At last, a word for the all-too-often occurrence in student papers of such substitutions as
"doggy dog world" for "dog-eat-dog"
"for granite" for "for granted"
"all intensive purposes" for "all intents and purposes"
and so on. These have been dubbed eggcorns, and you can find out more about them here. The term comes from an observed case of the substitution of "eggcorn" for "acorn." An eggcorn generally makes some sense and is not a meaningless construct; thus, the word "eggcorn" suggests a shape, and an acorn is a seed, like a kernel of corn. Witness "old-timer's disease" for Altzheimer's.
If you're fascinated by linguistic quirks, as I am, be sure to check out the eggcorn database.
The term "mondegreen" was coined by Sylvia Wright in a 1954 Atlantic article. As a child, young Sylvia had listened to a folk song that included the lines "They had slain the Earl of Moray/And Lady Mondegreen." As is customary with misheard lyrics, she didn't realize her mistake for years. The song was not about the tragic fate of Lady Mondegreen, but rather, the continuing plight of the good earl: "They had slain the Earl of Moray/And laid him on the green."
We've all done this. Count me among the thousands who heard the Rascals sing "you and me and Leslie" (instead of "you and me, endlessly") in their song "Groovin'." I always wondered who the hell Leslie was and why he or she didn't appear at any other time in the song ... There's the famous Creedence Clearwater Revival song about a bathroom on the right, and of course that unfortunate girl with colitis in "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" ("the girl with colitis goes by"). And what about the unforgettable "Midnight After You're Wasted" by Maria Muldaur?
For more mondegreens, see Jon Carroll. Be sure to scroll down on the page to read "Mondegreens Ripped My Flesh."
I love stumbling on language-related tidbits like these. For more on linguistics-related news, analysis, and discussion, check this out.
While I haven't written about bird flu in quite a while, H5N1 hasn't disappeared. To the contrary, wild birds, poultry flocks, and human beings keep contracting the disease, and this form of avian flu keeps spreading to formerly flu-free countries. Repeated outbreaks among poultry have bedeviled farmers in several countries recently, including Poland, Russia, China, and Vietnam. So far, the virus has not achieved the efficient human-to-human transmission that would give rise to a pandemic. But given the number of countries that have seen outbreaks in poultry or wild birds, I'm still mighty nervous.
To date, fourteen countries have reported confirmed cases of bird flu in humans. The latest countries to join that list are Burma (Myanmar) and Pakistan. In Burma, a seven-year-old girl survived the disease. In Pakistan, there were eight confirmed cases of H5N1 and two deaths.
Pakistan particularly caught my attention because of the political situation there and because of its proximity to Afghanistan, where the US and other nations have military forces. It would certainly be possible for avian flu to make its way, via the bird population, to Afghanistan. And it would be possible for the flu to be transmitted to humans, as has happened in fourteen countries already. And it would be possible for a returning soldier to carry the virus home.
When I actually read the article about Pakistan, I found that my speculation about possible spread was all too realistic. A US resident who had visited that country went to his doctor upon his return, complaining of respiratory symptoms and worried that he might have been exposed to H5N1. The physician contacted the appropriate health services, who arranged for tests. Fortunately, the patient tested negative.
But that's how easily H5N1 could enter the US or any other nation so far untouched. We've been extremely lucky that the virus has not mutated to a form highly contagious among humans. That's not to say there hasn't been human-to-human transmission; there has, but it's been limited and unsustained. There's no way to know whether or not the virus will mutate into a different, more easily spread form.
If it does, then the three conditions necessary for a pandemic will have been met:
A new virus is introduced to which humans have little or no immunity.
The virus is capable of replicating itself in humans and causing disease.
The virus is efficiently transmitted from human to human.
If you want to know more about H5N1, the nature of pandemics, how to prepare for a pandemic, or other useful (and perhaps lifesaving) information relating to avian flu, visit the Flu Wiki. There you'll also find links to blogs and other sites that feature updates on the flu situation worldwide.
And if you haven't thought about preparing for a pandemic, maybe it's time to start thinking about it (perhaps as part of a plan to handle any extensive, life-interrupting disaster). While the US government is urging people to establish a two-week supply of food, water, and other essentials, we know that pandemics come to communities in waves of 6 to 8 weeks each for up to 12 or 18 months.
With H5N1 endemic in the wild bird population, avian flu isn't going away any time soon. Even while public health officials and governments around the world hope it never happens, they're preparing for the worst. Shouldn't you?
Visit CODEPINK's site and sign the pledge. I'm not up to most of the actions, but I certainly say no to war toys, try to give in a responsible, sustainable way (not always succeeding, of course, due to not wanting to disappoint the kids on my list!), and try to inform family and friends of what's going on in the world and how we can try to change things. And I do try to contact elected officials to let them know my stand on matters of war and peace.
I'm sure you do some of these things, too. So go sign the pledge, commit to peace, and join me in wishing that "peace on earth" could be more than a platitude we mouth at Christmas.
In May 2006, the Department of Homeland Security opened its first prison for immigrant families 30 miles north of Austin. It is the first family detention center in the country to be based on the penal model, though plans were quickly made to build more.
The T Don Hutto facility holds men, women (some pregnant), children, and infants, none of whom have a criminal past. Administered by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country's largest for-profit corrections company, Hutto lacks proper licensing and medical facilities, and has been proven to traumatize families.
Until a settlement resulting from the action of the ACLU, all of the "residents" (actually inmates) wore uniforms, even the infants. But let me quote from the ACLU itself on the improvements that occurred only after a lawsuit was brought against CCA:
Conditions at Hutto have gradually and significantly improved as a result of the groundbreaking litigation. Children are no longer required to wear prison uniforms and are allowed much more time outdoors. Educational programming has expanded and guards have been instructed not to discipline children by threatening to separate them from their parents.
In addition to making those improvements permanent, the settlement also requires ICE to provide, among other things:
allow children over the age of 12 to move freely about the facility
provide a full-time, on-site pediatrician
eliminate the count system which forces families to stay in their cells 12 hours a day
install privacy curtains around toilets
offer field trip opportunities to children
supply more toys and age- and language-appropriate books
improve the nutritional value of food
ICE must also allow regular legal orientation presentations by local immigrants’ rights organizations; allow family and friends to visit Hutto detainees seven days a week; and allow children to keep paper and pens in their rooms. ICE’s compliance with each of these reforms, as well as other conditions reforms, will be subject to external oversight to ensure their permanence. [my emphasis]
Remember, all of these improvements happened only because of litigation. CCA couldn't have cared less about providing such necessities had they not been threatened. I suppose we shouldn't really be surprised that when a prison-operating corporation runs a facility, it tends to be, well, a prison.
The ACLU's suit was settled in August. But way back in February, there had been enough disgust and protest that the prison conducted a tour for news media to show that
Once all the barbed wire comes down, Gary Mead, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, said, “it’s going to look more like a community college with a very high chain-link fence.”
Look at this and tell me what you think about this statement. Worse, let me quote from a report by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women & Children and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, "Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families":
In the medical wing, for example, pregnant detainees were X-rayed with no lead screen; detainees received dental work without anesthesia; pregnant women were not allowed milk and were shackled when taken outside the facility for checkups. Additionally, the report reveals that overheated water scalded children at times. To punish children deemed unruly, guards "would turn up the air conditioning so that the room became very cold" and would turn off hot water for bathing, the report states. But the worst offense was that so-called errant parents and their children lived under the threat of being separated.
There has been at least one documented case of a sexual assault of a detainee by a guard, and in an irony not really that surprising, undocumented workers have been proven to work for the CCA at Hutto. Apparently, Williamson County's only concerns revolve around possible liability issues stemming from these outrages.
Don't kid yourselves: with the rabid anti-immigrant sentiment today (anti- brown immigrants, of course), we'll see more of these "residential facilities," and they'll all be sold to us as ways to keep families together. In reality, they are just one more way to intimidate the brown hordes and play to the nativist, xenophobic elements of the far right. I am frightened and chilled to think that the United States of America has sunk so low.
You can help. Sign the petition. Visit the Texans United for Families action page. E-mail your elected officials and ask them to agitate for a more humane way to deal with families whose immigrant status is in limbo. And please tell everyone you know about this horrific reality in today's America.
The Christmas season is upon us, and once again, as an avowed unbeliever, I state my love for the season.
What's not to like?
I'm a believer in the power of myth in all our lives. I'm a believer in story. The Christmas season provides us with these elements in spades. I'm sorry about the catastrophes that Christianity has brought about, sure, but I love so many of the details of the myth and the story.
But let's forget, for a moment, the actual story, and focus on something else: the pagan origins of almost everything in the Christmas story. And let's not forget that the details of Jesus's birth, as described in the Gospels, are nothing new: the virgin birth, the gifts of frankincense and myrrh, the emphasis on astronomical/astrological features (the star in the East; winter solstice), the very date of December 25th--all of these have been associated with other gods. The birth, death, and rebirth of a god is similarly not unique to Christianity. The sacrificial death of a god/king for the greater good is also a long tradition. Thus it was that the cult of Christianity displayed many familiar features to the pagans who were more or less forced to convert. The Catholic Church was quite clever in its strategies for convincing ordinary folk to accept a new religion: they simply superimposed their own myths on the symbolism and motifs of older religions.
The winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere) is, of course, the event surrounded by so much myth and magic. A few days past the solstice, when the days begin to grow longer, was the birthday of many gods:
By the third century CE, there were many religions and spiritual mysteries being followed within the Roman Empire. Many, if not most, celebrated the birth of their god-man near the time of the solstice. Emperor Aurelian (270 to 275 CE) blended a number of Pagan solstice celebrations of the nativity of such god-men/saviors as Appolo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a single festival called the "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" on DEC-25.
I'm fascinated by the similarities of so many of the various sects; no wonder Carl Jung gave archetypes such a central role in his theory of the unconscious.
The yule log, candles and festive lights, Christmas tree, holly and ivy of song, mistletoe, and many other traditions associated with Christmas were originally pagan in nature and had to do with the solstice. Our Christian forebears well knew this and were not pleased:
Polydor Virgil, an early British Christian, said "Dancing, masques, mummeries, stageplays, and other such Christmas disorders now in use with Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalian and Bacchanalian festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them." In Massachusetts, Puritans unsuccessfully tried to ban Christmas entirely during the 17th century, because of its heathenism. The English Parliament abolished Christmas in 1647.
Party poopers. Talk about a "war on Christmas"! (Do the Bill O'Reillys of the world have any clue at all? Any knowledge of history??)
Anyway, all this goes to show that one doesn't have to be Christian to enjoy the Christmas season and all its traditions. The holiday season has always afforded me great happiness as I continued the traditions of my childhood and, later, established some new traditions with our kids. We need a little extra light, kindness, comfort and joy in our lives.
I wish you peace and happiness during this season. And may the Flying Spaghetti Monster touch you with his Noodly Appendage!
Sixteen years ago, during the summer that my mother died, we took the naughty, daring little kitten into our lives. I understand that torties--tortoiseshell cats--are known for their mischievousness and independence, or at least that's what a couple of veterinarians have told me. Surely Louise lived up to this reputation.
Anyway, Jim's brother's cat had given birth to a number of kittens, and Louise was the first to scramble out of the box where they, and their mom, were confined. I have often felt that "first one out of the box" is a reliable prediction of smarts, independence, and all-around amusement-worthy feats. Our daughter, Hannah, was shameless in promoting the idea of another cat in our household on the grounds of my grief and need for something to divert me from my sorrow over the loss of my mom. And so Louise became a part of our household.
Louise--named after the Louise in Thelma and Louise--was feisty and brave as you could want. She stood up to the grand dame of our cats, Isis, and never backed down. She would go up to Isis and bat her on the snout without a second thought, much to Isis's indignation. She got into all kinds of trouble, which mostly resulted in my laughing heartily at whatever transpired.
In recent weeks she had lost a lot of weight and was suffering from kidney disease. We knew we would have to have her euthanized at some point, but how does one decide? For me, that day was today, when I saw blood on the floor where she had been sleeping, the laundry room floor. I called the vet to make an appointment to have her euthanized.
But by the time Jim came home, she was no longer breathing. He checked her out with the stethoscope, but there was nothing. I'm relieved that she died quietly at home, without the trauma of having to go to the vet.
Oh, Louise, I will miss you. I think of your rebellious spirit, tamed in later years, but oh so memorable, and I will miss you. Rest in peace, my dear companion. Rest in peace.