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.

Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

I caught this on NPR:

Home of sliced bread

Chillicothe Baking Company’s building in Chillicothe, Missouri, where bread was first machine-sliced for sale

You’ve heard people call some innovation the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, that was a real event. The first commercially sliced bread was sold in Chillicothe, Mo., on July 7, 1928. People had to slice it themselves in the old days. The innovation is now the occasion for an annual bluegrass festival, and lawmakers are debating a bill to declare sliced bread day

I remember my grandmother telling me how happy she was to buy bread instead of baking two or three times a week (related to family income I think), but I don’t remember her mentioning sliced bread. So I wanted to learn more.

Wikipedia says bread cut with a slicing machine was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” I guess those images of a Frenchman peddling along with a long loaf, bare naked (the loaf that is), under one arm are more romantic than preferred.

Thank you, Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, USA, for inventing the first loaf-at-a-time bread-slicing machine. One of his early customers, Gustav Papendick, figured out how to easily slide the sliced loaf into a bag. Sliced bread was a hit, and In 1930 Wonder Bread began marketing sliced bread nationwide. The convenience was credited with increasing consumption of bread and everything you might slather on it.

Theatlantic adds “with such products rapidly penetrating the American home, automated bread-making was not only an invention benchmark, but also a key indicator of the mechanization of daily life from the 1930s onward.” I guess that’s where my grandmother comes into the story.

Cut Them Some Slack

sailing shipThis phrase refers to applying lesser standards to someone’s effort, usually because they are trying hard or somehow encouraging your sympathy.

The phrase made me think of wearing a loosely fitted garment, something allowing you to move easily. But theidioms says the phrase comes from docking ships, “where ‘give me some slack’ meant to loosen the rope.”

25-startling-origins doesn’t live up to its click-bait title: “It is believed to be nautical in origin, and concerns not pulling on the rope so as to give the other person a chance to untangle it.”

I’m more familiar with the version “cut me some slack,” and cutting the rope doesn’t sound like a good idea when docking a ship – though it may be a last resort to a tangled mess. But I admit I’m a landlubber. Someone on wordwizard who claims to know boats says “CUT SOME SLACK and CUT SOMEONE SOME SLACK are not nautical terms nor have they ever been!” They’re pretty emphatic about it.

The only citation I found was this:

A similar phrase, with a similar meaning but slightly different form – ‘cut slack for’ – was used in 1855 by Frederick Douglas in his book My Bondage and My Freedom. theidioms

We’re Not Out of the Woods

Hansel and GretelI guess forests have seemed to be deep, dark, and dangerous for a long time. To say “We’re not out of the woods” is to say we remain in trouble, that we have not overcome “a dangerous, perplexing, or difficult situation.” dictionary.com

Abigail Adams used the expression in a November, 1800 letter found in Papers of Benjamin Franklin (ginger) but the phrase seems to be much older, though I didn’t find the specific citations:

This expression, alluding to having been lost in a forest, dates from Roman times; it was first recorded in English in 1792. dictionary.com

Working Hard on the Wrong Problem Isn’t Republican or Democratic – It’s Stupid

The United States Congress is expending vast amounts of time, energy, and polemics on legislating healthcare insurance, but nothing on a bigger issue: healthcare costs. The House in particular seems ready to eviscerate our major programs to Provide-For-The-General-Welfare, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They claim financial disaster awaits us otherwise, but surrendering the benefits of citizenship never seemed compelling to me.

(BTW – when did the word “benefits” develop a negative connotation? I always had salary and benefits as part of my job compensation and liked both words. I just can’t keep up with political correctness.)

A recent article from fivethirtyeight brings my gut feeling into intellectual focus.

Lawmakers’ plans to overhaul Social Security and other entitlement programs are missing the real problem… If the U.S. budget collapses after hemorrhaging too much red ink, the main culprit will be rising health care costs.

Social Security will get a little more expensive over the next 30 years; welfare and anti-poverty programs will get a little cheaper. But costs for programs like Medicare and Medicaid are expected to climb from the merely unaffordable to truly catastrophic. [my emphasis]

Yes, the demographics of the Baby Boom have an impact, but  that bulge in the system works itself out in 10 or 15 years when America’s percentage of elderly stabilizes. The program needs some maintenance tweaks, but Social Security isn’t a major problem. Programs often lumped into the negative term “welfare” (there’s that political correctness again) look manageable too.

The problem is totally different when you turn to health care. Spending on health programs — including Medicare, Medicaid and subsidies required by the Affordable Care Act — will never shrink or stabilize. The CBO predicts these costs will grow over 65 percent between now and 2047 — and then go right on growing after that, heedless of the fact that the percentage of the population that’s over 65 should no longer be increasing. [my emphasis]

Draconian cuts to programs that are not cost drivers will cause pain while allowing the financial problems to continue. Higher and higher taxes don’t address the underlying problem either, so trading traditional-Republicans for traditional-Democrats isn’t a solution. And swinging back and forth between them is ridiculous, though that may be where today’s hyper-partisan, two-party system leads us.

Health care costs are driving us towards bankruptcy. Costs have been rising faster than overall inflation for years and that’s expected to continue.

What’s the answer? There are regulatory and free-market ideas out there, but until we insist that Congress tackle the problem with real facts (when did that noun begin to need an adjective!) and open minds, we’re stuck in a downward spiral.

It’s the Best Time Ever to Be Alive – Make It Even Better in 2018

Adam & Eve Driven From Eden

Driven out of paradise for our sins

Humanity is not going to hell in a hand basket. We have problems, crises, and dire threats that we must tackle, but once in a while, lift your head up from your phone/tablet/TV and be encouraged.

Steven Pinker tells us the long arc of human history bends away from war, towards commerce and expanding sympathy for others. In a more immediate timeframe, a New York Times columnist writes that 2017 was the best year ever.

We, naturally, focus on our own current problems. But consider the whole world:

I’m actually upbeat, because I’ve witnessed transformational change [in 2017]…. A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell. Nicholas Kristof

He cites statistics regarding illiteracy, extreme poverty, and childhood death rates (once, two-thirds of parents had a child die before age 5) all vastly improved in our lifetimes.

If that’s too far away for you, consider America in the 1950s:

the U.S. had segregation, polio and bans on interracial marriage, gay sex and birth control… it was a time of nuclear standoffs, of pea soup smog, of frequent wars, of stifling limits on women.

Nostalgia has always been attractive. Ancient Greeks wrote of a past Golden Age when a Golden Race of people enjoyed a perfect life. Hindu and Norse cultures have similar stories, and the Bible describes a succession of kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2) as degenerating from gold, to silver, bronze, iron, and finally to clay. Clay – that’s us.

It’s very human to yearn for a past that never was, or maybe for a time in our own lives when we were young, optimistic, and unburdened. But, as a famous wizard observed, “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Take Kristof’s advice to heart: let our triumphs empower you to tackle the mortal threats we face. Let’s make 2018 the best year ever.

Once in a Blue Moon

From a musical in 1906

From a musical in 1906

If something happens once in a blue moon, it’s rare. Even rarer, in the expression, than an actual “blue moon,” which refers to a month with two full moons, the second one being “blue.”

Thought to be called “blue” after an old english term meaning “betrayer,” a Blue Moon is an extra full moon that occurs due to a quirk of the calendar…

… about once every 2.7 years, because the number of days in a lunation (new moon to new moon) is a bit less than the usual calendar month — 29.53 days as opposed to 31 or 30 days (except for February, which has 28 days, so a blue moon cannot occur). space.com

“Blue Moon” is widely used this way in the media, but only in the last 30 years. Phil Hiscock wrote the fascinating tale for skyandtelescope:

The term “blue Moon” has been around a long time, well over 400 years [as in]
“He would argue the Moon was blue” was taken by the average person of the 16th century as we take “He’d argue that black is white.”

So where did our current usage come from? In May 1988, when a second full Moon occurred, radio stations and newspapers everywhere carried an item on this bit of “old folklore,” as they called it…

In 1986, in the Trivial Pursuit Genus II edition, “blue moon” is a question, and their source was a children’s book, The Kids’ World Almanac of Records and Facts (New York, 1985: World Almanac Publications). Then, in the December 1990 edition of Astronomy, Deborah Byrd mentioned the term came from a March 1946 article in Sky & Telescope (page 3)

So while the phrase may not be old folklore, it’s folklore today.