Archive for October, 2015

The Ultimate Texas Brags

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A Halloween decoration set up this month in the yard of a modest-size home just a few blocks from the author’s residence. (Photo: Courtesy of my ol’ fast-drivin’ buddy, Pancho Castillo, Las Cruces, NM.)

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: I really wanted to wait until October 30th (the day before Halloween) before publishing a post about one of our favorite festival days. However, since I have to travel 65 miles next Monday to have another molar extracted, and 205 miles on Tuesday for a cataract operation on my left eye — the right eye was operated on last Tuesday — I realized that I will be either too busy or too tired to write this post the coming week. Of course I know that I could compose it now and hold off on publishing it until October 30th; but, as I have mentioned before, I haven’t the will-power to hold any production in my hot little hands more than a few hours. That’s just part of my horrific destiny!

*  *  *  *  *  *

Too Big

The booklet of out-sized jokes Texas Brags was first published in 1944 and reportedly saw as many as 20 later editions. Amazon.com’s site indicates the book is now out of print. Written by John Randolph and illustrated by Mark Storm, Texas Brags at the time was seen purely as a joke book full of exaggerated depictions of what it was like to be a Texan and to live in Texas; it was not taken seriously by many people, not even Texans.

Now, though, the title of the booklet, as well as its tone, has been adopted by our governor for the design of the state’s official web page. It is another example of the governor’s office’s on-going drive to lure industries from California and elsewhere. It turns my stomach.

Nonetheless, I am a Texan, and the bigness applies even to me. At the first of my time in the air force boot camp, I had to march and go to classes and chow wearing the initially issued pith helmet for an extra two weeks while the supply clerks located a fatigue cap that would fit my 7-5/8 skull.

Ever since then, finding shoes — without special-ordering them — has been an increasingly onerous task: it seems that with each additional millimeter in foot length the choices in patterns decline.

A month ago, a VA doctor ordered an elbow support pad for me. When it arrived, I could not pull it above my wrist; it was a Size Small. There were four other sizes available, according to the box my pad came in. I measured my elbow and discovered to my surprise that I would barely be able to insert my arm into the Extra Large, for my elbow’s circumference measured 33-1/2 cm, while the Extra Large was designed to fit elbows from 32 to 34 cm. But I got a replacement, and it will do.

The size problem more insistently struck home a year ago, though, when my dentist, pointing to an x-ray, said I had the largest sinuses he had ever seen.

And then, last week, when I was being prepped for the cataract surgery on my right eye, the ophthalmologist noted that the depth of that eye measured 27 mm, while the smallest depth is 21 mm, and the average is 23 mm. I asked the doctor if there is any advantage to having a large eye depth.

“There is a slight risk of a tear or a detached retina,” he replied.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “I’m not quite six feet tall, and I am not nearly as heavy as a lot of men I see, yet I hardly fit into anything. And now you tell me that even my eyeball is bigger than normal.”

“It is all a matter of proportion,” he said.

So, nothing to brag about, I concluded.

*  *  *  *  *  *

And back we go to Halloween

Every year about this time, the media get saturated with documentaries about vampires and werewolves as well as the more academic aspects of our celebration of the dead — for instance, the contrast between Anglo-America’s treatment of Halloween and that of Hispanic-America’s. (It is a more serious event down south — “El Dia de Los Muertos” — where the natives allow themselves a more intimate relationship with the dead.) There are also the simply entertaining televised features such as Charlie Brown’s adoring the “Great Pumpkin”; and Hallmark Channel’s “The Good Witch” both frightening and enlightening a small New England town.

Last year, I published on this blog a “mood editorial” about Halloween which I had written for The Shorthorn, UT-Arlington’s student newspaper. Some of you might enjoy perusing it today at: https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/reflections-on-a-jack-o-lantern/

I haven’t much to add to that piece. I still prefer Halloween and Thanksgiving to all the other festivals in our nation. Halloween is not a holiday, i.e., the public offices and schools do not close on October 31st. And yet more money is spent during October than is spent on Christmas, New Year’s Day, or any other celebration here. That is what I have read in newspapers over the past few years, and I still find it hard to believe. To think about it for a minute, though, we buy a hell of a lot of candy during this month, and chocolate is pretty damn expensive. Then there are the costumes — rigs often designed to win contests at parties. The parties themselves are probably not cheap either; but I don’t go to any, so that is just a supposition.

When I was a child, I enjoyed the “Trick-or-Treat” part of Halloween. Since then, however, I lament the fact that “Trick-or-Treating” has become rather too dangerous; mean-hearted people have taken to slipping razor blades and poison in the sweets they parcel out to children who knock on their doors. Many communities have adopted the custom of arranging parties in public schools and community centers in lieu of letting their children roam the neighborhoods.

Even though some of my neighbors’ children still go out with the treat bags after sundown, they usually don’t visit my apartment complex, for the residents here are either elderly or not all-together in their wits…or both. In past years, I have bought a “bargain-size” bag of candy to dispense, but none of the little brats knocked on my door; so I, dreading the resultant weight gain, had to eat all the little candy bars. I don’t do that anymore: I just turn out all the lights after the sun goes down and venture off to my favorite bar.

For a Halloween “treat” I will provide you below with the URL to Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, a segment of Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLCuL-K39eQ&list=PLQhqbTXltizz431wjB6XwyX2GLQYCZZi3
Enjoy!!!

Fin

 

 

The Dismal Science: Part II

©2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved. 

NOTE TO READERS: I am continuing my meandering journey through accumulated thoughts on business owners and their employees.
Before I go any further, I want to apologize for the “political incorrectness” scattered throughout these writings; I refer particularly to the use of masculine pronouns to represent any person of either gender. I do not intend to slight or annoy feminine readers; it is just that the “he/she” routine is awfully cumbersome and seems wasteful time-wise. I have lived most of my life during a period when the use of the masculine pronoun was acceptable as representing anyone, male or female.
Also, I have yet more to say on the general topic of economics; but I think that, after this installment, it will be good to take a break by writing about something more fun…or funny.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

The Entrepreneurs and the Investors…

My first inclination was to use “The Capitalists” for the subhead above, but that term is too exclusive while at the same time too smeared with political connotation; it has acquired an aura of bloated grandiosity. The truth is that our inherited economic system does not consist entirely of plutocrats; there are many more small-time players in the game, from the mom-and-pop grocery (which actually is pretty rare these days) to the owner of a small factory that employs, say, fifteen people. Each of them has invested significantly in their relatively minor enterprises with money from their earnings in a previous job, their savings, or with money borrowed from friends or some seed-money organization.

For years now, I have heard and read that any individual beginning a new business should have an initial financial surplus above their estimated operating expenses for two years: that surplus is what they are to live on during the start-up period. I sadly noticed that many new business people do not adopt that “rule-of-thumb” and they fail.

Another mistake many small business aspirers make—which I observe rather than read about—is that they, naturally enough, start a business related to their personal hobbies, abilities or interests, without checking around to see how many such places already exist in their area. Frequent choices of the sort are a boutique store, a flower shop, or an ethnic restaurant. A bizarre example of this mind-set is the bar-fly with a comfortable bank account who suddenly decides that, since he enjoys the company of his fellow bar-flies so much and he is tired of paying someone else to supply his beer habit for a couple of hours every day, he should open his own bar; he does this without thinking he is going to have to spend most of every day and night, seven days a week, tending to the place. Those people have done little to nothing in marketing research or deep personal evaluation before risking perhaps their life savings in a launch toward the American free enterprise dream. But I admire them for trying.

I have written before about how one of my brothers teamed up with a carpet-layer in opening their own carpet store, specializing in dropped patterns, slightly irregulars, and used carpet. The two men made up a good combination in some ways: my brother had had several years’ experience in selling used cars and possessed a knack for getting along with people and haggling, while his partner was the son of a carpet dealer/installer and was himself possibly the fastest carpet-layer in the city. They were successful for nearly twenty years, increasing their stores to three before my brother’s partner sold his half to my brother and moved to Montana.

But another reason I mention the carpet store here is to introduce what I call the “copy-cat” aspect of business: if you have a good thing going, someone will quickly imitate your process or product. During the first years, a man opened a furniture store right next door to my brother’s store. Not many months later, he, too, started selling carpet, although on a much smaller scale. One day he used red paint to draw out on the sidewalk some hooked arrows, pointing toward his door, and the words “Carpet in here”.  He was capitalizing on a premium ad placement my brother and his partner had in the weekly TV guides published by the two daily newspapers.

The same game is perceivable in the larger spheres of business. I noticed long ago how some soda pop brands, new to the market, copied the colors and even to a slight degree the labeling design of an established brand. And some lawyers make a pretty good living contesting copyright and trademark infringements, in the courts.

Despite the risks, drawbacks and villainies described above, I much respect the folks who venture their all to start up a small business. Such people — the smart, successful ones, at any rate, — are the economic backbone of our nation, of any nation. Reportedly, in spite of their small size, combined, they employ more people than any other entities in the country. The politicians claim to highly regard them, too; although, when I hear a politician call up the image of “small business” to buttress his assertions about whatever, I become annoyed by what I perceive to be the lowest kind of platitude.

At least one thing the small-business employer has in common with the industrialist: He or his managers have to deal with government record-keeping. The amount of such paperwork has purportedly increased incrementally since the early days of unionism, or rather successful unionism in my country. The business owner with employees has been appointed tax collector, safety inspector, and health insurance provider for those people working for him. Even though, being all my life a member of the proletariat, I am sympathetic to the working class (as it is so condescendingly described), I believe that perhaps too much such responsibility has been placed on the employer’s shoulders. On the other hand, a large part of the employee’s life-span as well as his individual skills are being expended on behalf of the employer’s business; his labor is his capital. The first contribution obviously is being consumed irretrievably, and the latter is vulnerable to injury and obsolescence; while the employer’s business will hopefully grow, and his investment in buildings and equipment can be depreciated on his tax return.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

…and now the Employees

This is going to get awfully personal, but there is no help for it. For, you see, I have never owned a business in my life, unless you insist on considering that year or so in my youth when I had a paper route or the decade I reported on a contract basis for our local radio station as self-employment or “businesses”. No, I have always seen myself as a member of the “working class”. And during my lifetime of working, I have always compared myself —my speed, productivity, effectiveness and collegiality—to my fellow workers. Such observing and measuring has naturally informed my view of the workers in general.

I discovered in my teens that I was slower, physically, than most people; it was a handicap that I never overcame, although I could to a small degree compensate for it by being diligent and detail-conscious. On a few occasions in various work places, the individual who was showing me how to do a task has been surprised, when I noticed a fault in something like a file or when a shipment had been overlooked, and said, “I didn’t notice that!” On some other jobs, such as being news editor at a country weekly, speed was not usually a priority, as long as I filled the news hole each week. But I was let go from several other jobs, such as house-painting, because of my turtle’s pace.

Sometimes, though, when I noticed some co-worker’s slap-dash efforts that often resulted in slight damage to a product or an ill-lined stroke of paint, I thought to myself, What is the point of rushing through some task if you’re probably going to have to do it all over again or it is going to look crappy to the customer?

Some of the people I have worked with, however, have been graceful and dedicated workers. But the best comment on such talent cannot come from me: it came rather from a carpet installer/salesman who described another installer as “an artist…his every move seems to flow so naturally that the carpet seems to lay itself.”

That brings up another aspect of my immature attitude toward compensated work: I thought the job was there primarily for my benefit. My satisfaction and comfortableness with it were my main concern. Only well into adulthood did it dawn on me that my job was to help my employer be successful, to make money for him. I remember my first job beyond the paper route , when I was fifteen. I worked for a few weeks for an air-conditioning contractor, my brother’s father-in-law. He paid for my lunch the first day, and I deduced from that, that employers ordinarily bought their employees’ lunch. I know, that sounds crazy, but you have to realize that I had had no prior training from my parents in work ethic or etiquette. I guess they thought that just came naturally.

Still, the benefits for workers have in fact multiplied since the unions began to win their extended battles in the 1930s. Paid holidays and health coverage eventually became virtually universal in the major industries and some smaller ones. Now the fight is on for paid maternity leave, even paternity leave. How different is that from my supposing that employers conventionally buy their workers’ lunch? Of course, mossbacks like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan dealt some heavy blows to the union movements as such; but those blows seem to have merely fractured the union organizations, the forces of labor now apparently have moved into the populace as a whole. I cannot say this with authority, but I believe that the current forces for change are the result of the rapidity of modern mass communication; it is like an ocean tidal wave awakened by a crack in the Earth’s crust. Not just the workers are joining in the push, but some of the billionaires themselves, like Warren Buffett. They recognize the force of change cannot be stopped, that they have more money than they can spend, that the needs of the workers must be recognized and tended to.

But there are other, contrary attitudes in play, too: the reactionaries.

Soon, I believe, the era of the worker will conclude. The inventors are designing robots and other types of mechanization for virtually every occupation from store greeters to accountants…even journalists now. The Associated Press is already mechanizing its facts-gathering and article-composing processes. Boy, am I glad I’m not going to be around much longer! Not many decades hence, the plutocratic industrialists will no longer see any use for other humans except as consumers; but how will people be able to consume if they have no jobs to pay for the things they consume. It will be a world of loafers and artists living on garbage out of dumpsters.

Or everything will be free, but, in such a world, there will be no joy in ownership, for such joy derives mostly from having worked to make the money to pay for something much desired. If there is no work other than punching a few keys or turning a couple of dials, then where will the sense of pride in one’s efforts reside?

Finis

The Dismal Science: A.K.A Economics .001, Part I

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All rights reserved.

Dear readers, I originally had intended to make this essay a single exposition. However, as I got into it the ideas, emotions and resultant words multiplied like the sorcerer’s apprentice’s mops, so I decided I had better break it into at least two, and possibly more, essays. I wanted to get the rocks out of my gut. As I write this preamble, I am nearly through with Part I. The composing procedure I have adopted is thus far slightly rambling; as you know, I have a tendency to write “off the top of my head”. But rest assured the substance is not fluff: I have been observing and pondering the economic scene in my homeland for many years now. O God, please help her!

I wrote in one of my newspaper columns decades ago that I have an aversion to economics, which has been dubbed “the dismal science”. But, like nearly everyone else on this globe, I cannot escape its various impacts on my life. I was thinking of excluding among the victims the Inuit in the Arctic and the forest dwellers in the Amazon jungle, but we have read recently of how climate change is melting away the tundra ice and thereby eliminating the surface on which some Inuit have their homes, and how some greedy gold, oil and farmland seekers are invading the Amazonians’ habitat; so, even those reclusive tribes are not excludable from the modern economic seine.

Over the past few years I have tried to organize in my mind the little I know (or think I know) about our capitalist economic system. I tried back in my early manhood to read a textbook designed for Economics 101 courses. I don’t think I got past the first chapter; any academic field that employs graphs and mathematical symbols is over my head. I just checked and saw that Wikisource has produced an apparently accessible English translation of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, which I will probably at least scan while working on this blog post, but I don’t want such reading to interfere much with my lifetime’s impressions.

That connotation-rich appositive above, “the dismal science”, evokes in my mind two images: (1) the candle-lit laboratory of the mad scientist or wizard, and (2) an above-ground intellectual field so dense and counter-intuitive as to be depressively hindering to the mathematically challenged person (me). I really believe that both meanings are appropriate, even though most people would say that the second is the one intended.

The usual wizard of folklore favors “black magic” that is intended to harm others, and he often is secretive, hiding either in some secret cave or in a vacant castle, in its dungeon or in its tower. According to a PBS program I saw decades ago, Leonardo da Vinci, probably the historical human being who epitomizes such a scientist, reportedly built, in secret, a very large telescope in a tower. Of course, he did not build it to harm anyone; he built it to satisfy his insatiable curiosity about one of his many interests: the stars and planets. The Church, however, did not see it that way; they preferred to view the whole enterprise (when they found out about it) as diabolical. Curiosity has for centuries been a bugbear. (The fact that Leonardo was left-handed did not help either.) A much more homely wizard, the king of Id’s magician, quite often makes mistakes that temporarily harm or at least embarrass him. And the ancient Chinese sorcerers experimented with many plants in their search for the elixir that would spark an eternal — or at least an extended — lifespan; their experiments yielded some poisons, for which some paid with their lives, but they also contributed a good deal to modern pharmacology. So, I see all that as indicating there is no way to avoid the bad in any science, no matter how good the intention and the final result might be. (Examine all the side effects on your medicine labels.)

And now some few words on the second image. There are many out-spoken economists these days, some of whom regularly contribute op-ed articles or columns to our magazines and newspapers. Years ago, I used to enjoy watching John Kenneth Galbraith argue with William F. Buckley Jr. on the latter’s PBS show, “Firing Line”, although I did not completely follow what either said. The two economists I follow now, whenever I happen to notice their columns, are James Surowiecki in The New Yorker and Paul Krugman in The New York Times. Both are, I believe, liberals: Krugman acknowledged as much. Although I do not grasp the thought processes that lead them to their conclusions, I agree with both men most of the time (I cannot recall any instance when I balked at one of their conclusions, although there might have been such an occasion.) They are pretty good at speaking to my level of comprehension. Some of that stuff is bound to have sunken in.

Still, there are some economic facts which I have never understood and have been disinclined, until now, to research. The oldest such matter concerns the old, hot debate regarding the “gold or silver standard” of the 1890s. From my easy chair vantage point, I could not fathom what difference it made which standard was adopted; and, since it had been settled long before I was born, I did not really give a damn. Yet, a related question continued to nag at me: Why do we marry our currency to some pretty but basically lifeless metal anyway? A barter system — what Marx called the “exchange value” of products and services — although complicated to institute, would be much more natural and true to life.

Now I would like to present my overall view of how economics rules our lives.

The world is divided into two classes of people: capitalists and workers. The former invest their money in some enterprise, either a start-up company or an existing company. Usually, the money is bet on an existing company that has already proven it can float; however, venture capital placed in an experimental or innovative effort is not unheard of; and, since the investors are “getting in on the ground floor”, when the cost of “shares” is lowest, has the best chance of “earning” a large “return” on their investments.

Just as with the wizard’s experiments, any number of hazards can cause problems for the capitalists: the company might be part of a Ponzi scheme, a CEO’s errors in judgment can diminish or even destroy the company, the company could be swallowed in a “hostile takeover”, faulty or inferior products might cause the company to lose out on desired governmental contracts or have to recall products, an extended employee strike could squeeze productivity and thus profits, and so on. Some capitalists these days, e.g. Donald Trump, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, have gained small fortunes in a single day’s stock market activity and can afford to lose the same amount without missing a step. But for many other investors — the much smaller ones — a comparable loss can eliminate their life savings. Those are the people who define themselves as “the creators of jobs”.

So, who assumes the jobs? Who actually gets the work done? That’s the workers. What I hate most about this separation into “capitalists” and “workers” is that it has been extended from the situation at the factory to that in social spaces: homes, restaurants, theaters and even churches. Of course, social class distinctions in the latter places have been moderated somewhat during the past century, but they still exist in hardly less apparent ways, what with the current movement toward “gentrification” of neighborhoods, the robotization of an increasing number of occupations, and the constant media attention on celebrities — the vast majority of whom are wealthy entertainers, athletes, foreign royalty, and entrepreneurial billionaires. Now we are debating the fairness of income inequity and slicing up social classes into one-percenters, (vanishing) middle class, and working class. Yet the working class and those even lower on the social ladder are reluctant to revolt against this pernicious system because they view the elites as models of what they might become, if only they can get that football or basketball “scholarship” or get an agent to notice them on “open mic nite” at the local bistro or if one of the lottery tickets they are buying today with half their paltry paycheck will just vault them over the rung where hangs that middle-class person. They don’t want to destroy those privileged positions, because they want to attain them.

Finis

NEXT (I hope): A more detailed look at the two major classes.

Acorns, etc.

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

 Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
 — Luke 2:19

The fairies’ berets

Well, it’s the first week of October, although you can’t tell it by the daytime temperatures around my town; it is already scoring 92 degrees today (10/01/15) at 3 p.m. I don’t recall it getting that warm in July and August, maybe last June, which for some reason I can’t fathom has the reputation of being our hottest month. I know the steering wheel in my truck told me on several June days that hell was nearby. But we have only ourselves to blame, what with our carbon emissions history since the Industrial Revolution started.

Still, we always expect October to be a kinder month, even a time when donning a windbreaker is ordinarily the normal thing to do. In spite of the broiling heat, though, there are a few signs by which Nature is letting us know that Fall is nigh, such as a slight hint that the leaves want to change color from green to yellow, scarlet and purple. In our case here, however, the most telltale sign, that I have noticed, is the drumming of the acorns on my back porch’s metal roof. I see those nuts on the grass and sidewalk when I leave each morning for the coffee shop: they seem unusually large this year. And why have their loud tumbles never drawn my attention in the past twelve years? Yes, they simply must be larger this time.

As a child, influenced by some illustrations in fairy tale books, I would wonder if there were any “little people” around wearing parts of acorns for their caps; I was entirely ignorant at the time that what I was looking at was called a “cupule”. That was way before the age of the Internet, and my curiosity was stifled by a sense of futility until today.  I also used to occasionally wonder why we don’t eat acorns as we do pecans, walnuts and other nut delicacies. I assumed that acorns must be different from other nuts by being poisonous, but somebody told me that, no, the acorn is just bitter to the taste.

I read in Wikipedia today, though, that the ancient Greeks ate them after pounding them into a grain and that the Native Americans and Koreans still do favor certain dishes prepared using acorns. The processes involved, however, look formidably complicated and time-consuming to me. For the rest of us, grains have superseded any comparable meal ingredient. One would have to be near starvation, I suppose, to gather acorns. Yet, some of our media sites are recommending that we consider munching on various insects for sustenance: a hardly subtle reference to the likelihood of famines if climate change develops to its greatest extent.

But we want to believe that Fall is imminent, even though there seem to be no “four seasons” any more, only Summer and Winter. Autumn, like Spring, is being squeezed down to a week. Why is Fall also called “Autumn”? I wonder.

Out of balance

A Methodist minister told me, when I was about sixteen, “Life is going to be hard on you, Bob, because you are mature beyond your years.” I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, and I have pondered his assessment often since then. I now do not believe he was saying that my IQ was above average or that my store of common-sense was abundant: both of those qualities would, I believe, be very useful coping skills, not stumbling blocks. No, I think his point must have been that I do not have much tolerance for ambiguity, ambivalence, and the smaller details in life. I expect the world to be much more plain and decipherable than it is. The pastor’s remark was uttered not many days after I had opined, during a meeting of our church’s governing board (of which I was an ex officio  member), that I believed we needed to do away with Santa Claus. I won’t expound on the Santa Claus issue here any further than to explain that the persona of Santa I perceived was that of a caricature of God — an image that I thought confuses children and might eventually lead them spiritually astray.

No, the issue I wish to dilate on is what personality characteristic my comment reflected. My intolerance for ambiguity and small fictions became, I think, an obsession within me, an obsession that cannot be contained now, if it ever could, even though I am aware of the discomfort it causes for me. When (at age 20) I started reading philosophy, particularly Bertrand Russell’s discussion of Zeno’s paradoxes, I sententiously declared it my ambition to resolve all paradoxes; I wasn’t going to leave any room for an ounce of doubt.

Of course, most of my readers will be aware of how naïve was my goal. As the years multiplied, so did the paradoxes and dilemmas. Even Bertrand Russell, I read later, retreated into symbolic logic to discuss rather basic matters because he saw the plain old vernacular as being the cause of many philosophical rabbit trails¹. I did not have the mathematical ability to follow his lead, so I simply gave up and tried to close my eyes and ears to insoluble problems.

But the questions attacked me anyway, very surreptitiously via my observations of Nature and the people I encountered — nay, viewed, even if I did not meet them. Why is that young man, for instance, wearing a ring in his nostril and two rings in his lower lip? Why do two people not get to know each other better before they get hitched into a relationship that leads to an acrimonious and expensive divorce? Why does a group scream, beat loudly on drums and guitars, set off explosions and claim they are making music? Why does a season of the year have two names: Fall and Autumn? All such questions invade my mind unbidden, and I don’t think I have enough life span left to research such matters. (I know, by the way, that “fall” and “autumn” are not usually capitalized, but I prefer to capitalize them for two reasons: (1) Since “fall” has two meanings, the capital “F” prevents confusion; and (2) since the words are names for seasons of the year, I consider the capitalization better etiquette.)

Subtle biases in our vocabulary

The turbulence in my brain, however, is not all perturbing; sometimes amusement results from the roiling. I often find in it fodder for my teasing humor. One evening, for instance, when I was a guest in the home of former friends — a college professor and his wife — I mentioned, almost as an aside, that I thought it peculiar there are no terms for a hectoring man (except of course “hectoring man”), while there are several for a hectoring woman: harridan, shrew, termagant, virago, harpy, vixen, and nag. Whew! I half-expected the wife to jump out of her chair and attack me, but she disappointingly remained calm, recognizing, I suppose, that I was simply being impish, not sardonic.

And then, returning my spotlight to Nature, it occurred to me this morning, as I was driving to the coffee shop just before the sun rose above Hancock Hill, when the sky was just beginning to glimmer, that we have only two words for the sun’s rising: “sunrise” and “dawn” (basically the same stage), but three for its different stages of setting: “dusk”, “sunset”, and “twilight”. There is something poetically disconcerting about that imbalance.

Many other odd imbalances have occurred to me over the past half century, but I don’t recall any of them right now, which is a good thing, because enough is enough, for the time being. It is time to say good night, dear readers.

Happy pondering.

¹”Rabbit trails go here, there, and everywhere, and pretty much tend to lead nowhere. (Have you ever watched a dog sniff out a rabbit trail? It wanders in small then wider circles, around and around, feverishly looking for the rabbit – literally, a meal and, figuratively, the point of one’s argument.) No one knows what’s at the end of a rabbit trail (the point of one’s argument). Is there even an end to it? It’s a confusing maze of pointless leads. In short, a rabbit trail leads (us) nowhere. It serves only to confuse the prey/the reader. It keeps them preoccupied and confused.”  (“Cassiopea” at UsingEnglish.com.)
²Of course I recognize that “curmudgeon” can be used to describe a man, as can the colloquial “grumpus”, but they are not gender-specific, being applicable to a habitually complaining woman as well.

Finis

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