About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at katerauner.wordpress.com/ She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

Time to Find the Better Angels of Our Nature

Politics in America have become too tribal – more like rooting for a sports team that crafting national policies. In sports, if my team fouls but gets away with it, I’m happy. But the other team? They’re evil – and the refs are biased. Go Red. Go Blue. It makes for fun on Sunday afternoon, but it’s not good for our country.

And we are a single country. My fellow citizens are my brothers and sisters (and we all know how annoying siblings can be.)

It’s hard to find eloquent words, so I was pleased to recently run across this site.

Making us what the Constitution calls “a more perfect Union” – won’t happen until thousands and ultimately millions of Americans are willing to take a stand.

lincoln.svg.medAs one article notes

[The site takes] its name from a line from President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

This is what I grasp for in my own way – what I’d like to see from my nation’s leadership. But we don’t have to wait for Congress or the State House. We are, after all, The People.

Another article captures me: an angry moderate centrist.

Being moderate is not a political description; it is how one understands the motivations of others and how one solves problems. A moderate is a realist, accepting how people are, not how we would like them to be. A moderate is open to listening to the truths of others. It is a personality trait, not a political ideology.

If we become trapped in echo chambers, we only hear exaggerated caricatures of what “the other side” believes. If we lose the ability to find facts our decisions cannot succeed, because reality has a way of winning despite our best efforts to believe it away. If we cast our political opponents as the enemy, we live in a needless state of war. – metaphorical and sometimes literal.

I’m starting to explore this site and I invite you to help me. Do they have any good ideas? What do you think? We’ve got to talk.

Wrapped Around the Axel

To be wrapped around the axel is to be in a difficult situation from which it’s hard to extract oneself. It seems that anything with an axel, from a horse-drawn wagon to a wheelbarrow, has been considered a possible source.

Phrase Finder had some hypotheses but no citation. But here’s a citation I found in wikipedia:

As The New York Times noted in its obituary of the dancer on 15 September 1927, ‘The automobile was going at full speed when the scarf of strong silk began winding around the wheel and with terrific force dragged Miss Duncan, around whom it was securely wrapped, bodily over the side of the car, precipitating her with violence against the cobblestone street. She was dragged for several yards before the chauffeur halted, attracted by her cries in the street. Medical aid was summoned, but it was stated that she had been strangled and killed instantly.’

Ug! Certainly dramatic enough to stick in the public mind and perhaps become this phrase.

Balls to the Wall Has Nothing to Do With Anatomy

I always imagined this phrase conjured some violent altercation – not so!

The Explainer on Slate saysX-29_aircraft.svg.med

The expression comes from the world of military aviation. In many planes, control sticks are topped with a ball-shaped grip. One such control is the throttle—to get maximum power you push it all the way forward, to the front of the cockpit, or firewall (so-called because it prevents an engine fire from reaching the rest of the plane). Another control is the joystick—pushing it forward sends a plane into a dive. So, literally pushing the balls to the (fire)wall would put a plane into a maximum-speed dive, and figuratively going balls to the wall is doing something all-out, with maximum effort.

Wordorigins says the earliest written citation is from 1967, appearing in Frank Harvey’s Air War—Vietnam: “You know what happened on that first Doomsday Mission (as the boys call a big balls-to-the-wall raid) against Hanoi oil,” though Slate says Korean War veterans claim they used the phrase earlier.

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going…

… any road will take you there. This phrase is used to point out project’s goals have not been articulated.

It’s often attributed to Lewis Carroll, and while an exchange in Alice in Wonderland may have inspired it, what Carroll wrote was:

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

There is a recent, specific citation: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” are lyrics from the song Any Road, written by George Harrison. aliceiseverywhere.com Wikipedia says the lyrics were written in 1988.

But here’s the thing – I had a boss who used this phrase so often that I remember it, and I’m as sure as I can be that was before 1988. I even dug out an old resume to confirm I left that boss in 1986.

So I have a dilemma – Carroll may well be the inspiration, but -assuming my boss didn’t make it up on his own – if there was an earlier citation (and you’ve only got my faulty memory to go by) it’s been completely overshadowed by George Harrison.

When Morals and Markets Align, Worlds Move

WindFarm_Fluvanna_2004Life’s too short to constantly revisit decisions made long ago, and it’s easy to root for your favorite team or stick with familiar – comfortable – old enemies.

It’s been noted before that people know some things are noble and pure, others are degrading and tainted. You don’t need a steeple-topped building to figure this out- we each have a spiritual side.

Unfortunately, we don’t all agree on what that means in practice, and it’s easy to label others as misguided, evil, “them.” Even when people do agree, it can be hard to sacrifice today for a (possible) improvement tomorrow. “You should” is always a hard argument to win.

Which is why this recent nationalgeographic article is so encouraging.

Falling prices for renewable [energy] and a growing sustainability movement from the bottom up have changed the global picture…

Solar and wind are now so competitive that they are crowding out coal in many countries. In the U.S., electric generation from coal dropped by more than half in the last decade. Utility scale solar, meanwhile, rose 5,000 percent during that same period… The pace is quickening because the transition is now driven by economics.

Government support, including tax incentives, helped get the ball rolling, but the market is taking over. Government still plays a role – California, for example, is pushing for electric cars and paying to retrofit buildings to be more energy-efficient, while demonstrating that curbing greenhouse gases doesn’t bust the economy.

But from China to India to Texas, people are discovering renewable energy is economically sound. It doesn’t matter if you’re Red or Blue when the Green makes sense.

Falling prices of renewable energy have dramatically improved the global outlook. Just two years ago in Paris, the world’s top two polluters outside the U.S. insisted they’d need lots more coal. That was especially true in India.

Today, entire regions across India are seeking 100 percent renewable power. India’s new plans for meeting future energy needs now call for far fewer coal-fired plants. China, too…

[America] withdrawing from the world stage on climate could also cede new markets, industries, and leadership on everything from international trade to geopolitics to China. That could be costly.

I believe that cutting pollution and greenhouse gases, and preparing mitigations for the changes already underway, are the right things to do for posterity. How wonderful if they become the right thing to do for me today.

And for you.

At the Drop of a Hat

To act with little encouragement or provocation – so I guess red_fedora.svg.meddropping your hat is especially easy.

Phrase Finder says this originated in the American West, where the signal for a fight was often to drop one’s hat.

In the 19th century it was occasionally the practice in the United States to signal the start of a fight or a race by dropping a hat or sweeping it downward while holding it in the hand. The quick response to the signal found its way into the language for any action that begins quickly without much need for prompting. Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985).

The earliest written citation, from Worldwidewords,

is some way from the American frontier: They could agree in the twinkling of an eye — at the drop of a hat — at the crook of a finger — to usurp the sovereign power; they cannot agree, in four months, to relinquish it. Register of Debates in Congress, 12 Oct. 1837, [which] shows that even at this early date the expression was already idiomatic.

There’s little doubt about the matter, despite the regrettable failure of any early user to put its origin on record for us.

The Fat is in the Fire

This phrase was easy to track down on the internet. It means “a course of action with inevitable bad consequences has begun. The allusion to fat dropping into a fire and causing a burst of flames was already a proverb in John Heywood’s 1546 collection.” (dictionary.com)

Times of India adds that “in its earliest use (14th century), the expression had to do with failure; only later did it come to imply, as it now does, a crisis or an explosion of anger, recrimination or trouble.”

The phrase originated when fat was valued – I suppose a modern dieter might want fat to burned off!