May 18, 2006

Binge Learning

Did you know that the Union Jack is made by the combination of the flags of Ireland, England and Scotland? I originally learned that on Jeopardy! forever ago, but I was confused, since I was pretty sure the flag of Ireland was a tricolor of green, white and orange. It turns out that I’m right, and it’s the heraldic flag of Ireland: a red ‘X’ on a white background. I knew what the flags of Scotland and England looked like, having seen them flying on the bridges while I was there, so overlaying the three (with Britain on top, because that’s the way (uh-huh! uh-huh!) the Queen likes it) makes the Union Jack.

That’s what I wanted to know. Here’s what I found out:

The heraldic flags of each country are the flags of the country’s patron saint: St. George for England, St. Patrick (natch) for Ireland, and St. Andrew for Scotland. I learned that England’s flag is the cross of St. George, but the other two are not called crosses; they are saltires, or insignias “consisting of a cross formed by a bend and a bend sinister crossing in the center”. After reading a bit about heraldry, I learned that the most common use of the insignias of each clan was for the decoration of shields, that warring factions could tell each other apart in battle (which…duh). [Because I’m a logophile, I get a kick out of the fact that “saltire” comes from an “X-shaped animal barricade that can be jumped over by people: from saulter, ‘to jump’”. In essence, the necessity of penning animals and jumping over a farmyard fence was the basis of Great Britain’s heraldic symbolism: the Union Jack would not exist without the common people. And I’m a dork.]

Looking up “bend” in the dictionary (I could figure out the meaning from the context, but I was on a roll now) provided the distinction of which of the two diagonal lines is which (and yes, apparently it does matter) and that they run “sinister chief to dexter base”, or left top to right bottom of the heraldic shield—and the right and left are from the perspective of the person holding the shield, like “stage right” and “stage left”. I knew that “sinister” meant left, but had no idea the Latin root of “dexter” is right—which makes sense, because the literal translation of “ambidextrous” is “both right.”

And to think some people play Tetris when they’re at work...

Also, the Maginot Line was not a blunder, as I had thought. Well, it was, but for a different reason. The Line was both fortified and held very well—the Germans just went up and around it. Damn cunning, that whole cutting-through-the-woods trick. Now that I know get the reference, I can add it to the ‘historical quip’ shelf in the cupboard of my wit.*

I later learned the difference between the American and National baseball leagues, and that the World Series is one team from each of those playing each other (yeah, I’m probably the last one alive to figure that out). A bit of link-hopping clued me into why the whole Pete Rose thing is such a big deal, and whether or not he should get let in to the Hall of Fame, and whether it means Shoeless Joe should get in if Pete Rose does (I vote to let them both in; they were both phenomenal baseball players, and that’s all it should take. Give them a frickin’ citation or something and have done with it).** Also, you can’t get an MVP if you’re a designated hitter (DH; I’m so in-the-know); you have to play a position. You know what I knew about baseball when I walked in here today? That there are nine innings, three strikes, and a buncha guys getting paid too much money; I never considered that an adequate base (pun not intended) to build on.

What spurred the compulsive eating at the information buffet? I had planned to look up the word that means “to learn facts erratically, by jumping from subject to subject.” I never found it. It’s like an Alanis hit up in here.

The piano performance in the lobby today featured ragtime. I did a double-take when I got the program, like, who in the hell else besides me (and perhaps some older members of the DAR) likes ragtime? [If you think I couldn’t possibly get any more idiosyncratic, know that I was the only kid who knew the complete works of Scott Joplin when everyone else was doin’ the New Kids Dance.] I stood in the back at lunchtime, hoping that although the program also included blues and boogie-woogie, I’d get to hear at least a few of my favorites (especially since freebird-ing “Easy Winners!” “Maple Leaf Rag!” from the back of the lobby might very well get me thrown out of the building… and fired). The third song in, the sweet man playing the piano announced, “This is an old one, from back in the days of riverboats; it’s called ‘Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.’” My eyebrows jumped. He was doing my favorite tune from when I was a kid, playing it endlessly on my Walkman (with the good old rewind button, thank you so much). I was tempted to bust out my best hands-flying, heel-slapping Charleston, but again… fired (and let’s face it, committed at that point). The successive songs were pretty good, especially the Joplin, which when played correctly turns any room into a brothel—the kind with chubby women in endless bedsheets of underwear draped over chaise-longs, whisky bottles in hand, ostrich feathers in their Gibson-girl coifs, and the stench of sin and tobacco hanging lasciviously in the air. It was pretty damn awesome. ***

I am in a much better mood, obviously. See what a semi-sunny day can do?

All quatations and links cMerriam Webster and Wikipedia (since I know jack-all about libel suits).

* These are funnier than pop culture punchlines, because they show intelligence, and people want to have sex with me, a la Eddie Izzard. Or so I think.
** Actually, a staggering number of baseballs players are total criminals with sketchy pasts; I just didn’t feel like linking them all.
*** I’m still young enough that these kinds of personality quirks are lovably eccentric, right? Guys? Yoo-hoo…?

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