Wednesday, December 25, 2013


I like words.

I can happily sit and read an unabridged dictionary.

Trouble is, I cannot spell very well, which means I sometimes reach a desired word via a most circuitous route.

Digging into a word's origins almost always is rewarding with interesting trivia.

For examples:

Fillet (fil-lay) is Latin via French. The British pronounce it "fil-it." The French and cultured Americans say fil-lay. Who is correct? According to the Latin root, the word is fil-it. Point to the Brits. But perhaps only in the U.K.

Pedant (pee-dant), which I insisted on mispronouncing as pendant, a thing to hang around a neck, is now a negative term for a person with OCD; a person who is picayunish to the enth degree. Mispronouncing the word creates a catachresis. Pedant in its Greek and Latin beginnings meant "teacher" or someone (a Greek's slave) who escorted children to their studies.

I don't know when I acquired "picayune" and its variations (ibid.); possibly on a Greyhound rest stop in New Orleans, a/k/a NOLA or Crescent City, home of the Times-Picayune newspaper.

I am without a doubt a curmudgeon - Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch has nothing on me.

When I was an honest reporter (read "print" vs. "electronic" [tv] ) I used to pick up new and useful words from many and sundry sources.

A judge in Red Bluff CA gave me "recidivistic," the condition of a miscreant who appeared before him too many times. When I asked him to define the word for me he responded, forcefully: "Look it up." I did.

A fellow who wrote a column for Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent wrote to me via his amanuensis about how he came to have the same last name as this scrivener.

When I was documenting risks, I always included the "ubiquitous other," the one no one identified. Some folks call the "ubiquitous other" a "black swan," but I don't believe in black swans (as risks) any more than I believe in Santa Claus, the Easter bunny laying eggs, or the tooth fairy. Some might say failure to identify a risk was the hamartia of my plan. I may not have identified a risk, but I should have covered how to respond if any risk occurs despite my best efforts.

I suppose I can be considered superannuated , but I'm copacetic with that. Copacetic has been a favorite, and once oft-used word, of mine for some time. Still, superannuated or not, I can never be accused of having misocainea

M words and women: Misogamy , misogyny , miscegenation

Misology simply is unreasonable.

I'll never a have command of the language near that of Wm. Buckley or Abba Eban, but - and it is sad to report - I probably have a better vocabulary than most folks with Masters degrees. How did it happen?

I read and I read.

Words were the tools of my trade.

Friday, December 6, 2013


Political Correctness




Some folks, I suspect mostly white liberals, forced Walt Disney's company to shelve Song of the South, otherwise known as Uncle Remus Tales.

According to one source I found online, Joel Chandler Harris, the "author" of the Uncle Remus stories simply recorded morality tales told by slaves and ex-slaves, black Aesops if you will. According to Snopes (

Harris grew up in Georgia during the Civil War, spent a lifetime compiling and publishing the tales told to him by former slaves. These stories — many of which Harris learned from an old black man he called "Uncle George" — were first published as columns in The Atlanta Constitution and were later syndicated nationwide and published in book form. Harris's Uncle Remus was a fictitious old slave and philosopher who told entertaining fables about Br'er Rabbit and other woodland creatures in a Southern Black dialect.

Like Aesop, the Uncle Remus tales use animals to deliver the message.

The 1946 movies Song of the South included a series of "firsts," including the first combination of human actors and animated characters. The humans included James Baskett as Uncle Remus, Disney's first live actor ever hired by Disney. (See for a list of all the characters in the movie.)

I saw Song of the South as a child and thought it wonderful; like most kids, I went around singing Zippidy do dah ; I still sing it many years later.

TO THE POINT, while the movie is available only overseas, you might be able to find a CD with four Uncle Remus tales. (The CD, if anyone is interested, is called Brer Rabbit and the Wonderful Tar Baby. There also are a number of books with Uncle Remus tales; check your local library Reference Desk.)

My Local Lending Library, hereafter LLL, had access to the CD and several Uncle Remus books. "Access" since the books were found in other libraries and shipped, albeit indirectly, to my LLL. I've been getting books this way for years.

The interesting thing about the CD is not the stores but the person telling the tales and the person providing the "mood" music.

Two gentlemen of - ahh - color are Danny Glover who reads the takes and Taj Mahal who provides the background music. (The "weasel words" are used since, in my lifetime, they have been called negro, colored, Afro-American, and black; I'm not sure what the term-du-jour will be when this is read; hopefully, "just folk.")

If, then, Song of the South and the Uncle Remus tales are so offensive to people of color, why are these two famous people involved with the CD?

Granted, "different strokes for different folks"; when the replica of the slave ship La Amistad was offered to Tampa FL, the locals rejected it; the folks of New Haven CN gladly accepted the chance to host the ship. (Read about the boat at - among other sites -

Mr. Glover, who voices all of the characters on the CD, does does not use " Southern Black dialect" - no "dis 'n dat" but the story comes through just fine.

Still, I think maybe some folks are a little too sensitive to dialects; they are too quick to assume they are a "put down" yet those accents are very much a part of Americana. I have an accent, my wife has an accent, my neighbors all have accents; those accents make life interesting, colorful, and as long as they are mimiced in a kind way, no one is offended.

I think Disney's capitulating to a few, most likely Caucasian, liberals is a pity. Kids today need the morality lessons of Uncle Remus as much, if not more, than I did when I was a youngster.

Maybe I'll ask some of my acquaintenance overseas if they can get a DVD copy of the movie. My grand-daughter deserves to see it with her grandfather.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Obsolescence as risk

I don't usually consider obsolescence as a risk.

We usually know when things start to reach the end of their useful life. After all, when we make a Major Purchase (and "major" depends on the budget) we look for a Use By date or MTTF information. Warranties and extended warranties also give us a clue to a product's useful life.

Today, as I tried to enter the gated community in which I reside I - like Froggy the Gremlin - tried to plunk my magic twanger, a/k/a gate clicker, and it once again failed to raise the barrier.

The gate mechanism recently was replaced and the residents were told we would need to buy, at more than $50 each, new clickers. Turns out that the new mechanism could be programmed to receive signals from the old clickers. (Some of the residents suspect shenanigans on the part of the board, but that's another matter.)

In any event, today my clicker - an old model - failed to raise the barrier.

The guardette at the gate, a delightful young woman named Kim, waved me through the visitors' side, suggesting that maybe my clicker was past its prime. (She's a nice person, so I didn't take it personally.)

The Made in China clicker has an LED that lights when the device is activated, and it lit when I last tried - and failed - to raise the bar. But, Kim is a pretty smart lady and the device is pretty simple, so I thought "Let's see if the battery is OK."

I anticipated a special-order, long-life power source. When I opened the clicker I discovered a standard 9-volt battery.

I always have spare batteries, everything from AAA to 9 volt, and maybe a round camera battery for an old Canon F-1 that is no longer in use - pity, it was (is) an excellent 35 mm camera.

Did the battery fix the problem.

Before finding out I took the garage door opener apart. Like the clicker, very simple; no jumpers to adjust frequencies, just two round camera-type batteries. One button on the two-button device opens the garage door; the other button …anyone's guess. Like the gate opener, the device lacked any obvious jumper terminals.

With the new 9-volt installed, I went back to the gate and clicked.


As I stood there, clicker in hand, I noticed someone else with an old clicker and she, too, failed to raise the gate.

But then, the light came one.

Actually, the lights failed to come on and that gave me a clue as to what the problem really was: there was a power problem at the barrier motor.

It seems the property management put up holiday lights before Thanksgiving.

When the light wrapped around the barrier were lit, the old clicker worked.

When the lights were off, the clicker failed to raise the barrier.

I sent the over-paid/under-worked property manager an email suggesting that the problem probably was electrical and unless the new radio frequency receiver was made in China, it probably was under warranty and it might be a good idea to check out the power and the receiver.

I don't know what was done other than the gate now rises at my clicker's command.

There several "bottom lines" for this.

Bottom Line #1: Be prepared for obsolescence. The old gate mechanism failed and could not be repaired.

Bottom Line #2: Know something about the product you are buying. As it happens, I worked with commercial and military transceivers so I at least suspected that the replacement unit had two receivers that could be programmed to accommodate both the old and the new clickers.

Bottom Line #3: TROUBLESHOOT the failing product to see if there are any clues to the cause of the problem. In the case of the reluctant arm, the lights were the clue. Now, when I approach the barrier, if the lights are lit, I know I can come in through the residents' side; if not, I enter through the visitors' side.

If I wrote it, you may quote it