Thursday, December 31, 2020

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

I don't know, but beavers are 'gnawtier' little critters with a brand-spanking-new concept in tails and tail-use (if we're talking geological time), so I'd take a beaver over a woodchuck any old day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Witty Insight Attributed to Some Nineteenth-Century American Robber Baron

"How much money does a man need? Just a little bit more."

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Stash Away For a Rainy Day

. . . as though one does anything worth a stash on a rainy day.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmastide has been swept away by the crosscurrents of Postmodern diversity . . .

We're no longer encouraged these days to greet folks with a hearty "Merry Christmas" anymore. Indeed we're strongly discouraged from greeting others that way. Non-Christians might feel offended. I can understand that. But I can't quite understand "Happy Holidays" as a substitute. The word "holiday" means "holy day," and the non-religious might feel offended since they have no holy days. What about "Season's Greetings"? Well, what season would that happen to be? Winter. "Winter's Greetings!" But what does winter bring? Cold. Ice. Snow. What are we then wishing on people by extending to them some "Season's Greetings"? Aren't we dumping all the dangers of wintertime upon them? Aren't we really, even if inadvertently, saying, "Have a cold one! Slip on some snow and ice! Fall down! Break an arm or leg!" That sort of 'greeting' would offend everyone. But it's at least all-inclusive, and that's the important thing, these days.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

I want the virtue of patience, and I want it now!

Good things come to those who wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . and fricken wait, but I'm beginning to wonder . . .

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Against again!

"Treade a worme on the tayle, and it must turne agayne."

I wonder why "agayne" is rendered "against" rather than "again" in modern English. The meaning is given as so: "Step on the tail of a worm, and it will turn against (you)."

But couldn't the meaning be as so:  "Step on the tail of a worm, and it will turn again (= twist and turn)."

Friday, December 25, 2020

Why play merry hell with Christmas happenings?

"Merrie Olde England says: Happy Christmas!"

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Aphorism for December 24, 2020

"Ear wax is good against bee stings." Great-Grandma Shell's advice, maybe not an aphorism.

But she didn't like for her little great-grandchildren to go pilfering among her old-folks stuff. If I picked up some tube of mystery and asked her, "What's in this?" she'd likely retort, "None of your beeswax." So, I'd say, "Oh, is it your ear wax against bees?"

Which got me banished from her room . . .

Actually, I don't think she ever used the term "beeswax," so this probably never happened.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

You can bank on it!

A penny saved ain't much better than a penny lost - that's my two cents on the matter, anyway.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Uncle Woodrow's Passing

A few readers will recall a recent post on some childhood memories in which my Uncle Woodrow appeared:

Remember the time I got tongue-tied and called you "Uncle Pauline and Aunt Woodrow"? . . .And the time I shared some honey with the bees, and Uncle Woodrow knew it was me and one of my experiments (who would have known bees were so dilatory at sucking up free honey)? And the time I fell through the ceiling and got Uncle Woodrow in trouble for not having boarded up that ceiling for safety's sake?

Well, that Uncle Woodrow has passed on. I will post the official eulogy when it appears. Meanwhile, here stands posted my letter to the immediate family

Dear Family,

I received the sad news from Shan that Uncle Woodrow had passed.

I'm especially glad now that I sent to him and Aunt Pauline a letter of appreciation for the role that they have played in the lives of me and my four brothers. I seem to recall time spent on the farm with them every summer. We learned not only a bit about the farming life at those times, we also learned ethical lessons from two exemplary individuals.

Uncle Woodrow will be missed. I had hoped to see him again after my retirement in 2022, but he's been called home, and he was ready to go.

My heart goes out to Aunt Pauline and to cousins Velna and Martha. They have been to me like mother and sisters, respectively, and Uncle Woodrow was always like a father.

My family here in South Korea sends condolences. We will keep everyone in our thoughts, especially since we also now know that some have tested positive for the Corona virus.


Jeff, Sun-Ae, and Children

For those who don't know, the "Shan" mentioned in my letter is one of my brothers.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Aphorism for December 21, 2020

"A bad penny always turns up, to coin a phrase."

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Aphorism for December 20, 2020

To break the law is also to break the law.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Aphorism for December 19, 2020

"Victory has a thousand dads, but defeat is a hapless bastard."

Friday, December 18, 2020

Aphorism for December 18, 2020

"Every false aphorism is also true."

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Aphorism for December 17, 2020

"An aphorism does not rise to the occasion; it spreads to meet the horizon."

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Begetting of Wisdom

The aphoristic words below would be true if they weren't so funny:

"Living in anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

Apparently, these words of wisdom originate with our era's answer to Ann Landers, the similarly named Annie Lane, who may be with us for many a year to come, if her photograph can be trusted.

But hey, I can sound smart and aphoristic, too:

"Drinking poison is like living in anger and waiting for the other person to get mad."

And this exhausts my aphoristic wisdom for the nonce.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Robert Frost

I was reading Robert Frost's ghost story poem "The Witch of Coös" today when the thought ocurred to me that the name of the witch's husband, Toffile, might be a pun on the German word for "devil": "Teufel." A quick Google search revealed that a few other readers, some even scholars, had wondered as well. After a couple minute's reflection, however, I couldn't see that the sense of "devil" for "Toffile" enhanced the meaning or advanced the narrative. I therefore dropped the notion from further consideration.

Monday, December 14, 2020

William of Ockham

There was a young man called The Blade,
whose talks were by princ'ple delayed.
If it's simpler to see,
then it's simpler to be,
all else to account for, done made.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Quantum Mechanic Needed

There once was a force-field unused
to detecting another's amused
force of nature at play
in irregular way:
left a quantum mechanic confused.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

A Couple More Big Bits on Parton

In more from, "Working Girl," Emily Lordi's piece on Parton in the NYT's Style Magazine, (December 5, 2020), we learn details of the country singer's: breadth:

[In a memorable interview, Parton told Barbara Walters] "that her outsize appearance was a means to an end, a gateway to her art. [Her creative directror Steve] Summers sees it differently, though. Rather than draw people into an appreciation of Parton's musicianship, he thinks her exterior graciously shields people from the blinding light of it. He describes Parton as a "musical savant" who hears songs "complete in her head." If Parton looked as formidable as she is, "you couldn't process it," Summer says. "It's just a package that is divine" . . . . For the upcoming "Christmas on the Square," "a feel-good holiday film, in which Parton plays an angel sent to soften the heart of a rich villain played by Christine Baranski, Parton wrote not just for multiple character types, but in myriad styles: contemporary R and B with affecting vocal cries for the singer Matthew Johnson, who plays an earnest single Black father; plot-advancing musical theater numbers for stage veterans Baranski and Treat Williams, who plays Baranski's old flame; and folksier fare for herself. "She can write anything," says Debbie Allen, the iconic dancer and director best known for her work on the 1980s TV series "Fame," who directed, choreographed and executive produced the film. Parton might be "the country music queen," Allen tells me, but "her comprehension of music is encyclopedic."

That certainly sounds formidable. If the author of this article on Parton is even halfway correct, then Parton is as important for American music as is Bob Dylan. I hope the author is right, and that this film establishes that fact.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Parton's Poetic Process . . .

In "Working Girl," Emily Lordi's piece on Parton in the NYT's Style Magazine, (December 5, 2020), we learn the details of the country singer's working process:

Take, for instance, the faded, stained draft of her theme song for the film "9 to 5." In Parton's recorded version of the song, a propulsive Top 40 hit backed by an R and B horn chart, she sings these opening lines:

Tumble out of bed and I stumble to the kitchen,
Pour myself a cup of ambition,
And yawn and stretch and try to come to life.
Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin',
Out on the streets the traffic starts jumpin',
With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5.

The song hails the possibility of breaking an exploitative cycle, of making tomorrow's 9 to 5 different from today's — and Parton's lyrics themselves push beyond routine and toward escape: She enlivens the daily grind with the buoyant words "tumble" and "stumble"; surprises us with the winning phrase "cup of ambition"; and brings the solitary worker into alliance with the collective at the level of rhyme, where "pumping" blood meets "jumping" traffic. Parton's draft reveals that she initially cast the third line as, "And wonder if I might be rich in another life." The final version shifts that internal stretch of longing into the "yawn and stretch" of the woman's body and, ideologically, resists the nod to individual wealth in a song ostensibly geared toward its redistribution. But Parton's edit also improves on the line's musicality, making it a series of monosyllables that matches both the final phrase — "folks like me on the job from 9 to 5" — and the clickety-clack of the accompaniment. Parton famously devised and played the song’s rhythm by brushing her long acrylic nails together; and that sound, which evokes both a washboard and a typewriter, reminds us that music, like beauty and housekeeping, is work.

And it's good work, too. I mean a good work of poetic art.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Don't Mean to Brag (Anymore)

Some blogposts back, I bragged that my doctoral thesis was still getting attention. An old friend offered congratulations and recounted a similar experience:

In 1991, a legal article I wrote on the arcane subject of natural resource damage actions under federal environmental law was published as the lead article in a prestigious environmental law journal. It was the first legal article published on the topic and was soon quoted and relied upon in numerous other legal articles as well as legal opinions issued by courts. The first time my article was quoted in The Harvard Law Review, I was thrilled. Then it was relied upon in a US Supreme Court opinion and I was over the moon (a blue moon at that). Now I have no idea how long it has been since I even checked, but I am sure much more current articles have supplanted mine as the leading authority. I am old hat now . . .

Well, an ability to keep things in a proper perspective is certainly a fine skill to have and hone and . . . well, I'll . . . uh . . . just stop there . . . I guess . . .

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Time to start reading up on the GPT-3 . . .

. . . because it's already reading up on you!

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Dolly Parton is a Genius

In the NYT's "By the Book," Ms. Parton is asked a number of questions about books - favorite book, favorite fictional hero, favorite fictional villain, and more - she is also asked this question:

"What book should nobody read until the age of 40?"

Her answer:

"Any of those AARP instruction manuals or any book about aches and pains!"

Originally, AARP stood for "American Association of Retired Persons," but the acronym was at some time redefined as the sequence of the letters themselves. Just in case you didn't know.

When asked:

What are the best books about music you’ve read?

Her answer:

This will sound odd but the thesaurus! I’m always looking for new ways to rhyme and a good thesaurus has proven to be a great asset to me.

I wonder if she has a rhyming dictionary.

Monday, December 07, 2020

The Last Assignment Given to My Students This Year

Who I Am, Who Are You?

This stream has nearly run its course, but we remain wayfaring strangers. Never before have I taught an academic year without meeting a single student face-to-face. I almost always meet every student. Some come to meet me outside of class in the English Lounge during my office hours, and everybody meets with me individually at least once, for an oral exam. Our situation this year is therefore unique. But I don’t want you all to leave our class without knowing something about me. Here is my story.

I was born in the Arkansas Ozarks in 1957, which now seems like a long time ago, and it is very far away, nearly 7,000 miles (about 11,000 km). The Ozark Mountains are not very high, rising no more than half a mile up above sea level, but they are forested and quite beautiful, and the region until recently was very poor, which saw the Ozarks losing population rather than gaining it and thereby helped preserve its beauty and natural state. Our streams of my youth had varieties of fish and other water creatures not often found elsewhere in North America. There were leg-length catfish, alarming alligator gar, washtub-sized snapping turtles, and weird hellbenders, among other strange creatures. Many of the streams were fed by springs that rival in size many of the great springs found elsewhere in the world. Mammoth Spring, not far from my hometown, is one of the largest, with over nine million gallons of water flowing from the ground per hour. That’s about 35 million liters per hour. The region even has streams that disappear into the ground, due to the numerous caverns in the vast karst ecosystem beneath the surface of the land, where if you go spelunking, you’ll find blind little ghostly-white creatures that have lived there for eons and eons. If you prefer hiking, don’t go alone through the wildest parts without a shotgun, for black bear and mountain lions still prowl the deepest woods.

I left home in 1975 for an undergraduate education in English literature at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. My family had no money to help me pay tuition, so I worked up to twenty-five hours a week for some of the cost and borrowed the rest from the federal government. Since I was funding my own schooling at Baylor, I studied many fields alongside my major and discovered my gift for writing, and I was offered by the school a scholarship for a master’s degree in creative writing, but I wanted to study history, so I went to UC Berkeley to study European and American history, but I maintained my interest in writing and managed to obtain several literary awards over the years even while earning my doctoral degree in history and teaching in various places throughout the world. Those years – in geographical (not chronological) order, I suppose I could say – found me in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Czech Republic, France, England, Scotland, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Russia, Australia, Singapore, Japan, and Korea, among other places I’ve absentmindedly left out.

While pursuing some of my doctoral studies in Germany, I met a Korean woman also pursuing her doctoral studies there. In fact, we met on a train heading toward Hamburg when I inadvertently sat down beside her and got into conversation. She was studying the Austrian writer Robert Musil, and I happened to be reading his masterpiece, The Man without Qualities. I had just finished an early chapter in which a man and woman fell in love on the day they met, and to show that I was indeed reading that novel by Musil, I recounted the story to her. The two of us also fell in love the day we met, and we married in 1995, three years after our first meeting, in 1992. We spent a year in Korea before I took us to Australia for three years’ of postdoctoral study and teaching. We had a child there, then spent a year’s study in Jerusalem, where we had another child, afterwards returning to Korea, in late 1999, where we’ve lived ever since, with me teaching language, composition, literature, history, and religion for our livelihood. I’ve also published scholarly articles in these fields. And I’ve published poems and stories. My retirement age is now drawing nigh, and I look forward to pursuing a literary life writing more poems and stories. If anyone is interested in my writings, go to Amazon and search my name there, where you’ll find that I’ve published two novellas and a book of poetry.

That pretty much sums up my life so far, and you now know who I am. What I would now like from each one of you is a short piece of writing telling me who you are – and who you want to be. Think of this as a moment for self-reflection, including reflection on what you intend to do with yourself in your life. You may write a single paragraph, or more than one, should you wish. That is to be your own choice. These are not expected to be academic writings, and I will not grade them. I will, however, read every one of them – and I will keep them all for the years to come as reminders of the ‘invisible’ classes that I taught during the time of the global Covid-19 pandemic in the year 2020 AD.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Mail Tampering

When you were reading the epistles written by St. Paul,
did you ever feel like you were reading someone else's mail?

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Male Stuff

Most men like their things;
Mine just pisses me off.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Old Testament Impurity System

This blogpost is largely taken from one posted eight years ago, but even before then, I'd at times called attention to verse 10 of Leviticus chapter 10, so some readers might already be quite familiar with my views. But let's start here anyway, for the verse 'explains' why the Mosaic Covenant sets forth all sorts of rules, namely:

so as to make a separation

between the holy (qodesh) and the common (chol),


between the unclean (tame') and the pure (tahowr);

I've borrowed this verse from Young's Literal Translation (YLT), available at the Blue Letter Bible site.

One question that arises is how to understand the structure of this verse: does the structure exhibit parallelism or chiasm?

Normally, the arrangement of a verse this way in the Hebrew Bible manifests parallelism, and this sort of structure is so common, it's called "Hebrew Parallelism" (or sometimes Semitic Parallelism). That would therefore be a good first guess.

Against parallelism, however, would be the fact that "the holy" (qodesh) and "the unclean" (tame') are opposites. That might seem the case with "the common" (chol) and "the pure" (tahowr) as well. And since the holy and the pure seem linked conceptually, and the unclean and the common also, then we might want to read this structure as a chiasm.

But if we know a bit more about these categories, then we realize that the holy and the unclean are both dynamic forces in the Hebrew Bible and that the common in its fundamental state is pure, so there seems to be some parallelism after all.

I therefore suggest that this verse is intended to be read as exhibiting both parallelism and chiasm. Some might scoff at that as an overly scholarly interpretation by one whose mind has been shaped by deep reading in the anthropological literature on the sacred and the profane. That response would fail to give the ancients credit for being fully as intelligent as we are, and would leave us as ignorant as we would imagine they were.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Thinking Milton's Thoughts about the Fruit of Knowledge

Back in 2006, I was thinking about this question concerning Milton's view of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge

The question that I'm attempting to answer in my paper -- or one of the questions, anyway -- is precisely what the term "sacred" means when used by Milton to describe the tree of knowledge and its fruit. In biblical thought, "sacred" can mean either "set apart from profane things" or "imbued with a divine, dynamic power" (or both), so which one of these two possibilities does Milton mean?

I'll say more about this query if I can find an electronic version of the article that I came to write.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

And I also add . . .

Milton 'seems' unsure whether the Tree of Knowledge had some intrinsic force that entered into Adam and Eve to effect their fall, or was simply a tree that effected the fall of Adam and Eve by being forbidden to them, but I believe Milton thought he knew exactly what role the tree played, for I published an article on this very issue some years back.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Lest I neglect to note . . .

I also wrote a few articles on John Milton's view of the fruit growing on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Milton seems to have considered the fruit to be the peach.