Zhaba Zhournal
Wednesday, June 30, 2004 
In the theater 
Yesterday was J.'s birthday; I asked what he wanted to do, since his migraine-avoiding diet excludes sodium, caffeine, and alcohol, thus eliminating the usual "go out to dinner" option. He said, "Can we go see 'Fahrenheit 9/11'?" It's been a loooong time since we went to a movie in an actual movie theater (maybe last December, unless it was the December before that); actually, I guess that makes it more of a special occasion than eating out. So I bought the tickets online in the morning for the 7:30 show, and by the time we got to the theater, both the 7:30 and 8:30 shows were sold out, and there was a line not quite around the block, but definitely a good way down it. People with political flyers and stickers and petitions were working the crowd, and the two guys behind us in line were carrying on a conversation about sociology and redistricting and various constitutional articles and hardly pausing for breath. Not, in other words, the same crowd that's gathering for, say, "Dodgeball."

I guess I should write about the movie itself, too, at some point; but I've used up way too much non-work computer time already today, and I'm not sure I can assemble anything really coherent in my head anyway. (I'm not sure Michael Moore can assemble anything really coherent either; his movies aren't so much sustained arguments as burst after burst of argument-fostering vignettes. Which is an entirely valid way to do it; just not an easy one for a viewer to fully assimilate.) I probably have to go see it again, actually, if I'm going to write about it, and take a notebook with me; my film-studies instincts are starting to tick again like an engine heating up in winter, and if I'm going to do it, I want to do it right.

In the meantime, however, in my continuing role as Font of Useless Knowledge, I've figured out that if you interpret Fahrenheit 9/11 as 911°F, it converts to other temperature scales thus:
488.33 Celsius
761.48 Kelvin
1370.67 Rankine
390.66 Reaumur

[ at 4:09 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Tuesday, June 29, 2004 
E-mail of the day 
With the names obscured to protect our jobs, my office's e-mail of the week, regarding the projects we're doing with/for our not-very-partner-like partner company (hereinafter P———):

From the boss, to everyone:
In order to do the [billing], I will need your hours on all E———, M———, L———, and other P——— projects work by tomorrow at 11am.
Employee to boss (who then forwarded it to everyone):
Here you go:

E———, ......0
M———, ........0
Other P——— projects.......0
Not having to work with P———.........priceless

(I did, however, listen to a lot of bitching during smoke breaks. Does that count towards anything?)

[ at 5:55 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Monday, June 28, 2004 
It's French, b!tch 
(Before anyone takes offense at the entry title, it's from the Daily Show's fictional spinoff, "The Colbert Report"; the voiceover pronounces it "Colbare Repore," and Stephen Colbert fixes the camera with one of those arched-eyebrow stares and says "It's French, b!tch." We now continue with our regularly-scheduled entry.)

On a Food Channel show, a French-Canadian chef pronounced "jalapeño" as "zhelapenno," accent on the first syllable—I actually only knew what he was saying because he was holding a jalapeño pepper at the time.

Somewhat along the same line, about a month ago on one of the South Philly crosstown buses, I was sitting in front of two women who were speaking a language I absolutely couldn't recognize. I usually have a good ear for languages, even the ones I don't actually understand; I can pinpoint the Romance ones, identify the Slavic ones as Slavic (and narrow them down to "Ukrainian," "Czech," or "not Ukrainian or Czech"), and pick Chinese out from other Asian languages by the rising and falling intonations. Usually, in South Philly, the non-English languages you hear are Spanish, Italian, and Chinese, with some Russian or Polish and Vietnamese every now and then. And these two women weren't speaking any of them. Some of the individual syllables and short words felt like I should know them, but I couldn't put them together. I finally figured out, after the women briefly switched to English, that they were from the Caribbean, and the language they'd been speaking was a Caribbean dialect of French. It just didn't sound like French: none of the intonations or inflections you hear in the European or Quebeçois varieties.

It's odd how much of a language depends, not only on the words and phonetic pronunciation, but the way that pronunciation comes out. I know a flat-affect schizophrenic who has, literally, no intonation when he speaks, and it's surprisingly hard to understand him. And a British actor who does spot-on American English pronunciation will still sound a bit off if they don't get the spaces between and around the words exactly right. (Same with American actors doing British English, but I don't catch that as well as a native Brit would.) Listen, if you don't have anything better to do, to the difference between Gwyneth Paltrow's British-ish accents in 1996's "Emma" and 1998's "Shakespeare in Love"; and, if you can find it, the neglected BBC version of "Emma," with the actually British Kate Beckinsale. (I think Gwyneth's character in 2002's "Possession" is British, too [they did change the main male character from British to American, the bastards], but I plan to watch that movie shortly after the Demi Moore "Scarlet Letter," which will be never.)

[ at 12:24 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Saturday, June 26, 2004 
Sacred, part II 
Ooohhh, I'm so surprised: Britney Spears is having another go at marriage, that sacred institution to which she is already such a credit. Maybe it'll even last longer than 55 hours this time. (A factoid that escaped my apoplexy about her first marriage: the wedding license cost $55, making the marriage a dollar per hour. Cheaper than renting a hooker.)

The highlight of the particular article I've linked to is the part about Mr. Spears #2's most recent relationship, which I'll quote at unusual length, because it's just so good:
The marriage also will be the first for Federline, 26, who, while a stranger to matrimony, is no stranger to other hallowed institutions, such as fatherhood. Federline has a two-year-old daughter with former Moesha star Shar Jackson. The ex-couple is expecting their second child in July.

The gracious Jackson has been quoted as declaring Federline and Spears are "made for each other."

"You both smoke, you both drink and you both cheated on significant others after three years," Jackson told Us Weekly in April, apparently referencing herself and Spears' former beau, Justin Timberlake.

Jackson issued just one ultimatum to the twosome: "There are two little kids—she [Spears] better be prepared to babysit."
I realize the "gracious" is supposed to be sarcastic, but, given the situation, I think she actually is being gracious. More so than I'd be, anyway. For instance, the words "crapweasel" and "no-talent skank" don't appear in her comments; though maybe that's what she was saying before the quoted "made for each other"...

[ at 11:54 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

If you live in a city, I guess there's only two ways to feel about pigeons: either you really dislike them ("feathered rats," anyone?) or you become tolerantly affectionate of them. After four years in New Haven and...yikes, six in Philadelphia, I've swung over towards "affectionate." As long as they don't actually crap on my head, anyway.

So here are some pigeon-related things I've thought over the years:

One of my favorite things about living in a city is watching the male pigeons try to impress the females during mating season. They puff out their chests, they drag their tails, they bob and bow and coo, they put on the biggest show they can; and the females just hurry away, or even fly away, without looking at them. I know the males must be succssful sometimes, or there wouldn't continue to be more pigeons; but mostly, it's very entertaining to watch all that "look at me!" puffery met by complete disinterest.


It's true that pigeons have pretty much taken over everyplace urban; but it's not the fault of the pigeons that the environments we create for ourselves exactly duplicate their natural habitat. The common, feathered-rat pigeon is officially a rock dove; a dove that lives on rocks, on cliffs, under overhangs, among crags...or, in a pinch, among sidewalks, overpasses, and skyscrapers. (On the bright side, for pigeon-haters, peregrine falcons have also taken to the cliff-like skyscraper environment. Nature is nothing if not adaptable.)


Not that I'm superstitious, or a big believer in karma; but every now and then, I wonder if the urban ubiquity of the rock dove is cosmic payback for the extermination of the passenger pigeon. (It would serve us right; or serve our ancestors right, anyway. Me, I'll just avoid standing under telephone lines where pigeons perch and enjoy watching the males fail to impress the females every spring.)

[ at 12:02 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Friday, June 25, 2004 
Talking towards the TV 
J., on a "Queer Eye" guy's transformation: "He's gone from 'Dude, you got some coke?' to 'Dude, you got a rum and Coke?'"

(A bit later: "Actually, he's gone from crack to powder." Which I don't get, but I'm recording it for posterity in case other people do.)

[ at 11:58 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

When there's smoke, there's no fire truck 
Is anybody surprised that, two days after announcing enormous cutbacks to the fire department, the fire commissioner announced his retirement? He's getting a half-million-dollar early-retirement bonus, too; which is perhaps not such a terrible thing, because he hasn't exactly been a terrific fire commissioner. (Ask all the firefighters who got Hepatitis C on the job about their healthcare benefits, and be prepared to stand back.)

He says that cutting eight engine and ladder companies is okay, because they'll be replaced by eight medic units. Comment from one of the firefighters: "Great, now they'll be able to rush the dead people to the hospital."

If I had my way (yeah, I know, I don't), I'd pay firefighters and police officers and schoolteachers and nurses lots of money, because they're the ones protecting/saving the asses of all the rich politicians and administrators and executives who are busy closing companies and sending jobs offshore and giving themselves benefits and pay raises. If my house is burning down, I'd rather have one firefighter than all the CEOs in the city.

[ at 10:54 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Wednesday, June 23, 2004 
See you on the seacoast of Bohemia 
When Dick Cheney made the comment (which he now denies making, although the Daily Show, via their usual painstaking grueling exhaustive research practice of watching the news, found a clip of it) that a meeting between al Qaeda and Iraqi agents was "pretty well confirmed," he also said it took place in Czechoslovakia. Which, as you may recall from the past eleven years of European history, no longer exists. (Of course, if it's a nonexistent meeting, I guess it can not-have-taken-place in a nonexistent country.)

I've just about given up on expecting politicians and newspapers to know that it's "Ukraine," not "the Ukraine"; but seriously, Czech-o-fncking-slovakia? Give my regards to the shah of Persia and the archduke of Austria-Hungary while you're over there, okay?

Yeah, okay, if something happened in Istanbul and you say it happened in Constantinople, you're not necessarily wrong about the facts of the actual occurrence. (If it actually occurred.) You just sound like an antiquated fuddy-duddy who hasn't bothered to pay attention to anybody else's history since the end of World War II. (Or, at least, the history of anybody who hasn't a) pointed nuclear missiles at you or b) struck oil.)

Not that that actually sounds like certain government leaders, or anything...

[ at 2:37 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Tuesday, June 22, 2004 
I don't think it's so much "you've seen one beheading, you've seen them all" as "you've seen one beheading, you've seen enough."

(I haven't seen any, and I don't want to see any; I've had more of the hyperventilating news coverage than I ever wanted, though. At least there won't be six hours a day of intrusive local news coverage on this one. [Yes, that's selfish of me. But they've still got news vans parked in front of the Berg and Johnson houses, and I really wish they'd leave the poor people the hell alone.])

[ at 3:05 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Monday, June 21, 2004 
You want a coronary bypass with that? 
Good old Ukraine, my steppe-motherland: always on the lookout for a new way to serve fat. Their newest taste treat is chocolate-covered pork fat, nicknamed "Ukrainian Snickers." (J. "I wonder just how much it differs, nutritionally, from Oreo cookies?" Heck, how much does it differ, in terms of ingredients, from Oreo cookies? They're basically just a chocolate-flavored cookie-like substance with a lard filling, aren't they?)

[ at 1:57 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

The faux megillah 
The faux megillah
Okay, I've been away from a computer for a few days, so I've missed the "Madonna's new name" posting bandwagon; but, as I sit here with Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and the AMG Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament on my hard drive (I've been converting them into and out of various files formats and transliteration systems till I can just about do Unicode Hebrew in my sleep), I've got a better-than-usual opportunity to look up the actual spelling and etymology of "Esther." Its Strong's number is 635, and Strong's transliterates it ’estêr; AMG has ’estēr. (If your browser's Unicode-friendly, the Hebrew is אֶסְתֵּר.) And, for one thing, it ain't Hebrew, okay? It is, to quote the pre-Iran Strong's, "of Persian derivation"; AMG begins the entry "The name of the Jewish queen Esther of Persia. Her name means 'star.'" The Hebrew word for "star"—the Biblical Hebrew one, anyway—is כּוֹכָב, transliterated something like kb (AMG) or káwkâb (Strong's), and it's a masculine noun. Not, in other words, related in any way to the word for "star" from which Esther is derived. Okay? But if an ancient Hebrew name is what she's looking for, there are some really lovely ones: Abishag, Oholibamah, Haggith, Eglah, Hazzelelponi...

(I know, I'm being snide. It's not Abishag's fault that her name sounds really bad in modern English, and Eglah couldn't do anything about having a name that means "heifer." I just wanted to point out that even an honest-to-YHWH Hebrew name doesn't necessarily make you sound cool. Especially if you're a Kabbalah-quoting poser.)

Ah, yes, the poser aspect. Taking the name of a virtuous Jewish woman doesn't make you virtuous or Jewish. And if you're neither virtuous nor Jewish, it's just insulting. She's certainly not going to make friends among either Christians or Jews by changing her name from The Mother Of Our Lord to The Queen Who Saved The Jews. (I started to say "savior," but you have to be careful using "savior" and "Jews" in the same sentence.) Although, come to think of it, there are probably plenty of Christians who'll be very happy that she'll no longer be a discredit to the name of the B.V.M.

(If I had to pick an Old Testament Hebrew name—other than the one I've already got [אֲבִיגַיִל, Strong's 26], I'd pick Deborah, the totally kick-ass prophetess and judge who led the Israelites when they, well, totally kicked the ass of Sisera and the Canaanite army (Judges ch. 4–5). There aren't many truly kick-ass women in the Bible; there are very cool women who do interesting things—I especially like Miriam, Ruth, Rahab, and, yes, Esther—but not many of them get to actually kick ass. [And the ones who do are kinda scary: don't you get the feeling that Jael enjoyed hammering the tent peg into Sisera's temple a little too much?])

[ at 11:44 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Thursday, June 17, 2004 
More spring cleaning 
Oh, I'm just getting all kinds of spiffy here. (Well, not that many kinds, really, but spiffier than I've been.) I had to put up a link for my RSS feed, so people know it exists and can find the darn thing; I did some discreet, in-between-boss-walking-by Web searches for a button, couldn't find one I liked, and made one in Photoshop during my Official Afternoon Break. While I was at it I put in some external-link buttons I'd been gathering from other blogs, and while I was at that, since I was mucking about in the sidebar, I figured it was time to put in a "What the heck is 'zhaba'?" link in the "about me" section. (Short answer: It's the Ukrainian word for "frog." Long answer: see the About "zhaba" page. [Which isn't the same as the About Zhaba page.])

Maybe one of these days I'll get really spiffy and get me some moxification—as soon as I get past the "I'm not worthy!" feeling I've acquired from posting extremely irregularly, with days, weeks, sometimes months in between. (On the other hand, I get the impression they're swamped, so maybe I should get my name on the waiting list.)

[ at 4:57 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

The sex, the city, the style, the sniping 
I've been watching the syndicated, sanitized-for-your-protection "Sex and the City" episodes on TBS, and I'm really liking it; I might even buy the DVDs of the original show so I can get all the racy dialogue and, um, interesting images. (It's still bolder than most stuff on cable: when Samantha has a nude portrait session, there's just one very brief very-low-light image of her standing there nekkid, but just the shape of the entire body of an entirely naked woman is damn sexy. [I dig chicks. I'm married and monogamous, but I dig chicks.] [Or, to be more politically correct, I like attractive women.])

Anyway, I've gotten my first glimpse of the fashions that the show made popular, as they appeared on the show; and people, we've got to talk about nameplate necklaces. What exactly is the point supposed to be? The only reasons I can think of to have a piece of jewelry with your name on it are if you expect not to be able to remember your own name—in which case a necklace wouldn't make sense, because you couldn't see it except in a mirror, and in a mirror you'd have to read it backwards—or if you expect to be having sex with someone who won't remember your name. (Which, I guess, is why they're useful for serial-dating and one-night-standing and generally-around-sleeping single women, which is why they wore them on the show to begin with.) But if you're not an amnesiac or a major skank, what's the point of a prominent piece of jewelry with your name on it? Do you really want everyone who sees you to immediately know your name? Do you just want to broadcast your Miss-Thang-ness to every non-blind person you encounter? It reminds me of a verse from that eminent-non–self-promoter Emily Dickinson:
How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
(Or, in the case of the aspiring Miss Thangs I see in this city, to a SEPTA bus or a subway car or the guys who lean against service entrances on South Street. Your bog may vary.)

[ at 1:22 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Wednesday, June 16, 2004 
How to solve all the world's problems 
Flipping through late-night basic cable while waiting for my absurdly-slow home computer to download the latest eighteen or so Windows security updates, I assembled the perfect combination of news stories: Terrorists kidnapping Scott Peterson. I mean, terrorists always seem to kidnap perfectly nice people, while exceedingly scuzzy people are always sitting around courtrooms watching their lawyers cleverly argue them out of murder charges. Let's just combine the two, okay?

(This isn't my only brilliant idea on how to solve all the world's problems. For instance, last spring, when SARS and the U.S.'s first WMD searches were all over the news, I came up with this one: "If SARS is really spread by cockroaches, and the chemicals they found in Iraq are really just pesticides, we can send those over to China and kill all the roaches and neatly tie the week's two biggest news stories into a satisfying conclusion, just in time for the Sunday talk shows." I thought it would also work out nicely if someone could take the huge crop of illegal opium poppies in Afghanistan and turn them into painkillers for the under-supplied hospitals in Iraq. No one ever asks me, though...)

[ at 12:05 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Tuesday, June 15, 2004 
In the news, world and local 
I really wish terrorists would stop kidnapping people from New Jersey and southeast Pennsylvania. I mean, of course I wish they'd stop kidnapping and killing everybody; but I'm really getting tired of all the local news coverage following the template "A man from the [whatever station] viewing area has been kidnapped by [whoever], and the [station] news team is at his house, where his family is holding a prayer vigil, and our own [annoying reporter] was able to talk to the man's [tearful relative] before having the door slammed in his face..." (Well, they don't usually have that last part.) And of course they run the story at least four times a day (morning, noon, 6 o'clock, 11 o'clock), usually several times per newscast, and they interview every extended family member and neighbor and high school teacher and gas station attendant who will talk to them ("Yeah, he used to fill up his truck here and buy beef jerky at the counter, always seemed like a nice guy"). I mean, jeez. Give the people some privacy, or at least don't block their driveway with your news van all night. And we can do without the updates-that-aren't-updates, too. ("Area man [name] is still being held by [whoever], and while there's no word on his condition, we're sure his family is still praying for him, as we saw in [annoying reporter]'s story on Monday night"—which they then replay, in case you missed it the last four times they showed it.) Man, I almost wish we had some winter storms or playoff-bound sports teams for them to obsess over.

[ at 5:43 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Friday, June 11, 2004 
Somewhat apropos of my last post and the comments on it, I dug up my "You know you're ________ when..." for Philadelphia, which J. and I came up with a year or so ago. This isn't one of those lists that's been e-mailed all over the Internet since 1997; we thought of all of the items independently, although some of them may turn out not to be unique. And I decided that "You know you're from Philadelphia when..." didn't really sum up the spirit of the city, so I gave it the title

You've been in Philadelphia too long when...
  • You use a red light as a left turn signal.
  • You know the difference between the gayborhood and Queen Village.
  • At a sporting event, you consider throwing things at the halftime entertainment a legitimate form of music criticism.
  • Even if the halftime entertainment is Santa Claus.
  • You know what's in scrapple and you eat it anyway.
  • You know what you're getting when you order your cheesesteak "Cheez Whiz wit'."
  • You say "youse" without irony.
  • You can pronounce Schuylkill, Conshohocken, and Passyunk, although you can't necessarily spell them.
  • You think any mayor is doing a good job if he hasn't actually bombed the city.
  • You see nothing silly about hundreds of middle-aged blue-collar men wearing sequins and feathers, playing banjos, and dancing in the street to celebrate New Year's Day.
  • You think New York is for sissies.

[ at 3:50 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

States and songs 
Hearing about Ray Charles's death got "Georgia on My Mind" stuck in my head, which led me to wonder: why do only Southern states seem to have songs written about them? Not just official state songs, but songs you actually hear on the radio. "Georgia on My Mind," "Sweet Home Alabama," "My Old Kentucky Home," the ones I forget the titles of with the lines "going to Carolina in my mind" and "Almost heaven, West Virginia"—seriously, West Virginia has a positive song written about it and no state north of the Mason-Dixon line does? (Well, not that I can think of, anyway.)

Maybe it's because country and blues singers, who seem to be the main writers of that kind of song, are mostly from the South (well, from the South and from Canada); or that Southern states tend to have multisyllabic names ending in "a," which better lend themselves to sustained notes and melisma. It's hard to croon "Massachusettttttttsssss..." or sustain a sweet soprano "Maaaaaiiiiine..."

(Non-Southern cities have songs written about them; New York, obviously, Chicago, San Francisco. [Heck, San Jose.] Philadelphia seems only to have negative songs written about it; Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia" isn't something you'd use as the backup music for a tourism commercial. And the musical "1776" contributed the immortal line "Foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia.")

[ at 12:46 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Wednesday, June 09, 2004 
Non-intelligent criminal 
This doesn't fall under the classic amusing "dumb criminal" category, since it does involve an officer getting shot and the criminal being dead; but it's definitely not an example of a criminal with any degree of forethought. Parole officers were trying to serve a warrant to the guy, so, naturally, he fled down an alley, then shot one of the officers. (The other officer, quite reasonably, shot the suspect, who later died.)

Now, clearly, this was not a wise course for the suspect to take. "Hm, this guy is trying to serve me a warrant. Hey, I've got a good idea! I'll shoot him! That'll keep me out of prison!"


(I mean, even if he weren't currently dead, shooting an officer is about the surest way to get to jail. And one of the surest ways to get shot. "Officer down" are two words that get every person in law enforcement's blood up.)

[ at 11:09 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Tuesday, June 08, 2004 
I hereby dub thee...trite 
I'm mostly not ashamed to admit that I'm very fond of trashy entertainment shows on E! and VH1—all those "Starlicious Makeovers" and "Worst Song Ever" countdowns. The latest one on E! is "101 Best-Kept Celebrity Secrets," and although some of them aren't particularly secret, here's one I didn't know: in Andie MacDowell's first movie ("Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan"*), her voice was dubbed by Glenn Close, because the producers decided they wanted someone who could do a British accent (and, I bet, who had at least a minimum degree of vocal inflection). Now, if only they'd done that for all her movies; in fact, if only they'd dubbed her entire body; then I could watch some really fairly good movies without wincing every time her character's on screen. (Really, she just about ruined "Groundhog Day" and "Four Weddings" for me. "It's raining? I hadn't noticed"—ugh.)

*I just looked up "Greystoke" on IMdB; yowza, what a cast list. Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm, James Fox...what in the name of God where the producers thinking when they cast a no-talent Southern-accented former model in a major role? Well, there's no accounting for bad taste...

[ at 11:39 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Monday, June 07, 2004 
Late-spring cleaning 
Okay, that "hypothetical future date when I work on my Web site" is becoming slightly less hypothetical. I've done some tidying up around here—I started archiving by month to make the sidebar less crowded, and also to avoid having tiny pathetic weekly archive pages with one post on them—and I think, operative word "think," I've even got me an RSS feed thing going. At any rate, I've got this rss.xml page, which I'll get a sidebar button for as soon as practical.

So, hey, y'all come back now, y'hear? I'll get the rest of the dust bunnies out from under the couches, restock the fridge, water the plants, maybe do a spandy new paint job. And it has nothing to do with being on a manic upswing. No, really. (Well, hypomania wouldn't be bad; and I've had enough moderate depression these past few months to frippin' deserve a moderate hypomania.)

[ at 4:13 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Talking to the TV 
Woman from Ronald Reagan's hometown: "How many towns can say they raised a man who became President?"

J.: "Forty-three."

[ at 10:09 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

D-day b-day 
Turned 29 yesterday. Me: "My last chance not to be thirty." J.: "You'll have plenty of chances not to be thirty. This is just your last chance to be younger than thirty." (He's turning 45 this year; he's not very sympathetic to my complaints of feeling old.)

Checked out the New York Times "On This Day" page for June 6 (don't know if the "subscription only" thing applies to this page). Turns out I was born exactly 100 years after Thomas Mann, which isn't bad. Not that having the same birthday as a famous person is actually an accomplishment; but I'd rather focus on Thomas Mann than, um, Robert Englund, or a rapper known as "Uncle Kracker." (My favorite happen-to-have-the-same-birthday people are Nathan Hale (the Revolutionary War patriot who went to Yale, and of whom there is a ridiculously handsome statue outside my freshman dorm) and John Trumbull, the Revolutionary War-era painter that my college at Yale was named after.)

I feel like I need a nice neat wrap-up line for this entry, but I don't have one. Okay, The End. (That's always a good one.)

[ at 9:29 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Sunday, June 06, 2004 
The bird 
Me, to the bird: "You're a little feathered terror. I'm glad you're not the size of a cockatoo."

J.: "She's just a cocka-one."

[ at 10:57 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Saturday, June 05, 2004 
My controversy's bigger than your controversy 
On IFC, an ad for "Fahrenheit 911" calling it "the year's most controversial film." Hey, with "The Passion of Mel Gibsonthe Christ" having come out four months ago, that's really quite a claim to make. I say we wait till the end of the year, then add up all the column inches, online bandwidth, and number and rank of commentators, and then see who wins, okay? (I think having the Vatican feel compelled to take a public stance on your film trumps ticking off the Fox News Channel any day...)

[ at 3:46 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Wednesday, June 02, 2004 
Nifty etymology of the day 
Words, words, words: I absolutely love words. And etymologies, the odder and more circuitous the better, and ancient and/or dead languages. Here's an etymology I'm really loving:

I'm doing electronic conversion of a Bible dictionary/concordance, and I've been amusing myself by seeing whether various things I'm interested in are mentioned in the Bible: gemstones, herbs, birds, and so forth. One thing J. and I have been paying a lot of attention to is salt, since he's on a practically-no-sodium diet, so I looked it up. In Hebrew (Biblical Hebrew; I don't know how that corresponds to modern Hebrew), "salt" is melaḥ (if your browser doesn't like Unicode, there's a dot under the "h," meaning it's pronounced like the "ch" in German; if your browser really likes Unicode, the actual Hebrew is מֶלַח). I looked at some of the other words near it in the dictionary, and found mallûaḥ, an edible herb that grows in salt marshes: in other words, a mallow. The very plant that gives its name to the candy made from it, and the similar candy that's now artificially produced: marshmallow. Yikes. (I don't know if the mallow you find in the ancient Near East is the same one you find in the U.S. East Coast salt marshes; but the basic etymology would be the same. There are plenty of American plants and animals that have nothing to do with the Old World species that homesick Europeans named them after.)

Boy, when I get parenthetical, I really obscure the basic substance I'm trying to get across...

Anyway. Is that cool, or what? The things we melt on s'mores and float on hot chocolate, the sugar-covered chicks and rabbits we put in Easter baskets, the punchline of the biggest joke in frickin' Ghostbusters, have a name that goes all the way back to the ancient Near East, to the plant Job speaks of the destitute eating (Job 30:4), whose name comes from the same thing that seasoned the grain offerings to the Lord (Leviticus 2:13) and that Abimelech sowed the conquered city of Shechem with (Judges 9:45) and that Lot's wife turned into a pillar of (Genesis 19:26).


(Incidentally, if you want to see what a marsh mallow plant looks like, the Connecticut Botanical Society has a nice picture. Recipes for actual marsh mallow marshmallows are few and far between; this one from Dian Dincin Buchman's "Herbal Medicine," which made its way online via alt.folklore.herbs, is the most detailed one I could find.)

[ at 1:04 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

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