Saturday, December 28, 2013


No, I'm not going anywhere, more like coming back after a busy end of December. This is actually a post I've been wanting to put up since we saw my aunt over Thanksgiving weekend. Sadly, she is in an advanced stage of Alzheimer's, but as a trained pianist, she has always loved music, and so we do try to sing together with her a bit when we, too infrequently, visit. For some reason,  we often seemed to be traveling in the car with my aunt and my mom when we were kids, which is a bit  mystifying now, as we mainly lived in another part of the state from her. But they had a whole repertoire of songs for such occasions, and one of them was "Toodle-oo, So Long, Goodbye." As we were leaving her house, we of course sang this old standard, and afterward my sister asked, I wonder where Toodle-oo came from?

That's been on the back burner for me to look up for awhile now.

According to The Phrase Finder, "toodle" is related to "toddle", apparently a word that originated in Scotland and northern England, though possibly related to "totter". "Toodle" and "tootle" and "toddle" and even "tooraloo" are therefore all kind of clustered together. The first sighting of "toodle-oo" in print was in 1907, and the Online Etymology Dictionary has it as "origin unknown". As The Phrase Finder indicates, it is a Bertie Wooster kind of word, and in fact, Wodehouse used it in a story in 1919.

I had never particularly thought of "toodle-oo" as a British word, as it was tied in my mind to this particular song. And actually, I have never heard anyone sing it but my mom and my aunt, so it occurred to me to wonder a bit more about the song itself. I thought for awhile I'd found the answer in a sorority song, as I think one or possibly both of them had been in some sorority, although it didn't make a lot of sense that they'd both know it, as they didn't go to the same schools. At any rate, the Theta Phi Alpha sorority does include a version in their songbook, but it's not quite the same.

Turns out, though, that there's a fairly likely explanation for why my mom and my aunt knew this song. It was Rudy Vallee's sign-off song for his radio show, although judging by Google entries, he had more than one. He wrote it with Byron Gay in 1931, which would have been just the right time for my mom and aunt to have been listening to it as girls.

Whether or not these are the actual lyrics, this is more or less how we sang and sing it:

I'm awfully glad I met you,
Toodle-oo, so long, good-bye.
I hope we meet again someday,
Toodle-oo, so long, good-bye.
I've enjoyed your company,
And your hospitality--
If it's not amiss,
Don't you think that this,
Is a very good time for a goodnight kiss?
And now that I have met you,
What-do-you-say that you and I
Sing a little song,
A good night song,
Toodle-oo, so long, goodbye.

Somewhat surprisingly, since it was a hit in its day, this is the only recording of the tune I could find. It's a little faster paced than we'd sing it, but I think you can get the idea.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The long-term unemployed are NOT doomed

Or not any more doomed than the rest of us, anyway. One morning in the recent past, I woke up and saw this headline on Slate: The Long-term Unemployed are Doomed. Although this isn't meant to be a blog advocating a  political position, every once in awhile you're going to have to tolerate my left of center stance. Or don't--it's fine with me.

The article is really about the lack of compassion and advocacy shown by the government and the culture at large. I have no problem with it. But the headline is reprehensible. Imagine being one of the long-term unemployed and reading that headline before you'd had your coffee or whatever it is that gets you through the day. It's fine to say that times are tough for a lot of people looking for a job. It's another thing to suggest hopelessness. I'm unemployed at the moment, or more or less so. I am fortunate that I have a few other things going for me other than the capricious U.S. government. Still, it makes me feel a lot of empathy with those who don't have any nets to catch them. And also a sort of duty to protest this fatalism.

There are actually a couple of options that this headline doesn't take into account. First, it underestimates human resourcefulness. So let me just say to people job searching right now--don't give up! You never know what's going to happen when it comes to the future. Secondly, as a protest against the current callousness of government on this topic, I am posting a little YouTube excerpt, reminding people that when a government and society lets you down, there is always another, more collective remedy....

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why I'm glad I struggled through Vidal's "Creation"

Back in May, my book group chose Gore Vidal's long and not particularly dynamic novel Creation to discuss. Most of the members decided to bail on it fairly early on, and I didn't really blame them. My review of the book is here. But because I was interested in the period it described and because I suddenly had more time on my hands than I usually do, I soldiered on. It turns out that this was fortuitous.

This Thanksgiving I was visiting family down in L.A. and my sister got us all tickets to go to the Getty Villa, a medium sized museum right there on the Pacific Coast Highway, which specializes in antiquities. The night before, we ran into a friend of hers who is a docent there, and she told us to make sure and see the special touring exhibit of the Cyrus Cylinder. Normally  housed in the British Museum, it has been brought to America for the first time.

Although there are various and conflicting claims about what the cylinder's significance was, several different cultures of the time mention Cyrus in their documents and all laud him for his tolerance, as the following short video demonstrates.


We had a great time at the Getty Villa, which apart from the parking is free, and you can always hike in from the road. It was an odd experience for me to see the Cyrus Cylinder. Luckily I had been warned by the above mentioned docent friend that it is small, as it would be, since it was buried in the foundation of a building and not really meant for public display at all. I am not really sure why the Persians took the time to carve it so minutely, but maybe they realized that it would work like a kind of time capsule. Anyway, it was exhibited in a glass cube, so that people could get up close to it from four angles.

I happened to come to it at the same time that an Iranian family, modern day descendants of the culture responsible for this cylinder, and was struck by the fact that even the young children among them seemed enchanted by it. I don't imagine most school-aged kids having quite that same interest. The whole family were taking pictures of each other with it, though I gather they weren't supposed to, but no one was watching. And gradually I realized that it was really an opportune moment to see this cylinder related to tolerance at the very moment in our own history when some kind of progress in diplomacy seemed possible with Iran for the first time in many years.

Then I wandered around a room which dealt with the Achaemenid Empire and was able to connect my reading of Vidal's Creation with Cyrus--the novel is set in the time of Cyrus's descendants about two hundred years later, at the point of the Empire's greatest expansion.

Although the novel is a bit of a slog, I felt very happy to have persisted, because it gave me a relationship with a period (and an empire for that matter) that for many of us in the West is truly a lost epoch. I will admit though, that even the Cyrus Cylinder has not induced me to go find the later restored version of the novel, which contains four more chapters...

I probably should add that the Cyrus Cylinder has traveled on, I think back to its home in the British Museum.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hour of Code

It's computer science education week, everyone. There's a national push to teach a lot of students how to write code. I can write a little HTML, but that's about it. It actually seems really fun, and you're never to old to learn, so why not jump in? Admittedly, it's a pretty busy season to add something new to the list, but if you want to procrastinate the various holiday tasks, why not do it by writing a little code? I know I will be.

Here's the very short intro video:

And here's the web page if you just want to get started...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


I've fallen a little behind with this blog due to traveling over Thanksgiving, but on the plus side, a couple of things came up which provide fuel for some new posts. I'll see what I manage to get to, but the first one was when my sister wondered aloud where the word facetious came from. And it did seem curious. You'd have to guess that it relates to "facet" in some way, but it is hard to make the link between facet, which must have to do with an aspect or surface of something, and an adjective that means something along the lines of 'said in jest'. Isn't it?


Hmm. No relation. They come to us through the same languages, but have different roots. Facetious goes back to the French word facétieux with roughly the same meaning, and stems from facétie, a joke. The Latin facetia was a jest or witticism and came from facetus, which could mean witty, but also meant elegant, fine or courteous.

Facet, on the other hand, comes from the French facette, a diminutive for face. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the usage in diamond cutting is in fact the original usage.

I was a bit surprised, though, that to be facetious seems to have taken on a more negative meaning than I really associate with it. Many people seem to think it means to jest in a heavy-handed or ill-timed way. I actually found a long discussion of the difference between being facetious and being sarcastic here. Suffice to say that commenters had many and conflicting thoughts on this. I would say that facetious has become a bit, well, multifaceted in its interpretation.

Relating facetious to facet still doesn't seem all that far-fetched a guess to me. At least, it seems more likely than a question I saw in the midst of my research, which asked if facetious is related to feces. Although my initial reaction was "how did you come up with that?" there may be something in this. It turns out that there is a rare book from 1470 called The Facetiae, which is a collection of jokes, many of which are scatological. They were assembled by one Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini. A scholar and a humanist, he doesn't look like a facetious type--at least if his portrait on Wikipedia is anything to go by...