Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Fabulists

Initiale E. Lune, montagne, et reflet dans un lac.
This image from "Songs of a Sentimental Bloke" p. 64, 1916 edition is in the Public Domain {{PD-US-expired}}

It's just as well dictionaries pay no heed to the principle of guilt by association. Otherwise literature's long line of fabulists would be lumped in with a second sense of the word, as "liars." [namely, "FABLE MAKER" both: "1. composer of fables AND 2. teller of tales; a liar."]

Certainly, Aesop, Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Jean De La Fontaine through George Orwell and James Thurber, and many others do make stuff up. But fable writers delight us with truths, for young readers through many much olderwith tales like The  Tortoise and the Hare, The Ugly Duckling or, more recently, the extended fairytales of Animal Farm and The Wonderful O.

Thank goodness for the charm of tales that spotlight a moral, or offer other enlightenment, or humor, or hope. Quite a contrast to some torturous, terror-filled tale-tellers today, especially the barbaric and wannabe tyrants who fill the airwaves with lies.

Nasties like these get their comeuppance though, when James Thurber amusingly explores in one of his fantasies, titled The Wonderful O, their theft of the letter "O." Thanks to someone in Oxford taking the trouble to count the occurrence of letters, we can know that "O" is 37-times more generally used than the letter "Q" in English. So the effect on people's communication in Thurber's fantasy kingdom is severe. And he takes readers delightfully through the difficulties and disruptions that the theft of "O" causes, as well as what happens [deleted spoiler alert] to that kingdom's thieving tyrants.

Just as well Thurber's nasties didn't steal the letter "E" of course, which the diligent Oxonian says is our favorite letter to use, at 57-times more than the letter "Q." It's also the most common letter in Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Latin, Latvian, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, and some other languages. To see how challenging it would be to live with that theft, I had a go writing a tale not using our most popular letter. Writing as if a thief had won by stealing away use of the letter "E," the tale started like this:

"In a land not far away, in which birds roar and big cats sing, it is an Almost-KING who's ranting about what's what. Occasional pundits still parrot His almost-royal trash-talk, using what I think of as bigly words, or not, again, again, again, and again. Within this land now, all living things, or humans anyway, must cast a ballot to outlaw anything that's not what our Almost-KING calls "what," such as voting to ban or burn booksor, if you avoid voting, you must pay fifty dollars to the Almost-Royal Fund. With topsy also almost turvy, what's up is down and what is, is not..."

The first and only review (by my wife) of an earlier, longer version of this e-deficient tale was that she didn't know what on earth this meant. I'm guessing more was missing than just the familiar letter, "E." But give it a try yourself, if you like... not so nice to live without our favorite letter, eh?

Yet with that temporary E-drought broken for now, how should we feel about democracy denialists, who want us to live without FR' 'DOM... with it's two too many ee's? Of course, much more to lose with that theft... much more.

So, you've doubtless got the drift of Thurber's little book, The Wonderful O, which is more than totally worth the readand it's an especially recommended read for THIS MONTH. 

Oh, and please vote! Otherwise, just imagine the consequence of this being the last Halloween, just because that children's celebration clearly has too many ee's. 

Amid the furore of such a theft, who'd even notice the departure of Milton's Paradise Lost. Oh yes, also, do I need to mention to make a memo to self that freedom is on the ballot too?!

And can you get others, who care, to VOTE? Or, as Sesame Street foretold, we're all in the hands of the Cookie Monster [2 minute video, here]. For eeee's sake.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Polls

Your voice matters party material

Masquerading as breaking news this morning was the "bombshell" insight that apparently 29% of us believe the United States is headed in the right direction. This gem of intelligence is hauled out periodically, often on a slow news day, or when a pundit wants to probe a pet peeve.

As an all-purpose stimulant of meaningless commentary, a new twist this morning was the reframing as a positive statement. Usually, we'd be told 71% of us believe we're headed in the wrong direction. Maybe that was considered too tough to take with the morning coffee.

This "news" again occupied the serious conversation of ordinarily sensible pundits on a cable TV station for ages today--discussing the shocking wisdom, from an unimaginable variety of approaches. Not mentioned were the questionable ambiguities in the question to secure this statistic. We're no wiser about what anyone believes is "right" or "wrong," or even what these terms mean.

Other than feeling gloomy or launching speculations of one's own, what's anyone to think, say, or do about what? Probably the only certainty from this poll is that it helps to shore up existing prejudices.

Regrettably, even missing now from the media presentation of poll results most of the time are the sample size, margin of error, and date the poll was conducted. But with this poll so flawed, contextual facts don't really matter.

The hazards of opinion polling affect us all in too many ways to outline briefly. But putting aside any feeling that polls are facts is a safe bet. In his unique way, Peter Cook shared a not-so-gentle warning about the potential hazard of polls as long ago as 1970--in the film, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer [4 minute YouTube, here].

What matters in this silly season of electioneering is to be wary of polls--along with making a plan to vote in the one important poll, when you can.