Thursday, June 29, 2017


Dawg Sez 6:

Henry Ford was a clever man. He wanted to build the first people's car. Affordable. Reliable. Easy to work on. And so he did: the Model T. In his autobiography, he wrote: Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants, as long as its black.

Ford Model T

Hobson's Choice in spades. It quickly became proverbial, and continues to be a favorite device of parents and professors, principals and presidents.

The phrase is often used incorrectly. What it is not is a dilemma. That is a choice between two equally undesirable outcomes. The devil and the deep blue sea. And it is not a matter of no choice at all. What it does mean is 'take what ya get, bud, or take a walk'.

Thomas Hobson was a man with a livery business in Cambridge, England, during the early 17th century. Though he had a number of horses to chose from, only the one nearest the stable door could be rented. That one horse or no horse at all. The wags from Cambridge University dubbed this Hobson's Choice. By the turn of the century Mr Hobson was enshrined in a poem by Milton, given a mention in 'The Spectator' No. 509 of 1712, and on the lips of both plebians and plutocrats.

Thomas Hobson

Monday, June 26, 2017


Gautama Buddha is credited with volumes of sayings, teachings, and admonitions most of which he never uttered. It is fairly certain that he provided the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Beyond that: barnacles on a whale's hide.

Right Action is usually listed as the fifth of the eight. What constitutes Right Action? Many clichés suggest answers: Take the path with heart. Follow your passions. Follow your dreams. Stop and smell the roses. Many more.

All such answers imply seeking those experiences which offer aesthetic value. This begs questions: How does one determine aesthetic value? How do aesthetics apply to the daily grind? Why should one bother? Today's posting considers four principles that offer insight for navigating the shoals and wicked seas of daily life.

1. Experiences or objects have aesthetic value if they are judged to be meaningful or teach us truths. Watching television rarely fits into this category. Climbing a mountain does.

Get off the couch.

2. Experiences or objects have aesthetic value if they have the power to provoke change. The music of Ludwig van Beethoven comes to mind.

Listen to music (lose the dumb phone and all other electronic gizmos). Sit. Listen.

Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

3. Experiences or objects have aesthetic value if they provoke intellectual or emotional harmony. A book by David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo, does both for me.

Read a book.

4. Experiences or objects have aesthetic value if they present a unique perspective of the world and/or its people. Form creates the value; function, in this case, is not relevant. A painting by Picasso suggests itself.

Stretch yourself culturally (physically, too).

The bottom line: De gustibus non disputandum est.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

BUGABOO, The Blank Page

Dawg Sez 5:

Every writer's nemesis is a blank page. Struggling? Take your last coherent thought, replace what you got with some synonyms, and the same thought comes out in a different way. Fills some space. If yer lucky, might provoke a new line of thought.

Many bugaboos afflict the writer looking for a plot. Raymond Chandler offers this solution: When you hit a wall, real or imagined, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. Even Chandler thought this was often a silly piece of business, but it worked for him. (Read The Long Goodbye. Many tag the book as his best.)

What we are dealing with here are unrealistic fears or dislikes of something real or imagined. Afraid of the dark? That be yer bugaboo, friend.

The word has no entry in Skeat's etymological dictionary. 'Bug' is there. That word derives from the Celtic bwg which is defined as a hobgoblin or spectre. The Irish say bocan. In Lithuania you say baugus which just means 'terrific'; and baugus comes from bugti, to terrify. When you say 'she's a terrific girl' do you mean you're scared witless of her?

Meanings come and go. Confusion ever present. Where's that chump with the gun in is hand?

Well, enough. A blank page can be terrifying. A blank mind is even worse.

Zudnik's old pal Blue.

Sometimes ya just got ta stop and eat the flowers.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

PRUNING, a short story

Less is more. Or not. 'Pruning' is a story that  I wrote to suggest that underestimating children with disabilities might be ill advised. Along the way, David Littlease argues that minimalism is the path best taken.


“Send him in.” A gruff voice. The administrator.
A gaunt face and lean figure enters. Tall.
The administrator again thinks of Ichabod Crane. And I’m the headless horseman. Heedless. No, mindless terror this ain’t. Nope. A simple exercise in discipline. Disability notwithstanding. Hasn’t got a leg to...discipline. Put the fear, a pruning. Proper analogy, that. Trimming his sails. It fits. Even if the metaphor is a tad clumsy.
Gaunt, lean, he stands watching, seeing. His clothes are common. Long sleeve plaid shirt with sleeves rolled, khaki pants, shoes. Basketball shoes. His clothes are common, frayed and faded; but
Hello Ichabod. “Young man,” says the administrator, a firmness. Cow eyes there. They seem to absorb, don’t they now. They ... get on with it. Get this done. “Mr. Littlease,” fixing an eye on the boy.
The boy, or so he appears, takes three paces forward to stand before the expanse of desk. The administrator peruses pages bound by a cheap, green folder. His face lifts from the pages, his face set into a stern mask.
The boy, David Littlease, sees the office. Shelves of books, diplomas, degrees, certificates ornately framed, a painting of bright rectangles, the photographs of the wife and children in plain, black frames, fancy pen set and mug. Mug.
What did he know of Littlease? No one seems to know where he came from. Crawled out from under a rock presumably. His background obscure. His parents unknown. Illiterate. Profoundly retarded. Psych-eval inconclusive. Mute. Deaf. Ward of the state shuffled about from institution to institution always a bad sign ... a rolling stone gathers much mass, bowls one over ... the bad apple spoiling the bunch. As it falls. The gravity of the situation cannot be...perhaps a troublemaker. Troubling, certainly. I always get the problems. I always get the ones the others can’t...feeling a strange admixture of self-pity and self pride ... can’t ... now this is interesting:

... has never spoken. The subject is apparently mute. Deafness, as well, is probable. Neither condition has been proven clinically. Reports of communication have been documented.

David stands passively before the desk gazing about the office. No judgment marks this boy’s face. Just the looking. A perceptive individual would also mark ... the seeing.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Dawg Sez 4:

Homo sapiens have the proclivity---just looked that one up, a bon mot if'n I do say so meself---for assumption. Time is taken for granted; water is taken for granted; and children---don't get me started on parenting. Bite somebody's head off. We'll just have a look at some punctuation and call it good.

Quotation marks, primes, and apostrophes are used and abused with abandon. Good reason for this: hard and fast rules are not available. Check your three major writing format styles---MLA, APA, and CMS---and you get a plethora of feeble conditional responses. And that's just for the US. In Great Britain, the Oxford Guide to Style (Originally Hart's) provides the descriptive rules.

Descriptive I'll have you note. Not prescriptive. No definitive 'right way' exists. Usage makes right.

Most agree that apostrophes are punctuation marks. Some note that they might be used as diacritical marks. This applies to English and a few other languages. Geoffrey Troy introduced these marks to French in 1529. Before 1868, the Japanese didn't use any punctuation. Only after the Meiji Restoration, when they mimicked everything western, did the practice change. The word itself comes from the Greek (no surprise) προσῳδία [ prosōidía] meaning a turning away or elision. In English, you folks use it for omissions, possessives, and the marking of plurals for individual characters.

Quotation marks, for some grammarians, have status only as a 'kind' of punctuation. Hmm? Problems arise when quotaton marks themselves are punctuated. Americans tend to use double quotation marks to enclose a quotation. The British opt for singles. For a quotation within a quotation, just the opposite. Periods and commas? Inside for the Americans; outside for the British. They do agree that all other punctuation marks go outside the marks.

Primes (and double primes) are used in mathematics and measurement. They look much like apostrophes. 6' 7" for example. In fact, primes don't exist on most keboards and have to be inserted as a special character. Most just use the single apostrophe, as I did. This 6ʹ 7ʺ uses primes.

There are more quibbles, but best to double check a style guide and then use intelligence guided by experience.

A final note: Bernstein, in The Careful Writer insists that 'quote' is a casualism for 'quotation' and should not be used in formal writing. Not everyone agrees.

Zudnik's friend Edgar, out in the backyard with his 'prime' ears.

Monday, June 12, 2017


Wabi-sabi (侘寂pervades all aspects of traditional Japanese art from flower arrangement (ikebana) to sword fighting (kenjutsu). To add that this aesthetic is the key ingredient flavoring all of Japanese life is not overstating the case.

Wabi-sabi presents a view of life that is focused on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Appreciation of things both animate and inanimate that are impermanent, somewhat flawed, and left unfinished are keys to understanding the nuances of the concept.

Specifically, wabi insists on a restrained, austere beauty; sabi adds the rustic patina. Wabi reaches its peak of austerity in the emptiness espoused by Zen monks. Sabi often carries a connotation of desolateness; but usually the reference is to something that has aged well, grown rusty, or acquired character. 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyū wrote: “In the small room, it is desirable for every utensil to be less than adequate."

Transience, restraint, vacancy: A certain minimalism is implicit in these terms. Robert Browning is said to have first used used the phrase 'less is more' in print in his poem 'Andrea del Sarto' published in 1855. The entire minimalist movement, with their mantra of less is more, is built on this centuries old concept. And in the early 20th century, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe adopted the same aphorism as the guiding principle of his work. Less is more.

A look back at Rembrandt's 'Self Portrait with Two Circles' (CwHD6) will help to see what the words are saying; or read Hemingway's The Old Man And The Sea. Extra brush strokes for the painter, unnecessary verbiage for the writer, are just gilding the lily.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

ZUDNIK et al

Thought it time I introduced the 'dawg'. This is Zudnik:

He was a wolfdog, a hybrid. His mother was a malamute; the father was a wolf. Few people think hybridization of canines is a good idea. I agree. Zudnik came to us as a gift, and we had no heart for putting him down. We dealt with him. Loving, ferocious, gentle, vicious, he spent ten good years with us. He was a beast, but he was my beast.

The use of that or which often bamboozles the sleepin' dog. Seems normal to say 'This is the fellow that stole my car,' or 'it's the kind of weather that I like.' That is what we say, but which is what we write.

Why? Go figure. Some think it's because words like who and which hark back to Latin pronouns, and so folks have the notion that those words are more refined, more literary. Others suggest that the clause begun with which is rare in speech, but more common in the written word.

So what's the difference? Fairly straightforward. Use that if what follows is limiting or defining. Our first example is just such a construction. Use which when the following clause can be left out like a parenthetical remark: 'The Columbia River, which is controlled by several dams, flows into the Pacific.'

Do what comes naturally (what'd ya expect from a dog?). Would you say 'This is the hombre which copped my ride.' I think not. You might write 'The Columbia River, which is controlled ...'; but you'd say 'The river that's controlled by dams is the Columbia.'


Monday, June 5, 2017



Chaos is wind. In Greek mythology, chaos was the origin of all things. Chaos was the primordial void. Arguably, chaos is the primordial void. Χάος spells the word in Greek. In the 17th century, a Dutch chemist, Jan Baptist von Helmont, equated chaos with gas. He based his decision on work done by Swiss alchemist and mystic, Paracelsus. The 'g' in 'gas' comes from the Dutch pronunciation of that letter, a spirant, also used to pronounce the Greek 'X'.

Chaos is gas: A state of matter that has neither independent shape nor volume but tends to expand indefinitely. Now, of course, we have turned this substance to good use. Gas heats and cooks and powers the automobile. It powers the intestines, large and small. Indeed, wordsmiths might be well personified by Wind. Order and chaos go together like a kiss and a smile.

Ordo ab chao: Out of chaos, comes order. This Latin phrase is one of the oldest mottos of Craft Freemasonry. Take a good mason and make him better was the goal of this ancient fraternal organization.

In the arts, aesthetics provide a set of principles whose goal, in a broad sense, is to find order in the void and represent what was found. In a narrow sense, this becomes the exploration of beauty; but the topic continues to expand. A four volume encyclopedia dealing with all the varied aspects of aesthetics awaits your inspection. To say that the aesthetic is the antonym to chaos does not overstate the case.

Violinist Yehudi Menuhin wrote:

Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm produces unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.1

And Rembrandt. Painting his coarse representations of a chaotic world. Dogs emptying their bowels in the foreground, working men plying their trades, warts and limps and squints and whathaveyou. He was rejected by his peers, by the pillars of the community. He worked in poverty without commissions. And never abandoned his belief in his art. This self-portrait2:

unfinished, unsigned, but as contentious as a rabid dog has elicited nothing but controversy from art critics, blowing hard. To me, the message is clear: the perfect circles in the back ground say, Yes, Aristotelian ideals are all well and good (beyond 'order', some 'perfection'); but, look at me, this is the reality (Chaos ordered). Sure, I could paint like you fellows if I chose to; but I don't. Deal with it.

And no more harmonious arrays exist than those of Rembrandt.

The motif of this struggle against chaos (chaoskampf in German) is ubiquitous in myth and legend, and equally so in modern literature, music, painting, and other arts. We live in the maelstrom., the whirling void. And from that void, we create our own world, colorful or drab or gray or gay or bleak. Day by day. Moment by moment. Harnessing the wind.

1 Jamesh A. Leit, George Whalley: Symboles Dans la Vie Et Dans L'art, McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 1987, p. 29

2 From 1665-1669, oil on canvas, 45" x 37"; Kernwood House, London.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


Wry is this dog larfin'?

Dawg Sez


When solar machinations disambiguate the confusion of the tenebrous night, then one's most sanguine expectation might be that today is Thursday (here on the left coast of NA anyways). Dog daze once again.

Did I leave ya at the gate, cats and kittens? Windfoggery will do that; but an ounce of perseverance is worth a pound of ... well, nevermind. At this stage of CwHD, a gander at pleonasms seems in order.

Any fool knows that fog rarely exists when the fair winds blow. Verbiage, verbosity, inevitably does just that. Often, with language, we find that the harder blows the wind, the denser gets the fog. This is windfoggery.

Gobbledygook is a common form employed by bureaucrats and politicians. Scientists are also prone to circumlocutions that raise blood pressure. Academics, too, wander in windfoggery droning on until their students' eyes glaze.

The sun chased the night away, as was expected, and today is Thursday. Better?

The active voice is one simple solution to the problem. The cat ate the mouse. More difficult to Latinize the active voice than otherwise. The passive voice requires more words and weakens the impact of the sentence, clarity-wise. The mouse was eaten by the cat. The active is a boxer, jabbing, on the attack. The passive is that very same boxer back peddling, on the defensive, strategy-wise.

One more thing, dear readers: drop the unnecessary prefixes and suffixes---'ize' and 'wise' are the worse offenders. Reading-wise, they be like fleas to hounds.

Arf arf: Ever heard a dog barking for hours on end? Windfoggery.