Monday, December 26, 2011

"Centering around"

Does anyone else share my distaste for this phrase? It seems contradictory. One can center "on" something. One can place items "around" things, and people can gather "around". But how can one "center around"? Enough of that short rant.


This will be posted on "Boxing Day". (I apologize for the delay in a recent posting, but normally we post on Monday, so that the blog is available on Tuesday mornings in all the time zones in which my readers reside.) In the UK, Boxing Day is a recognized holiday--not in the US. Because Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, December 26 will be a Public Holiday here. My calendar notes "Christmas Observed", which isn't exactly how I would state it.

Traditionally, December 26 was the day when wealthier Brits would give their Christmas "boxes" to their servants and to the tradesmen and public servants who delivered goods, newspapers, and mail to their homes. When I was an employer in my insurance brokerage business, I handed out bonuses earlier, so that everyone had some money enough to go shopping for gifts and goodies before the holiday. These days, the letter carrier and the paper deliverer, the house cleaner, and our two wonderful assistants are the main recipients.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


A few years ago, hurrying to make a connection at Dulles Airport, I was struggling with a heavy carry-on, and I keeled over. I was soon up and on my way, but I felt weak and humiliated. A year or two later, I rebelled at Barbara's suggestion that perhaps I should take advantage of a wheelchair. Who, me? I was only 80. Sure, I can't walk as well as I used to do, but I'm otherwise healthy...

I began by just using a cane, but sometimes it's a long walk, and I began to need an arm, and it was hard to manipulate a "wheelie", and walk the long distances to be found at many airports.

Now, I don't own a wheelchair: not much use in the Berkeley hills. I do have a "walker", which I reluctantly use on level ground. But it wasn't easy to realize that it was as much for Barbara's sake as my own that I should stop relying on her arm and a cane, but should ask for a wheelchair at airports.

I do that now, and I have learned that there are compensations. Mostly we fly on Southwest, and we are both "pre-boarded", so we can choose seats in the second row. I take the aisle, and she takes the window. With luck, there's a vacant seat between us. We have met many interesting immigrants who push my wheelchair, and they are always grateful for the tip we give them. .

I have found flight attendants uniformly friendly, courteous, and helpful. Yes, having learned to accept my disability, I find air travel not that bad--although I do miss the "good old days" when I could check in a few minutes before take-off without having to go through "security".

Monday, December 12, 2011


Growing up in England, I always associated poppies with November 11, Armistice Day. When I was about 3, WWI had ended just a dozen years earlier, still much within the memories of all adults. On Armistice Day, one was expected to contribute to the British Legion in exchange for a red poppy. The larger the poppy, the more one gave. I recall we also contributed for a poppy to display on each of our cars. We were told that red poppies were features of the Flanders fields on which so many of our countrymen had fallen, during what we called the Great War.

The British have moved the commemoration to an adjacent Sunday, which is called "Remembrance Sunday". I am told that Armistice Day is still observed, but that the emphasis now falls on the Sunday.

Whereas the Flanders poppies are an attractive shade of red, our State Flower in California is the golden poppy. In many areas, these grow profusely, but an early lesson for me was that there is a state law against picking those beautiful poppies..

We think positively about those red and golden poppies, but there is another poppy which usually elicits a negative reaction: the opium poppy. I had often read about fruitless attempts to eradicate this important cash crop, and so I always had a very negative feeling about opium poppies. Recently, a good friend told me about the time (towards the end of the 19th century) in which the attitude towards opium was far more benign. A lot of paraphernalia is needed for opium smokers, and in its heyday this drug had many admirers, who became collectors of expensive equipment used by opium smokers. I was told that, although opium can be addictive, and those who abuse the drug often become very "lazy", for most smokers the effect is not harmful or lasting. They become very relaxed and carefree. My informant told me that it was commonplace for friends to share a pipe after a dinner party, much as smoking a cigar (after the ladies had left the dining room) was normal, during the years when I was growing up.

I seldom see poppies now: the opium poppy is illegal, I mustn't pick the golden poppy, and there aren't many red poppies around my home.

Monday, December 5, 2011


It has been many years since I have attended my last pantomime, a form of entertainment primarily enjoyed by the British. My experiences are mainly from London in the years before WWII, but the peculiar art form of the pantomime continued to flourish 50 years ago, and probably still does. Other major cities, such as Birmingham and Manchester, have their own productions.

Pantomimes have names that are familiar to most British children, usually relating to fairy stories or legends. Some examples are: Dick Whitington and His Cat; Puss in Boots; Little Red Riding Hood; Sleeping Beauty; and Beauty and the Beast.

There are certain additions to this entertainment. It is primarily designed to attract families with young children, and performances begin in December, lasting into at least early January, when many school children are on holiday.

The plot is usually very loosely based on the traditional story. Almost always there is a Principal Boy, (played by an attractive young woman in tights), and a Principal Girl, usually wearing a pretty dress. There is usually a Dame, played by an older man. There may be a horse (played by two men as "front legs" and "hind legs").

The Dame is usually played by a famous comedian; in some instances, a pair of comedians appear.

The show is designed to make use of popular songs. Any relationship to the plot is strictly coincidental.

A typical ending will bring the Principal Boy and Principal Girl together, perhaps singing a duet.

The humor (especially as introduced by the Dame) if often broad, but never quite obscene. The young people I knew usually tired of the "treat" of attending a pantomime after puberty. However, I did have one more experience of a pantomime. I was living and working in London after graduating from Oxford. Almost every week my best friend (Perry Calwell), also a graduate of Oxford, and I would visit a "settlement house". These were establishments to be found in the poorer quarters of a city, largely used by young people as a place to gather and entertain themselves. A few staff members, typically young university graduates, lived on the premises, while working at jobs in central London, a short bus ride or tube journey from the settlement house.

Perry and I, with support from the staff, decided to write and perform a pantomime one year. We soon faced the problem that one could never count on the appearance of cast members at our weekly rehearsals. Perry and I spent a lot of time and many evenings working on this project, despite our frustrations. We convinced ourselves that our efforts were worthwhile, as they did serve to keep a good many teenagers "out of trouble".

We did eventually put on a performance, which (despite it's major shortcomings) was very successful. At the end, Perry and I agreed that this was the last time we would try to put on a pantomime. I have not attended one since.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I have a special drawer where I keep advance tickets for the four musical groups and one theatrical company to which we subscribe. Recently, I searched feverishly for tickets for an upcoming concert by one of the Bay Area's outstanding early-music group Voices of Music. It was a productive search, because it turned up several out-of-date brochures, etc, which I was glad to recycle. But the tickets? Nah...

Fortunately, when I called the organizers, it was explained to me that I had to go online to download the tickets. Where online? She didn't have time then to explain, but she kindly promised to tell the ticket takers to let us in. That worked! We greatly enjoyed the program, including the work of the tenor, Thomas Cooley, in a program of Purcell's vocal and instrumental compositions.(Voices of Music offers a free High Definition online example of its work: go to, and check it out.)

This is the second time that I have had so-called "tickets", that are actually simply printouts. I am accustomed to obtaining boarding passes for airline flights this way, but I don't like that system of obtaining "tickets" for artistic events. I am sure it saves printing costs for the organization, but I unrealistically wish that there were an option to receive real tickets.

This year, another organization has begun to require us to print out tickets, and for that concert series I have already printed out the paper tickets. When we attended a recent performance, I handed those clumsy sheets of paper to the ticket collector. I had hardly walked forward more than six paces before she came running towards me, saying "Here are your tickets!". We have reserved seats, and I really didn't want those printouts again: no one was going to attempt to occupy our seats, but obediently, I stuffed those sheets of paper into a pants pocket, anxious to recycle them as soon as we returned home.

There is a special feel about a pasteboard ticket, which I really like: it's a foretaste of future pleasure. Also, they don't take up much space. I can put them in a small envelope, and find them on the day of the performance. I do not look forward to the day when every artistic organization decides to save a few bucks by having subscribers print out "tickets" on those wretched pieces of computer paper.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wiki leaks

It's old news now, but do you remember the spirited defense put up by the Wikileaks founder, Julian Asange, when he was criticized for publishing supposedly secret diplomatic cables? I didn't agree with him at the time, although he had a point: that too much was being kept from the public. I was especially distressed when a further batch was released, in which the names of informants were not "redacted" (edited out), thus endangering informants and lessening the likelihood that we would obtain further good intelligence in the future.

I thought of these happenings recently. It seems that a well-known person had written a memoir, presumably for future publication after some possible revision. It seems that someone had obtained the draft material, and was selling it to an eager public. The memoirist is reported to have taken major umbrage at this, complaining bitterly at the leak. Such complaints will probably help the "thief" to sell more copies of the purloined material.

Who was the angry author? Ironically, it was Julian Asange.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Toothpaste, Eggs, and Fruit

I recently needed to use some toothpaste from a tube that belongs to my wife. It had been squeezed from the middle.

Instinctively, I squeezed from the bottom up. It just seemed tidier that way! When I stop to think about it, I know it makes no real difference, but this pathetic example of my rigidity made me think of similar idiosyncrasies.

Any sane person taking an egg or two from a box of a dozen just takes one out without worrying about symmetry. Not Nigel! Half the time, when there is an odd number of eggs, absolute symmetry is impossible. But I always move eggs from one side to as close to the center as possible. With ten eggs, I leave one "top right" and one "bottom left", and so forth. I kid myself that centering the eggs reduces the likelihood of one or more eggs spilling. Come on! When has an egg been broken just because the eggs in the box are arranged haphazardly?

If I'm (say) arranging fruit in a bowl, it has to be evenly set out. That could mean all the apples together and likewise the oranges and the plums. Or maybe apple, orange. plum--then apple, orange plum again. It has to be a regular pattern!

You could say I am obsessively compulsive--or just anally retentive. Maybe. I simply like things arranged in an orderly fashion.

Would I behave this way if every move were monitored? I don't know. Maybe it stems from the time I trained as a Naval Officer, when we formed up for "Divisions" (a parade). the tallest took their place at the ends of the line; the shortest (usually me) in the center. Again, when putting books in a bookshelf, I typically "size" them, with the shortest in the middle--unless there are several books from a set, in which case they belong together.

Sometimes I remind myself of the character "Felix Ungar" (as spelled in the play and the movie: he became "Unger" in the TV series). as acted by Jack Lemmon in The Odd Couple. He is described as neurotic, neat, and uptight. I don't claim to be neat, however.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Standing Ovations, by Richard Reynolds

I normally write every word of my blogs, but this is an exception. I totally agree with the writer's viewpoint, so I am naming him and forwarding his comments. Barbara and I attended the Berkeley Symphony concert which inspired his words.

Richard Reynolds is a French horn player and longtime member of the Berkeley Symphony and other orchestras. His report first appeared in the Berkeley Daily Planet online.

We’ve all been there.

The concert ends, the applause begins. A well-dressed woman up front (the chair of the board?) stands up. The other board members see her standing, and they stand up too.

Other audience members see people in front standing up, and they begin to stand as well. The conductor or soloist bows to the audience and exits stage right. By the time she returns, most of the audience is standing.

This is all wrong.

It misses the point.

A standing-ovation performance is one in which you are so excited at the end that the only possible action is to leap to your feet. If you have to think about it, forget it. The performance doesn’t deserve a standing ovation.

Bay Area audiences are way too ready to rise to their feet at the end of a performance. I have, on occasion, given in to the crowd and joined in when everyone around me has risen to his or her feet, but I do so grudgingly, and if I saw nothing exceptional about the performance, I will remain seated.

Last Thursday, when Johannes Moser performed the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Berkeley Symphony, I didn’t have to think about it. Like most of the audience, I jumped to my feet before the last hair on his bow had snapped. Moser grabbed that concerto by the throat at the very beginning and never let go until he was finished.

It was a tour de force. I suppose one could take issue with the way he nearly threw his bow into the air when completing a particularly energetic phrase, but it never felt like theatrics. He was immersed in the concerto throughout.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Treat or Trick?

Of course there's no way anyone is going to change the hallowed Halloween formula, but think about it: the first option is for the caller to receive a treat. Only if none is forthcoming is the caller supposed to perform a trick on the householder.

In practice, very few tricks are played, because almost all households are prepared to offer candy or other Treat. Can readers ever remember any tricks being played? I believe that most collectors of Treats don't have potential Tricks to play.

If you don't want to give out Treats, it's wise to be out of the house. It's really not kosher to trick an absent householder. If you want to challenge the caller, probably the best thing to do is to have lights on, music playing, and avoid opening the door. What would the caller do? Maybe turn over a garbage can. If one is a polluter, unraveling a length of TP is a possibility. Vandalism might tempt a teenager, but is unlikely from a child under ten.

Another point occurred to me when I was thinking about the annual conclusion to October: the phrase is really mixed up. The one treating doesn't trick. Fortunately, we don't have to hear "Give me a Treat, or I will Trick you". So, I guess we are stuck with: "Trick or Treat".

Monday, October 24, 2011


Barbara's multi-talented musical daughter, Laurie Lewis, celebrated the centennial of the birth of Bill Monroe, the inventor of Bluegrass music, by organizing two successive nights of his music, either written by him or notable for his performance of it. This was at the beautiful newish venue of the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, in downtown Berkeley. What was described as the "core band" (Laurie, Tom Rozum, Chad Manning, Patrick Sauber, and a bass-player, filling in for the recently-departed Andrew Conklin) was supplemented by such old friends as Kathy Kallick and Keith Little. We attended both nights.

By now, I am accustomed to the practice of applauding "breaks"--brief solos on a single instrument. When I first began listening to jazz, from about 1940, it was the recorded music of such greats as Muggsy Spanier, Bix Beiderbecke, and Louis Armstrong, and any such breaks in a studio performance were free of audience appreciation. Only when I listened to live music did I hear folk clapping after an inspired impromptu break.

The practice of applauding breaks has certainly spread to Bluegrass. It's commonplace for each solo instrumentalist to take a short break in almost every number. There's a scatter of applause every time--too frequently, in my personal opinion. It has become a routine, and I can't see any change happening in my lifetime. It would take a major change to limit the applause to imaginative improvisation, where the applause really belongs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Three commercial artists

When I attended my British-style (age 8 to 13) prep school, one of my fellow students, about a year younger than I, was "Gilroy". We knew each other by our last names, and I have no recall of his first name, any more than I have of his father, but the latter was at the height of his fame. This arose primarily from his ads for Guinness, the famous brand of Stout. These featured the Toucan, which didn't seem to have much relationship to the product. They mentioned (suggestively, but I was too young to understand) "You know what Toucan do".

The Bateman family lived in Reigate, as we did, but I hardly knew H.M. Bateman, the famous cartoonist. I knew his two daughters, Diana and Monica, from attending parties when we were young. At the age of seventeen, I thought it was time for me to have a "girlfriend". In those innocent days, this was more of a "pen pal" relationship than anything else. I do remember that Monica was visiting with us, and accompanied my mother to Devonport, to say goodbye to me when I left for a tour of duty in the Far East.

Perhaps the most famous of the many cartoons that H.M. Bateman contributed to Punch and other magazines was the one which showed a jubilant member of Lloyd's chortling, while everyone else was looking gloomy. The caption read The Underwriter who missed the Total Loss.

The third famous commercial artist is our neighbor, Ralph McQuarrie, whose chief claim to fame is his work for George Lucas, especially in creating many of the characters in Star Wars. Ralph kindly gave us an original painting, showing a beautiful dying flower. Alas, Ralph has been suffering from Parkinson's disease for some time now, and can no longer exercise his artistry. Nevertheless, I think that his work on such characters as R2D2 will live on for many years.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Meeting Ladybird Johnson

In June, 1976, when my elder son Jeremy had just graduated from Berkeley High School at the age of 17, we celebrated by taking a camping trip together.. We shared the driving, and covered a lot of ground. It was an exciting trip, because as we left Craters of the Moon National Monument, we began hearing reports that the Teton Dam had ruptured, causing widespread flooding.near Rexburg, Idaho. This was on our route to Teton National Park!

We found a camping spot, and spent a short night there in our sleeping bags. (We had no tent) It was in late June, and we were north and east of Berkeley, so our watches (not yet reset to Mountain Time) told us that it it was only about 4 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time when I awoke at dawn, and told a reluctant Jeremy that we should be on our way.

We were able to drive into Rexburg without difficulty, and soon found a diner, where we had a good breakfast, and checked for local news. We found that we could drive past what was left of the dam, toward Grand Teton National Park. That's a very beautiful area, but this isn't a detailed account of our trip, so i'll move along to our visit to nearby Yellowstone.National Park, which we eagerly explored, seeing all the variety of wildlife.and other features, such as Old Faithful.

We drove up to a viewpoint, where a river runs far below. We were almost alone, but I soon recognized Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had died three and a half years earlier. Ladybird was accompanied by just one staff person, who didn't intercept us, as moved forward to introduce ourselves. There was no-one else in the immediate vicinity, and Ladybird was friendly and welcoming. We chatted with her for a few minutes, probably talking about the dam break and the beauty of our surroundings. I don't recall Jeremy's reaction: I'll send him a copy of this, and see what he remembers. To me, it was a highlight: one doesn't often get to chat to a former First Lady. I'll always remember her gracious Texan manner to a pair of Californians, met in a corner of Wyoming.. .

Meeting Jimmy Carter

It was several years after the end of his Presidency, but he still liked to "press the flesh". I preferred to fly into Gatwick on my visits to the UK, because it was much less crowded than Heathrow, before the buildings of Terminals 4 and 5 there. This meant flying on Delta and changing planes in Atlanta, but in those days my mother was still alive, and the drive from Gatwick to where she was living in Kent was much shorter than that from the larger airport.

My seat in Business Class was on the right side of the plane, but after boarding I noticed Jimmy Carter working down the left side from his seat in First Class, shaking hands with the passengers. It's not every day that one gets a chance to meet a former President of the United States, so I moved over to an empty seat on the left side of the plane. Sure enough, Carter walked into the middle section of the plane, and began greeting the passengers there. Soon he was shaking my hand, and telling me what a pleasure it was to travel with me that day. Content now that I had something to report to my wife, I moved back to my assigned seat on the right side of the plane.

Carter walked back into the crowded Coach class section, and continued to shake hands as if he were still running for election. When he reached the rear of the plane, he started walking back, shaking hands with everyone sitting on the right side of the plane. When he reached Business Class again, I felt somewhat embarrassed, but he clearly didn't recognize me or catch on to what I had done. Once again, he shook hands warmly, and told me what a pleasure it was for him to be traveling with me today!

Yes, I did have something to tell Barbara when she met me at SFO later that day!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A perfect squelch

Because Barbara's multi-talented daughter, Laurie Lewis, was appearing (as she does every year) at Not Strictly Bluegrass, we went over to Golden Gate Park a few years ago, and joined the crowds.This is an annual event, free to the public, funded entirely by the generosity of wealthy financier Warren Hellman, who also happens to be an enthusiastic banjo player with a band called The Wronglers. Warren pays the performers generously: Laurie says it is her best- paying gig of the year, and I have heard unconfirmed reports that it costs Warren some $2 million annually.

The Main Stage featured headliners like Emmy Lou Harris and Joan Baez that year, but Laurie was playing at the next level, on a stage about a quarter of a mile away. Barbara & I walked along a quiet path towards Laurie's location, and then I saw Warren and a friend walking toward us.

Laurie had introduced me to Warren elsewhere, though I don't believe he recognized me. I had also met him at an Investment Forum, put on by the San Francisco Foundation, for which he was an important member of its Investment Committee. I hadn't expected to run in to him, and I wanted to add my voice to those who expressed their gratitude to him for his gift to the people of San Francisco.

I blurted out "Warren, I didn't expect to see you here" (meaning, to encounter him along a lonely path). Immediately, he replied "I don't know why not. After all, it is my party". Then they were off, leaving me speechless, embarrassed, and feeling pretty stupid.

A perfect squelch.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Elephant Heels

I had been chatting with a church friend (now deceased) in a distant state, and realized that her husband would soon be there for dinner with their two children. I asked her what they would be eating. She said "Elephant Heela".Huh? What did she mean. She laughed, and explained that this was the family's private name for leftovers.

I am reminded of that, because I am writing this at our house in Colorado. Since we were last here in May, we have lent the place to three different sets of people. We invite them to help themselves to what they find: we don't want them having to shop for (say) pepper and other spices. What happens is that they buy groceries and don't finish them. so they leave them in our refrigerator.

When we arrive, being "frugal" (to put it mildly) we consider it our duty to finished opened containers. Hummus, for instance, would never be my first choice for a lunch item, but when we found three different containers of it, I have cheerfully been eating it with some very tasty crackers. My more usual choice of baguette, Black Forest Ham, and a good cheese, has had to wait.

I do transport small quantities of foodstuffs by air, between Boulder County and Berkeley, and vice versa. This isn't a problem with checked baggage, but on the way to Colorado, my carry-on bag was searched, and a container of cream cheese (with chives and onions) was confiscated. Why? The TSA person said it was "liquid". Huh? A mite viscous, methinks. I didn't argue, but I did wonder whether it would end up spread on someone's bagel. But I digress.

Another place where visitors leave items is the shower. An amazing variety of shampoos, conditioners, skin lotions, and the like are there. Some of these we'll use--but we did throw out some bright red unidentifiable pills. that found their way to my desk.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


The past participle of the verb "to pass" is very useful. Sometimes, it's very positive, such as when one has "passed the Bar" or "passed one's driving test.

Sometimes it's neutral, as in "We passed your house on our way into town",
Sometimes it's ambiguous, depending on one's point of view, as in "The Senate passed the re-authorization bill".

Sometimes it's descriptive, as in "Smith passed the ball to Jones, who promptly scored".

Sometimes it's part of unhappy news, such as "Tom drank two more shots of whiskey, and then passed out"

Sometimes it's sad, as in "my husband passed away last month"

Lately, I have noticed increasing use of the euphemism "passed", unqualified, meaning "died". If it is someone's belief that there is some sort of future life (such as the Christian concept of Heaven), I have no quarrel with their belief that a loved one has "passed" on to another place. However, far too often it is people who have no such faith that say someone has "passed". If they "passed", what was their destination?.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Three small gripes

1. For some months now, our daily newspaper has come with one page wider than the rest. Presumably, the newspaper makes additional advertising revenue by using this extra strip of paper for an ad. I personally doubt that there is much value in this for the advertiser or for the newspaper, and I find it quite annoying that the pages are not cut flush. This makes it harder to fold up the paper neatly.

2. Tiny sticky labels now appear on most pieces of store-bought fruit. Few consumers will base their decision on whether or not to buy the fruit, based on those labels. They are a nuisance to remove, and to dispose of properly. I especially deplore them on soft fruit, as removing them easily causes bruising and tearing of the skin. They are even worse than the larger ads, such as the one stuck to the front page of my morning newspaper, offering a discount on men's underwear. Grrr!

3. When I order refills of my prescription drugs by mail, it saves a trip to the pharmacy, standing in line, and paying with cash or by credit card. (The mailing center has my card on file, and doesn't charge for mailing.) So far, so good. But when the package arrives, the problem begins. The pharmacy use a sealed plastic bag, almost impossible to tear open--I need to use a knife or letter opener to pierce the envelope, which I can then tear open. What do I find inside, in addition to the refill? Four or five pages of paper with cautions and instructions, which go directly into our paper recycling container.

 When I picked up the first batch of the pills at the pharmacy, I had to wait for a qualified pharmacist to take me aside (for confidentiality), and listen to her spiel about the need to take just one pill at the same time each day, with food; if i missed one dose, not to take two the next day, and so on, blah, blah, blah. Now I, of all people, having trained countless architects and engineers about professional liability loss prevention, well understand why drug dispensers have to do this, but do they have to send me the same information in writing every few months? Couldn't they just insert a note along these lines? "Our records show that you received instructions on the use of this medication on May 31, 2003. If you would like to be reminded of these instructions, please call 800--111-9999 during regular business hours (M-F, 8-5)."  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spy in the Office

It is no secret that those very useful Search Engines have sophisticated programs to harvest what we type, to help target "audiences" for products. I don't have a fetish for privacy, and I don't buy much "stuff" these days. That analysis of my online activity shows that I'm a Classical music and travel lover, comfortably off, retired and married Episcopalian with an interest in environmental causes and our grandchildren, is fine by me. I don't visit porno sites, seek extramarital liaisons, or even do much online shopping: I'm not of great interest to marketers.

Lately, I've noticed some innovations that bring home how pervasive is this "eavesdropping" on my jottings. When I open email from certain sites, such as a church-related list-serv, a warning appears, to the effect that the purported sender may not be the actual sender. So far, after a couple of hundred of these warnings, every listed sender has been the real sender. Further, when I do receive spam (a rare occurrence), I can readily identify it. Most of this "malware" invasion comes from Canadian drugstores, anxious to undercut Kaiser's pharmacy, and trade illegally with mail..

I tolerate these intrusions for two reasons: in theory, they are for my protection but, more significantly, I can't prevent them and continue to use.such programs.

Much worse is another "helpful" new feature. Let's say I have sent a message to Tom, Dick, and Harry, and on some future date choose to send an email to Tom alone. On the screen will appear a message: "Consider sending this also to Dick and Harry."
Dognabit, if I had wanted to include them I would have done so! Do you take me as hopelessly incompetent, just because you know I'm an octogenarian, and thus may be suffering from the onset of some form of senile dementia? Couldn't I at least opt out of this pushy kibitzer's "suggestions"? Is there an app for that? Bah!

Oh, well! If I were more technically savvy, I could design a program that automatically generated a response that said (say) "Stay out of my emails, Nosey Parker". Alas, that would probably trigger an immediate reply, offering me 50% off the regular price of an online Anger Management class...

Edit! Edit!

I guess I may as well post another "gripe", to get them all out of my system. This relates to the courteous way to send a reply to an email.

The only sensible reason to send back previous messages is to leave just enough to assist the reader to understand one's response. Unfortunately, too many folk just hit the Reply button, and type away.

If there's just one message, it's not much of a problem, but I belong to several church-related groups, and often a topic is commented on by many different people--and, on many occasions, the thread will contain more than one message from the same source.

Last week, I received a message on a very long thread. There were five previous messages in the same thread, and they weren't all brief. I had to spend what seemed like two minutes scrolling, scrolling, to get to the first message so that I could delete the long string of peoples' opinions.

Hence my request to those who post: edit you response, please!

Monday, August 15, 2011


When I didn't have a computer, I sometimes passed the time by using a deck of cards, for what in the UK we called "Patience". In the US, we usually call solo games "Solitaire".

For some years now, I have been restricting myself to one hand of "Free Cell" a day, to control my addiction to the game. However, when I began playing this game a few years ago, I didn't really "get it". The version of it that I now play online, allows one to go back to start if one gets "stuck", or to go back a few steps if you see a better way out. With that, I brought my success average from somewhere around 50% up to about 98%. However, unless you restart at zero, the statistics continue to build up game after game. Recently, I worked up from that low level, as far as 90%. I recently achieved that level, including all those old sub-par games.

At that point, I decided to try to start all over. Unfortunately, there was some kind of problem with the system so that I found it hard to delete the last unsuccessful game. It kept appearing every time that I tried to restart from scratch. (Every time you have to abandon an incomplete game, that's one loss in the statistics.) Finally, I found that there were some controls that I could apply, so that I could start over at zero. At the time of writing, I am still at 100%, but that reflects only 26 successful games out of 26 tries!

I know that in due course I will come across insoluble deals, and I'm ready for that. I just never want to fall below 95% again!

Monday, August 8, 2011


I don't think I have ever met a cheese I didn't enjoy. I'm not fond of Norway's gjeitost, a sweetish brown cheese. (According to legend, the Norwegians managed to keep this foodstuff from German hands during WW2, by telling them it was laundry soap!) My other favorite Norwegian cheese is Jarlsberg, as long as it hasn't dried hard.

We buy almost all our cheese from The Cheeseboard, a North Berkeley institution that maintains a large selection--and also grants a generous discount to "senior citizens", which increases every decade. Barbara & I now receive 20% discount. (At 100, we are told "What you see is what you get". Fifteen years to go!)

The Cheeseboard was closed last week for a short vacation, and so I had to buy some of its outstanding pizza, needed for last Saturday, ahead of time, and freeze it. I am also addicted to their baguettes and English muffins, but this blog is about cheese.

There are several hundred cheeses from France alone. What follows are some of the great cheeses i have personally enjoyed, from several different countries. I haven't included grated cheeses: this is just about

I enjoy many English cheeses. Lately one of my favorites, the orange-colored Shropshire Blue, has been tasting especially good. I like it as an alternative to another all-time favorite, Stilton. Another favorite is Cotswold with Chives.

Californians love Brie, and I am fond of it when it is ripe, but I really prefer Camembert. Another favorite French cheese is Bleu d'Auvergne. I mustn't forget Boursin, Epoisses, Roquefort, or Tomme de Savoie.

From Germany comes Cambazola, from Switzerland Gruyère, Appenzell, and Emmenthal, from Italy Gorgonzola, and from Greece Feta.

Sharp Canadian Cheddar often beats all except artisanal English cheddar. Old Quebec is delicious, a nose ahead of Black Diamond to my taste. They are very similar to Vermont's Cabot.

And, yes, I do enjoy Wisconsin's version of Limburger....

There's a French saying that goes somewhat like this: a meal without cheese is like a woman with only one eye. (Well, it sounds better in French.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Meeting John Stott

This great English evangelist died recently, and the papers have carried helpful obituaries. They list some online biographies, and I was delighted to read one that gave credit to The Rev E.J.H. Nash (known as "Bash" to all who knew him) for influencing John when he was a Cambridge undergraduate. This brought up some happy memories. I first knew them both, over 70 years ago.

In those days, "Bash" was the chief organizer of the "VPS Camps". These were under the auspices of the Children's Special Services Missions, which ran Evangelical activities at the seaside during the summer holidays (vacations).

"VPS" stood for "Varsity and Public Schools". They issued a short prospectus, which used the word "Christian" just once.
They promised recreation and supervision, designed to attract parents who could afford the relatively modest expense, and were content to part with their sons for a spell during the school vacations. (If there was an equivalent opportunity for girls, I have no idea!)

These "camps" were held at a minor public school (Clayesmore), located in the village of Iwerne Minster, in the county of Dorset. Boys were told to bring their bicycles, and take a train to a small station (Semley), a few miles north of Clayesmore. There they were met by one of the staff; luggage was put into a vehicle, and the boys cycled down to the school.

I was recruited for my first camp in the summer of 1940 by a wonderful teacher, Harold Elborne, known as "Jumbo" to the campers. "Mr. Elborne" was the "Maths Master" (teacher) at my excellent Prep School, Port Regis, which flourishes to this day. He also taught Scripture and Engineering. For many years, "Jumbo" was one of a few older members of Bash's staff, most of whom ( including John Stott) were undergraduates.

It was wartime, and in the summer we worked for about five hours a day as farm laborers, with a break for a packed lunch and a soft drink. (In the other vacations, we did "forestry", clearing brush, etc.) But the real purpose of the camp soon became clear: to indoctrinate us to become evangelical Christians. The efforts were unrelenting--but I still had a great time, and returned some ten times. I learned a lot about the bible and other aspects of the Christian life. I just didn't "buy" the fundamentalism of the evangelical wing of the Church of England.

John Stott was impressive, even then, clearly the most promising of Bash's young men.

His mother took him as a boy to All Souls, Langham Place, in the West End of London, and that remained the center of his church life, as curate, vicar, and emeritus, during the many years when he was traveling all over the world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Several jurisdictions in the US have introduced--or talked of introducing--legislation to ban male circumcision. It is suggested that this is in line with changing attitudes, so that this is seen as preventing the mutilation of a human body before the child involved can decide for himself. Such a proposal is reported to be on the November ballot in San Francisco. There is also talk of a proposed State law that would prevent such a proposal as the one proposed for San Francisco.

I can't imagine that such an ordinance would pass without an exception on religious grounds, which would permit the mohel to continue to practice his trade. We are assured that this isn't an idea that's really "anti-semitic", that misleading phrase which is the euphemistic version of anti-Jewish.

I was not circumcised as an infant--or later, even!--but my sons were, soon after birth, as was generally routine fifty years ago in local hospitals. I don't think the doctor waited until the eighth day, since the procedure was being undertaken for "hygienic reasons" I sometimes wondered whether this practice was influenced by Jewish doctors, but we were told that there are health reasons for this procedure, largely for a reduced chance of certain cancerous conditions. It occurs to me that Jewish boys were not circumcised by an obstetrician, but were "done" in accordance with religious tradition.

Personally, I find this ritual to be unfortunate, and a relic from a more primitive age. But I am not Jewish, and this is not my business. It is interesting to me that not only Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed Jews continue this practice, but many secular Jews, who may never darken the door of a synagogue, continue the practice. Any move to change what is clearly significant to virtually all Jews, would need to start somewhere, and it seems to me extremely unlikely that this would happen in the foreseeable future.

For the rest of us, I don't think that an absolute prohibition is desirable. Nowadays, I tend to prefer adult baptism, rather than the more traditional infant baptism, but both my sons were baptized soon after birth, and I am not convinced that there is permanent damage to children who are baptized before they can make a decision for themselves. One cannot be "unbaptized", but my guess is that a high proportion of those baptized as infants simply "drop out" of Christianity. I believe that the parents of male Jewish babies should have the right to have them circumcised.

The word of my subject here (bris) actually comes from an Ashkenazi (or Yiddish) pronunciation. "Brit milah" is the full formal name of the procedure.

The males I really feel sorry for are those who convert to Judaism after infancy. It's a painful procedure--but I have never heard of any concession: if a male Gentile wants to become a Jew, he must sacrifice his foreskin.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I'm not a particularly tidy person, but I do find joy in putting items in the right order. This can be as simple a task as sorting out cutlery from the dishwasher, putting knives, forks, and spoons in the right place in a drawer. I don't waste a lot of time on computer games, but I do allow myself a daily hand of Free Cell, a form of solitaire, in which the object is to sort a deck of cards from a random formation into neat piles of 13 cards in each of the four suits.

When I was an Oxford undergraduate, each December I would work a daily eight-hour shift at the main Tunbridge Wells post office, sorting mail destined for the West of England. I found this deeply satisfying, especially when my detailed knowledge of the geography enabled me to complete an address, secure in the knowledge that the mail would reach its destination in ample time for Christmas. My "station" was set up for two sorters, but from the first year I persuaded my supervisor that I could handle the "West Road" alone.

The British have developed a specialized meaning for "sort": to straighten out or correct something. Example: "We'll soon have this sorted", said in an optimistic tone, when something significant has gone wrong. (Note that they don't add "out", although the meaning is similar to our use of "sorted out".) I find this comforting: it helps me minimize my tendency to become irascible and intolerant with bureaucratic mistakes.

We have been very satisfied for about thirty years with GEICO handling our car insurance, but in recent months we had some problems. It seemed simple: the Volvo we had kept in Colorado for a few years, having brought it from California, was once again in Berkeley, and we had bought a used Subaru for Colorado. This seemed to buffalo the polite clerks when we called GEICO--not usually from the same office, because in their system GEICO offers service from many locations, not from the same place. I became frustrated at unexpected incompetence, although I really try--and sometimes succeed--in being clear and calm.

Luckily, one of our two excellent part-time helpers (Nancy Laws) is superb in dealing with bureaucrats. She is calm, firm, demanding, and terrier-like in following through until she is satisfied.

When we have problems with merchants, banks, and authorities, our best answer is "Let Nancy sort it."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Two British Peculiarities

1. When Barbara and I were in England recently, we were amazed at the number of pages in English newspapers. One Sunday paper had 110 pages, with three additional separate supplements. Imagine the Sunday edition of the "New York Times" every day...

I also noticed the strange British habit of treating the names of football teams and county cricket sides as plurals. For example, (imaginary): "Villa seek new manager". I can interpret the shorthand names of teams (in this case "Aston Villa"), but I still find it very strange to see a singular subject and a plural verb. I suppose the logic (if you can call it that) is that sports teams necessarily involve a number of players, and the singular noun becomes an implied plural.

Most American football teams have a "coach", normally paid much more than the General Manager. In UK soccer, the "Manager" does the coaching, usually with several assistants.

2. Important features of British life are the two annual "Honours Lists". One of these is issued as the New Year opens, and the other is the so-called Birthday Honours List. This is issued on the Queen's "official birthday". It is also an occasion for celebration and pageantry, all good for the tourist trade. (A supplementary List may be issued on the resignation of the Prime Minister, etc.)

Not only politicians are featured in the Honours Lists. Movie stars, sports figures, and many other people from all walks of life are recognized. Few new hereditary titles are added, although occasionally an existing hereditary Baron (say) may be raised to a Viscount, and so forth. There are many Life Peers being created, however.

An exception is made for Royalty. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka William & Kate) are wildly popular, and their wedding was the Event of the Season.

The Queen's actual birthday is on April 21, in the early spring. In some years that will be a bright sunny day, with displays of daffodils in the many London parks and elsewhere, but there is the old saying that "April showers brings May flowers", and the ever-present threat of rain often makes it unsuitable for parades and picnics. Also, there aren't many tourists around in April - they are more likely to be spending "April in Paris".

I don't know who invented the concept of an "official birthday" at the time of its origin in 1748, but I hope the clever person who came up with the idea received a suitable award in one of the Honours Lists.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


In my recent blog about euphemisms, especially words and phrases about--er, bathroom fixtures--I omitted a common British word: "cloakroom". There is an ambiguity with the word: in some places (such as a theater or restaurant in colder climes than California's) the room so designated is indeed a place to store hats, coats, briefcases, etc. It is usually a place presided over by a woman, who often makes a pretty good income from tips.

"Cloak" as a verb is a useful word, implying a complete covering, as in "the ground was cloaked in snow". As a noun, I visualize a "cloak" to be a garment with no buttons, and probably no sleeves. It is the sort of outdoor covering that Little Red Riding Hood would have worn with her hood. It would go well with an opera hat--a sort of collapsible top hat--and a silver-headed cane: in fact, there is such a garment as an "Opera Cloak", very similar to a "cape", but longer, also designed to be worn over evening clothes. We don't see many such cloaks in California now.

We mostly encounter "cloak" these days in the phrase "cloak & dagger". Sometimes this refers to espionage, and always implies secrecy and mystery. The phrase probably originated from a form of one-on-one combat, in which a cloak was used to disguise the movement of the dagger, and generally to distract the opponent. (Compare a matador's use of the muleta to distract the bull he is about to dispatch.) Some considered this form of fighting deceptive and even "dishonest", by comparison to fencing openly with a rapier or other dueling weapon.

Probably the most famous cloak in English history is the one deemed to have played a vital role in what is considered a great example of "chivalry". Virtually every English schoolchild knows the legend, which may be based on an actual incident. Reportedly, Sir Walter Raleigh cast down his cloak over a puddle, to protect Queen Elizabeth's shoes from the mud. Indeed, this may be considered chivalrous, but I sincerely doubt that Sir Walter was expected to wash out his own cloak! That would have been a job for one of his servants.

Monday, June 27, 2011


I don't want to offend anyone, so if you find this topic distasteful, skip this one.

A friend from the South told me an anecdote about a "rooster". Just back from the U.K., I note that Brits don't hesitate to call the male bird by its original name.

My thoughts turn to euphemisms (in both countries) for the place where my British contemporaries used to go to "spend a penny"--that's the coin they used to need, to obtain access to a "public convenience". In Britain, the upper and middle classes go to the "loo". I noticed that some Brits (notably on the BA planes which took us to and from Heathrow) have adopted the Canadian term "washroom", which I had not heard across the Atlantic until this last trip. That's really a variant on "lavatory", the normal term when I was growing up: it wasn't a place where you went to wash. I heard "bog" used in England, also.

At my British "prep school" (aged 8 through 13), matron was always ready to hand out a laxative to those who answered in the negative to "Have you been through?"

In the U.S., I tend to prefer "john" to describe the "s***house", where a stepdaughter once expanded my vocabulary by saying she was going to "dump a load".

In the British Navy, I learned to use the term widely known by yachtsmen and others on vessels of all types, the "head". I've read of the place being called the "Jakes", but not met that term in conversation. "Toilet" is widely used by English speakers. "Would you like to wash your hands?" really means "Do you want to use the loo?".

Another expression from the UK, widely used, is "W.C." this stands for "water closet", and probably dates from the 19th century, when this invention superseded the outhouse. The famous plumbing specialist of the early 19th century, Thomas Crapper, has given his name to the water closet, although he didn't actually invent it. He might be dismayed by knowing how the first four letters of his name have come to be used.

Monday, June 20, 2011


One of the major differences between my native land of England (I am about half English and half Scottish) and the U.S. is the profusion of first names in this country. There are some bizarre names in England, such as "Marmaduke", but they are rarely encountered. "Quentin" was about as exotic a friend's name as any I can recall. It helped that his last name was "Hockliffe"
When I see a name that is new to me, I try to puzzle out its country of origin. With last names this is often easier, as with -ian endings for those of Armenian ancestry, or German-Jewish names ending in -stein. I get most French, Italian, and Spanish names right.

A new one on me was "Rogelio". My guess was that this was Spanish, reminding me of "Julio", and that turns out to be correct. It's not a common name, however. I came across the name in a story about a computer hacker, a successful one responsible for $36 million in fraudulent transactions. He is reported to have stolen more than 675,000 credit card accounts.

What made the news story especially memorable was his last name: Hackett...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Assault Weapons

Amid all the earlier discussion of the causes and future remedies relating to the Tucson murders, there has been relatively little said or written about the weapon used.

Barbara and I have for many years been in support of Sarah Brady in her efforts to bring about some form of gun control in our country.

We would prefer the type of gun control prevailing in such countries as the UK. This has worked well. There are strict limits on gun ownership, and the rarity of incidents involving any form of such weapons as handguns and rifles speaks for itself.

However, I know this form of control will not work in the United States. This is not just because of the successful efforts of the NRA to crush any attempt to limit the ownership of guns. As a boy of about 10, I was taught target shooting (at school) with a .22 rifle . My father later gave me my own .22, but I never used this after 1939. I had no problem with registering this gun, but I had given up shooting at targets, and never did try to use it on rabbits - or rats, for that matter.

One day, when we were living in Devon, a very polite police officer knocked at our door, and suggested that I might allow him to take away my rifle. Perhaps this was when there was a justifiable fear of invasion. We lived near Slapton Sands, a wonderful stretch of beach that was used by the army to practice landings before the invasion of France. The idea may have been to round up as many weapons as possible out of fear that they might be used against our own forces, although I have come to doubt this explanation.

Living in England, we never felt any need to retain some firepower in our home, and we have continued to feel this way in California. We do realize, however, that we are in a minority, and that what I consider a twisted interpretation of a clause in the constitution permitting citizens to bear arms, in case they were needed for service in the militia has been stretched so that it severely limits any restriction on firearms. I have come to accept that ownership of handguns, as well as shotguns and rifles will be legally protected in our lifetime.

There will be no restrictions on weapons used for hunting or self defense.

What I find almost incredible is that we do not regulate assault rifles, including such "semi-automatic" weapons as the one used in Arizona. What purpose does an AK47 or other similar weapon have except to engage in multiple killings? Could we not find a middle way, accepting our nation's love affair with certain firearms, but absolutely ban such terrible killing machines as can be readily bought at gun shows in most states?

In other words, instead of arguing as to whether talk radio, video games, and aggressive speech are responsible for "crazy" behavior, can't we do something to control excessive weaponry?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Favorite Authors

When we arrived for the wedding reception on Saturday, we were told that our table was "Bronte". One of the many creative touches set up by Justine and Joe was to name the tables after their favorite authors. That's not all: instead of some wasteful "party favor": in front of each of over a hundred guests was a paperback book to take away: mine was Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five". I had read this brilliant anti-war novel years ago, but we didn't have a copy at home.

This put me in a reminiscent mood. Over the years there has always been at least one author whose every book I have greedily reached for when available. I suppose that after my sister taught me to read at the age of four I began with Beatrix Potter, but soon I graduated to Thornton W. Burgess, a Canadian writer of children's books about wild animals. I think I had begun to enjoy the works of Arthur Ransome about children who camped out near the lake district, the first in the series being "Swallows and Amazons". These stories were based on real families he knew. For humorous reading, there were the "William" books by Richmal Crompton.

At my British-style boarding prep school (ages 8 to 13), I soon found the adventure stories of Percy F. Westerman, and read all those in the school library. At about this time I discovered John Buchan, thanks to an inspiring math teacher, who read "The Thirty-Nine Steps" to us in class after our exams were over, and finished it out of school hours. I then took hold of all the "Saint" books by Leslie Charteris I could find. They were formulaic, and I enjoyed the relationship between Simon Templar (the "Saint") and "Pat", with whom he cohabited but did not marry.

Soon I moved on to the works of Graham Greene, whose two suppressed youthful works I managed to read, years later, knowing that they had to have been in the Bodleian collection at Oxford. Then I discovered Evelyn Waugh, and read every one of his published works. I also read every one of Jane Austen's works while at Oxford--much more entertaining than "Beowulf".

As time passed, I began reading all Patrick O'Brian's great Naval adventures. John Le Carré attended Lincoln College, Oxford, a few years after my time there, and I have read every one of his books. I have read almost all of Anthony Trollope's works. I read all of Laurie R. King's books, and look forward to her future writings.

Sometimes I have used Recorded Books: the abilities of most of their readers make the printed word come alive. For many years, I have enjoyed the "Scarpetta" novels of Patricia Cornwell, about a woman forensic pathologist, although I was disappointed by her latest, "Port Mortuary".

There you have it: fifteen gifted writers of all sorts, who have given me enormous pleasure over the past eighty years. I have enjoyed many other works, but I have limited this list to writers whose every word has drawn me into reading. I encourage any persons reading this to send me their own list of favorite authors.

Monday, May 30, 2011

More on Bradley Manning

Pfc. Manning has been moved from the U.S. Marines brig, but is still in prison, with no trial date announced. I recommend that readers here research his name online. I only have space for a short comment on an ethical question. A recent 60 Minutes episode featured an interview with the man (Adrian Lamo) who reported him to the authorities. Lamo and Manning became friends online, and Manning revealed that he was the source of the Wikileaks materials.

Lamo told the interviewer that he was faced with a dilemma: to betray a friend or keep his knowledge to himself. He says that (in effect) he put his country first, only reluctantly reporting that Manning had confessed to him that he was the source of the leaks.

Lamo said that he wanted to stop the leaks, but that Manning told him it was too late. It occurred to me that there was a third choice: to tell Manning that the leaking of secrets had to stop:if it continued, Lano would have to turn him in. I also think it likely that good detective work might have revealed Manning's involvement in time, anyway. Admittedly, this is speculation.

I continue to wonder at the folly of the army in allowing any junior soldier, let alone a clearly disgruntled one, to have access to secret documents. Manning had been reduced in rank from Specialist to Pfc., for allegedly punching a woman officer in the face, and had been informed that he was to be discharged. At that point, he should no longer have been allowed access to sensitive materials.

No-one comes out well in this story: not Manning, not Lano, not the army, including those who made him live in solitary confinement in harsh conditions, and not the politicians who allowed their anger at the leaks to cause them to mistreat Manning.

In my opinion, Manning should be brought to trial promptly, and his eventual sentence should take into account his cruel incarceration over the past year.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Oldest Profession

In recent years I have increasingly heard or read the term "Sex Worker". As a feminist and "concerned citizen", I deplore the exploitation of young women, lured abroad and forced into prostitution. I well understand that references to "sex workers" is typically sympathetic to the plight of those who are forced to turn "tricks" to pay for food and shelter.

I guess one of my reasons for disliking the phrase is the juxtaposition of "sex" and "work".Sexual activity, at its best, and when it is what the lawyers call "consensual", is joyful activity. Musing on the concept, I began to run over in my mind the many terms used in English to describe those who "play for pay". These terms are by no means synonymous; let's consider some of those terms, and what lies behind the words.

Starting at the pinnacles of the profession, I like the term "courtesan".I visualize an intelligent beauty, not promiscuous, but able to choose her lovers from the ranks of Society, the European equivalent of a well-trained geisha.

An ambiguous term is "harlot". In the bible, it seems to call for approval, in the person of Rahab, who helped in the capture of Jericho. However that may just be from an Israelite perspective. In general the term (which is seldom used today) simply means a woman who "sells her body"

. A "prostitute" is a generic "sex worker".

Another generic term is "hooker", but the origin of the word has nothing to do with the Civil War General Joe Hooker. Wikipedia led me to the actual origin, via a four-minute video. (You will find Marina Orlova is not your typical philologist.)..

"Streetwalkers" ply their trade outdoors, taking their "johns" to their apartment or a cheap hotel.

A "call girl" sets up her meet her "clients" at the location (usually a hotel or motel) of their choice.

A "tart" is usually an "amateur". A "woman of easy virtue" is also typically an amateur. A "lady of the night" is typically a streetwalker.

There are other terms with the implication of sexual activity, often words used of women being disparaged by a man: "slut", "floozie", "bitch" and so forth. Shakespeare wrote of a child "ditch-delivered by a drab".
"Whores" are looked down on by most folk who use the term.

Perhaps I should disclose not merely that I have never paid for sex, and that I'm not obsessed by the topic. I am just a lover of words!.

Monday, May 16, 2011


When writing a recent blog, in which I remembered Tony and Dale, two barbers whom I would miss more if I were not so content with Nina's work on my hair, I began to think of many other people whom I no longer see. As we age, we become accustomed to the deaths of older (for the most part) family and friends. We may take out an old photograph or postcard, and we almost certainly discuss a loss with loved ones who are close to us. All this is normal and healthy.

Then there are the names of good friends with whom we have lost touch. Looking at a personal phone directory, or checking on a list of contacts, we come across names that we remember, although we have not been in touch for several years, perhaps. Even on Facebook, one needs to take action to stay in contact with those with whom one has not exchanged communication recently.

Barbara and I have found that there are a number of wonderful people we have met on trips abroad, such as when we have taken passage on a ship steaming up the Norwegian coast, or even taken a cruise, folk with whom we have lost touch. Perhaps we exchanged Christmas cards for a year or two, but never met our friends again.

 In this life, there are always new friends to meet, and we should not long grieve over such lost contacts. Once or twice, we have come across old friends whom we had virtually forgotten, and found that the ties of friendship were soon re-established. Even with a fairly recent paring down of numbers, I have 632 names in my email contact list. Of course, some of those are business entries, which brings me to remember a group of people who don't happen to be relatives or personal friends.

Recently, I have become aware of how many people I miss from former days. There was my excellent podiatrist, whom I have not seen since becoming a Kaiser Permanente member. There was a very skillful dentist, who left his practice to concentrate on his hobby,
blowing beautiful glass objects. I was glad when my hygienist moved to another dentist, because we did not like the attitude of her new employer after the glassblower moved on. I was so lucky, because when she chose to retire, I found an excellent replacement. Alas, now the successor has retired.

I used to buy men's clothing from a store on Bancroft Avenue in Berkeley, long out of business. Barbara and I enjoyed being waited on by a young Cal graduate, Stuart. We were delighted to find that Stuart had become the manager of the Walk Shop, where we have purchased many pairs of shoes. I later found another shoe store, which sold the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned, but I miss buying from Stuart.

I used to have many good friends in an organization which I set up for agents representing DPIC (Design Professionals Insurance Company). These friends ran their own businesses in various parts of North America. I miss them all, especially Devon and Sid. We became close friends of the company's president, Peter, and his wife, Ginny. Peter died tragically early, but we are still in touch with his warm and generous widow.

I had many good business friends in England, through my membership of Lloyd's. We often think of Francis, our first Member's Agent, who was adopted into a famous Jewish family as a baby.

I can't leave this list of memorable people without mentioning three really close friends from the business for which I worked for over 40 years, all now deceased. There was Jeanne, so much a part of the business that I named a room after her, at our old office. Then there was Lora, who grew from an effective CSR (Customer Service Representative), into our first and most exuberant Saleswoman. Finally, memories of Sandra, who died while awaiting a liver transplant. She was a wonderful Personal Assistant to me, and became a good friend of us both. We are happy that her widower, Grant, is a frequent dinner companion of ours to this day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Seasoned scrambled eggs

For your convenience, this recipe calls for four eggs. I usually use just three eggs for the two of us. Also, feel free to adjust the amount of seasonings to your own taste. It is the combination of flavors that makes this recipe special.

Dice one quarter cup of onions and slice two cloves of garlic, and sauté them over medium heat (preferably in a no-stick pan) until the onion is soft. (You can also use minced onion and garlic powder if fresh items are not available.) Turn the heat down to low.

Place the number of plates you will need into the oven to warm them. Toast English muffins (or good bread) and butter them.

Break four eggs into a medium-sized bowl. Add about half a teaspoon of each of the following: black pepper, onion and/or garlic salt, tarragon, oregano, marjoram, and curry powder. Beat or whisk the eggs and spices until they are well mixed. Pour the mixture into the pan. Using a rubber spatula, carefully scrape the bowl to release and include most of the spices.

Bring the heat up to medium, and stir continually with a wooden spoon. As some of the mixture hardens around the edge of the pan, carefully scrape the cooked egg back into the remaining mixture, and turn the heat down to low again. Be careful not to over-cook.

Spoon out the cooked egg onto the warm plates, accompanied by the toasted muffins (or bread). Serve immediately.

PS: Last week, I mainly wrote about how to prepare eggs alone. Yesterday I made Huevos Rancheros, and I also enjoy Frittatas, two of many recipes dependent upon the humble egg. I have yet to meet an egg dish I don't enjoy.

Monday, May 2, 2011


A clever cartoon on Easter Day shows a boy with chocolate smeared on his face, plaintively asking his mother "Do I hafta eat breakfast today?" When I was nine, Easter chiefly meant chocolate Easter eggs. Nowadays, much though I love good dark chocolate, Easter is for me the Queen of Feasts of the church.

When it comes to eggs, I can't remember an egg I didn't like. Eggs are the supreme breakfast item for me--well, good kippers and Finnan haddie (haddock) make great variants, but it is the humble egg that I choose to write about today. It is very versatile. Let's list some options:

1. Soft-boiled, the basic simple dish, needing only a little salt & pepper to bring it to perfection, especially when served with an English muffin. (The Brits don't have these: a crumpet is the nearest alternative.)

2. Fried egg, the perfect companion to bacon. I like mine "easy over", rather than "sunny side up", let alone fried hard.

3. Poached. We have an excellent poacher; alas, someone threw out two of the metal containers, so this is just a treat to share with Barbara.

4. "Sur le plat", a French method, in which the egg is put into a ramekin and baked in the oven.

5. Coddled eggs. The egg is poured into a pre-greased china "coddler", with chives and some grated cheese,

6. Omelets: I like them with cheese, mushrooms, or ham. Well, with any two or three of them is even better!

7. Scrambled (or "shirred"). My specialty: I will share my "secret" recipe next week!

Yes, I also love hard-boiled and deviled eggs, but this is about breakfast...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Not Proven

I checked out this verdict on Wikipedia, chiefly to see if it is still in use in Scotland. Apparently it is. Despite the negative comments posted at the head of the Wikipedia article, I believe that it is accurate, as far as it goes. Personally, I wish that the verdict were available in other English-speaking jurisdictions.

If you check out the internet by entering "Not Proven" in your browser, you can learn much more about the verdict: for example, that it is still not quite 300 years since it was first in use, and that in Scotland, it is "Not Guilty" that is the newcomer.

One aspect of the verdict that I had long believed was that a Not Proven verdict enabled the accused to be retried if fresh evidence were discovered. Apparently that is a misconception: the legal effect is identical with that of "Not Guilty".

A cynic has suggested that the subtext of a Not Proven verdict is "Not Guilty--but don't do it again".

These musings have arisen because of the farcical trial of Barry Bonds, whose already brilliant baseball career was boosted by steroid use. He was found guilty of obstruction of justice, but the jury was divided on the other charges alleging perjury when he denied having knowingly used steroids. I suggest that Not Proven would have been the ideal verdict, ending the matter. As it is, the disappointed prosecutors may insist on a second trial. I sure hope not: this matter has cost us taxpayers millions of dollars and dragged on too long as it is. IMHO, it is time to let go of this sorry episode.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What happened to the "Near East"?

I grew up distinguishing the Near East from the Middle East. There were no lines on the map, but the division seemed logical. Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine (Israel) were Near Eastern countries.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Persia (Iran), Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the other sultanates in south-east Arabia, were in the Middle East.

Then came India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Sikkim (now absorbed into India), Bhutan, (Pakistan, Bangladesh), Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia, Malaya, Nepal, and Tibet--all in the East, but not the Far East.

Finally, Japan, Formosa (Taiwan), China, the Philippines, Siam (Thailand), and parts of the Soviet Union, could properly be called the Far East.

I may have omitted a few past and present nations, but I'm sure you understand this breakdown, from a pre-WWll British perspective. But few (if anyone) in the US today speaks of the Near East. I checked this out recently, asking a well-educated American-born cotemporary what the expression "Near East" meant to her. It didn't resonate. So I am giving up my grouchy reaction when an announcer speaks of a country bordering on the Mediterranean (meaning in the middle of the world) as being in the "MIddle East".

Many Californians, and most of their parents or grandparents, came from the eastern side of the Mississippi. They continue to say "Back East" and "Out West". Since I reached California from a more distant shore, I have occasionally referred to the other coast as "Out East", but that hasn't caught on. Many a native Californian says "Back East", and I usually let it go! All I ask is that folk try to understand when I refer to (say) Lebanon as being part of the "Near East".

Monday, April 11, 2011


Barbara & I enjoy the one-hour Poirot adaptations on PBS. One, which we have enjoyed a couple of times, is How does your garden grow? A side plot has Poirot's hapless sidekick, "Captain Hastings", messing up Miss Lemon's payment system, by overpaying "Trumper's". There really was a fashionable West End "Gentlemen's Hairdresser" by that name. The incident triggered an early memory, although I never patronized that establishment. My Bond Street hairdresser was "Robert Douglas".

When I was about 6, my mother would take me in the train from Redhill to Victoria, from there we could catch a bus to the West End. Her objective was often the up-market store known as "Marshall & Snellgrove". She would "have her hair done", sometimes a "perm", sometimes what I dimly remember was a "wash and set". I was allowed to sit and read while my mother's hair was being worked on, and when I was a little older, I was permitted to explore, checking out other departments. We would have lunch in the restaurant: in those days, a plate of Roast Chicken and vegetables was quite a treat for me. When my mother bought something in another department, she would simply tell the shop assistant to "put it on my account: Mrs Lindsey-Renton, Dovers, Reigate." This was before the days of credit cards: no I.D. was needed.

On occasion, we went to Harrod's, my favorite store, instead, and even patronized Selfridges: I think my mother preferred not to shop there, since it was owned by an American...

When I was considered old enough to have a London haircut, I didn't need to make an appointment. I don't remember ever having to sit and wait for a empty chair. I soon learned to pay the modest price and include a suitable tip.

Years passed, and in 1957 I had my first American haircut somewhere in the journey by car from Chappaqua, NY, to Los Angeles. The price shocked me: it was close to the same number of dollars as I was used to paying in shillings! I certainly remember paying $5 later, and thinking it extortionate...

For over forty years now, I have gone every few weeks to the same barber's shop on Shattuck Avenue, about a mile from our home. First, the barber was Tony, an amazingly fast cutter. I used to go on Saturday mornings, as I usually didn't go into the office on the weekend. His advertised starting time was probably 9 a.m., but I soon learned that he arrived before then. I was one of his customers who would line up until he arrived, in order to be early in line. Tony only made appointments for Thursdays. He could cut six heads in an hour, so the wait wasn't too long.

Tony had a hobby, investing in the stock market. I think he received tips from some of his customers. He would talk of his successes while cutting hair. He also enjoyed golf, so he spent much of his waking life on his feet. I suppose I began paying about $8 for a haircut.
In due course, another fine barber (Dale) took over the second chair in the same shop. One day, when Tony must have been about 50, he decided to retire. Dale then became my barber. He had been in one of the concentration camps during WW ll.

Slowly the price of a haircut rose as the years passed. An interesting young woman, Nina, took over management, and brought in her own customers. Nina is the daughter of a Pakistani army officer and a Thai mother, and doesn't look her age (late forties). Dale continued to rent the second chair. When Dale in turn retired, Nina began cutting my hair, and she has probably been my barber for close to twenty years now.

The price continued to rise, and my friend Nina says that she only raised it when her rent went up. Fora few years it has been $30, and I pay it ungrudgingly. Nina is the only person who calls me "Mr. Nigel". She does an excellent job with my very conventional hairstyle. I still have plenty of white hair, and I was secretly delighted when she found it necessary to thin it, on my last visit.

There are other branches of Peet's, where I buy my coffee. We even have a Trader Joe's in the neighborhood. But there's only one Chez Panisse, and one "Nina's Place". Can you wonder that I prefer to live in the home I share with Barbara? Who needs a retirement home?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Smart Meters

At both our Berkeley and Boulder County homes, there's a program in progress to install so-called "smart meters". I imagine that the same is true in many other parts of the country. Instead of sending a meter reader out every month to determine electricity usage, the readings are obtained by radio contact. This reduces labor cost, human error, weather-related inaccessibility (such as snow covering the meters), and the homeowner's need to avoid covering the meter with vegetation.

My initial reaction to the howls of protest was that the protesters were a bunch of Luddites, hostile to change and unwilling to embrace technology. There were people calling it an invasion of privacy, and I didn't agree with that.

Then we began hearing of some family being billed for their neighbors' usage. Also, someone in a large apartment building claimed that all her electronic devices were being affected because there were scores of meters in that building.

It may take some time to investigate such claims and eliminate problems. "The jury is still out" on smart meters, but I do think that they are the right answer, after such problems have been solved. I await developments with interest.

Monday, March 28, 2011


I have mixed feelings about organic foods. We have a few acres of our Colorado property from which we have carefully avoided any use of pesticides. This land is much too small for going through whatever formal procedures are needed to be "officially" able to sell produce as "organic", but in fact the land is treated as if it were. Before we bought the property, that land was used as grazing for cattle, so it is naturally fertile. In some years, lettuce and other greens have been taken to the nearby Farmer's Market, but otherwise we have eaten or given away what we have grown there.

Like many others, I deplore the exploitation of the term by aggressive marketers. In a store, I have been known to avoid high-priced organic items almost "on principle". I read somewhere that if fruit has a peel, it makes no difference--for example, with bananas. Certainly, if (say) insecticide can't penetrate a banana skin, spraying ripening bananas won't be affected.

But what if "artificial" fertilizer is used on the banana tree? Although I have visited a banana plantation (in Costa Rico), I don't pretend to be familiar with the cultivation techniques used by "Chiquita" (the notorious United Fruit Company). However, I checked out "", and learned (in addition to a lot of interesting history on the development of banana cultivation) that after the bananas have been harvested, the giant stems are cut down to provide rich humus for the next crop that has already begun to sprout new shoots.

When i was a boy of about 8 (in 1935), I used to play some of the old 78s on what we called a "gramophone" (the British version of a phonograph) and in its American form a phonograph. Among the records was a performance of what had been a very popular song "Yes, we have no bananas". This came true in WWll, when importation of such standard fruits as oranges and bananas had to be eliminated in favor of more humdrum food.

I still enjoy whole milk in my cereal bowl and coffee cup. When I am shopping, I don't choose the more expensive "organic" milk, but when it is bought for me, I don't complain. After all, it tastes just as good as regular milk...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bradley Manning

He is the person accused of the leaking of thousands of documents to Wikileaks. He has been kept in solitary confinement at the Marines' base at Quantico, in Virginia. His treatment there has, I believe, been inappropriate. Until recently, he had no sheets, and at night he is forced to undress, and put on some specially designed smock to sleep in. He is kept in his cell for 23 hours a day

I do suspect that Private Manning is guilty of the leaks. He has been charged for certain offenses as a result of this, but he has not been brought to trial.

I hold no brief for the actions of whoever did the leaking, but I think it goes against American ideas of justice to "punish" Manning before he has been brought to trial and, if found guilty, sentenced. Until that time, he should be treated as any other prisoner awaiting trial.

Delay in bringing him to trial is also not the "American way". Surely by now all the evidence needed for his trial has been obtained? It seems that his continued solitary confinement at Quantico is simply a matter of punishment for something of which he has not been found guilty.

Whether his treatment amounts to "torture", as some have alleged, is unclear.

One of the disappointments I have in this matter is the attitude of the President. He tells us that he has been assured that Manning's treatment is "appropriate". I suppose he is standing aside because of possible damage to his re-election prospects, if he were to use his authority to treat Manning in a more humane manner.

Shame on us for continuing this humiliating and vindictive discrimination of a suspect!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Sixty years ago,it was commonplace for graduates to stay with the same company for their entire working life. One knew that if one worked to "normal retirement age", one would qualify for what is technically known as a "defined benefit" pension. This wa a very important aspect of one's employment..

In more recent times, changing jobs in mid-career has become commonplace, and is often recommended to ambitious young folk. Due to mergers and changing needs, "moving on" is often involuntary. In these circumstances, a "defined contribution" plan has much greater appeal. Its customary "portability" allows a person who changes employers to build up retirement income relatively painlessly.

However, it is important to recognize that defined benefit plans are still important for certain employees. For example, state, county, and municipal employees often spend their entire working life in the same employment. Also, in some trades the only viable provider of pensions is the union, since over a long career in (say) the construction industry the worker may have many different employers.

The media often finds outrageous examples of swollen pension plans, and rightly highlights them as brakes on our nation's
economy. In this brief blog I merely wish to point out that pensions are mostly beneficial, but "one size doesn't fit all". As we read about these issues, it is important to keep an open mind.

Monday, March 7, 2011


For years, I have noted this word being confused with "devastated". In it's strictest sense, the word means the loss of 1/10th of a total, a very precise proportion. The word is derived from Latin. Classic examples of it's use are when Roman officers would kill one man in ten, to punish a unit for cowardice or mutiny.

It is perfectly reasonable to use the term in a less precise sense. For example, if the owner of an apple orchard were to claim that her trees had been "decimated" in a severe windstorm, no one in his right mind would find it necessary to check on this to see if precisely 500 trees had blown down from a total of 5,000.

Last week, watching the PBS News hour, I heard one very sharp commentator state that some entity had been "devastated and decimated". That was quite absurd! It is akin to say that the weather was "freezing and a bit chilly".

Monday, February 28, 2011


Two of our granddaughters are getting married this year, so I have been thinking about weddings recently.  Much of the world will soon have eyes on Westminster Abbey, where "Wills" Windsor will be marrying Kate Middleton.

With my dual citizenship, I still maintain some interest in the British Royal Family. I sometimes ask myself the same questions that are asked in the UK. It is remote that HM The Queen would ever abdicate, but as time passes, she may appoint her son, Charles, as Regent.

As I am a male, I may well pre-decease the Queen, who is almost one year older than I. It seems likely that her eldest son will succeed her, despite the suggestion that perhaps her grandson should  be the next king.

Will the Duchess of Cornwall become Queen? I may never know, but I think that a majority of the British public would be in favor. Camilla seems to have done well in her role as the wife of the heir apparent, and one understands that she and her stepsons have a cordial relationship

Prince William may well be given a courtesy title, perhaps becoming a Royal Duke, on the occasion of his marriage. Presumably, Kate understands that marrying the future Heir Apparent carries with it the expectation that she'll have children. I am interested in this for one main reason: primogeniture.

If their first child is (say) a George, Charles, or Phillip, he will be next in line after his father. But what if it's Elizabeth, Diana, or Ann? And then a brother is born? The precedent in the UK is one of "male primogeniture". A first-born girl would not become next in line to the throne.

In some other European monarchies, the practice has changed.Perhaps the British public, the Royal Family, and the Establishment are not ready for the change at this time. I don't expect a move will be made before the first child of Wills and Kate is born. My guess is that by the time that first child succeeds to the throne, the UK will be ready for a change--but it would be too late then for the happy couple's first child. If she's a daughter, followed by a son, it is the latter who will be raised to reign--and  to make a change before he inherits, doesn't sound appropriate or likely

I think that's a pity. Such Queens as the two Elizabeths and Victoria have had very successful reigns. Edward VIII is just the worst of several unsatisfactory male monarchs.

Yes, I'll almost certainly never know how this plays out. But it interests me..

Monday, February 21, 2011

Don't Change!

I have never considered that celebrating Valentine's Day should be a one-way street. I learned a lesson this year, however.

I can no longer drive, due to limited vision. So I arranged with my amanuensis for her to do some shopping for me. Barbara loves Dark Chocolate, especially Nuts and Chews. Rather than the See's Candy, of which Barbara is now rather tired, I asked my shopper to find a box of Godiva chocolates, together with a nice card without a pre-printed message, other than something simple like "Happy Valentine's Day". I added some loving words to the card, and safely stashed away both card and chocolates.

I'm normally first up in the morning, making coffee and preparing breakfast. So on Feb. 14, I was able to set the table in the dining room, and place the card and the candy. in front of Barbara's chair, before she came down to join me.

All worked perfectly. Barbara was delighted! I didn't necessarily expect her to reciprocate--we've been married for over 40 years--but I was grateful for her offer to me of three chocolates--as long as I didn't touch the only three dark chocolates. (She needn't have worried: she had eaten them all that morning, before I indulged in one milk chocolate after lunch.)

I now accept the reality that Valentine's Day is more a day for men to express their love for women than vice-versa. I enjoyed the loving words, the hugs, and the kisses that acknowledged my efforts.. However, I must admit that I had a few nostalgic pangs of regret that nary a card nor a simple bar of chocolate came my way that day.

Here let me admit that I do have some bad habits, so I am used to hearing "Sit up straight", "Don't slurp", "Keep your elbows off the .table", and similar words of wifely advice. So as we were packing to take a train the next morning, i was pleasantly surprised after breakfast to find a note on my bed, reading "Don't Change!". I felt that my efforts, however unsuccessful, to kick those bad habits, were truly appreciated. A rush of loving happiness came over me.

When Barbara came into the room a little later, I expressed my appreciation for her affectionate words. To my surprise, she laughed, and promptly burst my bubble. She said "That note is for the house cleaners, when they come next Monday. Since you had clean sheets only yesterday, I am telling them not too change your linen this week..."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sound effects

I love the skill of the sound effects person working in a theater. Before anyone thought of recording sound effects and playing them during the production, the sound effects - creaking doors, howls of wolves or coyotes, horse hooves, etc, had to be made with perfect timing during the production.

Sound effects can add immeasurably to the atmosphere in a radio program or a movie. An important tool is the effective use of music. Barbara and I enjoy watching Sherlock Holmes stories, Poirot episodes, and similar productions. They all depend for their effectiveness on well produced sound effects.

Alas, I have recently noticed inappropriate overuse of loud music, often played at the same time as dialogue is taking place on the screen. It is as if a new generation of sound technicians believe that loud noise is more important than allowing the viewer to hear the words. I deplore this.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Trojan horse in reverse

We have all heard the legend of the Trojan Horse. The Greeks make a gift of a large wooden horse, in which are hidden Greek soldiers. The Trojans bring the horse through the gates of the city. At night, the Greeks climb out, open the gates, and the Greek army pours in, bringing the lengthy Punic War to an end. Thus arose the famous saying "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!"

A couple of weeks ago, I welcomed the news that KDFC was going non-commercial. Sure, they'd need to give up their long-established frequency (102.1), but KDFC would move to a couple of other frequencies, one in the North Bay, which would also serve the East Bay, and one in San Francisco. Living in the Berkeley Hills, I thought that we would have a choice. This would mean that my listening life--mostly on NPR and KDFC--would be commercial-free. These changes would occur thanks to the generosity of USC. As a Cal supporter, the folks from the "University for Spoiled Children" are not my favorite college football team, but Hey, let's not look a gift horse in the mouth...

I don't think that KDFC is an ideal Classical Music station. I miss KKHI. I enjoy the baroque and other pleasant instrumental music on KDFC, but it's not exactly challenging. No vocal music. Some pop opera tunes, but forget Berg and Bartok. There's plenty of music in our lives, thanks to the Berkeley Symphony, the Berkeley performances of the San Francisco Early Music Society, Philharmonia Baroque, and the New Esterhazy Quartet, and assorted Cal Performances offerings.

So we tried both new frequencies. We can hardly hear the San Francisco station, and the North Bay version sounds like a fading station one hears on a long car trip into the boonies when one is desperate enough to tune into Rush Limbaugh or Country Western. It would be far worse in the South Bay.

Yes, beware of Trojans bearing gifts.

Monday, January 31, 2011


No, this has nothing to do with vehicles, whether pulled by a tractor, or permanently parked somewhere on the wrong side of the tracks. This is about the trailers one sees, willingly or under silent protest.

(The name "trailer" implies that it will follow, not precede, but who would stay to watch this advertising if trailers actually followed the "main feature"?)

In the market town near where I was born, there was originally only one "cinema", the Hippodrome. Despite its name, no horse ever entered the place--let alone a hippopotamus. In the mid-thirties, another movie house was opened, the Majestic (a mundane structure that belied it's name). Each movie program was shown for a week, usually the main feature, a second feature, a "B picture", plus newsreel and a cartoon. Before the main feature, we were shown a "trailer", listing the next week's main feature, the principal actors and actresses (we never called female performers "actors" in those days), and a few clips from the movie itself. I never found these objectionable, despite the somewhat extravagant claims for the "coming attraction".

I seldom go out to movies these days, but when I do I try to arrive shortly before the stated performance time. No longer is there just one trailer, but five or more of films "coming shortly". In some movie theaters, they show trailers of films being shown at other venues under the same management.

However, there is one type of trailer which actually does follow the main feature--that's on TV. I can understand that on commercial television, it make sense to try to encourage the audience to tune in to the next episode, be it a sitcom or a crime series. We seldom watch commercial programs (other than the venerable 60 Minutes), so this doesn't annoy us.

We do watch programs on PBS, in addition to our regular dose of the PBS News Hour. I have two criticisms, one of which has nothing particularly to do with trailers: the tendency to broadcast loud "incidental music" over dialogue. But what really distresses me is when we've watched an episode of some excellent series, such as the just-completed Downton Abbey, we are subjected to "scenes from next week's episode". Yes, one can always switch off the set; also, thanks to our DVR, we can rush through that unwanted material without losing anything that we want to watch.

I suppose even in public broadcasting, there is an incentive to try to hold on to as many viewers as possible. In my case, this just turns me off--especially if a character is shown in a death scene--or making a miraculous recovery.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Our driver braked sharply, as the car at a stop sign on a side street made a right turn right in front of us, and drove off at high speed. A fellow-passenger made a disgusted gesture with a middle finger at the retreating vehicle. The miscreant could not have seen it, but it undoubtedly made my fellow-passenger feel better. Another person commented "American Sign Language" and we laughed, intending no disrespect to the wonderful communication system so named, developed for those with speech and/or hearing challenges.

I reflected on the many types of non-verbal communication with one person's hands, which most of us would recognize. Here are some of them:

1. Thumbs up, and thumbs down: universally understood to show approval o dis approval.

2. One or more fingers--usually the whole hand, facing the gesturer, beckoning one or more others to approach.

3. Arm--usually the right, raised, with palm of the hand facing out, meaning "stop!".

4. Shoulder shrug, usually accompanied by facial movement, and often by outstretched hands, indicating indifference.

5. Arms crossed and held up in front of the gesturer: stop there (as when helping someone park.

6. Single hand, facing inward outside an open mouth: a real or pretended yawn, indicating sleepiness or boredom.

7. Hands held, palms together, as if in prayer, leaning forward: making an important

8. Hands held, palms together, facing another, bowing slightly: "peace to you" .

9. Single fist, shaken towards another person, indicating anger.

10. Clenched fists, moved up and down: enthusiastic encouragement, as in "Go, team!"

11. Single hand, palm down, moved slightly down: : "No, thank-you"

12. One hand miming writing on the other hand: "Please bring the bill!"

13. Arm raised, hand high: "Call on me, teacher!"

14. Single fist, thumb extended up and to the rear: "Get outta here!"

15. Both arms extended upward: "Touchdown!" (or other athletic success).

If others occur to you, please comment: remember, no "high fives", and no other body language. These are just examples using arms and hands of a single person. When i began to list them, I certainly didn't expect to think of so many.

Monday, January 17, 2011


I can't walk safely outside a house these days without support. At home, I do use a cane to walk from the dining-room into the-living room, but I don't use one upstairs, as I migrate from my bedroom to the bathroom, my office, or the stairs. I have two canes, one furnished by Kaiser Permanente, my health insurer; and another one which can be pulled apart into three pieces--useful when it has to be packed.

What I like to do is to use a cane (preferably in my right hand) and be supported by a friendly right arm accepting my left arm.. My dear wife, actually a few months older than I am, is fit and spry, and walks daily for pleasure. For much of the past few years, it has been she who has supplied the "friendly arm". For some time, she has been encouraging me to try to move around without linking arms with her.

I have tried using two poles, one in each hand, and that works reasonably well for short distances on flat land. Since we live on a hill, and Barbara can no longer drive me down to the flatlands, this is not a very satisfactory solution.

We have a four-wheel walker with a basket, and this walker can be set to act as a portable seat for me. I like that, but it also requires flat land and transportation to reach level ground. Again, not a satisfactory solution. There are battery-powered wheelchairs and "scooters", but I'm not ready to cope with either yet. Besides, they really aren't very well fitted for my needs.

When we go to concerts, the theater, a restaurant, or a meeting, we usually go by car, driven by a helper, and then I walk in, with a cane and someone's arm. When I visit a grocery store, a "basket" to transport our purchases doubles very well as a walker. It has the advantage to my vanity that there are other shoppers, not needing the support that I need, also pushing a grocery store's shopping basket.

For weeks, Barbara was telling me that I should buy a lightweight walker. I made a few brownie points when I showed her an ad for a discounted two-wheel lightweight model. The store was in Hayward, calling for a round trip of close to fifty miles. It had occurred to me that the distance might happily cause a further delay--but Barbara was determined, so quickly went to the store with our driver, coming back with the perfect answer to her pleas.

We tried it out for an Early Music concert recently. We had dinner at The Musical Offering (a restaurant which shares the space with the record store), perhaps 200 yards from the church where we were to hear the music. I hated using the walker! It took us perhaps ten minutes to walk that short distance.

There was the annual party afterward--free wine and delicious finger food, an annual event I had enjoyed many times over the years. I told Barbara that i really didn't want to walk back to The Musical Offering. So we arranged to be picked up outside the church, and went home to bed.

I realize that a major part of my resistance is because I am being taken out of my "comfort zone". There is also the psychological factor of appearing weak. It's no fun getting old and immobile! As a contemporary friend of ours puts it: "Growing old is not for sissies".. I prefer to rejoice that, thanks to our driver, we can still attend concerts and plays, eat at restaurants, go shopping, attend meetings in San Francisco--and I can attend church each Sunday.