Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The "Serious"

I think it was the late Herb Caen who first called baseball's annual October rites by this name.The top teams in the two "Major Leagues" engage in a 'best-of-seven contest to find the "World Champions"..The two leagues have slightly different rules, because the American League allows a "designated hitter" to bat in place of the pitcher, who can return to stay in the game. I'm not going to take sides on this issue here: interested people can prefer the classic game, or the possibility of more 'hits' and maybe higher scores. No, I and many others, especially fellow immigrants, have long chafed at what is seen in other countries as an egregious example of American arrogance. How dare they call it the "World Series", when no other nation is allowed to compete? Excellent baseball may be encountered in Japan and Cuba, among other countries. Some of the finest players come from other nations, and are eagerly sought out to play for American teams. The names of players from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and other nations tells its own story: Rodriguez, Sanchez, Scutaro, Cabrero, Marichal, Hernandez, and other Hispanic names. I'm old enough to remember when black athletes weren't allowed to play in the all-white leagues. They played excellent games in the Negro Leagues. I'm glad to have been able to watch Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Sammy Sosa, and many other outstanding players born with a black skin. I don't expect to see an open international competition in my lifetime. More feasible would be a contest pitting the best players from their native countries against teams representing other lands, whether or not the players were also performing for American teams. I just don't see the owners of Major League teams allowing their hired hands to participate in such a contest. Late note: the San Francisco Giants "swept" the Detroit Tigers by 4--0. Huzzah!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Single names

A few of the country's most famous people are known by single names, such as Madonna, Cher, or Sting. For the most part, "mere mortals" need at least two names. We have just had several solar panels put on our house. A neighbor whom we had met briefly, but did not really know, called on us to find out what was going on, and introduced himself as "Arend Boer". After confirming that he was from the Netherlands, I mentioned that his last name meant "farmer" in English. He confirmed this, and mentioned that many Dutch people 200 years ago had no second name. He told us that when the area we now know as the Low Countries was occupied by Napoleonic forces, there was an edict that all the people have at least one other name. He told us that his ancestor had decided to use his occupation as a second name. This reminded me that such last names as "Carpenter" and "Cooper" in English came about for similar reasons. However, most English folk several hundred years ago simply added "son" to the parent's name: Johnson, Robertson, Watson, etc, are just a few examples of this. There was also a time in Germany when Jewish people were also forced to adopt a second name. Many of them chose precious objects, such as gold, silver, and diamonds to form this second name, and variants of names using these objects remain as clues to Jewish ancestry to this day. I have noticed a pleasant tendency nowadays for introductions to be limited to first names On a recent evening , I was introduced to a "Mike" and his wife, "Teri" (although she may have spelled that name in some other way). I have no idea what their last name is--or names are, if they follow the modern fashion of a woman choosing not to adopt her spouse's name

Monday, October 15, 2012

Disrespecting other nations

I am sometimes a little miffed at what is now being called "American Exceptionalism". Proud though I am of my adopted country's many successes, especially in science, I am turned off by excessive bragging. It's certainly OK to shout "USA! USA!" after an Olympic gold medal is won, but I have never agreed with Patrick Henry's famous comment "My country, right or wrong". I usually keep my opinions about this to myself, conscious that my country of birth has long been one of the major offenders in this regard. It is understandable how the British felt 120 years ago, with the UK's commercial success and empire-building. "Jingoism" began when Rudyard Kipling was flourishing. This has led me to note the disparaging names the English have used for other nations. "Welshing" is an example of giving a bad name to another part of the UK, as is to describe an event as a "Scotch treat". Folk who walk away from their duties take "French leave". "Dutch courage" is not a generous term. "Russian roulette" is far from being sensible behavior. There are also other combinations that are descriptive of origin rather than complimentary, such as a "Swiss roll", "German measles", "Chinese checkers", and "Spanish flu". In Colorado, we do our best to eliminate that noxious species, the "Russian Olive". There are some other neutral terms: I have no objection to Danish Blue, although I don't associate the breakfast pastry known as a "Danish" with Denmark. I never eat "Turkish Delight". "Scotch Eggs" are good, as are the descriptive terms "Canadian Bacon", "Greek Salads", "Irish Stew", "French Mustard" and even "Welsh Rarebit". Italy seems to have escaped being linked by name to any familiar objects or foods, although it was originally the home of pizza, pasta, and risotto.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bubbly trouble

This is the time of year when baseball teams completing a championship season have the time and opportunity to celebrate their success. They choose a traditional way of celebrating: they pop champagne corks. I really enjoy a glass or two of champagne, although I am also happy with some of the alternative sparkling wines, such as Cava. Some producers here in California offer an excellent product, notably Domaine Chandon. For casual celebration, I also enjoy "frizzante" wines. However, I must admit to deploring those shots of happy athletes dousing each other with expensive champagne. When I saw a recent photograph, there was no doubt in my mind that the successful team was using real champagne, not a less expensive substitute: I could see the name Moet clearly, and that is a classic brand of authentic champagne. The one good thing I note about such celebrations is that the cork comes out, unlike the way in which some princess or movie star breaks a bottle of champagne on the bows of a ship being launched. I am in full support of the ongoing campaign of champagne producers to protect the use of the word "champagne" for its wonderful product, although in casual usage there's no way they can prevent airlines and others from calling the substitute product by the hallowed name of "champagne". Despite the efforts to control usage of the name, the true champagne producers are doing very well, thank you. Check out the prices the next time you are visiting your friendly local wine merchant.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Nickels and Dimes

In 2008, the Obama campaign benefited from numerous small donations, making use of the internet to rake in these contributions. It is understandable why Democratic fundraisers are using the same technique this year. Perhaps this is a significant reason why the Obama fundraising for a recent month was a little higher than that of Romney. We do believe in "putting our money where our mouth is", but we prefer to make more significant gifts after discussion. We learned many years ago, before the days of the internet, that the first thing that happens when anyone sends money to a political party is that the recipient promptly sends out another request. They do this, because it works. I sometimes think that the "delete" key is the most important one on my computer's keyboard, and I don't usually give a second thought when using it. Alas, we receive multiple solicitations from different political organizations. Perhaps I should be readier to "unsubscribe", but I don't want to cut off all messages from the political parties we support. As I write this, it is still many weeks until the November elections, we are still being inundated with requests to "chip in"$3, $5, or whatever. I guess that the only way to look at this is that it comes with the "freedom of speech" and other aspects of American life which we admire.