Monday, April 25, 2011

(For ABC Wednesday, Magpie 63 and Sunday Scribblings.)
"O" is for "Obedient"
“All I’m saying is, we follow the rule book. No deviations.”
“But the rules aren’t clear for everything. That means that sometimes we can decide ourselves what to do.”
“No, we can't. If any rule isn’t clear, we’re supposed to go to – you know who.”
“The Exalted.”
“Exactly. And when it comes to orders from the Exalted, we are one thing: obedient! Keep that word in mind! Trouble with you young guys, you want to see things happen. You get bored. Well, a lot of our work is boring – get used to it.”
“Excuse me, but this is the PDA, right? The Planet Destruction Agency?”
“Sure, but we destroy only the ‘U’ planets, the uninhabited ones. According to the Exalted, we leave the ‘I’ planets, the inhabited ones, alone. It’s all in the rule book.”
“Yeah, but what you seem to have missed is the section that says it’s okay to destroy an ‘I’ planet if it’s on the way to self-destruction on its own. In fact, technically speaking, eliminating an "I" planet is easy -- it's a piece of cake."
“You’re referring to Earth again, aren’t you? You keep bringing that up like a broken record. Listen. Our job is to find which ‘U’ planets are old, unable to keep up, and destroy them. That does not include Earth. I realize that you think you have all kinds of new, innovative ideas, but the PDA has been around for a long time and doesn’t need new ideas.”
“You know what it was like, where I was stationed before? I was in Universe Seven and let me tell you, it was a different world. They didn’t destroy old, useless planets the way you do, just turn them off the way you’d turn off a light bulb. They blew ‘em up! This made for a spectacular son et lumiere event that not only made an exciting show for everyone but served as a lesson for all the other planets.”
“The Exalted – he permitted that?”
“Permitted it? He loved it! Here, we’ve got tape; let me put it up on the screen.”

“My God! That is spectacular!”
“Right. Look at those colors and stroboscopic lights and all that movement; it’s marvelous! We could do that with Earth! Because it’s a fact that an inhabited planet makes for a better show when it’s blown up.”
“But there’s this… In recent centuries, there have been more and more attempts on the part of its inhabitants to destroy Earth on their own. With their never-ending fighting and so on, they’re going to blow the place up themselves; they don’t need our help.”
“Well, give me a ring when it’s about to happen. I wouldn’t want to miss it!”

Monday, April 18, 2011

(For Sunday Scribblings, ABC Wednesday and Magpie 62)
"N" as in "No, thank you."
This week’s Magpie prompt reminded me of a much-needed meal I nearly missed a few decades ago.
I was waiting about for a couple of weeks in Sydney, Australia, while they repaired a huge hole in my ship that resulted when my vessel ran smack-dab into the Great Barrier Reef.
Being young – yes, this was some time ago :-) – my main interest was in meeting a nice Australian girl. And I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of just the right person, an attractive and intelligent young lady named, IIRC, Mabel.
We got along well. So well that after a week or so she invited me home for a meal and to meet her mum and dad. I resolved to be on my best behavior.
Things didn’t work out as well as I had hoped.
I believe it was Winston Churchill who famously said that Britain and America are two nations separated by a single language. Well, Yanks and Aussies were separated in the same way and I imagine they still are. Mabel and her family spoke English, but they had their version and I had mine.
Here’s what happened.
As I sat in the living-room, attempting to look respectable, Mabel’s mom – er, mum – looked in from the kitchen and asked, “Will you take tea?”
I was hungry, but I don’t usually have tea with my meals, so I said, “No, thank you.”
I continued sitting there, like a lump on a bog, and as time went on the unmistakable sounds of people eating came from the next room. I couldn’t believe it. They were going ahead with the meal without me!
I gradually realized what had happened.

When we say “tea,” we picture something like the above.
But throughout greater Britain, “tea” often meant that kind of tea, yes, but it also meant a light afternoon or evening meal, usually served around four o’clock.

The above, for us, would be a couple of eggs, sunnyside, with toast, a breakfast. To Australians, perhaps more in those days than today, it could also be “tea.”
So when the lady of the house had looked in on me to ask, “Will you take tea?” she wasn’t asking if I liked a cup of tea with whatever I was going to eat; what she was actually saying was, “Please come in and sit down; we want you to join us for our afternoon meal.”
And I had said no. Here I thought I was going to shine with this family, but they probably were saying to themselves: h'mm -- another of those weird Americans they had heard about. Poor Mabel must have been embarrassed that she had brought home such a bone-head to meet her folks. I finally got up and went quietly in to sit at the table, trying not to look too foolish.
I am pleased to get a lot of friendly U K and Australian visitors to my blog, and I’m sure they all have their own stories about Americans and the English language that separates us. :-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

[For Sunday Scribblings and ABC Wednesday]
“M” is for “Mamillius”
The little kid with the funny name…

He’s very much like other boys his age. He likes to horse around, play games, tell ghost stories, etc. He’s featured in the play, “The Winter’s Tale.”
But there’s something special about this youngster, one of the most appealing characters ever created by Will Shakespeare: he’s a prince. His mom and dad are the King and Queen (only not in that order.) 

As princeling, he has two ladies-in-waiting assigned to be in charge of him. Naturally, he stands up to them.
First Lady
“Come, my gracious lord,
Shall I be your playfellow?”
“No, I'll none of you.”
First Lady
Why, my sweet lord?”
“You'll kiss me and speak to me as if
I were a baby still.”
Like most other young dudes of his age, he didn’t much care to have everyone kissing him and treating him as though he was still a toddler.
But Mamillius’ story is really a tragedy.
His mom and dad are constantly fighting. The King has charged the Queen with adultery – of which she is entirely innocent. This is serious stuff. If a queen is guilty of adultery, she has by law committed treason, which is punishable by death.
His dysfunctional family, the constant rows, take their toll on the youngster. His health is affected.

By the way, we should add that his father, though certainly not much as a husband, dearly loves his son.
But when the King throws his wife in prison and refuses to let Mamillius see his dear mother, the young prince becomes ill and dies. The monarch laments his poor judgment and promises to grieve for his dead son every day for the rest of his life.
So, it’s a Shakespeare tragedy. But there’s something else that's probably there by design, something that makes the sad story of Mamillius fascinating.
We remember that Shakespeare’s own son also died as a child. We can’t help wondering if Our Will had his boy in mind when he wrote of the death of the young prince.
I have always felt he was thinking of his dead son when he wrote these heart-breaking lines:
Fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed,
Walks up and down with me,
Repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
My fair son! My all the world!”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Magpie 61

Willow's prompt this week reminded me of a saying I learned when I was working in Germany:

"'In vino veritas.'
In Bier ist auch etwas."

("In wine there is truth."
In beer there is also something.) :-)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

[For Sunday Scribblings and ABC Wednesday]
“L” is for “Lin” – Maya Lin.
The judges were guys, mostly old guys, who made the call.
The contest had 1,421 entrants, and the point was to determine who would design a Vietnam Veterans Memorial for the Mall in Washington, D C, back in 1981.
The judges were deliberately not told who the entrants were. All they knew was that Entry 1026 was the best, by far.

The Memorial design they chose avoided the usual conventional style of military statues. Instead, it was a kind of abstraction. It was to consist of two long walls, simple, graceful, of polished black granite, on which would be carved the names of all the more than 58,000 Americans dead and missing from that war.

I have to wonder if they would have chosen that design, Entry 1026, if they had known that the artist was a 21-year-old college student, a Chinese-American named Maya Lin, who had no degree, no backers, no experience.
As you might guess, once the idea for the Memorial was publicized, there was an outcry.
Many people had expected, had wanted, a conventional design, something more heroic, as it was thought military monuments should be. Politicians, befuddled as usual, soon had their say. Of those who were against, one of them was Ross Perot, a financial sponsor of the contest. Phyllis Schafly, of the Moral Majority, spoke out strongly. The secretary of the interior tried to withhold the necessary building permit.
The Memorial was referred to as “a black gash of shame” and “a black ditch.”
A compromise was reached when it was decided to build a different monument, “Three Fighting Men,” a “realistic” statue of three seven-foot bronze American Vietnam soldiers, by a different artist, which was placed in a different part of the Mall.

However today, Maya Lin’s Vietnam design is the most visited memorial in Washington. A structure of simple beauty and great emotional power, it is magnificent.

To many thousands of visitors, it conveys an almost unbearable sense of loss.

Earlier, when the judges had announced their selection, they said of this design: “All who come here can find it a place of healing.”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Magpie 60

This week’s Magpie prompt got me to thinking of Feste.

In Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night,” there’s a jester of that name who sings, dances, plays instruments, tells jokes, etc. His most famous song is about rain.
“When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain…”
Feste is attached to the household of the Countess Olivia. In those days, if you had a lot of money – and Olivia did – you had a permanent staff to provide entertainment. The television programs of the Elizabethan era were fairly primitive, to say the least, so after the evening meal all hands would sit back and enjoy whatever the staff tummlers could come up with in the way of amusement and distraction. The master – in this case the mistress – of the house would usually have a jester, fool, clown, whatever, on permanent call.
It was a tough gig. One wisecrack too many, one step over whatever imaginary line had been set up, and the joker would be out on the street. And he had to be prepared, no matter how he felt at the moment, to be funny.
“Here’s a man of jollity,
Jibe, joke, jollify!
Give us of your quality,
Come, Fool, follify!”

It’s understandable that the Jester of that era, a chap seemingly of such a playful and frivolous nature, occasionally had his moments of melancholy. Many artists, writers, operatic composers (“Rigoletto,” anyone?) have used this theme in their works.
And Will S. was no exception.
With all of Feste’s amusing shaggy-dog stories and pranks, the play’s audience realizes that there’s a darker and mysterious side to him. When he sings the famous line “The rain it raineth every day,” he’s saying that every day can bring some kind of misery. At the end of the play he sums it all up in a famous closing song:
“When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain.
The rain it raineth every day.
But when I came to man's estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain, it raineth every day.”

He then comes right out and in effect makes a plea for applause:
“A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain.
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.”
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