Puns Helped Form First Alphabet

Another interesting story about words.

Now John Pollack, the author of a forthcoming book on puns, has an article at The Huffington Post arguing that puns are more than just good-natured. They actually helped foster the rise of civilisation by spurring, among other things, the development of the first alphabet:

So what role did punning play in this? A catalytic one. The scribes who invented the alphabet did so by deliberate, increasingly complex punning. Essentially, they recognized that they could break apart sound, symbol and meaning to harvest phonetic components of deconstructed hieroglyphs, much as kids who tell knock-knock jokes break apart the component syllables of names and put those back to work in new, surprising ways.

The argument, in other words, is that as written language became more complex, people realised you could decompose words and reconstitute them, either for pragmatic reasons—as described by the rebus principle—or for more mischievous purposes. This spurred people to think about the potential of formalised language more generally. So to say that punning led to the creation of the alphabet might sound like a stretch, but some linguists share Mr Pollack’s belief that puns are serious business. Back in 2010, I wrote a short piece about an annual pun-off held in Austin. I was half-joking when I pitched an article about puns, but doing interviews, came to find the subject more substantive than I had expected. As Michael West of the University of Pittsburgh explained to me, puns became popular in the United States in the 19th century, concurrent with the spread of literacy.

Is Madison’s Orton Park Festival Getting Too Big For Marquette Neighborhood?

It only took one prominent voice in the Marquette neighborhood to raise a serious concern on a local list-serve about the growth of the Orton Park festival for a larger discussion to ensue.  The posting was made late Sunday night, but by Monday evening Madison Alder Marsha Rummel already not only had a meeting scheduled with the community, but an alternate date ready just in case the first did not meet with the approval of the majority wanting to attend.  It is heartening to know emails and correspondence can be read and dealt with in hours by our alder, and meetings can be scheduled so quickly.

The fact is the Orton Park festival has grown very large in just a few years, and there are legitimate reasons to question the role it serves in the neighborhood, and the impact it has on those who live in the area.

One of the themes that is now being talked about on the list-serve, over backyard fences, front porches, and in clutches of neighbors meeting for sidewalk chats is the volume of people who descend on this small park in a quiet neighborhood each summer.  I have heard some speak about the statistic that was presented by the original list-serve posting.  The number of people attending the annual summertime event does raise concerns.

I estimate in 1993 no more than 15,000 people attended the entire two days of the Festival. Now the Festival is four days long and there have been many individual acts that attract more than 15,000 at one show. By my estimate some shows have attracted almost twice that many. I believe the attendance for the entire Festival is now in the area of 100,000 people.

Clearly that number of people has an impact on the park, and the very old trees that now dot the place where Madison once had its first cemetery.

I am very sad to report that the large burr oak, tree #78 on the Orton Park survey map, is dying. That is the tree directly adjacent to the stage the Orton Park Festival has been using for the last several years. (The Parks Department tested it for oak wilt last fall – it does NOT have oak wilt.) I believe the stress caused by the Festival is a substantial contributing factor in the death of this giant tree. The Parks Department will likely cut down the tree in near future. 

In addition to the concerns that this neighborhood has for the trees is the level of noise that this festival creates.

In 2010 I measured the volume from the Festival on our front porch at 110 decibels – after 10:00 PM – and my porch is behind the speakers. Current Park regulations say volume may not be higher than 70 decibels after 7:00 PM and that events must vacate Parks by 10:00 PM. In 2009 I measured even louder volumes.

So what are the issues that need to be addressed, and what must city staff be prepared to answer for what I suspect will be a well-attended meeting?  One of the contributors to the discussion on-line listed a few questions that seem to me as striking at the core of the debate.

1. The purpose of the festival. The MNA site says that the purpose is to “…promote community building and culture.” It also states: “The festivals create a sense of community fabric that is important for the continued stability of the neighborhood at large. Outside of these events, there are no other activities that bring neighborhood residents together as a whole.”   I think this is what the festival used to be when one could talk with neighbors rarely seen and meet new neighbors. That is much harder now with the huge crowds. So, has the purpose changed to one of raising revenue?

2. How much money does MNA raise at this event? In FY 2009-10, the net amount was about $31,000. In FY 2010-11, the net amount was about $27,000. How do these amounts compare to the old days when the festival was more of a local event? Perhaps MNA could provide gross revenue, gross expenses and net revenue going back 10 years. This festival is a money maker, but it would be good to know how much of the net revenue can be attributed to a growth in the festival. It would also be good to know how essential the net revenues are to the MNA bottom line (e.g., what would need to be cut if net revenues decreased).

3. Orton Park is classified as a “neighborhood park” by the City. A “neighborhood park” is for the recreational and social focus of the neighborhood. In contrast, a “community park” such as Olbrich is to meet community-based recreation needs. Is the current festival an appropriate use of a neighborhood park?

4. Noise and livability of the neighborhood.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth: A Rare Recording of Her Voice

In a recent post about Thomas Mallon’s Watergate: A Novel I made mention of the beloved old crone of a character, Alice Roosevelt Longworth.  She has made for many an interesting story in her lifetime, and Mallon had pure fun with her in his book.

I tried to find some footage of her on You Tube and could only locate a rare recording of her voice.  It intrigued me–and that was good enough reason to post it on my blog.  Thanks for photo and video to Carl Anthony.

Please note the writing on the pillow–marvelous!

Bristol Palin, Lost Virginity When Drunk, Gives Advice On Gay Marriage

The Wasilla Hillbillies are at it again. 

Bristol Palin who was knocked up at age 17 out-of-wedlock had the shortsightedness to offer advice about gay marriage.  (Have you noticed how many out-of-wedlock pregnant women get all ‘moral’ about others after they spawn?)

None take Bristol seriously, of course, as she is acting like her mother, Sarah Palin, while grabbing for anything that sparkles and shines.  The whole lot of them are a clownish clan of racoon-like creatures who surface anytime they think some money or fame can be made from national events.  While Bristol thought she had something to offer on gay marriage most commentary about her shilling looks like this.

Soon after President Obama stated support for same-sex marriage, Bristol publicly weighed in. Because, you know, the world was on tenterhooks.

In a blog post she focused on the reference that Obama made to his daughters — and to the same-sex parents of some of the girls’ friends.

“It would’ve been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends (sic) parents are no doubt lovely people, that’s not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage,” wrote Bristol, making her heady debut as the new Dr. Spock for a nascent millennium. She added that “in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home. Ideally, fathers help shape their kids’ worldview.”

Fathers like…Levi Johnston? It’s with him that she conceived her child — out of wedlock, at the age of 17 — and by most accounts, his relationship with her and the Palin family isn’t any warmer than Juneau in January. A mother/father home is not what he and Bristol have succeeded in creating.

What’s more, she has made sure that their son, Tripp, will at some point be treated to a worldview-shaping image of Dad as something akin to a date rapist. That’s the description of him immortalized in her memoir, one of her many efforts to monetize her surname. It recounts the loss of her virginity as a result of getting drunk and blacking out in the company of Levi, who pounced. What a gift that narrative is to Tripp, now being hauled into a TV reality show, “Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp,” already in production. Little children are known to thrive in such environments.

Why Is President Obama So Competitive In This Election Cycle?

David Brooks writes from the perspective of an informed observer.

First, the Democrats’ demographic advantages are kicking in. The population segments that are solidly Democratic, like single women and the unchurched, are expanding. The segments that are more Republican — two-parent families and observant Catholics — are shrinking.

But most of the cause is personal. There’s an interesting debate over how much personal qualities matter in a presidential election. The evidence this year suggests: a lot. Take one contrast. According to a Fox News poll, only 36 percent of voters believe Obama has a clear plan for fixing the economy. But 48 percent approve of his performance. That means 12 percent of Americans approve of Obama even though they don’t think he has an agenda for moving us forward. In survey after survey, Obama is far more popular than his policies.

The key is his post-boomer leadership style. Critics are always saying that Obama is too cool and detached, arrogant and aloof. But the secret to his popularity through hard times is that he is not melodramatic, sensitive, vulnerable and changeable. Instead, he is self-disciplined, traditional and a bit formal. He is willing, with drones and other mechanisms, to use lethal force.

Normally, presidents look weak during periods of economic stagnation, overwhelmed by events. But Obama has displayed a kind of ESPN masculinity: postfeminist in his values, but also thoroughly traditional in style — hypercompetitive, restrained, not given to self-doubt, rarely self-indulgent. Administrations are undone by scandal and moments when they look pathetic, but this administration, guarded in all things, has rarely had those moments.

In 2008, Obama had that transcendent, messianic tone. This year, he has adopted a Clinton 1996 type of campaign — strong partisan attacks combined with an emphasis on small and medium-sized policies — like the Buffett Rule and student loans — intended to display his common man values. As a result, Obama has come off aggressive, but also, (unlike Romney) classless and in touch with middle-income groups.

I’d say that Obama is a slight underdog this year: the scuffling economy will grind away at voters. But his leadership style is keeping him afloat. He has defined a version of manliness that is postboomer in policy but preboomer in manners and reticence.

When Should The Supreme Court Hear The Gay Marriage Case?

There is a time to sow, and a time to reap.  Everything in politics and law is about timing. 

Over the past 20 years I have had countless discussions with a wide array of friends and colleagues who pondered with me the timing for full civil rights for gay people in America. Many of us were talking about this issue decades ago in the same emotional way it is now being discussed.  Gay marriage is not a new idea, and it is not one that will be denied to those in this nation who understand it is a right for all those who desire it.  

 I will always recall that it was my buddy Brad who told me while waiting to get coffee in the basement area of the Wisconsin Capitol in the early 1990’s that it would be the courts that would provide this equality for gay people.  I agreed with that argument then, and still do today.

As such, I have followed each case that has advanced in the various states over the years.  Now there is a major reason to have all eyes on the Supreme Court, and ponder again when it is best to sow seeds, and when to pick the harvest.

I am of the mind that any delay in justice is one day too long without the full rights that must come from living in this nation.  One more day of bigotry that is enshrined in law is one more day to be ashamed of the chains that hold people down, and those who keep them shackled.

The New Yorker has a must read on the legal aspect to gay marriage which will make all ponder the future course for this most pressing civil right.  

If the Perry case succeeds before the Supreme Court, it could mean that gay marriage would be permitted not only in California but in every state. And, if the Court recognized homosexuals as indistinguishable from heterosexuals for the purposes of marriage law, it would be hard, if not impossible, to uphold any other laws that discriminated against people on the basis of sexual orientation. However, a loss for Olson and Boies could be a major setback to the movement for marriage equality. Soon after Olson and Boies filed the case, last May, some leading gay-rights organizations—among them the A.C.L.U., Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights—issued a statement condemning such efforts. The odds of success for a suit weren’t good, the groups said, because the “Supreme Court typically does not get too far ahead of either public opinion or the law in the majority of states.” The legal precedent that these groups were focussed on wasn’t Loving v. Virginia but, rather, Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 Supreme Court decision that stunned gay-rights advocates by upholding Georgia’s antiquated law against sodomy. It was seventeen years before the Court was willing to revisit the issue, in Lawrence v. Texas, though by then only thirteen states still had anti-sodomy statutes; this time, the Court overturned the laws, with a 6–3 vote and an acerbic dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who declared that the Court had aligned itself with the “homosexual agenda,” adding, “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.”

Sandhill Crane Family In Waunakee, Wisconsin

Hat Tip to Rail Pro for pictures using a 75mm-300mm telephoto lens.