Have you heard of…?

Among my blog themes, one has been all the things in plain sight that I haven’t seen before. This post includes this idea in its first paragraph, to do with wisterias. I wrote a poem about the 2022 (Winter Storm Uri, or Snowmageddon) in which I mention ruby-crowned kinglets. I’d never heard of them—must less seen one—until someone said they flock with chickadees. And there they were, not later, not occasionally. Immediately.

Flora and fauna. What I learned about recently is a sociological phenomenon in New Orleans: Mardi Gras Indians. The story is fascinating.

Since as early as about 1855, members of the African American community in inner-city New Orleans have paraded in their neighborhoods. The purpose is to honor the Native Americans who helped escaped enslaved people. Strictly speaking, it’s not that they were in plain sight because these early marchers didn’t feel they could be included in the mainstream parade.

The costumes cost thousands of dollars in materials alone, with months of design and construction. The beadwork is intricate and beautiful. Feathers abound. This includes a listing of the groups and some of the traditions. Here’s a short documentary about the making of the suit. And a long one. And a song “Iko Iko” associated with the culture.

A natural reaction to such an influx of information is to ask others if they know about a phenomenon. My first question met with a “Never heard of that” but my second was a “No, but that sounds like…” The Choctaw Nation had just ended the long and tragic trek to Oklahoma. In 1847, they gathered funds ($170, or $5000 today) to send to the town of Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, to offer assistance for those suffering in the famine. In 1995, the Irish president, Mary Robinson, came to Oklahoma to the Choctaw Nation, to say thank you. This is a sculpture called Kindred Spirits commemorating the gift.

Other visits followed, and in 2020, when the Navajo and Hopi were hit especially hard by COVID-19, the Irish sent money to them to assist and recall that Choctaw gift from over 150 years before.

Things we know: The concept of “pay it forward.” These phenomena are good representations of the practice, though I’d never heard of the phrase until the film Pay It Forward (2000), an early appearance for Haley Joel Osment, with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, James Caviezel, and Jon Bon Jovi. It’s not a great movie, but the opening scene is riveting. I can’t find it, but I remember someone having a wreck and someone handing her his car keys. And a teacher scene. Here Caviezel saves a woman by asking her to save him, because he owes someone a favor.

Perhaps you’ve heard of all these things. I know people who probably have. Share something with me that you’ll bet I don’t know. Thanks in advance…

Leaning Into Art: Langston Hughes

Recently, I worked on a PowerPoint for a humanities class where I was to be a sub (much easier in college than for 4th graders). The professor had introduced the class to the Harlem Renaissance the week before, so I decided to go further with Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred.”

A PP is a summary, and I won’t try to replicate anything I may have said. College or not, the students are not likely to remember anything other than the experience anyway. The good things about the PP below involve hearing Hughes and others read, plus some modern young slam poets. It was, in fact, students years ago who introduced me to the art and energy of slam.

The passion of slam continues the theme of the other works: motivation. The Matthew McConaughey graduation speech soars in spots, but in my opinion, it’s not art. See what you think…

The PowerPoint is very short, just 6 slides which include the intro page. Consider listening to the shorter works if nothing else.

ART.pptx

 

Zion: Becoming of One Mind and One Heart

Recently, the host of the Commentary podcast, John Podhoretz, burst out, “What does the Left want anyway?!” Because I thought I’d written a blog about the answer, I planned to send it along to him via email, as one does. Nothing. If there was something, I can’t find it and don’t know where else to look. This one on whether science fiction is liberal or conservative (yes) is good but doesn’t answer the question of why. This one is shorter and works on explaining Republicans to Democrats and vice versa. Ironically, it has “Friend” in the title, which can be a challenge for some.

My thinking for some time has been that the Left does know what it wants: a better, fairer, more equitable and more just world.One dear liberal recently responded to whatever it was I was saying, “I think we can do better!” I agree. It’s the “How?” that matters, R or L.

A short history of the term Right, for the culturally-minded: Although it’s tempting to say that the Right is called right because they are correct, that’s not based in fact. The terms left and right come from seating in the French Estates General with the random choice of those wanting to preserve the old ways on the right, the revolutionaries on the left. People know that, but it’s easy to forget; it is a basic explanation but—all things considered—the French Revolution was bloody. La Marseilles (short version) is rousing, but the lyrics are, well, graphic. The citizens are asked to grab their weapons. The enemy is slitting throats. The battlefield will be watered with impure blood. No liberté, égalité, fraternité à la the motto.

A quick switch to Beethoven, about whom I recently presented a paper for The MacMillan Institute alumni conference. The motto for this teacher academy is “Equity through Excellence” and the guiding quotation from Dr. Donald Cowan is “The spirit of learning is marked by JOY!” Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (1:21:22) has a finale which includes his setting of “An die freude” (“Ode to Joy”), a poem by Friedrich Schiller extolling the brotherhood of man. It’s even more rousing than the French anthem. The melody is found in over 400 hymnals. It’s the subject of many flash mobs, this one in Spain. The Muppets. Rousing is probably not the best word, but the music resonates all over the world. The documentary Following the Ninth (2014) takes us to Japan, Chile, Tiananmen Square, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

These are the words of the first stanza, one translation:

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,

Daughter of Elysium,

We enter drunk with fire,

Heavenly One, your sanctuary!

Your magic binds again

What fashion strictly divides;

All men become brothers

Where thy gentle wing dwells.

The key phrase, of course, is “All men become brothers.” This highest of ideals may explain, ironically, why the wordless tune is the anthem of the European Union.

But there’s more. The secondary theme is nothing like the joy melody. In this verse, the rhythm is virtually nonexistent.

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the canopy of stars
must dwell a loving father.

Do you kneel before Him, oh millions?
Do you feel the Creator’s presence?
Seek Him beyond the stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.

It doesn’t say God, but in German is lieber Vater, which need not have the capitalized Father in English. Nevertheless, the message is clear: The “kiss” for all humankind must be sought in a higher power.

Next, Zion. These days we are more likely to hear the word in “Zionist.” That can be politicized but means one who longs for a Jewish state. (Also found in other faith traditions as well.) The Israeli national anthem is Hatikvah,” in which the text is concerned with the hope of a return to Zion. Psalm 137 begins with these words: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” The Jewish people had been deported to Babylon, and the psalm goes on to say they cannot sing there.

Rather than just another name for Jerusalem, or the Jewish people, Zion has other synonyms, per Merriam-Webster: “the ideal nation or society envisaged by Judaism, heaven, utopia.” Another way to think of it is “the pure in heart.” This talk discusses the origins of this concept that an ancient prophet named Enoch built a city named Zion “because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” Utopia means “no place.” Zion, therefore, is its opposite. A real place, a real people, who are no longer on the Earth because God took the city to Himself.

Realizing that this could go on for quite a while, I will summarize. The joy that Beethoven idealized finds evidence in the word “Zion.” The concept of “being better” is important, indeed the goal for all. It seems the goal for the Left (equity and justice would result in no poverty). The government is not the answer, however.

From what Schiller envisions, and with the understanding that the world is a difficult and dark place, it is only possible to achieve Zion with a people of one mind. The result (no poverty, for example) is the goal. Achieving the ideal of unity in purpose and action may be impossible without divine guidance.

It is possible to conceive of something beyond God for that end, however. We must turn anciently for more. The Egyptian goddess of truth, justice, and harmony was named Maat. However, “Maat represents the ethical and moral principle that all Egyptian citizens were expected to follow throughout their daily lives. They were expected to act with honor and truth in matters that involve family, the community, the nation, the environment, and the gods.” This podcast discusses how the entire universe is based on these ideals, that the importance of rightness keeps the universe out of chaos.

The conclusion is that the ideal is right, the method of implementation is personal, and it would work. My political vision is that the government cannot make it work. Examples of its failures to do so abound. The War on Poverty, for example, was a catastrophe according to this Forbes article. A slightly left-leaning source, I’ll add. Let’s at some point discuss ways that we can become more of one mind. Maat’s symbol is the ostrich feather, by which she judges the goodness of our hearts. Perhaps we could start there.

 

Zion: Becoming of One Heart and One Mind

Recently, the host of the Commentary podcast, John Podhoretz, burst out, “What does the Left want anyway?!” No one could do anything but mutter. Because I thought I’d written a blog about the answer, I planned to send it along to him via email, as one does. Nothing. If there was something, I can’t find it and don’t know where else to look. This one on whether science fiction is liberal or conservative (yes) is good but doesn’t answer the question of why. This one is shorter and works on explaining Republicans to Democrats and vice versa. Ironically, it has “Friend” in the title, which can be a challenge for some.

My thinking for some time has been that the Left does know what it wants: a better, fairer, more equitable and more just world. (Although it’s tempting to say that the Right are correct, that’s not based in fact.) The terms left and right come from seating in the French Estates General with the random choice of those wanting to preserve the old ways on the right, the revolutionaries on the left. People know that, but it’s easy to forget; it is a basic explanation but—all things considered—the French Revolution was bloody. La Marseilles (short version) is rousing, but the lyrics are, well, graphic. The citizens are asked to grab their weapons. The enemy is slitting throats. The battlefield will be watered with impure blood. No liberté, égalité, fraternité à la the motto.

One dear liberal recently responded to whatever it was I was saying, “I think we can do better!” I agree. It’s the “How?” that matters, R or L.

A quick switch to Beethoven, about whom I recently presented for The MacMillan Institute alumni conference. The motto for this teacher academy is “Equity through Excellence” and the guiding quotation from Dr. Donald Cowan is “The spirit of learning is marked by JOY!” Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (1:21:22) has a finale which includes his setting of “An die freude” (“Ode to Joy”), a poem by Friedrich Schiller extolling the brotherhood of man. It’s even more rousing than the French anthem. The melody is found in over 400 hymnals. It’s the subject of many flash mobs, this one in Spain. The Muppets. Rousing is probably not the best word, but the music resonates all over the world. The documentary Following the Ninth (2014) takes us to Japan, Chile, Tiananmen Square, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

These are the words of the first stanza, one translation:

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,

Daughter of Elysium,

We enter drunk with fire,

Heavenly One, your sanctuary!

Your magic binds again

What fashion strictly divides;

All men become brothers

Where thy gentle wing dwells.

 

The key phrase, of course, is “All men become brothers.” This highest of ideals may explain, ironically, why the tune is only the anthem of the European Union.

But there’s more. The secondary theme is nothing like the joy melody. In this verse, the rhythm is virtually nonexistent.

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the canopy of stars
must dwell a loving father.

Do you kneel before Him, oh millions?
Do you feel the Creator’s presence?
Seek Him beyond the stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.

It doesn’t say God, but in German is lieber Vater, which need not have the capitalized Father in English. Nevertheless, the message is clear: The “kiss” for all humankind must be sought in a higher power.

Next, Zion. These days we are more likely to hear the word in “Zionist.” That can be politicized but means one who longs for a Jewish state. (Also found in other faith traditions as well.) The Israeli national anthem is Hatikvah,” in which the text is concerned with the hope of a return to Zion. Psalm 137 begins with these words: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” The Jewish people had been deported to Babylon, and the psalm goes on to say they cannot sing there.

Rather than just another name for Jerusalem, or the Jewish people, Zion has other synonyms, per Merriam-Webster: “the ideal nation or society envisaged by Judaism, heaven, utopia.” Another way to think of it is “the pure in heart.” This talk discusses the origins of this concept that an ancient prophet named Enoch built a city named Zion “because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” Utopia means “no place.” Zion, therefore, is its opposite. A real place, a real people, who are no longer on the Earth because God took the city up.

Realizing that this could go on for quite a while, I will summarize. The joy that Beethoven idealized finds evidence in the word “Zion.” The concept of “being better” is important, indeed the goal for all. It seems the goal for the Left (equity and justice would result in no poverty). The “how” is, then, the issue.

From what Schiller envisions, and with the understanding that the world is a difficult and dark place, it is only possible to achieve Zion with a people of one mind. The result (no poverty, for example) is the goal. Achieving the ideal of unity in purpose and action may be impossible without divine guidance.

It is possible to conceive of something beyond God for that end, however. We must turn anciently for more. The Egyptian goddess of truth, justice, and harmony was named Maat. However, “Maat represents the ethical and moral principle that all Egyptian citizens were expected to follow throughout their daily lives. They were expected to act with honor and truth in matters that involve family, the community, the nation, the environment, and the gods.” This podcast discusses how the entire universe is based on these ideals, that the importance of rightness keeps the universe out of chaos.

The conclusion is that the ideal is right, the method of implementation is personal, and it would work. My political vision is that the government cannot make it work. Examples of its failures to do so abound. The War on Poverty, for example, was a catastrophe according to this Forbes article. A slightly left-leaning source, I’ll add. Let’s discuss later ways that we can become more of one mind. Maat’s symbol is the ostrich feather, by which she judges the goodness of our hearts. Perhaps we could start there.

Yogurt and Opera: Briefly

My current pet peeve: Fage Yogurt is using six seconds of Puccini’s “Un bel di” in a new commercial that sends women floating while spooning their product, only to be brought to earth (chair, couch) by a cute kid (face doesn’t match mood) screaming “Mom! MOM!” or by a friend (not floating herself) or nothing at all. The aria, one of the most famous in Madama Butterfly, features Cio-Cio San explaining to her maid Suzuki that her long-absent husband will return, and they’ll see the wisp of smoke from his ship in the harbor, “one fine day.” The opera is a tragedy, and we know how it ends. Puccini could write a sublime melody. It seems to me, then, that using six seconds of such beauty to hawk yogurt is (insert judgmental statement) wrong. It suggests they have no idea how devastatingly sad the context is, I assume. Here is a recording of the real thing by Maria Callas (about 4 minutes).

This yogurt commercial, from Biokul, use 40 seconds of a lively tune called “Oh What a Whirl” by Jules Gaia, the alter ego of Gavin Luke. It’s a genre I knew nothing about called electro swing. The only thing falling is strawberries.

Back briefly to Maria Callas: A myth I heard years ago involves her dramatic weight loss. People said she had swallowed a tapeworm pill, allowing the parasite to consume her food intake and hence the calories. It’s not true, exactly. She did have a beef tapeworm from eating raw meat, but it wasn’t intentional. The fad of swallowing a tapeworm “pill” with eggs is real, though. This Atlas Obscura article explains it in some gruesome detail. Not that anyone past the Victorian era would want to do anything so ridiculous (Oh, wait, Khloe Kardashian. Luckily, the FDA banned the pills.)

Now on to “peeve.” It’s not old, used first in 1901. The British say “pet hate,” which lacks the annoyance factor. Still, all these words we use without a clue where they came from is not a peeve but an interest.

Full circle back to Fage, ΦΑΓΕ,  pronounced “fah-yeh.” Guess what it means in Greek? “Eat!” The exclamation mark is not an accident. The verb form is imperative. Another pet peeve is the manipulation of my psychic responses to advertising. Not nearly as important as the misuse of great art for ignorant purposes, however. Which in turn reminds me of a long, bad joke about staid lions and illegal porpoises, but that can wait for another time.

On Hack(s)

Skipping merrily into this task, I was more than usually amazed by the search results. My original idea was a brief survey of four meanings of the word “hack.” The verbs: Chop something up. Get into a computer system without permission. The nouns: Someone who does a poor job. A clever trick for doing something easier or better. But no, not four. There are 65. Who knew? Mine are there, and for the record, I asked ChaptGPT to number them. Some of the distinctions are minor. It’s still a vast number for such a little word. And that’s not including the proper nouns for such things as the game Hack, the Hack typeface, the American TV series named Hack, an Australian radio program, and everything from hockey to falconry. It was too much—I just couldn’t hack it. (Sorry. Also couldn’t resist.)

All I really wanted was to share some nice tidbits of advice. A few people have helped. A former medic said they really do use the one for removing a ring stuck on a finger. This example seems straightforward enough. Here are 9, from Russia. One of the methods uses a bottle of what Google Translate (with camera) tells me is Novocain. Can we buy that? Google tells me lidocaine is better anyway.

Someone else said she puts a safety pin on the inside of her hem to divert static electricity. This site agrees and suggests several on a small rag in the dryer. Chemical free! The feeling of being a miniature lightning rod! Winters are especially prone to static because the air is so dry. I’m trying it.

One person said he has hundreds, but all he knows for sure is that anything they say makes onion cutting tear-free doesn’t work (gum, candle [lit], match in mouth [not lit]). This one is new, from People magazine, but the actual video is no longer available, a bad sigh: Wet a paper towel and put it beside the onion on the cutting board. You’d think someone would have stumbled onto that one in the millennia of onion cutting.

A recent favorite is putting a piece of bread into a cookie jar. The cookies will stay soft and fresh. If you like crisp ones, I have nothing for you.

Here are 100, many familiar but few I’ve ever used. Sorry again. It’s not likely I’ll boost by phone volume but inserting it into a toilet roll or use Doritos as kindling.

People do like to share good things. When he was about six, my nephew was visiting the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth. Just outside the entrance is a 67-foot tall permanent installation made of COR-TEN (corrosion resistance-tensile strength) steel. The top is open to the sky, and when you talk, your words reverberate within the walls. My nephew loved it so much he was telling strangers who were just walking by that they needed to go inside. It was a dear moment.

So, don’t get hacked or hacked up. Don’t be a hack or a hacker. Get over your hacking cough quickly, and best to you if you keep falcons that are fed on a jack. Also share good hacks, especially ones that are easy to remember.

ChatGPT

Here is the numbered list:

  1. verb: (transitive) To chop or cut down in a rough manner.
  2. verb: (intransitive) To cough noisily.
  3. verb: To withstand or put up with a difficult situation.
  4. verb: (computing) To make a quick code change to patch a computer program, often one that, while being effective, is inelegant or makes the program harder to maintain.
  5. verb: (computing) To accomplish a difficult programming task.
  6. verb: (computing, slang, transitive) To work with something on an intimately technical level.
  7. verb: (transitive, colloquial, by extension) To apply a trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method to something to increase productivity, efficiency, or ease.
  8. verb: (transitive, slang, computing) To hack into; to gain unauthorized access to (a computer system, e.g., a website, or network) by manipulating code.
  9. verb: (transitive, slang, computing, by extension) To gain unauthorized access to a computer or online account belonging to (a person or organization).
  10. verb: (intransitive, video games) To cheat by using unauthorized modifications.
  11. verb: (ice hockey) To strike an opponent with one’s hockey stick, typically on the leg but occasionally and more seriously on the back, arm, head, etc.
  12. verb: (ice hockey) To make a flailing attempt to hit the puck with a hockey stick.
  13. verb: (baseball) To swing at a pitched ball.
  14. verb: (soccer and rugby) To kick (a player) on the shins.
  15. verb: To strike in a frantic movement.
  16. verb: (transitive) To strike lightly as part of tapotement massage.
  17. noun: A tool for chopping.
  18. noun: A hacking blow.
  19. noun: A gouge or notch made by such a blow.
  20. noun: A dry cough.
  21. noun: A hacking; a catch in speaking; a short, broken cough.
  22. noun: (figuratively) A try, an attempt.
  23. noun: (curling) The foothold traditionally cut into the ice from which the person who throws the rock pushes off for delivery.
  24. noun: (obsolete) A mattock or a miner’s pickaxe.
  25. noun: (informal) An improvised device or solution to a problem.
  26. noun: (computing, slang) An expedient, temporary solution, such as a small patch or change to code, meant to be replaced with a more elegant solution at a later date; a workaround.
  27. noun: (computing, slang) A computer programmer who makes quick but inelegant changes to computer code to solve problems or add features.
  28. noun: (computing, slang) A computer programmer, particularly a veteran or someone not immediately expected to be capable of programming.
  29. noun: (computing, slang) An interesting technical achievement, particularly in computer programming.
  30. noun: (colloquial) A trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method to increase productivity, efficiency, or ease.
  31. noun: (computing, slang) An illegal attempt to gain access to a computer network.
  32. noun: (computing, slang) A video game or any computer software that has been altered from its original state.
  33. noun: (slang, military) Time check, as for example upon synchronization of wristwatches.
  34. noun: (ice hockey) The act of striking an opponent with one’s hockey stick, typically on the leg but occasionally and more seriously on the back, arm, head, etc.
  35. noun: (baseball) A swing of the bat at a pitched ball by the batter, particularly a choppy, ungraceful one that misses the ball such as at a fastball.
  36. noun: A kick on the shins in football of any type.
  37. noun: (uncountable, slang, naval) Confinement of an officer to their stateroom as a punishment.
  38. noun: (military, slang) An airplane of poor quality or in poor condition.
  39. noun: (falconry) A board which the falcon’s food is placed on; used by extension for the state of partial freedom in which they are kept before being trained.
  40. noun: A food-rack for cattle.
  41. noun: A rack used to dry something, such as bricks, fish, or cheese.
  42. noun: A grating in a mill race.
  43. verb: To lay (bricks) on a rack to dry.
  44. verb: (falconry) To keep (young hawks) in a state of partial freedom, before they are trained.
  45. noun: A horse for hire, especially one which is old and tired.
  46. noun: A person, often a journalist, hired to do routine work.
  47. noun: (derogatory) Someone who is available for hire; hireling, mercenary.
  48. noun: (slang) A taxicab (hackney cab) driver.
  49. noun: (now chiefly Canada, US, colloquial) A vehicle let for hire; originally, a hackney coach, now typically a taxicab.
  50. noun: A hearse.
  51. noun: (derogatory, authorship) An untalented writer.
  52. noun: (derogatory) One who is professionally successful despite producing mediocre work. (Usually applied to persons in a creative field.)
  53. noun: (derogatory) A talented writer-for-hire, paid to put others’ thoughts into felicitous language.
  54. noun: (politics, slightly derogatory) A political agitator.
  55. noun: (UK, student politics, derogatory) A person who frequently canvasses for votes, either directly or by appearing to continuously act with the ulterior motive of furthering their political career.
  56. noun: (obsolete) A writer who hires himself out for any sort of literary work; an overworked man; a drudge.
  57. noun: (obsolete) A procuress.
  58. verb: (dated) To make common or cliched; to vulgarize.
  59. verb: (equestrianism) To ride a horse at a regular pace; to ride on a road (as opposed to riding cross-country etc.).
  60. verb: (obsolete) To live the life of a drudge or hack.
  61. verb: To use as a hack; to let out for hire.
  62. verb: To use frequently and indiscriminately, so as to render trite and commonplace.
  63. verb: To drive a hackney cab.
  64. noun: A small ball usually made of woven cotton or suede and filled with rice, sand, or some other filler, for use in hackeysack.
  65. verb: To play hackeysack.

 

 

 

Jane Is Not at the Gym

First, the tiny story:

Jane woke up with determination. She had recently embarked on a fitness journey and going to the gym had become a vital part of her routine. Today was no different, or so she thought. As she opened her curtains, she was met with a mesmerizing sight – snowflakes gently falling from the sky, creating a pristine white blanket on the ground.

Her initial excitement turned into a momentary dilemma. Jane loved the snow, but it posed a logistical challenge for her gym plans. She contemplated whether to brave the winter wonderland or take a day off from her workout routine. However, the thought of breaking her streak and succumbing to the cozy allure of her warm bed didn’t sit well with her.

Determined, Jane bundled up in layers, donning her thickest winter coat, a cozy hat, and gloves. She was ready to face the cold head-on. As she stepped outside, the crisp air filled her lungs, invigorating her spirit. The snow crunched beneath her boots as she walked, creating a symphony of winter sounds.

The gym was only a few blocks away, but the snowfall had transformed the familiar path into an enchanting landscape. Trees wore fluffy white coats, and rooftops glistened in the soft morning light. The world seemed to slow down, embracing a serene calmness that captivated Jane.

Despite the mesmerizing scenery, the journey to the gym proved more challenging than she anticipated. The sidewalks were slippery, and the snow made each step an adventure. Jane’s determination, however, remained unwavering. She pressed on, fueled by the desire to stay committed to her fitness goals.

As she finally reached the gym, she was greeted by a surprising sight – a few others had also braved the snow to pursue their fitness endeavors. The camaraderie among these winter warriors created a sense of unity, a shared commitment to health and wellness that transcended weather conditions.

The gym’s atmosphere was cozy, a stark contrast to the wintry landscape outside. Jane’s decision to face the snow had not only strengthened her resolve but also connected her with like-minded individuals who refused to let the weather dictate their choices.

That day, as Jane conquered her workout amidst the snowy backdrop, she realized that sometimes the most rewarding experiences emerge when one chooses determination over comfort. The snowy adventure to the gym became a memorable chapter in her fitness journey – a testament to her unwavering commitment and the unexpected beauty that lies in embracing challenges.

What is this? A commission, sort of. I asked ChatGPT to write a 405-word story on the topic of Jane wanting to go to the gym but wakes up to find it’s snowing. Assessment of the story? Not very good. It’s completely predictable. It’s grammatically correct but emotionally empty, descriptive but trite, free but unsellable.

Why? AI is a hot topic, and has been for some time. I’ve been using ChatGPT more or less like Google: asking it questions but getting answers that it generates rather than receiving a list of sources. For example, Flickr was my former supplier of photos that were open-sourced, as in free. It changed and doesn’t work easily anymore. I can ask Google for a list of providers, but because of SEO (search engine optimization). Yes, money again. It’s an internet marketing tool to improve traffic to websites. That’s all I know and understand nothing more.

What is AI? This is Wikipedia’s definition, but there are others. Most are commercial. Because there is money in it, the tech companies are glad to help you get connected to this resource to help your business to whatever it does easier, better, or something.

Why not? It’s different from plagiarism; no one else has written the story above. It doesn’t copy earlier work, thereby stealing someone’s work. No, it’s not your work either. When I explained plagiarism to students, I didn’t dwell on the concept of stealing, a moral issue. Even laziness isn’t relevant. Rather, a student is stealing from herself by failing to have the experience of research. That doesn’t even rise to the level of laziness. And yes, I have failed without reservation students who plagiarized. It wasn’t that I thought they were bad people. I just didn’t have their work to assess.

What is ChatGPT anyway? It stands for chat generative pre-trained transformer. Ask it to do something requiring words. It will respond instantly—with words. It can answer questions and offer resources. It’s free. It can be wrong. In a complicated legal case, a lawyer used it to find a relevant precedent case. ChatGPT responded with what looked like a great one, but it was completely made up. Gibberish, the operative word. The site does have a disclaimer, so be careful. The worst thing is that good, bad, or indifferent, human abilities may atrophy. Which leads to obesity as in Wall-E (2008). That is the least of our human woes.

Also, my name isn’t Jane, I didn’t wake up with determination, and my gym is closed for the holiday…

Opal Lee, #3

Texas began honoring Juneteenth in 1980, decades before the current holiday nationally established in 2021. Two earlier blogs about Opal Lee are here and here. The first was after the holiday was declared. I had just met Ms. Lee before the second. Now, it’s time for a third.

The news is good. Ms. Lee, now 97, is getting a special birthday present.

Three points today: How do we get the news? What is talent? What are we not doing that we could?

There is a news aggregator app called Ground News; you can subscribe for as little as $9.99 a year or use the app for free. I use the app. Rather than simply throw out stories, it goes the extra mile and shows who is publishing them, left, right, or center. And, therefore, who is reading or seeing what.

A brief “used to.” For years when I was growing up, we had morning and evening editions of the local paper, local evening news at 6 and 10, and national news. For years, Walter Cronkite dominated. He was, of course, a Texan. Born in Missouri, his family moved to Houston when he was 10. He attended the University of Texas and worked on the Daily Texan, as did my mother, sister, and brother. (A flattering, interesting feature here about the celebrated brother.) Cronkite wasn’t perfect, which we only learned after he retired, but who is? The country trusted him. These days, trust isn’t the issue. I’ve written about the fact people believe what they’re told in a theory called truth default. Rather, people read or see what they want to hear. Many don’t get any news at all, by choice. An entirely different subject, so back to the point.

Since I don’t watch or read local news, I learned a new story about Opal Lee from Ground News. None of the six articles are local, however. This one from Fort Worth is.

The news is wonderful. It comes full circle from the 1939 burning of her family’s Fort Worth home to Trinity Habitat for Humanity giving her the land back and building her a new one there. As she told one reporter, “I wanted to do a holy dance,” she said. “I’m a happy camper, girl, you cannot believe how happy I am!” This is great news. We should know it.

Now, a huge transition. How did Opal Lee become an instrument for this change? She walked, she talked, she wrote letters. The talent was not so much the action but the intention.

Talent is one of those hard to define words. Aptitude or endowment are two commonly used adjectives. It’s possible to have talent in everything from tying a nice bow to carving David, from completing a 1000-word puzzled to designing and building cathedrals.

My current obsession is with musicians. Technically, I am one, a bachelor’s degree from UT and history with the San Angelo Symphony. It’s not that I have either huge talent or thousands of hours of practice in the past decades. The “real” musicians are like the ones in airports and malls and town squares who sit at a piano and are joined by other real musicians, doing it all from memory and with great technique.

Here we have Gabriel Poisson playing with Ray Chen on YouTube. Chen comes up to Poisson and asks if he’s playing Vivaldi and if he can join: “I play quite fast.” An understatement. They then play a movement from “Summer” of The Four Seasons (which I know because I’m a musician). The entire sonata here by Mari Samuelson. Some parts are slow and reflective, after all. Or here by the same Ray Chen in a traditional setting played with other musicians. It is ecstatic and just a few minutes long. I can’t do anything resembling this, nor could I even with thousands of hours of practice.

So, what are we not doing instead? That’s the great thing about Opal Lee, once more. She walked. Her talent is her approach. She’s resolute and gracious. She talked. Her childhood experience was deeply saddening, on a personal level as well as a reflection on other Texans who ought to have been ashamed. She wrote. Her description of herself is “a little old lady in tennis shoes getting in everybody’s business.” My physics teacher, Claude Wooley, used that term often if something was clearly understandable. (He once threw an eraser at my head when I dozed off in class, narrowly missing.) Now that I am a little old lady sometimes in tennis shoes, I have no excuse really. I can walk and talk and write, for now at least. I can honor Opal Lee by doing some good, just doing some of those things.

Is the ‘Bonnet Back? Maybe.

Since weekly posts ended in May 2022, there have been fewer than 20 new ones. Five years of posts? 260. Let’s do the math: Not 280 posts because of repeats. Let’s say 270 posts times average word count of 750 = 202,500, give or take a thousand here and there. Guess how many words in a 300-page novel. Per this article from MasterClass: “A 300-page book will have approximately 82,500 words total. With consistency, it’s possible to reach that word count by writing 500 words per day, seven days a week, for about five and a half months.” (emphasis added)

The posts ended weekly because I was planning (word used loosely) to finish a novel called If Only…So continuing the math—202,500÷82,500=2.45454545∞.

So, Mary Ann, you might ask, “How many novels have you written since May 2022?” But you know the answer already: 0, nada, zilch. One innocent bystander asked a few months into the hiatus how the novel was coming along. My response was less than polite. Sorry, Brandon.

So, no novel? No, no novel. One chapter revised. Rather than launch into some discussion of guilt (I feel none) or character flaws (written about in the post about the October eclipse) or lack of inspiration (maybe just laziness, which circles back to character flaws), I will just say, “No. No novel. Some other writing here though not easily searchable. Some scholarly papers, including the prize-winning Shakespeare entry about Ad Fontes Media, the occasional poem. Nothing that any are big moneymakers like a novel might be. (I have vague plans for a writer’s retreat. One friend calls with recommendations. Others welcome.)

If the pressure of public accountability didn’t work, what would? I don’t know. So, I’m thinking the blog may be revived. It is writing, after all, and it’s good, honest work.

One reason may be this podcast: Unherd with John Vervaeke called “Rituals Are Rational.” I’ve listened to it twice. A friend I shared it with has listened twice. The topic? Far more than rituals or rationality. Nothing to do with religion. He touches on the concept of flow, defined here as it pertains to psychology. Another term is “being in the zone” which sounds more physical. At any rate, flow is to be desired. And finally, maybe that’s why the Syrup is considering a comeback: I enjoy how I feel when doing it.

Another side note: Today’s title reminded me of the 1963 song by The Angels called “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Not that it’s a good song, but catchy. One writer described it as “a handclappin’ mashed-potatoes-styled delighter…that can bust wide open in no time flat.” I don’t know what potatoes have to do with it, but it’s clever.

Who knows what 2024 will be like? Not gonna lie—it might be difficult. But as I’ve already discussed in an earlier post, growing up in the 1960s was rough. It’s just that I’ve got a bunch of precious people to worry about now. Happy New Year!

 

More Movies, a Play, a Poem, and a Sculpture

I don’t like “message” movies. In Love Story (1970), we are told that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It comes from both the dying girl and her husband to his father, who had opposed the marriage and didn’t offer financial aid when he learned of her terminal illness. It was a box office hit and had a decent theme song “Where Do I Begin?” sung here by Andy Williams. Soaring violins and improbable lyrics (“She fills my heart with very special things/With angels’ songs, with wild imaginings”) send this into the schmalz-o-sphere. The word “schmalz” comes from Yiddish and means melted fat, which I didn’t know. But the message of love-not-saying-sorry is false anyway.

Another movie even more terrible with both message and presentation is Noah (2014). Visually stunning, the film takes a bit more than four chapters in Genesis and stretches them into 2:18 hours that completely subvert the few verses there. Yes, Noah lived to be 950, but the movie has, quite literally, nothing to do with the original other than the title, some giants (in stone, pretty cool), and a lot of water. That’s the subversion. It completely perverts the message as well. In Genesis, God cleanses the world of sin and covenants not to do that again. In Noah, our lead wants to cleanse the world of people: “You, Japheth, you will be the last man. And in time you, too, will return to the dust. Creation will be left alone, safe and beautiful.” It doesn’t happen, since obviously we are all here, but that’s just because twin granddaughters—whom he wanted to kill initially—soften his heart.

The movie for today is The Shift (2023). Produced by Angel Studios, it is a loose retelling of the Book of Job. I’d never heard of it until a friend told me she liked this “impossible to explain” version that Wikipedia describes as a “Christian science fiction thriller.” The shifting is between multiverses, of course, which reminds us of others like Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). Wikipedia described that one as “an absurdist science fiction comedy-drama.” Perhaps we should just give up on categories. While the story of Noah takes 83 short verses, Job is a complex, sophisticated 42-chapter work. And the movie probably takes that “loosely based” too literally.

So what’s to like? The power of saying “No.” The main character, Kevin, has just lost his job and goes to a bar to break his years of sobriety when a woman comes over on a dare. They decide to go for tea instead, as she also is trying not to drink. But that’s not where the movie begins: We see Kevin struggling to get out of a lake, bleeding and distraught, only to watch him disappear inexplicably. The bar seems almost comforting after that. The two fall in love, marry, and lose a young son. Kevin is about to lose his job again when a car accident leaves him bloodied and confused. A slick rescuer who calls himself The Benefactor (Neal McDonough) then reveals Kevin has the opportunity to have everything—wealth, power, happiness—if he is willing to take the unenviable job of torturing others. The actual method also involves shifting, but it doesn’t really make much sense. The Benefactor lets Kevin do a trial run, and the waitress Tina gets zapped away to a reality where her parents never met so she doesn’t exist and will live in a mental health ward.

Kevin begins to pray and does not take the offer. Not unlike Harry Potter (‘’the boy who lived”), Kevin becomes the Kevin who said no. Most of the action is in a grim, post-apocalyptic nightmare where he’s sick and no one has enough food. Entertainment is the rare opportunity to see one’s self in other universes, sometimes happy, usually not. He wants his life back (spoiler alert) although that cannot happen because of statistically impossible reasons (I think). But because he said no to the devil (spoiler also—The Benefactor is clearly Satan), Kevin has power over him. Offered his old life back plus power and wealth and etc if he will torture others, same old offer, Kevin must not just reject the offer but choose between his old life altered to include that meanness or saving the waitress Tina from a life in an asylum, he articulates as clearly as I’ve ever seen the definition of evil: selfishness. It is wrenching, but when he says “Tina. Of course Tina,” we see the power of good prevail. Kevin is then back in a bar where he sees the woman he loves trying not to drink a beer. We then get flash forwards of his new, happy life.

So, it’s not a perfect movie. Too much talking, too little showing one critic wrote. Too many unexplained goings on. I found it empowering and uplifting. In explaining evil, Kevin must also explain that good isn’t just handing out a little food or money here and there. It’s much, much more.

Now for some asides. Years ago, I read an Archibald MacLeish play called J.B., also based on Job. Again, a loose adaptation, but as with Noah, hope is lost in anything beyond ourselves. Love prevails, but without context, without God. This excellent review in Commentary magazine from 1958 suggests that the poetry of the play (yes, it’s in verse) cannot compare to the language of Job, and the love that exists on its own cannot parallel the greatness of God, whom MacLeish allows to exist, but without power: “He does not love. He is.” The concluding speech is, simply, sad:

Blow on the coal of the heart.
The candles in churches are out.
The lights have gone out in the sky.
Blow on the coal of the heart
And we’ll see by and by. . . .

And the trivia: The name Kevin means “handsome” but there is also a St. Kevin. Perhaps you knew. Seamus Heaney, the famous Irish poet, has a little narrative about St. Kevin’s miracle that is also about doing the right thing. His famous fable was to hold his arm out his window where a blackbird landed, nested, hatched, and fledged her babies. You can hear Heaney read it here as you follow along. And as these things often happen, the sculptor of this St. Kevin is Timothy Schmalz.