Thursday, March 28, 2013


The vanishing apostrophe

According to the paper this morning (March 28) the grammarian class is exercised by the decision of a small town to omit the apostrophe (') from street signs.  According to the article, KING'S CRESCENT and ST. PAUL'S SQUARE signs will be printed as KINGS CRESCENT and ST. PAULS SQUARE.  The article also records the loss or misuse of the apostrophe in many publications in England.  The apostrophe may be on its way to oblivion along with obsolete letters such as thorn (Þ) and edh (Ð).

English spelling is really bad. with or without the apostrophe.  Consider a few examples of pairs of words that appear to be rhymes but aren't:  meat, great; beak, break; eight, height.  Also consider pairs of words that do rhyme but appear not to: feet, feat; grate, great; frown, grown.  In addition to the common combination gh which is generally silent but isn't in a few words, such as though, laugh, draught (English spelling; we spell it draft), and cough English spelling is full of "silent" letters.

In my opinion (remember, this blog is all about my OPINIONS) the grammarians should devote their available time to devising a better spelling system for our language instead of fussing over lost or misplaced apostrophes.  The city council that decided to omit the apostrophes from a few street signs might have headed off the controversy if they'd merely said they wanted to save money on the paint for the signs.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Reforming the GOP

Now the Republicans are thinking about changing their way of campaigning for public office.  Some of the leaders of the Party believe that there is something wrong or missing in the way their Party presents its goals to the public.  Much of the talk is about "changing the way in which the message is delivered."  There is very little said about changing the message itself.

In my not so humble opinion, it is the message itself that is costing the GOP electoral successes.  In my opinion, there is no need in this country for two conservative parties.  Yet, that's what we have.  We have the Democratic Party (mine) devoted to conserving social programs that are popular and work sell: social security and medicare.  We have the Republican Party devoted to the welfare of the very rich, the freedom of businesses from environmental regulations, and the notion that government should not do things for people, such as provide pensions for those who are too old to work and medical care for those who can't afford it.  People should do these things for themselves, lest they become weak and dependent on government.  Government should not undertake to provide such entitlements because, in the long run, the nation can't afford them.

What we need is a Party devoted to following the advice of Abraham Lincoln: government should do those things for people that they can't do for themselves.  In their struggle to change their Party, Republicans should ponder the wisdom of their greatest elected President.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


90 years of change

A few days ago I completed the ninetieth year of my life.  My friends, many of whom are a decade or two younger than I, have asked questions about changes that I have witnessed during my life.  I try to think of the most important changes.  Some of the changes have been brought about because of inventions.  It's easy to list some of the important inventions first.

Aircraft with pressurized cabins:  Cabins that can withstand internal air pressures of ten or more pounds per square inch (psi) enable passenger planes to fly at altitudes of ten miles above sea level.  This ability to fly high over the earth, including mountain ranges, has enabled the air travel industry to proliferate.  When I was born (1923) the best way to travel across this country was by rail.  My aunt and uncle who lived in San Diego came to visit us in Michigan.  They could take the train, which would take at least two days, or they could drive in a car, which would take about a week.  Today the trip from Los Angeles to my birth village in Michigan requires about five hours in the air and an unpredictable time waiting in airports.

Television:  Although the principles of television were known by 1923 it was not until some time in the 1940's that television receivers were available so that nearly everyone could have a set and watch events as they happened in remote locations.

Solid-state electronics:  The invention of the transistor made possible such amenities as computers like the one I am using to type this article, not to mention cell phones, i-Pods, i-Pads, Nooks, and other conveniences.  At one time in 1953 I traveled to Bell Telephone Laboratories in search of a job.  I was taken to a group that was making and using transistors.  I was shown a tray with about a hundred or so transistors.  I believe that at the time I was looking at nearly entire inventory of transistors on the planet.

The laser:  This remarkable device was invented while I was a graduate student.  The first one was built by two graduate students at Columbia University, and they named it a MASER, for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission Radiation.  Later devices were built that operated at shorter wave lengths, in the region of visible light.  The light amplifiers were called Light Amplification, etc., or LASER.  The invention of the laser is an example of a theorist predicting the possibility of a device simply from some equations.  In this case it was Albert Einstein who looked at the equation for stimulated absorption of photons and pointed out that the equations also predicted the possibility of stimulated emission.  A few years later the two graduate students tested Einstein's observation and, voila!

Nuclear Fission:  The fact that certain heavy elements, particularly uranium and thorium, could be induced to fission (split nuclei) into lighter elements and release energy was discovered by two German physicists in the 1930's.  A few years later American physicists and graduate students, led by Enrico Fermi, built and tested the first nuclear reactor, or atomic pile.  One of my friends was present at the first test.  One graduate student was holding an axe, ready to cut the rope that held neutron-absorbing shut-down devices up out of the pile.  It was not known whether the process would be easy to control.  In case of a run-away power excursion it was hoped that the axe would fall quickly enough to shut down the process before everyone was fried.  It turned out that, because of the delayed neutron emitters, the process of control is very easy and does not require instant response to a small change in the power level.

Nuclear Fission Weapons:  After Fermi and other physicists at the University of Chicago demonstrated that a controlled fission reactor could be used as a source of power, other physicists and nuclear engineers at the Los Alamos Laboratory worked on and finally succeeded in producing a rapid, uncontrolled reaction for use as a weapon.  The resulting weapon was used in the war with Japan.  Two ;Japanese cities were destroyed.  The weapon has been used as a threat ever since even though it hasn't been used..  The design of a successful weapon is much more difficult to achieve than the design of a nuclear reactor.  Fortunately, only a fairly small number of nations have developed nuclear weapon technology.  Methods of making such weapons are jealously guarded secrets among the nations who possess the information.  Some nations have aggressive programs to develop such knowledge.

Hybrid Automobile:  The automobile can be depicted as a carriage propelled by an internal combustion engine.  Engines for this and other purposes were developed in Germany during the latter part of the nineteenth century.  The first company for producing autos was created by a German engineer named Benz.  A few of the very first passenger cars made by the Benz firm are still in existence and can be driven.  Herr Benz named his passenger car for a lady named Mercedes.  I've heard several stories about her, alleging that she was his girl friend, mistress, wife, daughter, or niece.  The cars are still made by the Daimler-Benz firm in Germany.  The auto was an important invention which occurred before I was born.  Because autos use a petroleum derivative as fuel and because they are so numerous, their existence has been partially responsible for the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the consequent warming of the surface of the earth. The hybrid car uses a combination of an internal combustion engine and an electric motor for propulsion.  Simply put, the engine runs an electric generator that charges the battery, and the motor gets its electric power from the battery.  The engine in a hybrid car does not need to have the power to achieve the sudden bursts of acceleration needed for cars to manoeuvre and get out of each other's way in traffic.  Hence, a low power engine suffices for the car and such an engine burns less fuel than the engine of a regular car.

My readers (all six of them) may have other candidates for important inventions of the past ninety years.  Feel free to list them in your comments.  Now, in addition to inventions, I will list some changes in our thinking and our behavior from 1923 to the present.

Acceptance of Homosexuals:  I knew nothing about homosexual men and women until I was a Junior at Michigan State College.  (It has since changed its name to Michigan State University.)  I went once with a friend to a bar or road house some distance from East Lansing.  We didn't have money but we gained entrance by agreeing to wash the drinking glasses.  The most difficult part of washing a glass is removing the lipstick left by the lady who last used the glass.  My friend pointed out to me a man dressed rather oddly and explained that the man was "queer" or "homo."  I don't recall that the word "gay" was in use then to denote such men.  I was somewhat afraid and kept my distance from the man.

Years later my daughter, by then in her late 'teens, introduced me to a friend she had met among her co-counseling acquaintances.  I co-counseled with this man and discovered that he was harmless and friendly.  Later I met several "gay" men and lesbian women among my acquaintances in various Democratic political clubs.  Knowledge displaced fear.

Female Priests:  My first encounter with the Episcopal Church of the United States was in 1943 while I was a college student.  I was interested in various varieties of the Christian faith and I happened to be taking a course in medieval history from a man who was also interested in the history of the medieval church.  If he had a bias, it was pro-Anglican.  I became interested in the history of the church and how the Anglican church, like the Lutheran, had kept most of the rites of the Roman Cattolic Church but had translated the liturgy from Latin into the language of the people, English or German.  I became baptized as an Episcopalian in 1943, I think on October 28.  A year later I was working in Washington, DC, and attending an Episcopal church there.  I was confirmed by the Bishop of Washington, the Right Reverend Angus Dun.  In those days, Episcopal priests, like Catholic priests, were men.  The difference was that the Episcopal priests had wives and children.  After a few years I lost interest in being an Episcopalian and left the church.  I rejoined again in 2008, after the death of my wife.  What a difference 60 years had made!  One of the priests in the church I started attending was a woman.  She was an acquaintance of my daughter, who had met her while she was working at an Episcopal church in Berkeley, California.  Now the Episcopal Church not only has female priests, but homosexual priests and bishops.  The revelation a few years ago that a bishop in New Hampshire was openly gay caused quite a stir all over the world.  Anglicans in other parts of the world, particularly Africa, have to compete with other religious faiths, in particularly with Islam.  Many Muslims of faith have not yet embraced the idea of gays and lesbians as people they can tolerate in the mosque.

It's Saturday morning.  I haven't had breakfast and I'm running out of ideas.  I may write more on this subject later.  Until then, feel free to post comments.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Unions of Public Employees

Although I've never been a member of a labor union, I have always held such organizations in high esteem.  I believe that in a capitalist society there is no reliable countervailing power other than that provided by aggressive unions to the depredations of unchecked power of large businesses and corporations.  One can not trust government always to rein in corporate power because corporate power can effectively buy the government.  We see that happen often these days, no matter which party controls the Presidency.

Naturally, I've applied my support in concept for unions in the private (i.e., non-government) sector to uncritical support for unions of public employees.  I have dismissed critics of the power of public employee unions as being Republicans who hate all unions.  Lately, I've been having second thoughts about public employee unions.  Here's why:

In the case of unions of employees of private firms, the employer, or management, has a strong hand.  If he believes the union's demands for more pay and better working conditions are too extreme, he can close down or shutter the business and wait.  The union can strike but the management can outlast the union.  Hence, there are limits to what the union can expect from collective bargaining.

In the case of public employee unions, the management does not have as strong or as free a hand as the manager of a private business.  If the union calls for a work stoppage (i.e., goes on strike) the people affected are the voters who choose the managers.  It is not acceptable for the managers to try to wait out the strike.  The public demands and needs the services that are being stopped by the strike.  There is pressure on the management to settle the strike as soon as possible.  In addition, many managers solicit and use money contributions from public employee unions during election campaigns.  Many managers thus "owe" the unions after a successful election.

Is this a problem that is serious enough that we must look for a solution?  Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, thinks so.  I don't agree with him that the solution can be found simply  by enacting a law that prohibits collective bargaining.  To begin with, it isn't collective bargaining by itself that is the problem.  In addition, there is no law that can prevent workers from publicly demanding pay increases, better working conditions, better pensions, better vacations, better medical benefits, etc.  If workers are dissatisfied, they are going to protest, law or no law.  They will strike, law or no law.  Putting down such demands and such actions requires draconian measures that are not supported by most Americans.

I am not wise enough to have at hand a solution that is simple, fair, and effective.  There may not be such a solution.  Perhaps the best thing to do is to collect opinions and suggestions and debate them.  The situation has taken a long time to constitute a serious problem.  The solution may also take a long time, with many false starts, ill-guided attempts, and probably some bad feelings.  Any suggestions you have will be posted as a comment after this article.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Abraham Lincoln

I noticed a news item today.  Representative Ryan, Chair of the House Budget Committee, intends to introduce again the proposal to replace Medicare with a system of vouchers.  According to my understanding, this change would apply to persons now younger than 56 (?) years old.  Persons already retired or approaching retirement would not be affected.  We would continue on Medicare as long as we live.

I think about our second greatest President (after G. Washington).  He was Abraham Lincoln.  One of his famous sayings was that government should do things for the people that the people can not do for themselves.  He was also a Republican.  If he were brought back to life today he would have some rather cutting words to say about Mr. Ryan and other "conservative" Republicans.

In years past our government, regardless of which party held power, has spent billions of dollars on research on various ailments and diseases that shorten our lives.  A result of this work, done to help the people and something the people couldn't have done by themselves, is that the life span of the average American has increased greatly since Lincoln's day.  My grandparents perished in their late 60's to early 80's.  I will achieve the age of ninety in a week and I still have good health and the expectation of seeing who the next President will be.  I am supported by Social Security and Medicare.

The "conservative" view is that the people should not expect government to do anything for them.  Well, not exactly.  The "conservative" function of government is to protect the property of those who possess much property.  All forms must be protected: land, bank accounts, securities, intellectual property, etc.  Communism and socialism are serious threats to property ownership and owners must be protected.  Any idea or proposal that resembles socialism must be suppressed.  This seems to be the view of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives, who owe their majority position to the careful redistricting done after the 2010 Census by their allies in many State legislatures.  Even though the total vote count for the House last November was majority Democratic, the redistricting guaranteed that the Republicans won in a majority of the districts.

In spite of the outcome of the election, Mr. Ryan does not have a moral mandate to proceed with his scheme to do away with Medicare.  May the spirit of Abraham Lincoln prevail and protect us from Mr. Ryan and his allies.

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