Saturday, July 28, 2012
Some Conservative Victories
Conservatives can whine all they like about how the "liberal" press, "liberal" college professors, etc., are all biased against them. The fact remains that they have achieved some important victories by implanting in the minds of most voters some phrases that support Conservative policies. Here are some that I have seen over the course of my 89 years:
- Young people have been convinced that Social Security isn't going to last. In particular it won't be there for them when they retire in about forty years.
- Government spends too much money. There is no justification for any tax increase - ever.
- Government spending doesn't produce any product or service of value. Only private spending contributes to the gross domestic product, or GDP.
- Elected officials become corrupt after a few years in office. Term them out for good!
- Anything that government does is inefficient, poor in quality, and slow.
- Some people will take advantage of any service offered by government. Unemployment insurance payments encourage loafers to keep on loafing instead of trying to find paying work.
- If you lose your job, there are other jobs available. They may not pay as well as the job you lost, but if you are clever and work hard, you can advance your position. Learn to live within your means.
These are ideas that Conservatives want everyone to believe. Voters with these ideas will vote for term limits for legislators, 2/3 vote requirements for raising taxes (i.e., not ever raising them), privatization of Social Security, elimination of welfare, reducing or eliminating unemployment insurance payments, against universal health care, etc. These are widely held ideas, although fortunately a majority of the voters don't accept all of them - at least not yet. We liberals have our work cut out for us. We must convince voters that these ideas are not cast in stone and that public policy shouldn't be based on them. We have to take on each idea in turn and present convincing and honest arguments against it. In subsequent posts I will endeavor to express arguments against each of these Conservative ideas. I hope you find them convincing.
Labels: conservative victories
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Money and Free Speech
I am a member of a group of retired men who meet once a month to discuss matters of interest. Meetings are held on Wednesday, usually the first Wednesday in the month, at the Community Church
in Woodland Hills near the golf course. In the most recent meeting on July 11 we celebrated the 21st
anniversary of the founding of the group. One of the matters of concern was the recent decision of the Supreme Court that corporations and labor unions are “persons” and enjoy the right of free speech as specified in the Constitution.
I chose to play devil’s advocate and presented a defense and justification of the Court’s decision. I agreed with most of the group members that it was a bad decision. However, the Court tells us what the Constitution says. There is a simple rule: the Court is always right, even when it is wrong and stupid.
Before I proceed to “explain” or “justify” the Court’s decision, I should quote the exact language of the first Amendment, which follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
As you can see, whoever wrote this amendment didn’t bother to define what is meant by “freedom of speech” or “freedom of the press.” We must presume that in 1789 when the first ten amendments were adopted that everyone knew or had a settled opinion as to what these phrases meant. Here’s what they mean to me:
Freedom of speech: The right of any person to express in speaking or writing or acting out any opinion or asserted fact without interference by a recognized authority.
Freedom of the press: The right of any person or group to publish any opinion or asserted fact without interference by a recognized authority.
In 1789 the recognized authority was government. The colonists had experienced efforts of the British government to suppress the expression of certain ideas or alleged facts that were critical of the government. I conclude that the first amendment was a ban on any action of the federal Congress to interfere with free speech or free press. The first word in the amendment is, in fact, “Congress.” Presumably a President or a court or a State would not be bound by the limitation of the amendment. Subsequent Court decisions based on the “equal protection” clause of the fourteenth amendment extended these limits on actions by Congress to actions by other federal and State government bodies as well.
My devil’s argument was as follows: The amendment prohibits government from doing anything that interferes with my right to express and publish my opinions and allegations. Therefore I am free to spend as much money as I choose to express and publish them. I am also free to spend my money to support the expression and publication of opinions and allegations of others. Hence, any law restricting the amount or the way money is spent in an election campaign is unconstitutional.
This conclusion is logical and is supported by the explicit language of the first amendment. It’s also insane and stupid. The basic point of having freedom of speech and a free press is to make available to the public as many different views and allegations of fact as possible. In 1789 it was government that generally imposed limits on this freedom. Today a wealthy individual can spend money not only to present his or her own opinions and allegations but to drown out similar expressions by others, particularly others who do not have much money. The insane and stupid part of the Court’s thinking – or at least the majority of the Court – is to equate money with speech. Money not only allows me to express my views. Enough money allows me to drown out and suppress the expression of other views. This is reality in the year 2012. The ability of money to suppress free speech and a free press was something that had never been experienced in 1789.
Our Constitution is a continuing experiment. It is not an absolute end in itself but a means to an end. The end is a representative government and a country in which the public enjoys the advantage of having easy access to all sorts of views on what public policy ought to be. Our founding fathers knew that only if the voters were well informed could the experiment of self-government work properly. When large sums of money prevent the voting public from being well-informed, the result is bad government policy. This is a reality that our Supreme Court persistently ignores.
Labels: "Citizens United" decision, First Amendment, money in politics
Sunday, July 08, 2012
Important individuals who have set the standards for languages
I have a friend whose family name is Goldstein. Like most Americans with similar names she pronounces the name as "gold-steen." Having studied German myself and having some familiarity with the language, my pronunciation is "gold-stine," which is as close to the German pronunciation as I can achieve. I know that the English cognate for the name is Goldstone. That is, German gold = English gold, and German stein = English stone. The American argument in favor of the "goldsteen" pronunciation is that the digraph "ei" is often pronounced as "ee" in English words. Some examples are receive, conceive, deceive, and so on. There are many examples of "ei" in which the digraph denotes some other sound. Examples are vein, veil, their, heir, eight, and height. I remember a spelling rule regarding the digraph ei: "I before E except after C or when sounded like A as in neighbor and weigh. There is no C in Goldstein. Based on the spelling rule I just wrote, the American pronunciation should be "gold-stane" or "gold-stain."
I can continue this rant until the cows come home and you will stop reading it. However, the "ee" or "i" pronunciation leads me to remember a bit of history. King George II was the Elector (or Kurfuerst) of Hanover as well as King of England. He spoke English with a rather pronounced German accent and he mispronounced a lot of words. One of the words he mispronounced was "either." In German the digraph "ei" always denotes the diphthong sound heard in English words mine, high, aisle, fight, and so on. Hence, he pronounced the word as "I-ther" or "eyether." However, he was the King and nobody in the court wanted to correct him. So, they all politely mispronounced either, neither, and other words as he mispronounced them. This manner of speech was called "the King's English." I suspect that another common word he mispronounced in this way is "eye." Historically, in the changes in pronunciation that have occurred in our language since the time of King Alfred, this word should be pronounced as if written "ee." In fact, it is so pronounced in the Scottish dialect of the poet Robert Burns. However, "ey" has the same pronunciation in German as "ei," and thus it was so pronounced in the King's English.
By now you must be tired of Goldstein, either, and King George. I must turn to other influential individuals. The poet Dante wrote his great epics in the dialect of Florence, the city of his birth. The effect was that the Florentine dialect became the standard Italian language. Citizens of Florence need to learn only one language. Citizens of Milan, Venice, Rome, Naples, and other cities and regions of Italy need to learn both the local dialect (Milanese, Venetian, Roman, Neapolitan, etc.) and standard Italian (i.e., Florentine). Martin Luther had a similar effect on German. He translated the Bible into his own dialect of German. That dialect became the standard of the language. In England, France, and Spain the language of the royal court became the standard for the country. Italy and Germany were not united until the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Labels: Dante, George II, Martin Luther, standard languages
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
About my hearing loss
On November 2, 2011 I was involved in a serious auto accident. The car I was driving smashed almost head-on into another car. The impact was violent enough to deploy the air bags in my car. Because the windows were closed the sudden momentary increase in air pressure was enough to affect my hearing.
A few days later I discovered the extent of my hearing loss. It affected audible frequencies above 900 HZ (cycles per second). My perception of musical notes above that frequency was shifted upward by about the fourth root of 2, or approximately nineteen percent in frequency. In musical notation that amounts to an increase in pitch by a minor third. The following diagram illustrates in musical notation the difference between
the notes as actually created on a musical instrument such as an organ or piano and my perception of these individual notes. As you can see, between A' (880 HZ) and the next higher note there is a jump in my perception or "hearing" of the notes.
The way I discovered this effect was in trying to play a recorder. The instrument was an "alto" and has a range from F above middle C to F'' two octaves higher. When I tried to play the note C'', two octaves above middle C, it sounded like E-flat about a step and a half higher. At first I thought I was fingering the note incorrectly. I tried other fingering but could not manage to produce a note that sounded to me like C''. I then tested my hearing with the piano and found the same effect. The note C'' on the piano sounded like E''-flat, and so on. Interestingly, all the notes above this strange gap in my hearing perception were consistent with each other. It's as though I have two different hearing scales, one for notes above 900 HZ and one for notes below 900 HZ. I'm rather severely deaf in the other (left) ear but I was able to test it with a computer and ear phones. In that ear the transition from one scale to the other occurs at a lower frequency - about 600 HZ.
I write this blog to present this hearing problem to anyone who may be interested. I have not found a description of this particular hearing problem in a quick search using Google. It may be described some place. If so, and if there is anyone who has investigated this problem, I would like to learn about it. Please write.
Labels: air bag related hearing loss