Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Who said it? 16

Has it been a year since an episode of America's favorite blog game - Who said it? Apparently. I believe this is episode 16. And, apparently there was a time when I switched from Roman numerals to regular old numbers in the title. Oh, well, as they say. The self-imposed rule is that the quotes have to be from my own personal library. Answers at the bottom. Suggest you write down your own answers before you look.

1. "This has been a matter of some embarrassment to me because it reflects upon the performance of my duties as Chief Justice of the United States.
     When I accepted that position, it was with the fixed purpose of leaving politics permanently for service on the Court. That is still my purpose. It is irrevocable. I will not change it under any circumstances or conditions.
      Be they many or few, the remaining useful years of my life are dedicated to the service of the Supreme Court of the United States, in which work I am increasingly happy."

a. Earl Warren  b. William Taft  c. John Marshall  d. William Rehnquist

2. "So it is not too much to ask of Americans that they not be censors, that they run the risk of being deeply wounded by ideas so that that we may all be free. If we are wounded by an ugly idea, we must count it as part of the cost of freedom and, like American heroes in the days gone by, bravely carry on."

a. Mark Twain  b. Kurt Vonnegut c. Martin Luther King, Jr. d. Barack Obama

3. "My first conscious memory is of running. I was three years old, and my mother was driving us in a horse-drawn buggy, holding my baby brother Don on her lap while a neighbor girl held me. The horse turned the corner leading to our house at high speed, and I tumbled onto the ground. I must have been in shock, but I managed to get up and run after the buggy while my mother tried to make the horse stop. The only after effect of this accident was that years later, when the vogue of parting hair on the left side came along, I still had to comb mine straight back to hide a scar caused by the fall.

a. Abraham Lincoln b. Teddy Roosevelt c. Johnny Carson d. Richard Nixon

4. "A free and open mind, and political relativity. The organizer in his way of life, with his curiosity, irreverence, imagination, sense of humor, distrust of dogma, his self-organization, his understanding of the irrationality of much of human behavior, becomes a flexible personality, not a rigid structure that breaks when something unexpected happens. Having his own identity, he has no need for the security of an ideology or a panacea. He knows that life is a quest for uncertainty; that the only certain fact of life is uncertainty; and he can live with it. He knows that all values are relative, in a world of political relativity. Because of these qualities he is unlike to disintegrate into cynicism and disillusionment, for he does not depend on illusion."

a. Mother Jones b. Martin Luther King, Jr. c. Barack Obama d. Saul Alinsky

5. Responding to a proposition that there should be no slavery: "Did not Abraham and other patriarchs and prophets use slaves? Read what St. Paul teaches about servants, who at that time were all slaves. Therefore your third article is dead against the Gospel. . . . This article would make all men equal . . . and that is impossible. For a worldly kingdom cannot stand unless there is in it an inequality of persons, so that some are free, some imprisoned, some lords, some subjects."

a. Socrates b. St. Augustine c. Martin Luther d. George Washington

6. "Humanity is waiting for something other than blind imitation of the past. If we want trUly to advance a step further, if we want to turn over a new leaf and really set a new man afoot, we must begin to turn mankind away from the long and desolate night of violence. May it not be that the new man the world needs is the nonviolent man? Longfellow said, 'In this world a man must either be an anvil or a hammer.' We must be hammers shaping a new society rather than anvils molded by the old. This not only will make us new men, but will give us a new kind of power. It will not be Lord Acton's image of power that tends to corrupt or absolute power that corrupts absolutely. It will be power infused with love and justice, that will change dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope. A dark, desperate, confused and sin-sick world waits for this new kind of man and this new kind of power."

a. Nietzsche b. Martin Luther King, Jr. c. Churchill d. Hitler

7. "I have completely run out of organized ideas, but I have a large number of uncomfortable feelings about the world which I haven't been able to put into some obvious, logical, and sensible form. So, since I already contracted to give three lectures, the only thing I can do is to give this potpourri of uncomfortable feelings without having them very well organized.

a. Thoreau b. Noam Chomsky c. Richard Feynman d. Garrison Keillor

8. "My mother had told me that my father often dreamed that I would run away with a band of soldiers. That was more than two years after I first heard the voices. She told me that he had said to my brothers, 'If I believed that the thing I have dreamed about her would come pass, I would want you to drown her; and if you would not, I would drown her myself.' On account of these dreams, my father and mother watched me closely and kept me in great subjection. And I was obedient in everything.

But since God had commanded me to go, I must do it. And since God had commanded it, had I had a hundred fathers and a hundred mothers, and had I been a king's daughter, I would have gone."

a. Jeanne D'arc b. Mary Todd Lincoln c. Chelsea Manning d. Cleopatra

9. "You say that Washington and Hamilton are idolized by the tories. Hamilton is; Washington is not. To speak the truth, they puffed Washington like an air balloon to raise Hamilton into the air. Their preachers, their orators, their pamphlets and newspapers have spoken out and avowed publicly since Hamilton's death what I very well knew to be in their hearts for many years before, viz: that Hamiton was everything and Washington but a name. . . .

Hamilton's talents have been greatly exaggerated. His knowledge of the great subjects of coin and commerce and their intimate connections with all departments of every government, especially such as are so elective as ours, was very superficial and imperfect. He had derived most of his information from . . . I see no extraordinary reason for so much exclusive glory to Hamilton."

a. Thomas Jefferson b. John Adams c. Aaron Burr d. James Monroe

10. "Can anyone here say that if we can't do it, someone down the road can do it? And if no one does it, what happens to the country? All of us here know the economy would face an eventual collapse. I know it's a hell of a challenge, but ask yourselves: If not us, who? If not now, when?"

a. Abraham Lincoln b. FDR c. Ronald Reagan d. Barack Obama

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ANSWERS 

1. "This has been a matter of some embarrassment to me because it reflects upon the performance of my duties as Chief Justice of the United States. . . ."

a. Earl Warren  b. WilliamTaft  c. John Marshall  d. William Rehnquist  This statement was made after a poll showing that among Republicans Warren had a slight edge over Nixon for the next Republican presidential nominee and almost 3:1 among independent voters. It didn't matter. Eisenhower ran again and Nixon was his VP again. Warren had been governor of California, as well as previously a district attorney before becoming California's Attorney General and in '48 was the Republican Vice Presidential candidate behind Dewey - who, of course, lost. And, when LBJ, a Democrat, needed someone whose integrity was unquestioned to lead the investigation of the Kennedy assassination, he insisted on Warren, a Republican. Warren made this statement because he was outraged that anyone thought that a Supreme Court Justice would just drop everything at the thought of becoming president.

2. "So it is not too much to ask of Americans that they not be censors . . . ."

a. Mark Twain  b. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. c. Martin Luther King, Jr. d. Barack Obama. For reasons bordering on idiocy, Vonnegut's Slaughter-House 5, a great book, was long banned in many school districts and libraries. It was also once burned in a school furnace. Not surprisingly, he wasn't too keen on censorship. I can't imagine the other three choices were either. Vonnegut is still very popular among college kids. I just wish they would read the above in classes, as a form of censorship has risen again, this time not by the "authorities," but among the young.

3. "My first conscious memory is of running. . . . " I

a. Abraham Lincoln b. Teddy Roosevelt c. Johnny Carson d. Richard Nixon. His falling from the horse and buggy is from the opening chapter of his Memoirs. I enjoyed them. You had to keep in mind he was writing from his perspective and not surprisingly could be defensive, but most of it was fascinating to me. He was quite sentimental. Also, it reminded me of a story from my childhood, although it happened before I was born. My brother, Mark, now deceased, apparently fell out of the family car. Unseen by our mother, he charged down the street after the car.

4. "A free and open mind, and political relativity. The organizer in his way of life, with his curiosity, irreverence, imagination, sense of humor, distrust of dogma, his self-organization, his understanding of the irrationality of much of human behavior, becomes a flexible personality. . . ."

a. Mother Jones b. Martin Luther King, Jr. c. Barack Obama d. Saul Alinsky.  Alinsky was virtually unknown to the general public, despite being a well-known radical organizer in his time among those who paid attention to that sort of thing, until President Obama was elected and conservatives charged him with being an Alinsky acolyte. Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, published in 1971, and which I read out of curiosity, can be basically summed up in a sentence - The end does justify the means if the ends are important enough - and you think so too! In truth, both sides follow Alinsky's rules, in general. And perhaps Alinsky is right, if we think the ends are important enough, the means don't matter to us. That doesn't mean, of course, that we have to accept someone else's determination of what is important enough to justify anything.

5. Responding to a proposition that there should be no slavery: "Did not Abraham and other patriarchs and prophets use slaves? . . ."

a. Socrates b. St. Augustine c. Martin Luther d. George Washington.  How could it be Socrates, who lived long before St. Paul? Though himself a religious revolutionary, Luther was beholden to certain German princes for his success and safety. Thus, he tepidly responding to the revolutionary peasants who had been inspired by him and had drawn up "Twelve Articles," including one calling for an end to serfdom, or slavery. Though Luther encouraged peace and some conciliation between the princes and the peasants, he couldn't go along with their a no slavery position. Not surprisingly, the peasants were rather infuriated.

6. "Humanity is waiting for something other than blind imitation of the past. If we want truly to advance a step further, if we want to turn over a new leaf and really set a new man afoot, we must begin to turn mankind away from the long and desolate night of violence. . . . "

a. Nietzsche b. Martin Luther King, Jr. c. Churchill d. Hitler. It was MLKing, Jr. in Where do we go from here? Although it did sound a little like Nietzsche, Churchill and even Hitler, in parts.

7. "I have completely run out of organized ideas, but I have a large number of uncomfortable feelings about the world which I haven't been able to put into some obvious, logical, and sensible form. So, since I already contracted to give three lectures, the only thing I can do is to give this potpourri of uncomfortable feelings without having them very well organized."

a. Thoreau b. Noam Chomsky c. Richard Feynman d. Garrison Keillor.  For those who don't know who Feynman was, he was a great American physicist and a Long Island boy, also, after his wife died, a free-wheeling, bongo playing, character who also gave a lot of famous lectures where he tried to put complicated things in a homespun, easy to understand way. I've read and listened to some and in my view, he succeeded. For one thing, he gave the best explanation of how computers work that I ever heard. He was also the guy who, in his later days and dying of cancer, figured out why the space shuttle Challenger blew up. He demanded an appendix in the report where he blasted NASA bigwigs for their unrealistic estimates of reliability which he said differed from those of their own engineers up to a thousand-fold. Very interesting guy. All the others also gave talks, and, I can see anyone of them saying the same thing. In fact, it sounds a lot like the way I blog.

8. "My mother had told me that my father often dreamed that I would run away with a band of soldiers. That was more than two years after I first heard the voices. . . ."

a. Jeanne D'arc b. Mary Todd Lincoln c. Chelsea Manning d. Cleopatra. There is a record of the things the Maid of Orleans said to her inquisitors and it is fascinating, even if possibly falsified.

9. "You say that Washington and Hamilton are idolized by the tories. Hamilton is; Washington is not. . . ."

a. Thomas Jefferson b. John Adams c. Aaron Burr d. James Monroe. I suppose any of them could have spoken so about Hamilton. All of them quarreled with him. But, Adams, more than any of them, was most happy to insult anyone he saw as a rival to his greatness. This was letter from Adams to Benjamin Rush, who was a correspondent of all three.

10. "Can anyone here say that if we can't do it, someone down the road can do it? And if no one does it, what happens to the country? . . . "

a. Abraham Lincoln b. FDR c. Ronald Reagan d. Barack Obama. Reagan, giving a pep talk to his cabinet. But, sounds like it could have been any of them or other presidents who wanted to change things.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

I just liked these stories II

I just like this story - Mind that post

I read a group biography about J.M. Barrie, the Llewelyn Davies family (the boys behind the lost boys of Peter Pan) and the du Mauriers - their cousins. Barrie is the author of Peter Pan and many other books and plays, though the rest of his work seems fatally dated and not read or performed I think at all anymore. George du Maurier, the boys' grandfather, was the author of Trilby (from whence the character and word Svengali came) and his grand-daughter Daphne du Maurier wrote many best sellers, Rebecca probably being the most famous. I've always been interested in Barrie because if you read Peter Pan (aka Wendy and Peter), rather than just saw the play, you might have been stunned, as I was, by the undercurrent of frustrated sexuality and other family psycho-drama in it. Some of it is a little disturbing and you really don't have to search hard for it. It pops right out at you. I've only had that one book to base my ideas about him before I saw the Disney version of their story, which tells us a much nicer, somewhat inaccurate and condensed version of the tale. I did not know how dark and sexually confused Barrie was before reading this biography, although I believe the author of the book, has taken great leaps of logic and blamed Barrie for everything that went wrong in the LD/du Maurier family based on a lot of speculation (although, to be fair, some at the time felt likewise), even if it was well researched, mostly by a review of surviving letters. I looked at some other biography reviews online and it appears Barrie's darkness or creepiness is rather well documented. Even in his own life, sex was an undercurrent and not a thing he ever experienced. His connection with the LD family was, not surprisingly, seen as an invasion by the boys' father, Arthur, by the boys' longtime nanny and even, eventually, some of the children, one who as an older man committed suicide (ran in front of a train) and another who might have killed himself as a youth - certainly he drowned with another boy in a mysterious circumstance that could have been a double suicide. And Daphne du Maurier was certainly a mess, though perhaps it helped make her a great writer too. But, there is no need to analyze it further here as I seek no conclusion. The book is just how I came upon the following very, very short story Barrie wrote which I will relate below. No one doubts that Barrie was a brilliant writer and in the book I was reading on him I came across something that caught my fancy, titled Mind that post:

"A relatively poorly-off couple had been married for thirty or more years in happy times together. the time came when the wife died - all solemnity and customary mourning - undertaker - put in coffin - gently carried downstairs and out through the front garden towards the hearse. Taking the coffin out of the garden it struck a post of the garden gate. This seemed to stir the dead lady as there was a suddenly a knocking inside the coffin. They opened the lid - she'd 'come round' - was helped out - and they had another good year or two together. Then she died again and all as above until - as the coffin was going through the gate the husband said 'Eh, mind that post.'"

I suspect quite a few spouses might feel exactly the same way.

I just like this story too - If you build it, they will embarrass you in front of everyone.

Speaking of being a boy, it was great.  I had so many laughs. You know what I mean. You are with friends and you start laughing and you just can't stop. I could write a whole post just on those experiences as I remember many of them to this day. But, I'll just tell one right now and save the rest for another post.

Anyone who has actually read a few posts from my evalovin' blog may recognize the commenter who uses the pseudonym "Bear." Bear was a childhood friend and to this date still is. He has written many a caustic comment in response to my posts, and often cracks me up, though I'm the target. A few people have told me they have read my blog just to read his comments. And since only a few people read it . . .

Well, one day, in a galaxy far, far away a long, long time ago . . .

Bear and I went to the movies to see Kevin Costner's classic, Field of Dreams. IMDB tells me that it came out in 1989, so I guess that is when we saw it. We were in our very young 30s, so not boys, but we had been boys together. In my mind, we were much younger, but if the movie came out in 1989, then that's when we saw it and how old we were. We watched it at the Westbury Movie Theatre. I can't begin to tell you what a dump this movie theatre was. You went there to see movies that were no longer first run, the trade-off being that it was a lot cheaper. And it should have been, because the place was crumbling, and the quality of the film, or maybe it was the projector, was pretty bad.

I had never seen Field of Dreams. Bear had. We were in our seats waiting for the movie to start when he decided to tell me that at the end of the movie Costner's character is going to speak with his dad's ghost (sorry, if you were going to watch it someday; it won't matter much), who asks him if he wants to play catch. Bear gave me a heads up that, on account of his own father having died some years earlier, he was going to start crying when he hears that line. I understood. You don't really want your friends to see you crying and I didn't even mock him. I have a vague memory he even said - "don't mock me." That is too vague in my head to be sure of. But, I do remember that his dad was the first person I ever shed even a tear over when he died.  In any event, we watched the movie and the ghost dad was just about to say, "Son, do you want to play catch?" when Bear actually stood up and left the theatre. I listened to the line about the catch. It didn't make me sniffle and I tear up easily at movies. That's because I was thinking to myself, "Eh. My dad never played catch with me."

But, that's not the funny part. After it was over I walked out into the lobby. The theatre was run by a middle-aged couple. They were very nice, but a little weird.  Weird in the kind of way an old couple might be who run a dilapidated movie theater and do everything from selling tickets to popcorn just for the fun of it. When I got into the lobby after the movie ended, not too long after Bear, I saw the old man right in the middle of it, talking to him. Bear had his glasses off and was rubbing his red wet eyes. We left the theatre together.

As soon as we hit the pavement, Bear launched into a rant. You have not lived until you have seen Bear go into a rant about something that irritates him, but if you have ever seen the Seinfeld episode where someone took the nickname "T-Bone" that George had wanted, his fit comes close. As Bear explained to me rather dramatically, he had run out into the lobby so that no one would see him cry, including me. Unfortunately, the old man had stopped him and asked him what was the matter. Bear, a little embarrassed and not wanting attention, quietly explained to him that his father had died and this scene just gets to him.

Now, in a situation like this, you'd expect the man might pat him on the shoulder and say something like, "It's okay, son. It's nice you feel that way about your dad." But, I guess that was too prosaic for him. He was so excited a movie in his theatre has touched someone that he turned and shouted to his wife in front of everyone, "Honey, this man is crying." When Bear came to that moment I lost it. He was tromping up and down on the walkway on the side of the theater, wildly gesticulating like a madman and spouting forth like you've never heard while I lay on the sidewalk, unable to get up with my arms wrapped around my ribs because I was laughing so hard I thought I was going to break them. That's not just an expression. I literally remember lying there on the sidewalk thinking my ribs were going to break if I didn't stop laughing so hard. I don't know how many minutes it lasted, but it seemed like a really long time. God that was funny. Laughing now just thinking about it.

I just like this story - in memory of a friend

Speaking of laughing, some funny memories come back to me of a woman I will call K, the mother of some of my daughter's childhood friends, who also became my friend for a long time. We lost touch these last few years. Her husband recently called to tell me she had passed away. She was only past 66 but had been battling illness for years. Thinking about her, two stories come to mind.

I met her when she lived across the street from my daughter's mother's apartment in a cosy little condo complex. The kids were free to run about the little neighborhood (which I thought dangerous, but . . .). When I would go to visit or pick up my daughter, I would often walk up the stairs across the street to visit with K, as my kid would just as often be there as her own home. It was the kind of home where the door was usually open, and you could pick up the phone if it rang and answer it for her. K was kind of a second mother to many kids who lived in the complex. In fact, so much so that I was once disappointed when she'd naturally believed her own daughter over mine when she accused her of writing a curse word in another friend's house (though years later, as an adult, her daughter laughingly admitted to all of us that she had lied).

One day I stopped up to see her and she asked me if I would like the last piece of steak she had cooked. We sat down at the table and she put it down between us on a place. After a few seconds while she busied herself, I said "K, just how young do you think I am?" She looked at what she was doing and put her hand to her mouth, laughing. "It was a reflex," she said.

She had been cutting my steak into little tiny pieces, as if for a child.

Another memory. K had been dating my daughter's uncle (let's call him "Uncle Q"), some years younger than her, who was living with his my daughter, her mother and stepfather for a while. He was a very nice kid in his 20s, but deeply insecure from a rather difficult upbringing. He was leaving K's apartment when I came in and he told me he was going home to sleep, needing to get up early. I went into the bathroom for a few seconds and then came out. The phone rang almost instantly and I picked it up for her. "K's house." It was Uncle Q, who said, "David, why did you call me a 'goddamn fucking liar' out the window?" I thought a second. I would have no reason to do such a thing, but . . . "Hold on a second, Uncle Q. That sounds awfully familiar."

I put the phone down for a second and asked K, "did you just hear me scream 'goddam fucking liar?'"

"Yes," she said. "You do the same thing every time you are here. You walk into the bathroom, step on the scale and scream out 'Goddamn fucking liar!"

Poor long-suffering Uncle Q, walking across the street, heard someone scream "Goddamn fucking liar," looked over his shoulder to saw me standing by the window with an angry grimace, looking in his direction.

Hysterical. Fortunately, he believed me.

I just like this story - Ancient Jewish aliens

Speaking of long-suffering (a real weak transition, I admit), it was Passover as I wrote this. Let's hear it for the Jews, among whom one noted author has provided some important information about extraterrestrials. I have always enjoyed tales of aliens visiting earth and love watching the various tv shows about UFOs, some of which are just too silly. It never seems to bother any of the hosts of these shows that beings who could travel the stars in vehicles to come here, seemed to only be able to work in stone once on earth. My favorite part of any of these shows is when the narrator says "Ancient alien theorists believe. . . ." and then follows it with something fun, but ridiculous. How many ancient alien theorists are there anyway? Can there be more than five? For all I know, it's a great career and you can get a degree, or at least a certificate.

Which brings us to Josephus. You may or may not be aware of him, as he isn't exactly well-read today. He was a Jewish man who lived a little after the time of Christ (the only person, almost contemporary with Jesus that we know of who tangentially referred to him outside of writings collected as the New Testament. He mentioned, really in passing, "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James" - unless it was a later Christian interpolation, as his other Jesus reference appears to be). Josephus eventually was made a slave by the Roman king, but when freed, took Roman citizenship. He is the author of several histories.

In one of them, The Jewish War, he relates as follows, something possibly more interesting than the Jesus reference:

"A few days after the Feast, on the 21st May, a supernatural apparition was seen, too amazing to be believed. What I have to relate would, I suppose, have been dismissed as an invention had it not been vouched for by eyewitnesses and followed by disasters that bore out the signs. Before sunset there were seen in the sky over the who country, chariots and regiments in arms speeding through the clouds and encircling the towns. . . ."

I wonder if the "ancient alien theorists" we hear about on these shows have heard of that one.

I just like this story - More Jewish humor

Speaking of the Jews, one day I drove an elderly attorney home to Long Island from court in the city. During the drive, he told me this story. I have to paraphrase because I don't remember the exact words, but it went something like this:

"I grew up in Brooklyn, a Jewish kid. Back in the 1950s I spent a Summer working in the Hamptons. I met a young woman, also Jewish, and we really hit it off. I thought we might have something special because she let me kiss her, and back then, that was a big deal.

When I returned to Brooklyn, I gave her a call. I thought her father was a little rude to me on the phone when I asked for her. She seemed reluctant too, when he put her on, but she agreed to see me.

I went and picked her up at her house. I was upset by how hostile her father and brothers seemed to me. But, we went out and had a great time. When I brought her back, I asked her if I could see her again. She told me that she liked me a lot but could not see me again.

I had a feeling religion might play a role in it, and that there was a misunderstanding, so I said to her, "You do know I'm Jewish, right?"

"Yes," she said sadly, "but you are not Sephardic."

Religion. Oy vey.

I just like this story - Still more Jewish humor

When I was growing up, our house was filled with books, many on shelves in our breezeway (no idea why that otherwise useless odd room off our garage was called that). But, in our living room, one book had pride of place for many years on the coffee table. It was a large red covered book on Jewish humor. The exact name of this book I could not tell you and searches on the internet have not been fruitful. It might be The Big Book of Jewish Humor, but that's a guess. I'd know it if I saw it and could flip through it a bit. Anyway, it was a very funny book, with many anecdotes about eastern European Jews, including fictional ones from the legendary city of Chelm.

Actually, I forget most of those actual anecdotes in it, maybe all of them. I just remember the "feeling" of them. There's one though I may I remember. To be honest, it might be from another source, but, who really cares? Still, this one anecdote I will relate I have often pulled out when discussing relationships. Obviously, since I remembered it, it resonated with me and I've been told by some people that I told it to that they really liked it and wanted to remember it to use themselves. You tell me:

A Jewish husband went to his rabbi and said he wanted a divorce.
The rabbi was surprised. He said, "Why do you want to get divorced? Your wife is a beauty. She is a good cook. She gave you children and keeps your house. What's so wrong with that?"
"Well," said the man, "suppose you buy a new pair of shoes."
"Ah," said the rabbi, "a parable."
"The shoes are made of the finest leather. They are expensive, with durable soles and good to look at."
"Yes," said the rabbi. "I see the analogy."
"But," continued the man, " you are the only one who knows. . . ."
"Know what?" asked the rabbi.
"You are the only ones who knows - they pinch."

I just like this story - it looks good

Speaking of things that look good but aren't (another weak transition, I know), do you eat your ticket stubs? I do. Styrofoam coffee cups too, although I don't swallow that. When I was a teenager I was standing online for a movie with my stub in hand. When I got to the door I discovered that I had completely eaten my ticket. I got into the movie somehow, but, really, who would do that?

I'm not entirely alone. I was delighted to come across this tidbit of a Russian man named Pyotr, who briefly worked at the Ministry of Justice:

"One 'traditional' anecdote, and the brief history of [Peter] as an official is complete. He had been entrusted with a signed document from the chief of his department, but on his way to deliver it he stopped to talk with someone, and in his absence of mind never noticed that, while talking, he kept tearing off scraps of the paper and chewing them--a trick he always had with theatre tickets or programmes. There was nothing for it but to re-copy the document and, however unpleasant, to face his chief for a fresh signature."

I think by "traditional," he is saying that the ministry story might be apocryphal, but the eating of  theatre tickets seems to come from his personal knowledge.

I received this anecdote from The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, written by his first biographer, his own brother Modest. I'm reading it now, but the abridged edition is 829 pages, and I may weary of it. However, so far, I can compare myself to the great Tchaikovsky in several ways.

Ancestry from the western Russian Empire
Some legal education
Eater of theatre tickets

And there the comparison must end, as he was certainly one of the greatest of composers of his era, in my view, of all time, whereas I practiced the violin for six months and still could not tunefully play Mary had a little lamb. It sounded so much like a saw on an iron pipe that my favorite memory of that time is leaving my traumatizing Mary on the answering machine of my friends, none of whom was aware I was even trying to learn to play. My intention of surprising them at an impromptu Christmas concert had to be forsaken when it turned out I had zero aptitude for it.

I just like this story - the lady in the carriage

Speaking of those who become the greatest in their field, Paul Morphy was almost universally considered the greatest chess player in the world during his short time playing and by some the greatest chess prodigy in history. After returning from his first trip to Europe where he wiped the club floors with many a great chess player, including Karl Anderson, who was considered the greatest player before and after him, Morphy would thereafter, with few exceptions, only play giving a handicap (such as giving a pawn and move or a knight, etc.), even against top players, when he would play at all. He was a strange one, refusing to play for stakes and retiring soon after returning to America to pursue more "serious" matters, that is, practicing law. He was a very courteous man though, and had no problem playing with women (this is the 19th century) or, for the sake of chivalry, throwing a match to one. Though there were some good women players, they rarely ever competed with the men (they still play separately at the championship level, though I can't think of a reason for it). But, according to a May 31st, 1959 New York Evening Post, this happened:

"The Mysterious Chess Player.--In a notice of Morphy, the great chess player, a queer incident occurred to him soon after his arrival in New York. A carriage drove to the St. Nicholas, in which was seated a splendidly dressed lady. She sent up a card, and requested an interview with the chess champion. The interview was granted, when the fair visitor demanded the privilege of playing a game with Mr. Morphy. Mr. Morphy looked at the magnificent eyes of the stranger, and said, 'Yes certainly.' The chess table was brought to the window, and Mr. Morphy placed the men. The lady, of course, was permitted the first move. Half a dozen moves on either side and Morphy found himself interested--his visitor promised to prove the most formidable antagonist he had had for a long time. Being absorbed in the game, Morphy directed the servant to admit no one else until it was completed. The game lasted two hours and was drawn. The lady was then satisfied, and blushingly took her leave, Morphy himself accompanying her to the carriage. The moment she had gone, Morphy and his friends set at work to ascertain the identity of the beautiful visitor, not doubting that the name upon her card could be found in the directory. This, however, proved to be a mistake, and though every endeavor was made to ascertain precisely who was the visitor, the gentlemen are as much in the dark as ever. Whoever she may be, she played the best game in which Morphy was ever a contestant, and she probably adopted these means of matching herself with Morphy in order to assure herself of her own skill."

Who was the mystery woman? No one ever learned. It sounds a little overstated as, like all chess champions, Morphy did lose some games. But, it has all the makings of a great novel, particularly as Morphy later went crazy. Just throwing it out there.

This exciting episode of I just liked these stories must come to an end. It has been a long hiatus as the first I just liked these stories was posted 8/29/09. At the time, Bear told me it was his favorite.


Saturday, March 03, 2018

New Zealand photos

"Absent the intervention of the irascible internet demons who plague me, I will post pictures and possible commentary on my trip to NZ, updating it as we go - I hope every few days. It is going to be a 3 week whirlwind, so I will have to do it at night when I have time. If I fail, well, won't be the first time."

The above paragraph is in quotes now because I wrote it some weeks ago, before my trip began on March 6th. The two comments below were meant to taunt me a little for my failure to accomplish my goal. They make little sense unless you recognize that when made, there were no pictures, just the title and first paragraph. If you know me at all and my tribulations with the digital world, you understand - I just couldn't manage it remotely (that is, I was not on my laptop, on which I regularly work). Frankly, trying to post pictures on this blog is sometimes one of my two biggest problems with it. The other is the somewhat eccentric formatting problems that plague me repeatedly, such as irregular highlighting of some words, sentences or paragraphs, and spacing that just baffles me.

But, leave that all aside, because I now have my photos saved on my laptop and can post them. In reviewing them I am a little disappointed they do not reveal the blue or green colors as deeply as they were seen. When you got home, you immediately saw the difference. But, c'est la vie. When do pictures do justice to the view? Not with my equipment or low level of photographic skill.

I, my evalovin' gf, P, and my buddy, F, went to New Zealand in early March and stayed about three weeks. We moved a lot, rarely staying anywhere more than one day, in order to see as many of the highlights as we could on the two islands (North Island and the slightly larger South Island), separated by a straight, one a little smaller than New York and one a little larger. Naturally, we could not see everything I would have liked to, and much of the trip was just admiring the beauty as we drove.

And it was beautiful. I always feel very fortunate in having seen many beautiful places I've recounted elsewhere. But, I had a feeling that there would be more beauty condensed in New Zealand than most anywhere else (perhaps just anywhere else). The numerous magazine articles listing ten places you must go which seemed to almost always mention NZ or somewhere in it, probably sparked that belief. People I've met who have been to both Australia and NZ enjoyed both, but I think everyone told me that NZ was far superior in terms of sheer quantity and variety of beauty.

Just to make it easy for myself, I will go somewhat chronologically as we progressed, because my pictures are mostly stored in that fashion. I'm only posting a few per place though sometimes seeing many slightly different pictures of the same place enhances the experience. Of course, our own eye is far superior to any mechanism yet made by man and I did the best I could with a camera whose mirrors have been somewhat warped by water over the years. Do click on the pictures to enlarge them frequently and if whatever you are viewing these on is backlit, all the better.

We arrived at the international airport near Aukland, but made our way to Piha, a beach town where I rented our first temporary home. Piha is a little surfing town whose beach is guarded by two huge rock outposts. Our rented home (most of which were obtained through airbnb.com) was clean, but old and needed work. The owner made it clear it was a beach house. But, it was the only way I could affordably get us on this magnificent beach, where surfers entertained us in droves and the scenery was a fitting place to start.






To the south of the beach I turned a corner to get a picture and saw a distant cove. I had hoped to get to it by scaling and climbing along the wall of one of the cliffs like a lizard, though nearly vertical, to avoid the pounding waves which would have caused me to fall on the rocks. I couldn't get P or F to try to see it, and maybe it was too risky for me (it would not have been fun if I fell, nor would my camera have survived), but I push myself when I travel, though age is putting a rather steep limit on that these days. We stayed in Piha two days, but I couldn't find any other way to get to that cove. Eventually, the power of the water hitting the cliffs stopped my progress and I had to go back. The following two photos are pretty much the same view, just showing you what happens when the waves hit every few seconds. I was amazed that the surfers, seeking a current that would take them far enough offshore to catch the big waves coming in, would run barefoot past me on rocks I doubt I could even take a step on without shoes.



And then there was sunset.


At times there were dozens of surfers in the water. Servicing them seems to be the main purpose of the tiny rustic town. This was taken towards evening. They started at dawn and went until nightfall.














We visited Aukland while at Piha, but, few non-European cities I've been to excite me that much and I can't say other than Queenstown, which I'll get to later, any were that memorable to me, pretty as they were. Here's one picture in hazy light of distant Aukland, taken from a well named restaurant - Elevation Cafe.


Leaving Piha, we hiked at Kitekite Falls for a couple of hours, right outside of Piha. It was well worth it.





















From Piha, we crossed North Island from west to east (NE is Hawaii, then the U.S.) to the Cormandel Peninsula. We stayed at a town called Whiritoa, another beach town. I couldn't get a beach view, but the end of our driveway was about a ten second walk from the beach itself. Before we went there, we went to Hot Water Beach. This beach is famous for beachgoers being able, at low tide only, to dig a shallow hole in the sand and bathe in hot water. We couldn't time it right for that- you just can't do everything - but the beach itself was beautiful and a great place to stop.


There was one odd sign, which made perfect sense there (and I think was innocent), but which would have caused a racial war here from the unintended slur. If anyone thinks my posting it is racist itself, I can only say - pffft, and that the recent tendency to see racism in every mention of race, even jocularly, except in a way prescribed by the nouveau self-exalting culture warriors, is sad and deleterious to our common sense of humor.


Whiritoa (in the transliteration of Maori words, "Wh" is pronounced "Ph," which seems strange to me - why not just spell it the way it sounds to us?) was also a small town, with only one cafe and a real estate office for its commercial center. The kilometer plus long beach was also stunning, with a stream/river running right down to it.







In the morning, we had a visit from some local birds. They weren't kiwis, which are hard to find, but pukeko. 


The following day I waited on the beach for dawn. Not the best I've ever seen, but hardly shabby either. The best dawn was yet to come.


A sea-bird with white and black feathers, probably a crane or heron (evident when it took flight, although it looked like a penguin when just standing there), was doing exactly what I was, just staring at the light show. I didn't want to scare him away with my flash, but you can make him out in the pre-dawn light, especially if you click to enlarge.


Later, we went back up the Cormandel Peninsula again to Cathedral Cove, one of the signature sights on New Zealand (and used in a couple of movies, including the Narnia series). The pictures speak for themselves.















There was a strange species of sea creature on the sand everywhere there with a rubbery dark blue body (it looks more solid than it was) and what seemed like a sail on top. Someone told me the Maori name, but I cannot recall it. If you can identify this thing, let me know.



When we returned to Whiritoa, we crossed the stream, hiked through beautiful woods and came to a hidden cove. I'm a sucker for this stuff.
















The last morning there I pushed through some bushes by the beach to find the hidden stairs (sort of stairs) to ascend the large boulder overlooking the water that supposedly contained a blowhole, from which water would come shooting out at high tide. I went myself and made it most of the way. I didn't find the blowhole, but it wasn't high tide either. Eventually, it got too steep to safely climb without risk to my camera. They can always patch me up, but my camera would not be repairable.


We left Whiritoa with 4 days under our belt. We were headed on a long drive to Tongariro National Park where there is a volcano you can cross over and many walks to take, but to break the drive up, we headed first to Rotorua, sort of on the way, where there is a walk through a volcanic lake park (whatever that is), a vinyard overlooking the lake and a street named "Eat Street," which was definitely enticing to me.

We never got there. Two traffic accidents, the first a car fire supposedly causing a driver to jump into a river and the second involving multiple fatalities, so delayed us, that we finally gave up and turned around to go to the national park, which, after a spectacular drive through mountain vistas, we arrived at around dinner time. It is sometimes very difficult to get a shot of these views while you are going around a mountain on narrow twisty roads with no place to stop from inside the car, so all I have is the wonderful memories.

We stayed at a motel on the corner of a park about 13 times the size of Manhattan. The volcanos and other huge mountains were visible all around it.


The crossover walk takes 6-8 hours, and I'm sure P could have done it. F flatly stated that he would not even try and I knew I could no longer handle it, even though about 5 years ago I hiked 8 hours near Sedona in Arizona. Age just keeps on coming and few people I know don't seem to feel its effects. So, we opted for one twenty minute walk followed by a two hour one. The first took you to what is called Gollum's pool, from The Lord of the Rings movie made here. It did lead to a beautiful waterfall (which did not look like the pool in the movie absent the Hollywood effects) and some nice overlooks.


The second walk, 2 hours long, was a lot harder, but with many more beautiful views. I particularly liked the way the clouds gathered around the volcano, eventually hiding it.
















And a much more exciting waterfall than Gollum's pool.



From the park, we took off for a long ride to the south of North Island, Wellington. Wellington is a nice port city sitting in a large cove, from which ferries take off for South Island.


The ferry ride is billed as one of the great ones of the world. I've taken a handful of ferries, including a couple in the Mediterranean and none could touch this for its startling beauty, most of all as you get near South Island. Dozens of people are running around the deck snapping pictures everywhere, including me.



























You end up in Picton on the S. Island, which, though a tourist town with a lot of little shops, is quite lovely in its mountainous setting in the harbor. 


We only had lunch and left as we were coming back in two weeks to head back to N. Island. But, after those views, I looked forward to it. We spent our first night on South Island in a town also on the northern coast called Nelson and from there we went to Greymouth on the West coast near the glacier to which we were headed. They are very nice shore towns where we could have dinner on the waterfront (Greymouth, I read, is fading, but I didn't see that when I was there), but I have to cut somewhere and given what is coming up, they are it.

There are hundreds of glaciers in New Zealand. Fox and Franz Josef are the most famous. We went to the latter. The small town at the foot of the glacier is filled with hotels and restaurants. But, it is very laid back. There are amazing views whichever way you turn.
















But those views would turn out to be nothing compared to what was coming. It was very cloudy and the helicopters were not dropping people off on the glacier. We were very disappointed but were told to come back the following morning to see if it was clear enough. So, instead of taking the helicopter to the glacier, we walked to it, or as close as you can get (a few years ago, before the tip fell off, you could walk right up to it). So, we hiked up the long trail with many others to the foot of the glacier.



Perhaps the glacier, or that part of it, doesn't look all that big, but it is. We were still quite a distance away and I had a decent zoom lens. Of course, there were waterfalls along the way and a river that was oatmealish or even concrete in color from the glacial runoff.




The next morning we went back to the center and were delighted to find we made the cut. It was no sure thing as weeks can go by with the helicopters grounded and we had to leave for the next stop if we didn't get to go almost immediately. It was worth the wait, as the day was much more pleasant. We were given winter clothing including crampons for our boots to walk on ice, walked through and tropical forest and got on the copter.























That's P in the bottom picture squeezing through a crevice. I'm almost twice her size, almost at the size limit for those they will let go on the tour at all, because you will literally get stuck if you are too big and I'm sure the guides would rather not frantically cut you out before the walls close up. In a few places I really had to squeeze and one time I momentarily thought "uh oh," before sliding through like a piece of playdough with an assist from both sides. The translucent blue of the ice was explained to us (ummm. . . yeah, something about light and time; frankly, I've seen that same iridescence during hikes in the woods in fresh snowfall, so I'm not sure I'm buying it). In any event, it was something to behold.

All three of us later agreed this three hour tour was the highlight of an awesome trip. But, not by much. After the glacier walk we had a long drive down to Queenstown, the most scenic and fun city in NZ. Our rented home was the most spectacular we stayed in (I was told by F that I overused the word, but he tends to be a critical of me about most everything. But, could be he's right. In any event, I tried to expand my adjectives thereafter). Queenstown sits on a large lake, surrounded by mountains. It is a party town, with lots of places to eat, though one of them, on our way out a few days later was McDonalds (not my idea, but yahoo).



We stayed two days in Queenstown, but the first full day was spent on a tour to probably the most famous place in New Zealand, tourism-wise, often seen on covers, Milford Sound. We had to take a four hour bus ride with a guide to get there, a three hour tour, and then four hours back, but all eleven hours were mesmerizing, even though - even though - the cruise was mostly in pouring rain.

We left from Queenstown at 6:30 a.m. Our guide, Ryan, a nice young former artist with a very understated style drove us through a mountain range named the Remarkables, because they run so straight north and south, and said, for those awake, he hoped we had a fiery dawn. I'm pretty sure only he and I were awake to see it, but it was fiery. I took what I could from the moving bus.


















While I won't deny it would have been nice to have a half hour of blue water and sky on the cruise itself, the towering mountains lining the sound were very dramatic in the clouds and mists. I actually forgot my camera, but I've come to realize, except for shots requiring a zoom lens, my cellphone is a superior camera. Just a few years of technology makes the difference.















There was one whale I saw breach in the distance which I didn't get a snap off of, and there was a pod of dolphins running alongside the ship. There are few sights in nature as much fun as that.




Back in Queenstown, we had yet another dinner on the waterfront and got ready for the ride back in our own car toward Fiordland to a town called Te Anau, another beautiful town on a lake, this one catering to tourists going on cruises. New Zealand does it right. Nothing looks like the tourist hells such as in Lake George, NY. Everything is human-sized, relatively quiet and understated. The next morning we drove to a neighboring town, much quieter still - Manipouri, which I instinctively preferred.















I'm not even sure there was a hotel there. But there was a dock for a boat to another bus to a ferry, which took you out on the slightly lesser known Doubtful Sound, where the cliffs weren't as steep as at Milford Sound, but the views were also stunning. Even the bus ride to the cruise was dramatic. This cruise was also done in pouring rain the entire time, but the result was literally thousands of waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides. When I lived in Virginia I would drive or walk hours to see just one waterfall. Here were thousands, though most would disappear when the rain stopped (and it could be weeks - the entire area is a rain forest). I am pretty sure on this day I saw more waterfalls than in my entire life heretofore. They don't tell you when you book the cruises, most of them are in the rain. According to the "voice" on the cruise, they tried to film some scenes from Jurassic Park here (I did verify this is at least repeated online), but after a month of rain, gave up.
















With the two cruises done, we started the long ride north towards the inter-island ferry. But, the fantastic sight-seeing wasn't over as we stopped at various lakes along the way and one farm. Even with continuous rain this last week, it was still wonderful.

Our first stop, after a picturesque vineyard for my wine-loving friends -















was Wanaka (yes, another town on a lake surrounded by mountains - it doesn't get old when they are this pretty). Wanaka is beautiful, but somehow most well known for the little tree growing in the lake for 70 years, just a little offshore.














It was serene. We continued on past Lake Putaki, with glacial waters so unusually clear blue that they won't let you build there or put a boat in the water. Even on Google Earth you can see the difference between its waters and the still gorgeous waters of neighboring lakes. Unfortunately, it is so blue that my camera cannot do it justice and I can't bring myself to touch it up.















Mount Cook is in the background, part of a chain of snow covered mountains that went on forever, but what my eye could see the camera could not recognize. 

From Putaki we went to neighboring Lake Tekapo, which, if slightly less remarkable, was almost as beautiful, the water yet so clear that when I focused my camera just on it from a bridge, with nothing in the background, the lens went to infinity and would not take the shot. I had to lock the focus on the footbridge (first picture) and then use that setting to take the shot of the pure water. The amazing thing is that these beautiful blue/greens were taken under a completely overcast sky. We will have to imagine what it looks like with a bright blue sky to reflect. The thought is dazzling.


We didn't sleep at Tekapo either, but continued into a mountain pass where our hosts keep a 1500 acre farm with 2500 head of cattle and several hundred sheep. It was solemn, fun, peaceful and spiritual all at once. I'd love to go back and spend more time at all these places, but for some reason, especially the farm. P and I took a walk and saw noisy black, white and teal colored geese-like birds, just getting ready to make their way back to Australia, I'm told, in addition to the ubiquitous black and white magpies (I was disgruntled that F, who has little interest in birds, had seen them in Asia and knew they were magpies when I didn't - dammit!).







It was in a mountain pass in their Southern Alps, so not surprisingly it was surrounded by snow covered mountains too. In the morning, it was a little clearer and I could get some pictures.


























It was a long drive to Christchurch from there. Christchurch is a city, which doesn't interest me much to begin with, but it was partially destroyed by an earthquake a few years back and it rained the whole time we were there, and it was probably the least interesting part of our trip, even if we had to pass through some fantastic scenery to get there. It was, I admit, a relief to finally be on some straight roads in the plains, which is duller but much easier. We had been driving in mountains for about two and a half weeks, and though magnificent, it's a lot more tiring than just driving down a straight road. I don't think I took any pictures of Christchurch other than of the lovely little house we stayed in.

We left the next morning to go back to Picton for the ferry, but we stopped in Kaikoura, where the skies lifted for an hour for us and was another highlight of the trip for the views and the seal colony on the rocky shore. They have whales, albatross and dolphins too, but we didn't see them. Still, I took close to a hundred pictures worth viewing, and it was hard to select a few. It's a really pretty place.




















Almost done. We ended up in Picton. I hadn't thought much of the town itself despite its dramatic surroundings the first time we were there for perhaps an hour, but I grew to appreciate how tastefully they did the small town servicing the ferries. And the scenery was even more beautiful than I remembered. So, too the trip out through Cook Straight the next day. I feel so "blessed" to see all this I can't express it enough. It's not that it is prettier than many other places I've been to in Europe, the Caribbean, out west in the states or at my beloved Bluff 15 minutes from my house, but it is the most densely packed beauty I've ever seen in a country. Almost every turn of the head is marvellous to behold. I admit, though I absolutely realize it is egocentric, I feel bad for those who do not appreciate nature the way I do (probably almost everyone), the same way I suppose some religious people have told me they feel bad for me for not believing in God. Maybe they are right. How would I know? But I think the feeling I get when I am in the midst of natural beauty is akin to the rapture they feel contemplating their religious beliefs, even if I have never felt that at all.















Back in Wellington, we stayed just outside the city in a house in a neighborhood called Lower Hutt, for the river that runs through it. There are great night time views of Wellington lit up from the shore. The next day was the beginning of our long day and a half travel home, but before heading to the airport we took a short walk to a waterfall that let me know my legs were done. It was a little ironic, given the massive amount of falling water we recently encountered. Even though it was a single spill of water, paltry compared to the tons I had seen careening off cliffs less than a week before, it was still really pretty and I could walk right up to it. A star-filled sky is awe-inspiring, but a single star can be beautiful too and inspiring in its own solitary way. Which leads to the possibly totally unimportant question - what's more beautiful, a thousand waterfalls or one?



I walked into a cave, perhaps 20 feet deep, led by the electronic torch on my phone and took this picture looking out that could be the cover of a book on alien visitation.



We also made the last stop in Wellington for a brief spell to walk about and have a bite, but after a few minutes, I realized my legs were done, done, done and I finally just sat near the meeting place and waited for P and F who thought they'd shop, but walked off course without my Daniel Boone like guidance (actually, neither could access the internet on their phones and are severely directionally challenged). I always find shorelines more to my taste than retail districts. We had lunch, bought some stuff in a Maori inspired store and then went to the airport.

I haven't given the human side to our trip, just showed you pictures with a little commentary. Naturally, there was a lot of driving - possibly 2500 miles in just under 3 weeks, long and agonizing plane rides, good-natured disagreements over the use of GPS (I use it as a map and a tool, but not the voice - say "me too" if you hate the voice as well), lots of laughs and far too many heavy meals.

My goal was to see as much as I could as was beautiful in three weeks, realizing that there is always more and that I would not likely be back (though I said that's more than enough the first time I went to Dallas and I've been there 4 times now). I had to push two others as fast as I thought they would stand, not knowing what was ahead, but they seemed very satisfied (I estimate that they drank about 40 bottles of wine between them and that might be part of the reason).

I did not visit Hobbiton or take a Lord of the Rings tour (though it is easy to see why they filmed here - Tolkien would have felt at home), go to a museum, visit the Maoris (although their culture is infused in everything), see any kiwi birds, eat any kiwi fruit (really gooseberry), which I know is one of the few foods I actively dislike or spend more than a little time speaking with the Kiwis themselves (what NZers call themselves). Mostly I was there for nature and the rewards were enormous. I have been asked by a few curmudgeons to cut down on the Thoreau posts here, but I can't help but quote a line or so from one of his journal entries (July, 1941):

"A slight sound at evening lifts me up by the ears, and makes life seem inexpressibly serene and grand. It may be in Uranus or it may be in the shutter."

In New Zealand it is in virtually everything.







About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .