Friday, March 27, 2015

Records I'd rather not have

People seem obsessed with records.... wanting to be the biggest, the smallest, the smartest, the whatever-est.  Even if we're disgusted by what we're seeing and reading, we're still generally mesmerized by reports of records being broken.  Just ask the people at Guinness - after all, they've made a business out of it.

Some of these records involve body parts --  the record for the world's largest hips is 96 inches.  That's right... 8 feet.   There are records for things we do to our bodies, or allow our bodies to do.  There's the world's longest fingernails (more than 20 feet), the world's most piercings (453), the world's longest female beard, and the world's longest ear hair  (ewww.. I'm not even going to share the details with you.. it's that bad).

There's the world's most married person, not to be confused with the couple who has married each other the greatest number of times.  Wow.

Then there are the group events.  On August 8, 2010, 102 people rode on a theme park in Southeast England, to set a world record.  What's that you say?  That doesn't seem like a big deal?  Oh wait, I forgot to tell you, they were all naked.

And in case you don't hold a record but would like to, there are several websites listing a number of easy tasks you might want to consider...  there's 'the most sticky notes on the face in one minute', and 'the most jell-o eaten with chopsticks in one minute'.

In case you're interested, Ashrita Furman holds the record for holding the most records.

Frankly, most of these records I'd rather not have.  No, let me correct that.  There are none of these records that I want to have.

Hmmm,  I do have to wonder, though... what is the record on tea drinking?  I do know that in the countries where a great deal of tea is drunk, people will typically average 4 cups of tea a day.  Heck, that's easy.  But what about a record?  Amazingly enough, there is no record for the most tea drunk in any given period of time... So the possibilities are endless... Maybe.......

Nah, still not interested in setting a record.  I drink my tea one cup at a time, and if I want more tea I make another cup.  Which I think I'll go do right now.

But wait... Before I go...  I live just a bit north of Boston.   You may have heard that we have had the snowiest winter ever... Well over 100 inches of snow this year, and we're supposed to get another inch
today.   Just one more record I'd rather not have.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Respect for the flag

As a child, I was told that you weren't supposed to 'wear' the flag.  I don't know that I had a very clear idea of what patriotism really meant, but I knew that it was important and that it was somehow connected to the flag.  And I knew that I pledged allegiance to the flag every morning in school.  And I knew that flags were displayed at parades, and sporting events and in front of many buildings.  In the beginning, it wasn't clear to me why we weren't supposed to wear the flag - it was just a rule.

As I grew older and the year was 1960-something, I remember seeing pictures on the news of people wearing pants with flags on their bottoms  (the bottoms of the people, not of the pants).  These people were arrested, and now I was told that the reason you weren't supposed to wear the flag was because it was disrespectful.   At first I thought it was disrespectful because of the location of the flag, and because that meant you were sitting on the flag, but then I was told that it was deemed disrespectful to wear the flag anywhere on your body.  I didn't understand this.  I could understand not being allowed to burn the flag, but I didn't understand why you weren't allowed to wear it.

The federal flag code went into effect in 1942.  While the federal flag code carries no penalty, many states had laws that did carry penalties for certain acts with regard to the flag.  But the enforcement of any penalty for violating those laws has been struck down time and time again, and in 1974, the US Supreme Court noted "What is contemptuous to one... may be a work of art to another."  (Smith v. Goguen)  And, oh yeah, don't forget the freedom of speech issue.  As a result, over time we've seen t-shirts and jackets and purses and  - well, nearly everything, with the American flag on it, and society seemed to accept the notion that it was ok to wear the flag as long as you wore it with pride.

On the website for the American Legion, the question is asked whether you can wear something that looks like the flag, and the response is that as long as it isn't an actual flag, there's nothing wrong with it.  And that, of course, brings me to the current controversy regarding the flag.  A photographer posted a photo of a someone in a military uniform holding a flag that cradles an infant.  The uproar has been huge.  Technically, this is indeed a violation of the flag code.. but as I already said, there's no penalty for violating the flag code.  According to the American Legion website, this would not be a problem if it was a blanket that looked like a flag, but it is a problem since is it an actual flag.  Except that before you start thinking about whether there's any logic to the 'looks-like vs. actual' notion, you should know that I can't find anything official that supports that idea.

Let's try this on for size...  The flag is merely a symbol.  If the use of the flag or flag image is intended to show disrespect for what the flag represents (democracy, freedom, the US, etc ... take your pick)... then you shouldn't do it.  If the use of the flag/flag image shows respect,  or at least shows that you like the flag, then go ahead.

When I wear one of my very many t-shirts that displays a flag, I do so to show my respect for the flag and all it represents.  When I carry my straw bag that has the flag on it, I do so because I like the flag and the bag is the perfect size for an airplane carry-on.  Does the fact that I like the bag-with-a-flag because of its size mean that I'm disrespecting the flag?  Of course not.

Perhaps we should spend less time worrying about what constitutes respect for the picture on the rectangular piece of fabric, and more time worrying about what that picture and piece of fabric symbolize.

This post is intentionally being made with no images.  All of you know what the flag looks like.

And now it's time for a cup of tea.  It's typhoo tea, as usual... which is a British tea.  This is not a sign of disrespect of anything American, just a sign that I prefer typhoo.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thanks for understanding

I recently received an email from an acquaintance in response to an email I'd sent.  The email I received was not a terribly long one and it began with "Thanks for understanding", and concluded with that same phrase  "thanks for understanding". Hmmm...   I took a look at the email I had sent and confirmed that I had not said I understood.  Not even once. And yet my email generated two "thanks for understanding".

As you've probably guessed, the person on the other side of this email thread was taking action that I wasn't happy about.   At least in my mind, when you say 'thanks for understanding', you mean something along the lines of 'I know that what I'm doing/saying/planning on doing might not be what you think I should do, and I'm glad you realize why I have to do this'.

But now that I'm reading that, I realize that's a pretty complicated meaning for a little three-word   phrase, and perhaps I'm the one that's out of sync with everyone else.  So I decided to check this phrase out on the internet.  I found a site called Englishtown, an online school for developing English skills. Ok, that sounds like a pretty reliable source.   Englishtown recommends using the phrase "Thank you for your understanding" in a letter if you've shared something that may inconvenience or negatively impact the reader.  As it happens, that's not far from the actual situation here.  So maybe it's just me.

But wait, there's more.  I found a blog post in which the author complained that they didn't like it when someone expressed thanks for something that you hadn't done yet, in the hopes of persuading you to do it.  Well that doesn't fit, because it's not as if there's anything the other person wants me to do.  Except that this post went on to say that one of the reasons the author didn't like the 'thank you for understanding' phrase was because she didn't want to be understanding, she wanted to be selfish and have things her own way.  Now before you rush to judgement, this isn't a situation where I wanted things my own way... and frankly, it was someone else being inconvenienced, not me.  And if you ask me  (I know, you didn't ask... but IF you did), the person who was saying thanks was the one who was being selfish.

And that's about all I could find about this little phrase, with the exception of an amusing little anecdote.  Someone told a story of being in a foreign country.  When they entered the inn they would be staying at, no one was at the front counter.  But there was a bell on the counter next to a sign that said "Thank you for your comprehension."  The individual did comprehend the situation, and she rang the bell.  Sure enough, after she rang the bell, someone came out to greet her.  Here in the US, we would have said 'thank you for your understanding', but 'comprehension' was as good a word as 'understanding'.  So perhaps in my situation the sender of the email should have said 'thank you for your comprehension of what I've told you I'm going to do'.

And that's when I realized what the problem was.  You see, there are all sorts of forums where people inquire whether it should be 'thanks for understanding', or 'thanks for your understanding', or 'thank you for understanding'... and they're all missing the point.  The person who sent me the email actually intended to say "thank you for being understanding"... using the definition of understanding as being tolerant and forgiving.

They're still wrong...  I'm only tolerating their actions because I have no choice, and I don't really forgive them... but at least now I know what they meant, and why they felt that had to say it twice  (see the persuading notion, up above).  Had they known me better, they might have chosen to say something like... 'this is what I'm doing, so go have a cup of tea'.  No, tea doesn't change what they've done... but it does make me feel better.

My response to all of this?  

And after it's all over... go have a cup of tea.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Few Words on Flashlights

Those who don't know me well are reading the title of this post and thinking  'really?  Flashlights? She's scraping the barrel this time'.  But those who do know me well are thinking 'aw gee, Laurie and her flashlights'.

You see -- I like flashlights.  I mean, I REALLY like flashlights.  Don't know why, I just do.  I'd tell you how many I have, but it would take far too long to count them.  I have a couple of the big ones - you know, the kind that take one humongous battery.

I have floating ones, flashing ones, ones with red lens covers, flashlights with the little bulb at the end, and of course LED flashlights.  I have flashlights that I hold, and flashlights that I wear.  I have flashlights that take AA batteries, C batteries, and AAA batteries, .. and I even have one that takes no batteries at all, you just crank it.  Oh wait, I have another battery-less flashlight that you shake in order to charge it up.

Now, in case you haven't heard, here in New England we've had some tough weather lately.  We've had a few times when we keep flashlights handy because there's a worry about power outages, and on one occasion a  space heater left on too long blew a fuse, resulting in a trip down to the basement - with flashlight in hand, of course.

And all of this got me thinking --  where did the word 'flashlight' come from?  Before flashlights, I imagine people used lanterns.  So my guess was that perhaps one of the early reasons why flashlights became popular was because you could flick the switch on and off... in other words you could flash your light.  Yes, yes, I know my British friends use the word torch to mean a flashlight, because the flashlight replaced torches... but I'm not in Britain so I call them flashlights.

I headed off to the internet to see what I could find, and thought I'd share this with you.

First, the modern flashlight was invented in 1898 by Joshua Lionel Cowen -- more on him, later.  As I looked at the listing of different kinds and different power sources, I was pleased to see that I had at least one of each!  Oh Wait!!!  I'm missing one -- apparently there are solar powered flashlights.   I might have to find one of those.

But moving on...

The batteries used in early flashlights required periodic 'resting', in order to function.  In addition, they used very inefficient.  As a result of all of this, it was only possible to use them in brief flashes --  and so they were called flashlights.  Ok, so I was right that the light flashed, but it turns out it wasn't intentional, it was more of a design flaw until inventors could come up with better batteries and better bulbs.  Wow.  Turning on the light, and then having to rest it, and then turning it on again, and then resting it again...sounds like a real nuisance, but before you wonder why people bothered, remember that before flashlights - choices were limited to candles, lanterns, and torches. If flashlights had been around during the time of Frankenstein's monster, the Bavarian villagers might simply have stormed the castle, rather than burning it down!

So there you have it.. oh wait, I told you I had a bit more about Joshua Lionel Cowen.  Mr. Cowen invented lots of things one of which was an illuminated flower pot.  You never hear of this, right? That's because the idea never took off, and he gave the project away to one of his salesman. That salesman modified the idea and turned it into the American Eveready Company - - yes, the home of the Eveready battery.  Don't feel bad for Mr. Cowen though, because his true love was actually model railroads and trains, and he went on to become one of the founders of the Lionel Corporation - the maker of model railroads and toy trains.

From torches, to flash lights, to flashlights, to eveready batteries.  What more could you ask for?

And now, for a cup of tea.