Thursday, March 24, 2016

It's French. It's British.

In my French language classes, I like to understand the derivation of the words. I think it helps to reinforce in my mind how a word is constructed.

For some words, it may simply be a matter of a different spelling: acteur, automatique, descendre, photographie.

For other words, there may be a connection with a related but little used term in American English: arbre (arbor) for tree, cuisine for kitchen.

A few words in French are a straight borrow from English: le weekend.

But, not infrequently, even my trés knowledgeable professeur has no explanation for why some words or phrases are used. Her explanation - "It's French."

I recently came across a similar dilemma in British English. While proofreading a client document, I noticed they seemed inconsistent in the spelling of the word licensing (American) / licencing (UK).

The explanation they provided is that, "In British English, when used as a noun, the correct spelling is 'licence'... when you add the 'ing' to 'licence', it becomes 'licensing'."
That's a new one to me. Certainly looks awkward to have licence and licensing mixed on the same page. I guess "It's British."

Same goes for commas and periods outside the quotation marks.

Please don't get me started on Canadian English.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Stealth Campaign for a Stealth Candidate

Although her name was on the Texas Republican primary ballot as a candidate for US President, there was no evidence of a campaign for Elizabeth Gray.

So, as a little social media experiment, I decided to launch a campaign for her. How much interest could I generate in voting for this mystery woman? 

First, I wrote a blog - In Search of Elizabeth Gray, Candidate for US President  - I've written over 300 blogs in the past three years. I write it pretty much for my own pleasure, and if anyone else reads it and likes it that's a bonus. I post sporadically and I've never tried to promote it. Most of my blog posts get fewer than 10 page views. A couple have passed 100 views. The original Elizabeth Gray blog is up to 3,376 views at last count. 

Part of that curiosity was probably sparked by another blogger – Ballot Access News - who wrote about me searching for information about Elizabeth Gray: Texas Blogger Rick Adams Goes in Search of Elizabeth Gray, the Most Obscure Candidate on the Republican Texas Primary Ballot.

Later, another blogger in the Big Bend area (which I’ve always wanted to visit) picked up the thread. “It seems that Gray is a total mystery. Rick Adams, who writes a blog called ‘lovinglifeineurope’ and describes himself as ‘mildly obsessed’ with learning about her, says that neither the editor of the Taylor Press or the Republican chairman of Williamson County knows anything about her except that she apparently had the $5,000 needed to pay the filing fee. She is evidently a phantom candidate.

I was getting more media coverage than the candidate!

I even received 17 comments on my blog, which almost never happens.

Someone calling themselves “Sbird” wrote, “I voted today and Ms. Gray's name on the ballot was the only one that didn't repulse me (because I know nothing of her.) So I voted for her. Yay for the underdog.”

“Unknown” said: “I like the sound of her name, and that's as good as any other criterion for picking people in this crazy election cycle.”

On election day, there was a kerfuffle at one of the voting sites: “I voted for a man for President on my automatic voting machine, and then I did a ‘review’ of my ballot. There were two people that were checked, and one was Elizabeth Gray, that I did NOT check. I had to have the ‘judge’ help me undo my votes, and start over.” (For the record, I had nothing to do with the voting machine malfunction.)

The most interesting was from “Interestedaswell”:  “My mother's name was Elizabeth Gray and I was as surprised as anyone to see ‘her’ name on the ballot! She passed away 5 years ago, but was a college professor … and was a wonderful Woman! Thanks for those who liked her name enough to vote for her (-: One odd thing is, she had family long ago in Taylor, Texas.”

A couple of comments, one quite vulgar, took the ad hominem approach of calling Ms. Gray’s supporters fools who were “wasting” their votes. Guess they didn’t read my later blog: 

I wrote a couple more election blogs:

You, Too, Can Run for President

In Search of Elisabeth Gray - the Most 'Obscure' Candidate for US President

The Unsolved Mystery of Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Gray

But then I went further. I created a Facebook page: Elizabeth Gray 4 President 2016. (Carefully noted as an unofficial fan page - I was not presuming to speak on behalf of the candidate as I did not know her positions.)

I also created a Twitter page: #ElisabethGray16. (ElizabethGray16 was taken).

And since I had no photos of Ms. Gray, I used a clever little program called Bitmoji ( to create an avatar image of what she might look like - blue hair for the spry septuagenarian, a 'grayish' skin tone, and a sassy red dress.

The Facebook results were rather disappointing. There were 636 page views but only 8 people who "liked" Elizabeth's page. You can't very well get a message across to the masses with only 8 regular followers. 

Twitter, on the other hand, was much more responsive. Over the course of the brief campaign, #ElisabethGray16 "followed" over 600 other Twitter accounts. Many of them appeared to be folks who were politically engaged - fans of Trump, Cruz, Hillary, etc. I followed numerous Texas and national Republican accounts, RealDonaldTrump, even Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Wolf Blitzer. I sent direct messages from #ElisabethGray16 to Wolf and CNN, lobbying them to include her in the February 27 debate - after all, she was the only female candidate on the ballot who was still apparently in the running. I encouraged people to vote and tried to stimulate concerns about NSA surveillance, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, Social Security, etc. - issues I would hope that RealElizabethGray would be concerned about. Overall, I posted about 50 Tweets on Elizabeth's behalf over several days.

More surprising, 206 Twitter accounts followed #ElisabethGray16. Many of them were not accounts I had followed on her behalf but came from folks who had stumbled across her. A few of her Tweets received likes, re-Tweets, and responses.

Many of Liz's followers were legitimate: NYC 4 Trump, Conservatives 4 Bernie, a candidate for Congress in Vermont, the Oregon Republican League, a nano technology executive, AngryAmerican97 (of 300 million), CorporatePigs29 (apparently a billionaire), Patriot Mash, Just-a-Texan,, Texas Newz, and Davy Jones in the UK.

There were a few businesses trying to pitch products by piggy-backing on my candidate's “popularity.” And then there were the sex-kitten trolls. #ElisabethGray16 chose not to follow them back.

All this with a few hours of effort. What effect might it have had if I launched the campaign sooner, maybe created a website, maybe some opinion polls on issues?

People are clearly hungry for an outside, non-traditional candidate this year, and Elizabeth Gray is as outside the Washington Beltway as you can get (or so I assume, since I really don't know anything about her).

So now Elizabeth Gray's Presidential candidacy has come to an end. A footnote in history. The first known non-campaign.

I've been thinking, though. What about Elizabeth Gray for Supreme Court Justice?

The Unsolved Mystery of Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Gray

The mystery of the mysterious Elizabeth Gray is still a mystery. And may remain ever so.
Tuesday, in the Texas Republican Primary for President of the United States, Elizabeth Gray received 5,455 total votes. Of those, 2,482 were by absentee ballot and 2,973 cast on the voting day, March 1st.
Of the 14 choices on the ballot, Elizabeth finished 9th, ahead of Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Lindsey Graham and just a little behind Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul.
There is some consolation that Ms. Gray was the top female GOP vote-getter in Texas.
She received the same number of Texas delegates to the Republican National Convention as Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, and Jeb Bush - 0.
According to the Williamson County GOP leader, Ms. Gray paid $5,000 to be on the ballot. So, in effect, she paid about 92 cents for each of the votes she received. Jeb Bush reportedly spent $130 million for the fewer than 95,000 votes he received in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina before dropping out. In Iowa, he (or his SuperPACs) spent nearly $3,000 per vote! It seems to me, Elizabeth Gray was a much more efficient campaigner than the now-defunct dynasty of Bushes.
Except Elizabeth Gray did not campaign. No fundraisers, no rallies, no kissing babies, no talk show or TV interviews. Not even a website. After she paid the filing fee, she seemed to disappear down the Brazos River.
When I noticed the name Elizabeth Gray on my ballot, I was curious who she is. I still keep up with American politics - I figure it's good to know who is giving the orders for drone strikes on civilians around the world - but had never heard of her.
I queried newspaper and TV editors, the librarian in Taylor, Texas, where Ms. Gray allegedly lives, the county party chairman, even a real estate office that had once sold the house she lists as her official address. Not a one knew anything about her - and they asked around town themselves.
Finally, an Austin cable station sent a reporter to her address. But Elizabeth never appeared. A voice from inside the house rebuffed the inquiry, saying they had the wrong house, and later the reporter received an email - allegedly from Ms. Gray (it could have been bogus; how would they know) - saying she was no longer interested in being President.
Echoes of another Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who in the wave of anti-war protests led by Eugene McCarthy, declared, ""I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected." Gene McCarthy was my coming of age in political awareness. As the holder of No. 8 in the revived draft lottery in 1969, I had a vested personal interest in being against the Vietnam War, as well as an aversion to questionable wars period.
In one respect, I succeeded in one of my goals: someone in the media did generate a story on Elizabeth Gray. I'd also like to think that a few of the votes cast for her were related to my blog as well, which had more than 1,800 page views ( 
But I failed in my original quest to find out anything about her, other than second-hand information that she is 73, retired, and may have moved to Texas recently from Georgia.
Lizzie, if I may call her that (I feel I have come to have a personal enough relationship with her to use nicknames) received 2,404 of her votes from Williamson County, the area around Taylor, where she even trounced native Texan Jeb (869 votes). Which suggests that the people who know something about her liked her. What might have been if there had been an actual campaign and voters throughout Texas got to know and love Elizabeth Gray?
In Collin County, north of Dallas, she received one vote, and it was by absentee ballot. That would be mine.
Maybe someday I'll learn a little something about Elizabeth Gray. Perhaps she'll respond to the snail mail letter I sent to her - it was my only option: could not find an email address nor phone number for her.
I really want to know the answer to one question: what motivated her to spend $5,000 to place her name on the ballot as a candidate for President?
Okay, a second question - if she did get nominated and elected, what's the first thing she would do when in office? (I'd suggest a pardon of Edward Snowden.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Barber Shop Francais

Another bad haircut day.

I've got to learn the language.

I don't get my hair trimmed too often. I like it long, and D-L prefers it that way as well. But sometimes it gets too unruly, or I feel the need to not look like a homeless drifter, say, when I attend a professional conference. 

I went to a fantastic barber when I lived in Texas, Sonya at The Boardroom in either the Plano or Southlake location. After moving to Europe, I would wait until I was going to be in Texas so I could have her do it perfectly. But sometimes the timing doesn't work and I'm going to a meeting before touching base in Texas.

Donna-Lane goes to a hairdresser in Geneva (or at least she did before she lost her hair with the chemo treatments ... but it'll grow back and we'll make it an event when she needs to get it trimmed the first time).

We made an appointment one time for me but with her hairdresser's brother. Nice guy. No English. My French is rudimentary at best, and I hadn't yet gotten to the lesson about haircuts, ie "Not too short" or "Low around the ears - not whitewalls," the latter an American slang that probably translates very poorly anyway. I ended up with ... well, a decent haircut by most standards, but way too short for my preference.

Fortunately my hair grows rather fast. Pretty remarkable for someone in his mid-60s when most men are bald, balding, or at least thinning. 

One time D-L tried at least trimming the back of my hair, and she did a pretty good job.

When we were in Argeles, she found a new (backup) salon there, so we tried it a couple times for me. The first time, D-L went to the appointment with me so she could explain to the woman in French how I wanted it done. The second time, flying solo, I took along some photos of my hair at its best - front, back, sides - to give her a visual reference. Both times it worked out reasonably well.

Do you get the idea I'm a bit critical of hairdressers? Except Sonya.

What I really needed, though, was a barber in Geneva because I tend to have more meetings here than in the south of France. So I tried a new barber shop in the same building as my favorite grocery store (I like their parking garage the best of the three grocery stores - the aisles and spaces are wider; easier to pack the bags without dinging the Mercedes or Range Rover next to me.)

The young barber sported a beard and mustache similar to mine, though without the silver. And to my surprise and delight, he spoke enough English that I could get across how I wanted my locks lopped. The result was good. Not Sonya great, but good nonetheless.

So now, maybe four or five months later and a trip coming up, it was time for a wee trim. Made an appointment, I thought, with Bearded Barber. But when I arrived, he was not there. Okay, I was a little early. But after a few moments, his partner motioned me over to the chair. Apparently Bearded Barber was not coming in aujourd hui. He spoke - panic - almost no English. Less English than my un petit peu de français.

Of course, I still hadn't bothered to look up the phrasings I should have had in hand for des instructions sur la façon de couper mes cheveux. I tried to demonstrate with my fingers the amount to cut. I suggested I did not want it pas de corporate but rather Bohemian style.

But clearly, I was at his mercy to cut it any way he thought best. After all, once a barber has trimmed too much on one side of your head, you can't really stop him from "evening it up" on the other side. I cringed as large lumps of my carefully cultivated coiffure fell on my shirtsleeve, my hands, the floor.

I rationalized - all in my head of course, as I lacked the français skills for a regular barber conversation - that if he cut it too short, at least I had a month or more before the trip. It would grow back ... some.

I should not, should not, should not complain. My lovely wife has lost all of the hair on the top of her head, her eyebrows, her eyelashes, etc., and it will take months for it to grow back. (We are curious what color it will be - been a long time since she's seen her natural color.) Seven weeks since the final chemo, it is starting, a bit of peach fuzz. I'm taking photos so we can do one of those speeded-up time-lapse videos once it has grown back and she can dispense with the wig. (Which, by the way, she looks great in.)

I was not happy on the drive home from the barber shop, but it's my own fault. I should be much farther along with my French at this point. Odd how a brief, routine, everyday encounter with a barber, a grocery store clerk, someone asking for directions as if you were a local and should know (well, this is my official residence, so perhaps I should), can quickly make you realize that things you take for granted in your own language are not so simple when you go somewhere that is dominated by another language. (Tomorrow, by the way, we will be in Bern, which is in the German (or Suisse-Deutche) speaking part of Switzerland, so I'll be even more linguistically lost.)

Next time, S'il vous plaît, ne coupez pas mes cheveux trop courts.