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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

AUGUST 6, 2010 flashback   DÉJÀ VU

On Wednesday afternoon I was working a telecast of a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game.  My coordinator Jason Steele was monitoring the Internet for other news from around the major leagues.

Suddenly Jason found a report from Yankee Stadium.  He asked me to call up graphic 2671, a shell for a news bulletin in the lower third of the TV screen.  He began dictating what I should type on it.  “Alex Rodriguez (NYY)...”

“He finally did it?!” I interrupted.  Yes, he did.  We had been anticipating this achievement for weeks.

Jason continued, “...hits 600th career home run.  Youngest player ever to reach milestone.”  The graphic went on the air, and our announcer Greg Brown informed our viewers of Rodriguez’s accomplishment.

I was reminded of a similar experience nearly half a century ago.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and my father and I were watching an NFL game on TV.  Checking the annals of history, I conclude that we must have been watching Dallas at Cleveland on the first day of October in 1961.  I remember that the Cowboys were an expansion team then, wearing funny uniforms with stars on the shoulders and led by diminutive 5’9” quarterback Eddie LeBaron (left).  They were playing in only their second season, and the Browns defeated them easily by a 25-7 score.

During the course of the football telecast, the announcer (probably Ken Coleman) informed us that in an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, another New York Yankee had just hit a long-anticipated home run.  In this case, it was the 61st of the season for Roger Maris, breaking the old record of 60 set by Babe Ruth 34 years before.

I didn’t see either homer when it happened.  But you always remember where you were when you heard the news.

 

AUGUST 3, 2020    I NOW PRONOUN YOU "THEY AND THEM"

On an episode of a Norman Lear TV series which was cablecast earlier this year, one of two apparently female characters introduced her friend:  “This is Syd, my Syd-nificant other, and they are not binary.”

Syd explained, “My pronouns are they and them” — epicene, of indeterminate sex.  A census taker was uncertain whether it was permissible to address Syd with the pronoun “you.”

Some progressive folks nowadays prefer using Epicene Pronouns (EPs) to choosing between the traditional gender-specific “he and him” or “she and her.”

In the sitcom, a crisis developed.  If this were a traditional show, the first character might moan:

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't she?

Should I break up

with her

before

she breaks up

with me?

But in this case, the script was written using Syd's EPs.

Syd's gonna dump me,

aren't they?

Should I break up

with them

before

they break up

with me?

That sounds very odd to this baby boomer.  I was taught that “they” and “them” are plural, which implies that Syd are indeed binary.  Syd are apparently afflicted with multiple personalities.

Such misuse of language invites misunderstanding.  For example, if Syd were to refuse a pamphlet proffered by missionaries, we'd have to phrase that as “they declined their tract.”  Who declined what?

If Syd prefer EPs, Syd need to choose Singular EPs.  However, that's not easy.  The English language's only SEP has long been “it,” which unfortunately neuters its antecedent's humanity.

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't it?

Should I break up

with it

before

it breaks up

with me?

People have tried to invent non-neuter SEPs like “ze” and “zir,” which no one will be able to agree upon nor remember.

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't ze?

Should I break up

with zir

before

ze breaks up

with me?

In What's Your Pronoun, linguistics scholar Dennis Baron claims that “the singular ‘they’” exists and is often used in sentences like “Someone phoned earlier, but they haven't called back.”  However, if a subject is singular (they), does not grammar require its verb to agree (they hasn't)? 

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't they?

Should I break up

with them

before

they breaks up

with me?

No, I think Syd should announce, “My pronouns?  I don't need no stinking pronouns.  Just call me by my name!”

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't Syd?

Should I break up

with Syd

before

Syd breaks up

with me?

 

JULY 31, 2020
NOT MY FRISBEE

The golden retriever in the background is merely watching.

Why isn't he trying to retrieve the flying disk?  Because he understands the concept of private property.  The Frisbee belongs to the German shepherd!

This image recreates an incident that's part of this month's 100 Moons article.


 

JULY 29, 2020    P.M. CURL CHEVROLET

In 1952, my father became a business owner.  He purchased an automobile dealership from Paul M. Curl in Richwood, Ohio.

This snapshot from a few years later shows him on the right, with Margaret and Paul Curl on the left.

What did the dealership look like when he bought it?  “Bob Connors” passed along a couple of color photos that Kay Armstrong Unverzagt shared on Facebook.

Kay writes, “I wanted to post these pictures of my uncle's garage in Richwood before it became Thomas Chevrolet.  I guess I was a little too young to take pictures of it back then but of course my cousin had these.  I do remember those police cars.  My son liked the Power Glide sign in the window.”

I remember being fascinated as a boy by that neon sign.  It promoted the two-speed automatic transmission introduced in 1950 for upper-level Chevrolet models — the first automatic available in a low-priced car.

By 1953, the showroom had been rearranged.  The front door, with its decal promoting GMAC financing, now was protected by a metal awning.  Most importantly, there was a new name on the building, which would survive until 1964.

 

JULY 26, 2020    MENCKEN'S 100-YEAR-OLD PROPHECY

One hundred years ago today, H.L. Mencken wrote an article in the Baltimore Evening Sun calling the Republican candidate for President, Warren G. Harding of Marion, Ohio, “a numskull like the idiots he faces.” 

Click for clips from The Daily Show

Mencken held a dim view of the intelligence of the electorate.  He called voters “quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental.”

According to him, the whole thinking of the “boobocracy” is based on emotion — mainly “dread of what they cannot understand.”

In a nationwide race, “all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre,” he wrote.  “The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. 

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.

“We move toward a lofty ideal.

“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

 

JULY 22, 2020    TRICK QUESTION

“Which is heavier, 16 ounces of lead or 16 ounces of feathers?”

Neither, silly.  Each weighs one pound.

“So they do.  But how about this:  Which is heavier, 16 ounces of coal or 16 ounces of gasoline?”

Actually, in that case there is a difference.  Coal is measured by weight; a short ton of coal weighs 32,000 ounces.  However, gasoline is measured by volume; a gallon of gasoline contains 128 fluid ounces. 

As it turns out, 16 oz. of coal (one pound) weighs 16 ounces ...
but 16 fl. oz. of gasoline (one pint) weighs only 11½ ounces.

 

 

JULY 17, 2020    DON'T MESS WITH THE BEAR CUBS

In a new old story, many accomplishments of former leaders are claimed by the new leader.  One of his supporters goes door to door Multiplying Miracles, boasting of very great triumphs.  Some of them might even have happened, though one is mean and vengeful.

 

JULY 9, 2020   

With his supper, my father loved fresh sliced tomatoes, so he had half a dozen plants growing outside the kitchen window.  Here he proudly displays the first yield of the season.

It's round slicing red big organic ripe homegrown beautiful a tomato.

That last sentence is certainly colorful, but why is it also so weird?

It includes too many adjectives, but more to the point, they're jumbled.  A rarely-taught rule of English grammar requires that if multiple adjectives modify a single noun, they must precede it in a certain very specific order according to these nine categories:

article   opinion   size   age   shape   color   origin   material   purpose

I didn't know that was a rule, but everyone fluent in English has unconsciously internalized it.  The colorful sentence ought to be rearranged to read:

“It's  a  beautiful  big  ripe  round  red  homegrown  organic  slicing  tomato.”  Yum!

 

JULY 4, 2020    TO __ WE SING

Discussion of Black Lives Matter has recently returned the National Anthem to the national conversation.  Folks are again recalling NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the Anthem and declared, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”  Other folks have toppled a statue of the National Anthem's author, Francis Scott Key, an attorney who defended slaveholders' rights to human property.

The words were by Key, who owned slaves himself, but I've heard that the melody is also questionable.  Why?  Because it comes from an old British drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

That title always puzzled me.  Assuming the name “Ana-creon” to be pronounced like “Hannah Kreeon,” I couldn't imagine how it could fit the anapestic rhythm of the tune.

However, I never investigated the mystery — until now.  It turns out the knack is to put the accent on the second syllable while eliding the letter e from the name as well as from “heaven.”

Who was Anacreon?  An ancient Greek poet.  While others celebrated myths and histories, he wrote about everyday themes such as love and parties.

Twenty-three centuries later, about 1766, London gentlemen formed a music club.  Two dozen erudite fellows met once a month in a coffee house at Rowley & Leech, a wine merchant.  The festivities typically began at 7:00 with a concert.  One notable guest was Franz Joseph Haydn.  At 10:00 everyone retired for a late supper.  Afterwards, they returned to the concert room and joined in their official Anacreontic Song, an origin story written by members Ralph Tomlinson and John Stafford Smith.

To Anacreon in heav'n, where he sat in full glee,
    A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition
That he their inspirer and patron would be,
    When this answer arriv'd from the jolly old Grecian.

In his reply, the old poet from Mount Parnassus promoted both the goddess of love and the god of wine: 

“Voice, fiddle and flute,
   No longer be mute!
      I'll lend ye my name, and inspire ye to boot.
And besides, I'll instruct ye, like me, to entwine
      The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine.”

However, up on Mount Olympus, the king of the gods snobbishly objected.

The news through Olympus immediately flew,
    When Old Thunder pretended to give himself airs.
“If these mortals are suffer'd their scheme to pursue,
    The devil a goddess will stay above stairs.”

In the English idiom of the day, the last line means “no immortals, not as much as one goddess, will remain up in heaven.”  But Zeus was too late.  The mortals were experiencing joy, which in those days rhymed with “cry.”

Hark!  Already they cry
   In transports of joy,
      “A fig for Parnassus!  To Rowley's we'll fly,
And there, my good fellows, we'll learn to entwine
      The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine.”

Anacreon

Because the verses required a wide vocal range, the leader sang them solo.  The others repeated his final two lines, swinging their glasses from side to side and then fraternally joyning hands for the last of the six choruses.

After the official song, the merriment continued with at least another hour of “songs, catches, glees, puppet shows, and everything that mirth can suggest.”  In this James Gillray caricature, they're still braying at 3:42 in the morning, “whilst snug in our Club-room, we jovially 'twine / the myrtle of Wenus with Bacchus's wine.”

The Anacreontic Society outgrew the London Coffee-House and relocated to the Crown and Anchor Tavern.  Unfortunately, ladies had begun to attend, so the members had to clean up their revelry.

In disgust they began resigning one by one.  By 1792 the club had disbanded.  However, their signature tune survived.  Across the Atlantic, in 1799 it gained new words (including an image of George Washington using his sword as a lightning rod) and was sung during the re-election campaign of President John Adams.  In 1805 Francis Scott Key set “When the Warrior Returns” to the same popular melody.

Key used it again (along with some of the same words) for “Defence of Fort McHenry” in 1814.  Known as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” this song became even more popular.

Regrettably, it has taught us to venerate the banner.  We place our hands over our hearts and swear allegiance to the flag.  We fix our eyes worshipfully upon it while singing the words of a slave owner.  In parts of the country, unreconstructed descendants of slave owners counter with a different flag.

Is it time to move on from banner idolatry?  Is it time to move on from Key's militaristic song with its glaring rockets and bursting bombs?  If so, may I suggest another English melody to which new American words were written, in this case in 1831.  It is worthy of being a free nation's anthem.

 

 TBT


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