Portementos, Carrots, and Rocket J. Squirrel

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November 19, 2019 by libroshombre

What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot, of course. Those fat, orange roots are ubiquitous and popular, especially up here where they grow so sweet, but many things aren’t as they seem. A visit to England’s virtual Carrot Museum reveals that carrots weren’t cultivated until 900 CE in Central Asia, and were mostly purple with some yellow mutations from which the orange hybrid emerged, especially in Holland, home of the House of Orange, in the 1600s.

Like Galsworthy, “I drink the wine of aspiration and the drug of illusion” with the best of them, and while “Thus I am never dull,” there are time and places for everything, especially in this illusion-fraught Age of Information. Consider modern music; my last serious recording experience came in the late 1980s, when sound engineers provided free studio time for a cappella groups, which were a rarity. When we’d clearly gone a smidgeon flat towards the end, the engineer said, “No sweat,” and tweaked dials bringing our voices into perfect pitch, an act we found troubling upon reflection.

Portamento is “the effect of gliding a note at one pitch into a note of a lower or higher pitch,” according to ScienceDailyNews.com. Now an MIT student has created an algorithm that can do this during live performances. The algorithm “relies on ‘optimal transport,’ a geometry-based framework that determines the most efficient ways to move objects – or data points – between multiple origin and destination configurations So much for admiring modern musicians, for is it really them?

Then there’s the subversive Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which ran 1959-64 at the height of the Cold War. “How Bullwinkle Taught Kids Sophisticated Satire,” a SmithsonianMag.com article, includes this scene: “Mr. Chairman, I am against foreign aid, especially to places like Hawaii and Alaska,” says Senator Fussmussen from the floor of a cartoon Senate in 1962. In the visitors’ gallery, Russian agents Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale are deciding whether to use their secret ‘Goof Gun’ to turn Congress stupid … The Pottsylvanian spies decide the weapon is unnecessary: Congress is already ignorant, corrupt, and feckless … pretty subversive stuff for a children’s program.”

More subversive to cootie-adverse 10-year-old boys, the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel (“the more intelligent straight man: a less hostile Abbot to Bullwinkle’s more secure Costello”) was voiced by a girl – actually by June Foray a 50-something lady and legendary voice-over artist. She also voiced Natasha and Dudley Doright’s Sweet Nell. William Conrad narrated the squirrel’s and moose’s adventures, “Aesop and Son,” a send-up of Aesop’s fables, was voiced by Charles Ruggles, an actor in 100 films, and Edward Everett Horton, famous for his double- and triple-takes in Fred Astaire movies, memorably narrated the “Fractured Fairy Tales.”

What about crafty Andre Norton, whose science fiction novels my junior high librarian fooled me into reading? Born Alice Mary Norton in 1912, she wrote as Andre, as well as Andrew North and Allen West and legally changed her name from Alice to Andre, because “boys were the main audience of fantasy.” She published over 300 works and was known as “the Grande Dame of Science Fiction.” Still, there was the cootie factor, and I was convinced I’d never enjoy a book “written by a girl.” But that librarian proved otherwise by connecting me to novels about football and Norton’s boys in space, thereby boosting my pleasure reading beyond 4th grade, when most American boys stop reading for fun.

The idea that our local school librarians have time to similarly encourage other boys is a sad illusion. The school board recently cut all the elementary library aides, leaving all the checking in and out, shelving, and other mundane yet necessary tasks to the librarians, instead of guiding student recreational reading. Instead hundreds of thousands of dollars are squandered on computer technology to teach reading to the youngest students, despite e-books and tablets being proven to not promote comprehension nor encourage a love of books. Oh, let’s cling to our electric illusions as reading score plummet, or, as Shakespeare wrote, “here we wander in illusions;/ Some blessed power deliver us from hence!”



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