completely innocent persons will occur. It is probably also inevitable that some of our actions will be construed as harassment. They are not. We are professional law enforcement officers and direct representatives of our government, and we do not take our responsibilities lightly. In accomplishing our mission we try to consider peoples’ feelings and gain their willing cooperation. We attempt to deal with them objectively and fairly. We are not always successful.

We are sometimes told by persons dissatisfied with their inspection that they pay our salaries, and that without them we would not have a job. We freely acknowledge those truths. American taxpayers do indeed pay our salaries, and our jobs exist because the tax payers, through their elected representatives, feel that we are needed. We are thus indebted and ask only that they cooperate fully to assist us in doing the job for which they hired us—collecting the revenue and protecting their interests.

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Hershel M. (Mike) Dyer is a Program Officer in the Office of Inspection Control, Office of Inspectional Liaison at Headquarters. He spent 12 years as an inspector and supervisory inspector on the Southwest Border.

 
 

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Cohan, A Declaration of Independence and a wild coaster ride . . .

I began this posting as a comment to a blog posting by another Word Press writer, one that promises—and delivers—a funny every day, but somewhere along the way my comment took on a different character, that of a new posting on my blog. I believe that any visitor to that funny every day blog will be entertained and enlightened.  When you have finished my posting, you’ll find a link at the end for the funny every day blogger. I believe you’ll enjoy both.

The funny ever day posting is a blistering examination and a repudiation, more or less, of everything intended by one of our founding fathers—Thomas Jefferson, the well meaning—perhaps—author of A DECLARATION by the REPRESENTATIVES of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS Assembled—our Declaration of Independence dated July 4, 1776. The posting is hilarious from start to finish, a classic work that deserves to be housed with the original document at the National Archives or perhaps with Jefferson’s original draft housed at the Library of Congress—both are repositories located in Washington, DC, that sinkhole on the east coast surrounded by the states of Virginia and Maryland.

I tender my abject apologies to James M. Cohan for my corruption of his classic song, You’re a grand old flag, but I have retained the lyrical cadence of his original work.

Note that I have replaced flag with the word document, referring to the Declaration of Independence but shortened to doc for artistic rhythm and poetical purposes. Also please note that the phrase for me and for you is not specific to, nor is it directed at, any particular person, gender, age group, profession, political party, sexual preference, nationality, race, ethnicity or religion or to any specific school of thought except for two exceptions and those are purely accidental—I refer to the terms Dems and Repubs, terms that may or may not be specific in nature, a matter left for readers to define for themselves.

Now for a title of my take on James M. Cohan’s You’re a grand old flag—there is a word that rhymes perfectly with flag, but in deference to various members of Congress, whether young or not so young, and to a significant group of citizens that dislike the term, either for personal or non-personal reasons, I choose not to use it. It’s use obviously would dramatically change the content and tone of the parody and would not suit my purpose. It could, I suppose, be useful in a personal tribute to some individual, whether in or out of public service—perhaps on retirement or resignation. My title and my version of Cohan’s immortal ditty follows:

YOU’RE A GRAND OLD DOC

You’re a grand old doc,
A well-written doc,
A doc for the home of the knaves,
A doc subject to
Some rants from the Dems
And rebuts from the Repubs that fave.

Every heart beats true
‘cept for me and for you,
‘cause we both do believe that it’s true,
That the grand old doc
Is pure poppycock
And is upheld by only a few.

For the edification of the few unaware of the meaning of poppycock—a group probably comprised of the same remaining few that uphold the grand old doc—the following definition from Wikipedia is provided:

Poppycock—anglicized form of the Dutch pappekak, which literally means soft dung or diarrhea, an interjection meaning nonsense or balderdash.

I believe that any visitor to this blog will be entertained and enlightened—click here for a wild ride that outclasses, in every way, every rollercoaster ride on the planet!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Catfish Alley, ten-cent hamburgers & the N-word . . .

The Varsity Theater was, and perhaps may still be, located at the intersection of Main and First Street. Main Street was the dividing line between north and south in Columbus, the county seat of Lowndes County, Mississippi. The first block of First Street South was called Catfish Alley, a block that was comprised mostly of black businesses—grocery stores, beer joints, rooming houses, eating places, clothing stores and other businesses—most, but not all, were owned and operated by blacks. Catfish Alley was the the prime gathering place for blacks, a mecca for those living inside and outside the city and from the countryside and from neighboring towns and cities. Shoppers and diners and gatherings included entire families during the daytime, but the block took on a different tone and attracted a different crowd after dark—rumors had it that more than one house of ill repute existed among the businesses in Catfish Alley, usually on the second floor of the two-story buildings.

Note that I use the term black—in those days there was no such term as African-American, at least not in the circles in which I moved. There were numerous terms used in those days to describe black people, used openly without fear of ridicule or persecution. The term most used was the same one used by black rappers today, a word that is never enunciated but identified only as the N-word, and at this point I will say, without hesitation, without rancor, without one ounce of racialism in my body and soul, an absence that was created many years ago through education, understanding and just plain living, that if one is going to say the N-word, one may as well use the real word. And in support of that choice I will quote the bard from Romeo and Juliet, followed by a well-known and oft-used religious homily:

That which we call a rose, by any other name will smell as sweet.

The thought is as bad as the deed.

I would add a third saying but this one is a no-no—it suggests that we should call a spade a spade, a phrase that has been around for more than 500 years. It means that we should speak honestly and directly about topics that others may avoid speaking about due to their sensitivity or embarrassing nature. According to Wikipedia, The phrase predates the use of the word “spade” as an ethnic slur against African-Americans, which was not recorded until 1928; however, in contemporary U.S. society, the idiom is often avoided due to potential confusion with the slur. Click here to read more about the history of the phrase, call a spade a spade.

The N-word is a substitute for the word Negro, its pronunciation corrupted, of course, by the southerners’ predilection to pronounce words ending in an O, or with the sound of an O, by replacing the O sound with er. Window, for example, becomes winder, pillow becomes piller, tallow becomes taller, shallow becomes shaller, fellow becomes feller, hollow becomes holler, ad infinitum.

Can you guess how Negro is pronounced? Yep, for many southerners the N-word is not tainted with racialism—it is simply a descriptive term, just as other persons are described as white. The N-word ends with an O, so the O is dropped and an er is added. And I’ll grant you that others use the word in all its pejorative sense, expressing contempt, disapproval and hatred with all the pent-up passion and racism that has in the past plunged our nation into civil war and which still exists, and such use of the word is not limited to southerners. Our nation has come a long way, especially since 1964 and the civil rights movement, but we still have a long way to go.

Check out this sentence: That N-word feller that lives across the holler in that house with no winders has to wade across a shaller creek to get to the store to buy a new piller and some animal taller to make candles. Now please be honest—to thine own self be true, so to speak—do you understand how some southerners pronounce words ending in O, and do you understand how the word Negro became, to a southerner, the N-word?

With full knowledge that I have convinced nobody—not even one person—with my explanation of the N-word as used by southerners, I will continue with my dissertation—or posting if you insist—on Catfish Alley and ten-cent hamburgers:

First Street in Columbus is on a bluff overlooking the Tombigbee River, a stream that in those days was teeming with fresh-water catfish, a choice item in the diet of southerners regardless of their race—fried catfish was a staple. Local fishermen kept the cafes and fish stands along Catfish Alley well supplied, and people came from near and far to buy fresh catfish for home cooking and consumption, hence the name Catfish Alley.

The going rate for hamburgers on Catfish Alley when I was a boy was ten cents. Hamburger buns came only in one size in those days—small. The huge ones we have today either did not exist or had not yet come to our town, perhaps late as so many changes were—drive-in theaters, for example. Click here for a posting on the ins and outs of drive-in theaters. The ten-centers stood head-and-shoulders above today’s What-a-Burger and its Just a burger with its thin patty, one pickle slice, a bit of minced onions and a smear of mustard—the ten-cent patties were ample and came, if wanted, with lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion and one’s choice of mustard, ketchup or mayo in any combination.

But it gets better, because Catfish Alley had a competitor. Just a brief walk brought me and my fellow students from our high school at noon to the river’s edge where a lady dispensed five-cent burgers from a portable kitchen on wheels, burgers that had no tomato or lettuce or pickles or onions but featured a substantial hamburger patty—fifteen cents would get a student two burgers and a Pepsi or RC Cola or a Coke or a Grapette—most of us went for the 12-ounce sodas rather than the 6-ounce brands, an easy choice since the cost was the same. Ah, for the good old days!

Does anyone remember this jingle?

Pepsi Cola hits the spot
Twelve full ounces, that’s a lot
Twice as much for a nickel, too,
Pepsi Cola is the drink for you!

I make no apology, neither for myself nor for fellow southerners for past or present use of the N-word. My only point is that the real word is sometimes used without any thought of hatred or disliking, without a trace of racialism in the speaker’s mind or heart. I abhor its use when it involves prejudice, hatred, contempt, disdain, disgust or any other contemptible emotion on the part of the speaker. And one more thought—look at the use of F-word in place of the real word—a listener hears F-word, but can you guess which word forms in the listener’s mind? Yep, that word, the one with the letters U, C and K following the F, just as the phrase N-word is converted to a word that adds an I, a couple of Gs, an E and an R, a word that resounds in the listener’s brain with far more resonance than N-word to the ears.

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

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Re: On the question of gay marriage rights . . .

In May of 2007, early  in my blogging efforts, I posted a dissertation on the rights (or lack thereof) of homosexual couples—gays, if you will—to be married under the same rights granted to heterosexual couples—straights, if you will. The complete posting can be found here: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/on-the-question-of-gay-marriage-rights/. I will say, in all humility, that a trip to that posting is well worth your time and effort.

In spite of the fact that the question of marriage rights for gays is one of the most divisive discussions in our society, my original posting has garnered only one response, a comment made by a heterosexual person. I am tempted to conclude that homosexuals do not frequent WordPress, or if they do, they never search for another person’s take on the problem. Or they find a discussion, one that I unblushingly believe to be an original approach to the problem, whether humorous or helpful, and they find it neither—otherwise I should think that they would comment on the posting.

Hey, people! This is an example of thinking outside the box, a technique that was developed and published many years ago, intended to stimulate discussion and perhaps arrive at solutions to problems, regardless of their nature.

I am therefore bringing the lone comment out of the closet of comments and into the bright sunlight of its own posting. The original comment, along with my initial response, the commenter’s reply and my final response to that reply follows. My purpose is to make our give-and-take discussion available to others. I spent a considerable amount of time formulating my out of the box solution to the problem, and I expected considerably more than one comment—if I’m being unreasonable, so be it!

This is the original comment:

Yours is a long-winded and overly simplified analysis based on a faulty starting premise. Other than that, it was entertaining to read but will change no one’s opinion.

My reply:

Viewer comments to a blog posting can be approved as submitted, approved and edited, deleted or ignored. My first reaction was to delete yours, but I reconsidered and decided to approve it, unedited, because I felt that your reaction to the posting would be of interest to other viewers.

Thanks for viewing this posting, and thanks for the comment. I regret that you found my analysis long-winded and overly simplified, and I was doubly disappointed that you felt my analysis was based on a faulty starting premise. However, it pleases me that you found it entertaining—such was my intent. I placed the posting in the humor category because it was intended to be humorous, satirical and entertaining. The fact that it entertained you means that, in the opinion of at least one viewer, I achieved my objective.

Commenter’s response:

Fair enough. I seldom mock anyone’s view in a blog and I hope I did not give that impression. The issue has caused hurt in my own family as my closest cousin has tried to get me to accept that she is married to her longtime companion (who I dearly love, as well). However, as you are the King of our great state, I think it is imperative that I continue to read you.

My final reply:

Please accept my sincerest thanks for your follow-up comment, and I also tender my heartfelt thanks for your sharing an issue that has caused hurt in your family.

My wife (the Queen) and my three daughters (the three Princesses) claim that I have an opinion on virtually everything, and they think that I believe I can effectively advise others on virtually everything. They are right, of course, but I try to avoid doing either because I am skeptical of other people’s opinions and have difficulty accepting any advice they may give. I expose these faults only to let you know that the thoughts below are not my opinions and are not given as advice—they are nothing more than random thoughts prompted by your posting.

My first thought on reading your response was a phrase that can be found somewhere in the Holy Bible, the King James version (a fellow king), a passage that says, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,” or something to that effect. The phrase varies in construction and purpose, but is widely used in marriage ceremonies. Many people, perhaps most, believe that it refers to the sanctity of the marriage.

An immediate afterthought was that the phrase places no restrictions on the participants in any way regarding age, race, religion, political affiliation, physical attributes such as height, weight, or fairness of face (or lack thereof), or gender.

My second thought was one of a prayer known worldwide, probably published and spoken in every language imaginable—some who read this prayer feel that it embodies the wisdom of the ages. Others consider it trite and dismiss it. I believe that each of us should at least make a stab at living by this maxim, this fundamental rule of conduct. It should be easy, because it requires only three attributes: serenity, courage and wisdom, attributes inherent in everyone.

This is the prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. —Reinhold Niebuhr

At the risk of repeating myself I will repeat myself. These are not my opinions and are not given as advice—they are nothing more than random thoughts prompted by your posting, and should be regarded as such—unless, of course, you find them applicable in any way, and in that case you are on your own.

Good luck, and best regards.

 
 

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I married my barber . . .

The above title seemed appropriate at first, but on serious reflection I realized that the title involved certain conclusions that could possibility be drawn by viewers. I therefore hasten to add that my barber is a lady, a lady that I married in 1952 and one that has hung around and tolerated me for the past 57 years, and our union continues in its 58th year with no abatement of the passions that prompted the marriage (that simply means that we still love one another). I can understand my love for her, but I have never fully understood her love for me.

Que sera, sera—whatever will be, will be!

My wife became my barber in 1983, the year that we left the sanctity and security of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and relocated to the Washington, D.C. area following my unlikely promotion to a higher level in my duties as a law-enforcement officer in our federal Civil Service. I managed to endure those duties for three years before I bailed out and returned to Texas—to Houston, not to the Rio Grande Valley—and six months later to San Antonio for an additional ten years in service and retirement in 1997. Texas is our adoptive father and San Antonio is our adoptive mother—we love both, and we intend to remain in that family throughout this life and the next—see, I told you we love them!

The above two paragraphs comprise the foundation for this posting, one that could accurately be titled, “The time my wife cut my hair and my left ear prior to my travel from Arlington, Virginia to New York, NY and on to London, England and Johannesburg, South Africa and finally to Botswana, the capital city of the sovereign nation of Botswana, Africa.” That trip and its several stops, both outbound and return, are fodder for later posts and will be attended to in time. Just as a teaser, I will tell you that at that time, apartheid still ruled in South Africa—click here for details of that nation’s apartheid rule from 1948 until 1994.

I was running a bit behind for my flight out of National Airport (later renamed Ronald Reagan National Airport), but I was desperately in need of a trim. My barber gave me the trim but inadvertently removed a one-inch strip of skin from the outer portion of my left ear, a wound that bled very little but quickly became an unsightly scab—it ultimately healed with no discernible after effects, but that one-inch strip figured prominently in my trip to exotic foreign countries. It became a topic for conversation, and attracted stares from everyone I faced on the trip, including immigration and customs officers, taxi drivers, airline employees and fellow travelers. While few questioned the wound, their gaze invariably strayed from eye contact to ear contact, a really disconcerting situation. It made the viewer appear uninvolved, and somewhat cross-eyed. At first I felt obligated to explain the wound, so I assembled several canned responses to use when someone asked, “What happened to your ear?” I finally gave that up, and either ignored the question or steered the conversation in a different direction. Bummer!

Oh, I just remembered that my mother labeled eyes that seemed to be looking in different directions as “A and P eyes.” She explained that by saying that one looked toward the Atlantic and the other toward the Pacific. I make no apology for her little joke, nor do I feel compelled to apologize for recounting it here. My mother was a lovely lady with no hint of bias of any fashion toward any race, color,  or creed, nor was she biased toward noticeable physical or mental aberrations. And as the adage goes, the fruit never falls far from the tree—like mother, like son—seriously!

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

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 5, 2010 in Family, foreign travel, Humor, marriage, Travel

 

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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 https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/letter-to-the-editor-san-antonio-express-news-obama’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: (http://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk.html#1)

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

II. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE

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.” (http://terriblywrite.wordpress.com)

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 http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/search.epl. 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 http://terriblywrite.wordpress.com. 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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