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Friday, March 29, 2019

Lost (for) words

Do you remember that word?  Would you believe the spell-checker did not recognize the word Mergatroyd?  Heavens to Mergatroyd!

The other day a not so elderly (I say 75) lady said something to her son about driving a Jalopy; and he looked at her quizzically and said, "What the heck is a Jalopy?”  He had never heard of the word jalopy!  She knew she was old ... But not that old.

Well, I hope you are Hunky Dory after you read this and chuckle.

About a month ago, I illuminated some old expressions that have become obsolete because of the inexorable march of technology.  These phrases included:  
Don't touch that dial, 
Carbon copy, 
You sound like a broken record, 
And Hung out to dry.

Back in the olden days we had a lot of moxie.   
We'd put on our best bib and tucker,  
To straighten up and fly right.

Heavens to Betsy!   
Gee whillikers!   
Jumping Jehoshaphat!     
Holy Moley!

We were
in like Flynn  and
living the life of Riley ; 
and even a regular guy couldn't accuse us of being a
a nincompoop or a 

Not for all the tea in China!

Back in the olden days, life used to be swell,  but when's the last time anything was swell? Swell has gone the way of 
pageboys and 
the D.A.;   
of spats, 
poodle skirts, 
saddle shoes, and 
pedal pushers.

Oh, my aching back!   
Kilroy was here,  but he isn't anymore.

We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap, and before we can say,
“Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!”  Or,
“This is a fine kettle of fish!” 

We discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed omnipresent as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our tongues and our pens and our keyboards.

Poof,  go the words of our youth, the words we've left behind.  We blink, and they're gone. Where have all those great phrases gone?

Long gone:   
The milkman did it.   
Hey!  It's your nickel.   
Don't forget to pull the chain.   
Knee high to a grasshopper.
Well, Fiddlesticks!     
Going like sixty.  
I'll see you in the funny papers.   
Don't take any wooden nickels.   
Wake up and smell the roses.

It turns out there are more of these lost words and expressions than
Carter has liver pills.  This can be disturbing stuff!  (Carter's Little Liver Pills are gone too!)

Leaves us to wonder where Superman will find a phone booth...

See ya later, alligator!   

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Herodotus knew his ships

Herodotus was a Greek, born about 484 BC in Halikarnassos on the Aegean Sea, now Bodrum, in Turkey.  For some reason, perhaps because he was banished for political machinations, he became a well-heeled and leisured wanderer, traveling throughout Greece and the Aegean, Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and the northern coast of the Black Sea.  Everywhere he went, he studied the people, observed their habits and customs, and made note of the tales they told.  Then he settled down to write a record of "astonishing and heroic achievements."  It is the earliest known creative work in prose.

Herodotus was more than a mere raconteur, for not only did he make an effort to get the facts right, but he wrote without preconceptions or bias.  He called this collection of plain, unvarnished facts Historia, which in Greek means "inquiry," and so written history was born.  And so he became the Father of History.

He wrote about ships and great voyages, too.  Particularly interested in those sharp, adventurous, and energetic traders, the Phoenicians, he related amazing stories of their feats that he picked up during his tour of Egypt -- including an incredible circumnavigation of Africa.

Africa, except where it borders Asia (he wrote) is clearly surrounded by water.  Necho, Pharaoh of Egypt, was the first we know of to demonstrate this.  When he finished digging out the canal between the Nile and the Red Sea, he sent out a naval expedition manned by Phoenicians, instructing them to come home by way of the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, and in that fashion get back to Egypt. So, setting out from the Red Sea, the Phoenicians sailed into the Indian Ocean.  Each autumn they put in at whatever point of Africa they happened to be sailing by, sowed the soil, stayed there until harvest time, reaped the grain, and sailed on; so that two years went bay and it wasn't until the third that they doubled the Pillars of Hercules and made it back to Egypt.  And they reported things which others can believe if they want but I cannot, to wit, that in sailing around Africa they had the sun on the right side.

(From Lionel Casson's wonderful account of the Ancient Mariners, where he substituted modern equivalents for the geographic names Herodotus used.)

So Herodotus clearly did not believe the story himself, and since his time many maritime historians have shared his doubts.  Hundreds of arguments have been published -- and yet the voyage, as described, is feasible.  The sun would indeed be always on the right.  The problem of provisioning, which bedeviled thousands of exploration voyages, was easily solved by stopping on shore and growing food.  And Herodotus has recently been proved right in another maritime matter, too.

During that tour of Egypt, he also became intrigued with some strange boats that plied the Nile.  One, a cargo ship called a "baris" was described in detail, including a long account of its construction.  This was something else that was hotly debated by maritime historians, as there was no other evidence of a baris whatsoever.  But now, as The Guardian describes, Herodotus wasn't suffering from a rush of the imagination.  The baris truly existed.  And a wreck has been found.

“It wasn’t until we discovered this wreck that we realised Herodotus was right,” said Dr Damian Robinson, director of Oxford University’s centre for maritime archaeology, which is publishing the excavation’s findings. “What Herodotus described was what we were looking at.”

An artistic treatment of the discovered shipwreck
 An artistic treatment of the discovered shipwreck. The upper half of the model illustrates the wreck as excavated. Below this, unexcavated areas are mirrored to pro­duce a complete vessel outline. Photograph: Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

In 450 BC Herodotus witnessed the construction of a baris. He noted how the builders “cut planks two cubits long [around 100cm] and arrange them like bricks”. He added: “On the strong and long tenons [pieces of wood] they insert two-cubit planks. When they have built their ship in this way, they stretch beams over them… They obturate the seams from within with papyrus. There is one rudder, passing through a hole in the keel. The mast is of acacia and the sails of papyrus...”
Robinson said that previous scholars had “made some mistakes” in struggling to interpret the text without archaeological evidence. “It’s one of those enigmatic pieces. Scholars have argued exactly what it means for as long as we’ve been thinking of boats in this scholarly way,” he said.
But the excavation of what has been called Ship 17 has revealed a vast crescent-shaped hull and a previously undocumented type of construction involving thick planks assembled with tenons – just as Herodotus observed, in describing a slightly smaller vessel.
Originally measuring up to 28 metres long, it is one of the first large-scale ancient Egyptian trading boats ever to have been discovered.
Robinson added: “Herodotus describes the boats as having long internal ribs. Nobody really knew what that meant… That structure’s never been seen archaeologically before. Then we discovered this form of construction on this particular boat and it absolutely is what Herodotus has been saying.”

The wooden hull of ship 17.
 The wooden hull of ship 17. Photograph: Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

About 70% of the hull has survived, well-preserved in the Nile silts. Acacia planks were held together with long tenon-ribs – some almost 2m long – and fastened with pegs, creating lines of ‘internal ribs’ within the hull. It was steered using an axial rudder with two circular openings for the steering oar and a step for a mast towards the centre of the vessel.

Robinson said: “Where planks are joined together to form the hull, they are usually joined by mortice and tenon joints which fasten one plank to the next. Here we have a completely unique form of construction, which is not seen anywhere else.”
Alexander Belov, whose book on the wreck, Ship 17: a Baris from Thonis-Heracleion, is published this month, suggests that the wreck’s nautical architecture is so close to Herodotus’s description, it could have been made in the very shipyard that he visited. Word-by-word analysis of his text demonstrates that almost every detail corresponds “exactly to the evidence”.
Ship 17 is the 17th of more than 70 vessels dating from the 8th to the 2nd century BC, discovered by Franck Goddio and a team – including Belov - from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology during excavations in Aboukir bay, with which the Oxford Centre is involved.

Friday, March 22, 2019

What it is like to wear a head scarf in Wellington

Following the wonderful example of our prime minister, girls and women were encouraged to wear head scarves on this day, Friday 22 March, the one-week anniversary of the atrocity in Christchurch, where 50 Muslim worshipers were gunned down while at prayer.

As the appeal ran:

New Zealanders of all religions are being encouraged to wear headscarves on Friday to show their support for the Muslim community.
The #headscarfforharmony movement will take place on Friday March 22.
It aims to support and acknowledge the pain the Muslim community is suffering, and the grief New Zealanders share in the midst of tragedy.
"We want to show our love and support and grieve for the loss of 50 mothers, fathers, children, colleagues and friends after last Friday's terrorist attack in Christchurch," the group says.
While I do not particularly like women being dressed in ritual clothing, considering it a form of subjugation, I do wear a head scarf in Muslim countries, as a courtesy to their local customs.
So, today, I followed the encouragement, and wore a head scarf during the noon rush in Wellington, walking down the Terrace, through Parliament grounds, and up Molesworth Street, passing the entrances of many major businesses and lots of trendy cafes.  The streets were crowded. 
And, for me, it was a curious experience.  
Along the Terrace, people avoided eye contact.  Going through Parliament grounds,  I was shocked when a man gave me a two-finger salute, with a silent snarl.
It was not the first time.  Walking up Molesworth Street, it happened again.  Twice.  Both of these men who displayed such contempt of what I was wearing were white, and in late middle age.
Then I saw a policeman.  He hesitated when he saw me, looked me up and down, and then walked on without a word.  Crossing zebra crossings, I felt more worried than usual that the oncoming car wouldn't stop to let me through.
I saw two other Kiwi women in head scarves.  Like me, they had their heads down, and looked intimidated.  
Finally, someone smiled.  It was a young Indian woman with a pushchair, and it was as if the sun had come out behind a cloud.
It was a tiny glimpse into what daily life is like for an Muslim woman who is wearing traditional dress.  It was the first time I realized what courage it takes to go out wearing such a strong statement of belief and custom.
I have no idea if the men who two-fingered me were Kiwis -- the city is full of tourists.  Nonetheless, it was very troubling.  All I can suggest is that schools should have "head scarf days" for girls and "skullcap days" for boys, maybe just once a term.  Just to see how they come out of the experience.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

New Zealand's response to outrage

The last six days have made me proud to be a New Zealander.  Last Friday's atrocity was not just an attack on innocent people at prayer, but an attack on our whole country, and the way we feel about being New Zealanders.

Gifts and food have been delivered to mosques, Islam centers, hospital staff, and police.  Vigils have been held where thousands have attended.  Flowers have been placed, and candles lit.  Visas for relatives flooding in from all over the world have been expedited, and money for funerals has been provided.  Online donations have reached in the millions.

One symbol of this huge outpouring of love, sympathy and grief is that the two mosques that were the scene of this outrage will be ready for prayers tomorrow.

Bloodstained carpets have been replaced, windows re-glazed, bullet holes filled and walls repainted.  And it has been done by Kiwis who have donated their skills and materials.

According to the news report:  Christchurch businesses have rallied to ensure that the mosque at the centre of New Zealand's worst mass shooting is open to the Muslim community a week after the terror attack.

A gunman entered the Masjid Al Noor on Deans Ave about 1.40pm last Friday and shot dead 42 people as they prayed. The building was left riddled with bulletholes and stained with blood.
The police finished their investigation at the scene on Tuesday night. Since then, carpet layers, plasterers, glaziers, painters, builders and gardeners have been working to clean and repair the mosque so the Muslim community can return to pray there on Friday afternoon.
Friday is considered a sacred day for Muslims when they come together to pray as a community. 
Stuff contacted businesses involved in the clean-up, but most declined to comment because they didn't want the publicity.  The businessman said he was approached by a "government agency" to carry out the work and had been told it needed to be completed by Thursday night so Friday prayers could be held at the mosque.
"It's not about our business, it's about trying to restore some normality back into the town. To help is a really good feeling."