Saturday, May 16, 2009

Parvum Opus 325 ~ Dulce, Utile, et Decorum

Why a garden?
Today’s words: discrimination and choice.

While doing my minimal bit of garden today I reflected on the fact that so many people have written on gardens, on the physical garden itself; but inevitably gardening leads to meditation and metaphor.

First, there’s The Garden. The one in Eden. It wasn’t the Forest of Eden, the Jungle of Eden, or the Wilderness of Eden. Why was it a garden and not a wilderness? Because a garden means Someone has selected certain plants over others. Everything is available outside the garden, but everything is too much for humans.

Deciding what to plant is both the fun part and the hard part of gardening. Too much to choose from. In my little 3 x 6 foot patch by the front steps, we have pachysandra (which Fred planted some years ago; it flourished and then thinned out); three different small varieties of day lily; ferns and lilies of the valley from a former neighbor; a new mint plant called Kentucky colonel; one and a half hostas; portulaca in a concrete pot with four sort of Green Man faces all around; one hyacinth; and a few ornaments, with Saint Francis of Assisi overlooking it all.

I pull out the plants I call weeds, even when they aren’t necessarily less beautiful than the ones I plant. Some plants overgrow others and prevent them from growing. I can’t just leave the bindweed to grow as groundcover, despite its lovely white flowers, because it wraps itself around other plants in a menacing manner. The Virginia creeper has big underground roots that pop up just anywhere. A garden is all about discrimination, not about inclusiveness. If I were a farmer, I’d be even more ruthless.

Years ago I knew a young woman who didn’t think it was right to discriminate in her lawn. She let it grow wild — “natural” — but since her house was in a tract development, her neighbors complained because the small wilderness attracted rodents and snakes from the nearby woods. This is why even people who don’t care for gardening or for lush lawns keep a large cleared area around their houses: so they can see what’s coming at them.

Mike Speaks

Regarding Michael Savage being banned from the UK, Mike Sykes writes:

It's not a problem. Why should we let him in, when we have enough obnoxious people in this country already?
Regarding milk leg and wobbles on my mystery list:

You're right about [milk leg]: (1922 C. S. Whitehead & C. A. Hoff, New Eugenics (1928) I. v. 209.) It is technically called phlegmasia dolens, but from the fact of its resemblance to a thin bag of skin filled with milk, and as it was formerly thought that the milk from the breasts in some way managed to get there, it has been called 'milk leg'. When my sister-in-law had it it was called 'white leg'.
Wobbles: As you thought, a disease, as in 1895 Queenslander 7 Dec. 1090 Rickets or Wobbles in Cattle.

Regarding Leonard Pitts’ religion, quoting Pitts:

I quote: ‘... my people — Christians — ...’.
“My people” could mean his family, or black people generally, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s his religion too. In fact since he didn’t say “my religion” I’m inclined to think it’s not.

Dumber than Anvils

Bill R. referred me to Fred Reed’s blog again, a good rant on education, Coma in the Schools: Growing Up Dumber Than Anvils. (Sorry if this offends any students, grads, teachers, or anvils.)

Bill also wrote about turf language:

Specialist language used by specialists is often verbal shorthand for precise concepts. For example, in nuclear power plant engineering, “LBB” or “leak-before-break” names a very specific phenomenon. It may function as turf language—if you don’t know LBB, you’re not in the club—but its primary attraction is that it saves the professionals from a three-sentence description every time they talk about it.

A key difference between precision language and turf language is that for true turf language, there is no precise meaning. That would be the problem in education, I suspect. (Recall that part of the PhD is supposed to be an “original contribution to human knowledge.” If you can’t make one, you have to BS a “contribution” by dressing up something else in your language.)

I started out to get a degree in education but switched to liberal arts after my first semester, in order to teach at college level. I hadn’t been especially impressed by my first couple of education courses. With the increase in the "professionalism" of teachers, greater requirements for certification, etc., in the last century has come a decline in product quality.
An aside regarding unnecessary degrees: Many years ago I read about someone who was getting a PhD in physical education, and for her doctoral thesis, her contribution to the universe of scholarship, she did "original research" comparing bacteria levels on people who bathed and on bums who went for long periods without bathing. People who don’t bathe accumulate more bacteria on their skin, she found.

Grandma’s Button Box

V Found this while I was looking for an online Latin translator:

“Firstly I have to tell you that the name Tiffany does not exist at all in Latin and ...”

V In a catalogue: Indian cotton skirt in a classical patchwork print.” Cute skirt but classical is the wrong word. “Classic” means something of high quality or an outstanding example of its kind. “Classical” means from an ancient period of art, especially from Greek or Rome, or, a certain kind and period of music. The print of the skirt is not of an ancient period; it’s vaguely patchwork and vaguely block print. You could call it classic, but that would be a stretch too.

V IMHO usually means “in my humble opinion” but some people think it means “in my honest opinion”, which shows why acronyms are a bad idea. Speaking of humble opinions, is that an oxymoron? Would you hold an opinion that you simultaneously thought was incorrect? Not unpopular or immoral, but just wrong? “You always think you’re right” is not a useful attack in an argument. Of course we always think we’re right. If we didn’t, we’d switch to another opinion, and this includes opinions about facts as well as values.

V “She actually was Miss Teen USA back in the day.” (Said of the Miss California runner-up in the recent Miss USA foolishness.) Back in what day? The old days? The girl can’t be 25 yet.

Proofreading Needs Bailout

Curiosities of Literature by John Sutherland (reviewed in the May 11, 2009 Wall Street Journal by Charles Harrington Elster; you’ll have search for the article; I wasn’t able to grab the URL, which is apparently protected) is a book of literary trivia. For instance, the first western novel was published in 1860, by a woman, Ann S. Stephens (no relation to Fred, as far as I know).

Elster notes that it suffers from lack of proofreading. You may have noticed more errors in books published in the last couple of decades than in older books. Publishers are cutting costs by eliminating proofreaders. Many publishing companies have been bought out by big corporations that don’t really love publishing; most manufacturers would not tolerate so many flaws in their products. Elster says he found more than 50 errors in the first 100 pages of this book, such as: “The poet Amy Lowell, was in the practice of renting five rooms in any hotel she booked into.”

Around Christmas I picked up a local city magazine and noticed errors on the cover. Inside, of course, there were more. I e-mailed the editor, who replied that they’d had a proofreader but she moved on, so I offered my services, but didn’t get the gig; possibly they found someone cheaper or continue to do it themselves. I haven’t bought another issue to check for errors.

Elster also complains that Curiosities of Literature doesn’t have an index. Indexes cost money. I’ve built indexes. Authors usually don’t do their own, and Sutherland obviously didn’t do much proofreading of his own galleys either.

Note to Readers

I will be publishing collections of each year of PO for Amazon Kindle and Some of your letters have appeared in PO, for which I thank you. If you have any preference about use of your name, let me know.

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I’m publishing for the Kindle digital reader with Amazon and now also on for download to computer and for printing. Most of these titles are available in both locations. Search for Rhonda Keith on Kindle store and

* A Walk Around Stonehaven is a travel article on my trip to Scotland. Short article with photos. ( only.)

* The Wish Book is fantasy-suspense-romance featuring the old Sears Roebuck catalogues. Novella.

* Carl Kriegbaum Sleeps with the Corn is about a young gambler who finds himself upright in a cornfield in Kansas with his feet encased in a tub of concrete; how would you get out of a spot like that? Short story.

* Still Ridge is about a young woman who moves from Boston to Appalachia and finds there are two kinds of moonshine, the good kind and the kind that can kill you. Short story.

* Whither Spooning? asks whether synchronized spooning can be admitted to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Humorous sports article.

* Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Cats: One woman's tale of menopause, in which I learn that the body is predictive; I perceive that I am like my cat; and I find love. Autobiographical essay.

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Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at; 2009 issues are at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2009. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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