Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Family Names

I'm fussy about family names, especially the pronunciation of them. Family names mean something, or did at one time mean something in the language of origin. With English family names such as Smith, Taylor, Baxter, Gardner, or Wheeler it is easy to guess that the person with that name had an ancestor who followed one of the occupations associated with the name. Among some cultures family names are recent innovations. For example, one of the leaders of Indonesia after it became independent was named Sukarno. That was his complete name. More recently his daughter Megawati (I hope I have it right) became the President of Indonesia. She chose a second name Sukarnoputri which means "Sukarno's daughter."

My own family name, Saur, was acquired when my great-great grandfather Johann Pettersson served a hitch in the Swedish Army. Pettersson was not a family name. His father was Petter Pettersson and his father was Petter Johannsson and so on back to the original Swede. My great-grandfather, who came to the United States in 1853, was called Pehr Johannsson + the new family name which was spelled "Zar" in Swedish. It's the name his father had acquired in the Swedish army. In Swedish the letter Z represents the same sound as S, or possible TS as in German. The letter A represents a sound similar to "AW" in English. My ancestors tried two or three ways of respelling the name in English to preserve the Swedish pronunciation. When my grandfather served in the Union Army during the Civil War he spelled his name "Saur." His uncle, who also served in the same army spelled his name "Sorr." Another spelling was "Sor," which appears in a census record. Eventually the family adopted my grandfather's spelling of the name.

I was recently interviewed by a young lady who was working as a contractor for the federal department in charge of environmental protection. I carefully explained to her the origin and the pronunciation of my family name. Thirty seconds later she spoke my name and called me Albert "Sour." So much for my lecture!

Other names whose mispronunciations annoy me are Germanic names ending in -stein. The word "stein" means "stone" in German. There are several dialects of German. In some dialects the word is pronounced to rhyme with English words line, fine, spine, etc. In other dialects the pronunciation rhymes with English words vane, mane, gain, rain, etc. There is no dialect in which the word would rhyme with such English words as bean, lean, keen, seen, etc. Yet I know many people with names ending in -stein, such as Korenstein, Goldstein, and Rubenstein who insist on pronouncing their names as if the last syllable was written -steen. Perhaps because I am so fussy about my own name I am annoyed to hear pronunciations like Goldsteen and Rubensteen. People who insist on such pronunciations have lost touch with the original language of the name and are seduced into mispronouncing it because of English spelling.

In the case of my name, there is a German name Sauer, meaning "sour." It may be a shortening of "Sauer heide," or "sour heath," meaning rich farm land. The name is often written Saur. People with a little knowledge think that my ancestors were German and therefore give my name the pronunciation it would have if it were in fact a name of German origin.


Sunday, March 28, 2010


What do Conservatives Want?

There has been much excitement lately among the political pundits about the "Tea Party" movement. The Tea Party people seem to be ideological believers in small, inexpensive government, a government that provides few services for the public and doesn't tax the public very much for the services it does provide. The idea among Republicans that small government is the best government, and the smaller the better, may have arisen from an article by a business man who wrote in the 1920's to complain about government regulations that interfered with his business. I don't know what his business was; perhaps he was a bootlegger who objected to the frequent police raids on his inventory. Perhaps he ran a power plant that used the cheapest kind of coal and objected to regulations that required him to install expensive equipment in the smoke stacks to remove the sulfur compounds and the soot from the exhaust.
However, small government that spends money only on things that I approve seems like a belief I could adopt with enthusiasm. The only difference between me and the Tea Party people is the set of things I want government to do and not do. Here is a partial list of things I want government to do:
  1. Provide protection to my home in Los Angeles against fires. If my neighbor's house catches fire, government should send the fire deparment to put it out so that my house doesn't catch fire.
  2. Provide protection to me against epidemics of such diseases as smallpox, influenza, plague, measles, diphtheria, and tuberculosis. To protect me the government should establish and operate medical clinics that screen and treat everyone for such diseases who might come near enough to me to infect me.
  3. Provide, for a reasonable price, clean and reliable water to drink.
  4. Provide or oversee firms that provide other utilities: gas, electricity, telephone, etc.
  5. Provide warnings of impending floods, storms, and other disasters to give me time to evacuate my home and proceed to safety.

Here is a partial list of things I want government not to do or to stop doing:

  1. Put people in prison for long terms for possession or use of marijuana and other relatively harmless substances.
  2. Conduct pointless wars and send Americans to fight these wars and be killed.
  3. Harass homeless people instead of providing safe places for them to rest and sleep.
  4. Harass workers who congregate peacefully in certain places to find work for the day.
  5. Continue to support the cruel policy of the Israeli government against the formerly indigenous people of Palestine.

So, am I a conservative or what? Do you think the Tea Party movement would welcome me?


Friday, March 26, 2010


About the Health Care Bill

The recently enacted reforms in our national health care system may have to be changed. Experience and time may show us that the specific model we have chosen, in which private insurers provide insurance to the people against medical costs associated with serious illnesses, can not be made to work in the way we think it ought to. The Republicans have sworn to repeal it as soon as they achieve the necessary majorities in the two houses of the federal congress. I doubt that they will be able to repeal the system completely. They may be able to make some needed modifications.

Let me describe what I believe most Americans would regard as an ideal health insurance system without regard to idelology. An ideal insurance system would provide insurance to everyone. In that way, the cost of medical treatments would be shared by the whole population, in the same way as the cost of serious damage to houses due to fires, earthquakes, floods, storms, malicious damage, and other causes is shared by the entire population of home insurers. If everyone is medically insured, and if the insurance providers are honest, the cost of insurance per person insured should be reasonable and affordable. A special subsidy would be needed for the poor to enable them to buy insurance policies. Otherwise, the population of the insured would not be complete and the insurers would not be able to provide the lowest possible premiums.

In setting up an "ideal" system it would be necessary to provide an incentive for the insurers to keep premium costs as low as possible. Many Americans and many economists believe that competition among individual insurers would provide such an incentive. Thus, one model of an ideal health insurance system would contain these two elements: (1) Everyone is insured and helps pay for the total cost of medical care. (2) Insurance providers compete honestly and do not form cartels (monopolies) to jack the price of insurance up to increase profits for the cartels. These two elements are essential components of universal insurance plans submitted by Republicans in various States and in the federal congress several years ago.

Another model is a single, non-profit insurance provider who provides health insurance to the entire population. Individuals would not pay premiums to this provider; rather, the provider would be paid out of government revenues (taxes). Everybody would be covered. The non-profit insurer would be regulated by a government commission to make sure it treated all persons fairly and did not siphon money off to a few favored persons. This model is used in Canada and many other foreign countries.

There is another element that is required for either model to work well. The medical providers themselves must be policed to make sure they do not overcharge for services they provide, or charge for services they do not provide. In fact, medical providers must be encouraged, if not forced, to practice good medicine in a manner shown to be economical. It has been shown that an economical manner of providing good medical care is clinical practice. In clinical practice doctors of many specialties work for one firm and are paid a salary. A good example is the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota or Kaiser Permanente here in California. Clinical practice delivers good health care at a lower cost than traditional fee-for-service practice, in which each doctor is an independent provider and has a strong incentive to provide services that are not needed and, in some cases, charge for services not actually provided.

To summarize, the three criteria for a good medical care and insurance system are as follows:
  1. Everyone is covered.
  2. Insurers (or a single insurer) do not cheat, either because of competition or because of close observation and regulation by an honest commission.
  3. Medical providers operate in a manner to provide maximum medical care at minimum cost.

I have not read the laws that establish the "reformed" system of medical care. I doubt that even after reading them - more than a thousand pages of text - I would be able to conclude that the "reformed" system employs the three criteria above. We will have to see how well the new system works and be prepared to make changes in it.


Thursday, March 18, 2010


Why Israel?

American politicians, eager to put aside the snub to our Vice President by the Israeli government over the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem, declare that Israel is our best and most dependable ally in the world. I won't ask why; we know the answer. It is due to the influence of the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) on members of Congress.

There's a more fundamental question, or, rather, inconsistency in our policy. Our nation is a non-religious country. It's not anti-religious, just non-selective with respect to various religious beliefs. We permit blood transfusions and other organ transplants in spite of the religious objections by Jehovah's Witnesses. We have legalized abortion, although with some important controls and limits, in spite of the religious objections of Catholics and many Protestant sects. We allow the consumption of coffee in spite of the religious objections of Mormons. We allow the consumption of wine in spite of religious objections of Muslims, Mormons, and other religions. Although the majority of our residents are Christians we have never set out to be an exclusively "Christian" nation. We welcome immigrants of any religious belief, including those who reject religion. In our foreign policy, we encourage the development of "secular" states and discourage the creation or growth of regimes that favor one specific religious belief for all their subjects. We decry the persistence of sectarianism in our experiment in Iraq. We secretly hope that the Iranian people will rise up and overthrow the "Islamic State" of Iran and replace the government of the ayatollahs with the government of the people.

In spite of all this, we declare that our favorite ally is Israel. Israel was founded as a separate country specifically for Jews. The basic law of Israel declares that any Jew anywhere in the world has a right to relocate and live in Israel. Jews from other countries are encouraged to emigrate to Israel. Non-Jews are not welcome as immigrants although they are encouraged as tourists. The very location of Israel is based on an ancient religious doctrine and on ancient writings that describe and define the geographical location of the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel). According to ancient doctrine this land was given by God to the People of Israel in perpetuity. Others who may happen to be squatting there can just buzz off to make room for all the Jews who choose to live there. The modern name for this quaint doctrine is called "Zionism."

According to ancient writings the Jews didn't depend only on the Lord God to give them the land of Israel. They fought for it. They displaced and slew the Canaanites who live there previously. They needed no help from the United States in those days. They did it themselves. We don't know how much actual help the Lord God provided; perhaps it was mainly moral support and encouragement.

The United States has been trying to achieve a "peaceful" settlement between the New Israel and the New Canaanites (i.e., Palestinians) for many years. Our leaders advocate a two-state solution. However, Israel has been established as a homeland for every Jew in the world. Jews are encouraged to emigrate. To facilitate this immigration, the Israeli government pays for the building of homes for these immigrants. To find room for these homes, the Canaanites (Palestinians) have to be displaced. Eventually all of the "biblical" land of Israel is to be occupied by Jews and there won't be any more Palestinians. That is the path that Israel has followed for all of its modern existence (since 1948). It doesn't matter what the Prime Minister may say in his effort to curry and maintain financial support from the United States. Our policy won't work as long as we try to persuade the Israelis to accept the idea of a separate Palestinian state. Their imperative is to occupy all the land of Israel described in the Bible and to cause the Palestinians who might some day reclaim their lost homes to disappear.

What is to be done? To begin, I think we should stop subsidizing the growth of the settlements. Israel depends on US foreign aid. We should cut off the foreign aid and let Israel go it alone, as they did in ancient times when they took the land from the Canaanites.


Monday, March 15, 2010


Taking us for granted

It is shocking to me to read about the reaction in Congress to the latest kerfluffle with Israel. To review the sequence of events, I recall the following:
  1. Vice-President Joe Biden, on a visit to Israel, stated that there is no difference between the US and Israel regarding policy. Israel is our ally and we will defend its right to exist, etc., etc., etc. Or something to that effect.
  2. Israel then announced that it was proceeding with the construction of several hundred housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is the Arab quarter of Jerusalem and the Israeli government had previously agreed not to start any new settlements in the imediate future. The US has stated repeatedly that the continuing settlement activity, the continual taking of land from the Palestinians for Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace. Presidents Bush and Obama are in complete agreement on that.
  3. Mr. Biden, who was then scheduled to visit the Palestinian Authority, was caught off guard by the announcement. It was an embarassment to him and to the United States. Our ally Israel was showing the world that it had the United States in its pocket and it could do anything it wanted. Mr. Obama chastized Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, for making such an announcement at a time that it showed contempt for the United States and its effort to get the peace process moving.
  4. Here's the real shocking part: members of Congress criticized President Obama and Vice President Biden for objecting to the Israeli announcement and for chastizing the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The criticism of Obama was not partisan. Rather it came from unapologetic supporters of Israel in the federal congress.

So, Israel can thumb its nose at us and we should eat the humiliation?

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Sunday, March 14, 2010


Conservative Inconsistency

The Wall Street Journal for March 13-14 of this year has two articles on the first page of the Weekend Journal section regarding lawyers who have represented prisoners at Guantanamo in their efforts to obtain habeas corpus hearings. Of particular interest are seven lawyers who represented members of Al Qaeda. Writer Stephen Jones argues the "liberal" case, that these individuals must be given the same constitutional rights as any other criminal suspect being held in prison. Writer Andrew McCarthy argues that these particular prisoners are not ordinary criminals but prisoners of war and should simply be kept in prison until the war is finished. The point at issue is whether the lawyers who represented these individuals should be named and whether they should be given positions in the Justice Department.

I won't repeat the "liberal" case. You can read it yourself in the WSJ. I'm interested in the "conservative" case, which asserts that these lawyers volunteered to defend the individuals in question. Hence, they may have political prejudices that would preclude them from making unbiased policy judgments as members of the Justice Department. I won't argue the case. However, it struck me that the argument was the exact opposite of the "conservative" argument in favor of the appointments to the Supreme Court of justices Roberts and Alito. In the case of Roberts and Alito the argument was that their political views shouldn't matter. They are required to interpret the law impartially, just as an engineer is required to design a bridge impartially and to make the bridge as safe as possible. One doesn't question the political views of an engineer; why question the views of a judge?

It's a good example of "conservative" inconsistency.


Saturday, March 06, 2010


The Election

I didn't win. I received 10 votes. My opponent received 19. He will be the member. I will be his alternate. I will still be able to serve on committees of the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Council. I am disappointed, but from the beginning of this adventure I had to tell myself that the odds of winning were certainly no better than 50 percent. As it turned out, my opponent simply knew more people who lived in the area than I did.

There were some positions on the council that were not filled by the election because no one filed for them. Some of the losers may be appointed to fill these vacancies. I don't expect an appointment. I expect that the losers with the most votes will be appointed. I think that's the fair way to fill vacancies.

You have to understand the voting scheme in Woodland Hills. Woodland Hills is divided into seven areas. There is a "resident" and a "business representative" and a "community organization" representative elected in each area by residents and other stakeholders of the area. In addition one person is elected "at large" from all of Woodland Hills. If every position in my area had been filed for, I would have been able to vote for four candidates: the resident, the business person, the community organization person, and the at large person. There were more spirited contests in some other areas. Whereas in my area my opponent and I received a total of only 29 votes cast in at least one area there were a total of nearly 100 votes cast. Many of the losers received more votes than even the winner in my contest. I expect that they will be offered appointments to the two-year term of the Council.

So far it's been fun. I look forward to meetings of the committees on which I will serve. I will also have to attend meetings of the full Council, to take my opponent's place in case he is not present.


Thursday, March 04, 2010


The Tilted Sidewalks of Woodland Hills

I claim to be a walker. I'm not a long-distance walker or an endurance walker. I'm too old for all that. I walk with some gentlemen friends three days a week. We have a circuit of about 2 1/2 miles, with a McDonalds Restaurant in the middle. We walk from the home of one friend, stop at the McDonalds for coffee, apple pie, and conversation with other old gentlemen who stop there for coffee and conversation. Then we proceed on our walk until we reach my friend's house. Another friend and I get in our cars and drive home. We do all of this early in the morning. In the summer it gets too hot to walk after about nine o'clock in the morning.
We walk in the street, mostly, rather than on the sidewalks. Most of the sidewalks are dangerous. When I first started taking two mile walks I would occasionally trip on an upended block of sidewalk that had been pushed out of the way by a growing tree root.
I hate it when I trip and fall on a sidewalk. I'm apt to skin my knee and tear my pants. I wear
good quality pants. The last pair I bought cost me $45.00
The other day I decided to take some pictures of the
sidewalks in my neighborhood. Some of them are quite
level. Others are desperately in need of repair or replacement. The photos to the right are the result of my investigation.

The first three photos show the condition of the sidewalks on Manton Avenue near my house. As you can see, the sidewalk slabs lie smoothly and are not tilted or broken. Some of the trees are crepe myrtles. The others are tall cypress trees. None of them have big roots.

The next four photos show the condition of the sidewalks on
Mariano Street, looking east and west from the intersection
of Mariano and Manton. In those pictures you can see that
large trees have developed large roots and the roots have
uplifted and broken the concrete blocks. One has to be
careful when walking on such sidewalks not to trip over the
upended blocks.

At one time the city required that the owner of property next to the sidewalk maintain the sidewalk. This is, I believe, an ancient custom. A home owner challenged the city in court, arguing that in his case he had not planted the tree that did the damage and besides the sidewalk, tree, parkway, and street were all on city property. The court decided in his favor. Since then the city has not put in place either a procedure or a budget for rebuilding damaged sidewalks. All the city will do now is to slaver some asphalt on and in the gaps left by the upending blocks of sidewalk.
The city of Los Angeles needs to establish a procedure for maintaining, repairing, and replacing damaged sidewalks. We walkers demand equal rights!


Monday, March 01, 2010


Election Tomorrow

Monday, March 1, 2010: Tomorrow is the day that decides whether I will be a member of the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Council or the Alternate to the elected member. Two people filed for the position I aspire to. One of us will achieve a respectable second place. The other will be next to last.

My opponent's name is Steve Santen. I've met him and I've heard him give a short campaign speech. He is a good man and will be a good member of the council if he's elected. Of course, I will also be a good member if I'm elected. I'm glad I didn't have to debate him. I can't think of a single thing to say to people to convince them to vote for me rather than him.

Most of the candidates in their speeches and in their campaign statements mention certain specific problems that they will work on if elected. If they are interested in working on these problems they can join one of the committees of the Council. One doesn't have to be a Council Member to serve on a committee. I am already a member of two committees and I will retain my membership regardless of the result of the election. The only specific issue that affects me directly is the rotten condition of the sidewalks in this part of Los Angeles. At the time the housing tracts were built the City or developers (I don't know which) planted fast-growing trees next to the new sidewalks. In time the roots of these trees lifted blocks of the sidewalks to produce the walking hazard that now exists.

I walk with two other old farts three mornings a week. We cover a loop of a bit more than two miles. In the middle of the loop there is a McDonalds Restaurant, where we stop for coffee, apple tarts, and conversation with other old farts. We walk on the streets rather than the sidewalks. The streets are safer. I have stumbled and fallen several times on uneven sidewalks. The worst thing that has happened to me is a badly skinned knee and torn pants. (I really hate to tear a pair of pants that costs $45 to replace.) If I become a member of the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Council I will agitate for the City (or someone) to improve our wretched sidewalks.

There are some particularly bad stretches of sidewalk near my home. In a future blog I will include some photos of just of just how bad the sidewalks are.

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