Sunday, July 28, 2013
Supporting my President
President Obama, for whom I enthusiastically voted for in 2008 and 2012, has difficulty accomplishing anything with the present gerrymandered Republican Congress (specifically the House of Representatives). He is urging his followers, people like me, to write to and telephone our congressmen to persuade them to vote for the President's initiatives. Somehow, in my situation, that would be a waste of time. My Representative is Brad Sherman. He has always been a stout defender and advocate of the programs that Mr. Obama would like to start. Writing him would be like preaching to the choir or pushing a rope. He doesn't need any letters from me to do what I want him to do. I support him as much as I support Mr. Obama. In addition, Mr. Sherman represents a strongly Democratic district. He has no reason to fear or even pay any attention to the conservative zealots who oppose universal health care, any form of limitation on guns, or taxing the rich.
I envy the residents of other near-by districts. If my congressman were Buck McKeon, Dana Rohrabacher, or (shudder) Darryl Issa, I would write and phone him several times a day. I would try my damnedest to be a big pain in the ass to him.
All things considered, I am happy with the congressman and the district I have. I will grit my teeth and hope that another election or two will produce a House of Representatives that is more truly representative of the American People. Perhaps I can join a lawsuit to challenge the gerrymandering that took place after the census of 2010.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
All of us liberals, pinkos, etc., are disappointed, so say the least, that the jury in Florida found George Zimmerman "not guilty" of murder or manslaughter of Trayvon Martin. We have no doubt in the least that the white dude (Zimmerman) just assumed that the black boy (Martin) was thinking of committing a crime - probably burglary - in the community he was trying to enter. We have no doubt that Zimmerman attacked Martin. We believe Martin tried to defend himself (big mistake for a black person facing a white dude in Florida) and that Zimmerman shot and killed him. We're sure that Zimmerman should have been found guilty. We rejoice that the U.S. Department of Justice is going to look into the matter and try to achieve some "justice" for Martin.
I have a second thought. I served on a jury once. We found that the defendant, a black man with a criminal record, was guilty of attempted rape and automobile theft. The victim was a white woman. I at least would have bent over backward to find an excuse for not convicting the black man. However, he didn't present a convincing case. He testified that at the time of the alleged crime he had been working to repair a friend's apartment. I wondered why the friend wasn't there to support his story. In the discussion after the case, I asked the defense attorney why he hadn't called this friend. Before he could answer, the judge stated that the attorney had never heard of the friend until the defendant mentioned it in his testimony. The weight of the evidence was against the defendant and I voted with the rest of the jury to convict him.
I've thought a lot since then about how a jury makes a decision. Jurors, even in Florida, are reasonable people. In a murder trial, they know that they must not convict if there is reasonable doubt of the guilt of the defendant. In the Zimmerman case, the jury was presented with two different stories about what happened. In one of them Zimmerman was the bully and the attacker and Martin simply tried to defend himself. In the other case Martin attacked Zimmerman who then shot Marin out of fear for his own life. Which story was the jury to believe? There was no convincing evidence or testimony presented to verify either story without doubt. It is better to set a guilty person free than to convict an innocent person. Hence, the jury had to choose the "innocent" verdict. I expect that, if I had been on that jury, I would have reached the same conclusion.
We should compare this trial with the famous trial many years ago in Los Angeles of O. J. Simpson. It was obvious to me that Simpson was guilty of murdering his ex-wife and her boy friend. However, the prosecution presented such a sloppy case that the jury was in doubt, and chose to acquit a possibly guilty man rather than convict a possibly innocent one.
Perhaps we should copy the Scottish law. In Scotland a jury has three choices: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. If the result is not proven, the defendant is set free but the prosecution can order a new trial at any time later. It's something like a hung jury in British or American trials.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Annoying mispronunciations on the radio
Even a favorite announcer on one of my favorite programs can set me off by mispronouncing a word. At least, to me it's a mispronunciation. It may not bother anyone else.
I grew up in one of the states in which the French had made settlements before the settlers from England arrived. In these states - Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa - there are numerous place names which were taken from the languages of the native inhabitants. These names were spelled by people who spoke French and who spelled the names according to French spelling rules. Two examples stand out: my native state of Michigan and the large city at the south end of Lake Michigan: Chicago. In both of these names the native pronunciation contained the sound represented in English spelling by "SH" and in French spelling by "CH." English transcriptions of these names might be something like "MISHIGAN" and "SHICAGO." However, in English spelling the combination CH represents a sound that might also be spelled "TSH" or even "TSCH" as in the spelling of the famous Russian composer Tschaikowsky.
Some radio announcers pronounce these two names as if the CH were pronounced in the English manner: TSH. As a native of Michigan, I cringe to hear the name of my state pronounced as though it were spelled MITCHIGAN. I've spent some time in the city and I resent hearing it pronounced TCHICAGO.
While I'm ranting about mispronunciation, another annoying word is ALMOND. Nine speakers out of ten try to pronounce the L in that word. Historically there never was an L in that part of the word. I think the L was introduced in spelling to indicate the sound of the previous vowel A. Without the L the poorly educated speaker would try the pronunciation "A-MOND" or "AY-MOND." The L was put in, as in such words as PALM and PSALM, which also have a silent L, to indicate that the A is pronounced like "AH" rather than "AA" or "AY."
Of course PALM is not a perfect example of a word in which a silent L indicates the pronunciation of the previous vowel. The word has a long history. In Latin, and in modern Spanish, the word is spelled and pronounced PALMA [pahl-mah]. The L is clearly present in pronunciation. In France, however, the speakers were not conscientious about preserving the L in pronunciation and allowed it to become -UL- and finally -U- in pronunciation. For example, the word PSALM in French has become PSAUME. The change in spelling had not been carried out in French at the time the word was introduced in England after the French conquest that started in 1066.
When will we have a President who cares enough about spelling to introduce spelling reform in our language?
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
More about Egypt
I can't claim to be any kind of an expert about Egypt. My wife and I visited the country once as tourists about twenty-two years ago. We saw some of the pyramids and a couple of sphinxes. We learned from our Egyptian guide that the missing part of the face of the Sphinx near Cairo was on display at the British Museum in London. From what I could see or learn, Egypt is a great museum. The water table is low and ancient artifacts buried in the soil last indefinitely. At the time the water backed up in Lake Nasser by the high dam at Aswan was causing the water table to rise. There was an urgency to get on with the excavations of ancient artifacts to rescue them from the rising water.
As a tourist, I couldn't tell much about the social and economic structure of the country. I have read recently that there is a need to change the society and economy to produce a more egalitarian society. Change from a society in which a few very rich and educated people own almost everything, including the government. Perhaps the writer of such an article is merely imposing the tendency in our country toward that situation on Egypt. The only evidence I as a tourist saw of grinding poverty was at one point on the tour the bus we were in stopped to allow us to see young men without any clothes on. When the bus stopped these unclothed, dark-skinned young men ran toward the bus. I presume that they were hoping for some hand-outs from the rich tourists inside. By the time the naked ones were close to the bus, the driver started the engine and we drove on.
Western comment about the recent ousting of the President Mohammad Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies by the Egyptian army has stuck to the simple story that democratically elected government officials were removed from office by a coup. It was an undemocratic or anti-democratic act and was thus worthy of condemnation. This analysis calls for an analogy. I've thought of an analogy.
A chiropractor is treating a patient who is partially paralyzed in his left leg. The patient also has pains in other parts of his body. The chiropractor works on the leg with message and gentle exercise with the expectation that when the patient is again able to walk normally his other problems will go away. The chiropractor either ignores or doesn't know that the patient has a malignant brain tumor that causes the pain and the partial paralysis. We in the west are trying to treat the partial or complete paralysis of democracy in Egypt and are ignoring serious problems in the social and economic structure of that country.
Anyway, that's my opinion about Egypt. Any comments, corrections, brickbats?
Monday, July 08, 2013
Overusing Fancy Words
People with some education often try to impress others by using fancy words to express rather simple concepts. I am thinking of a word used frequently about a generation ago: parameters. It was often used to describe the thinking or the plans of a popular politician, such as John Kennedy. A devotee of Kennedy might talk about creating a universal health care system according to Kennedy's parameters.
Of course, the example is a misuse of the word. The actual meaning of "parameters" doesn't fit the sentence. The speaker might rather have used the word "perimeters" instead. "Perimeters" refers to boundaries and limits. In such a case the speaker would have been saying that the system would have to fit into limits imposed by Kennedy's thoughts or his ability to influence Congress. Still better substitutes would have been "boundaries" or "limits."
Anyway, parameters isn't used in that sense any more. It has retired to the field of mathematics where it refers to adjustable constants in a function or an equation. The constants are adjusted according to the specific problem the mathematician is trying to solve.
The present fancy word that annoys me is "comprise." People will write or say "is comprised of" when they mean "consists of," "includes," or "is made up of." I think the word is related historically to "comprehend" in the sense of inclusion, not understanding. At any rate, the meaning is uncertain and there are simpler words to express the idea, so why not use them? The only reason I can see is to let the reader or listener know that the writer or speaker knows some very big fancy high-falutin' words. It's a bit of snobbery and I don't like it.
Friday, July 05, 2013
Muslim Brotherhood Ousted in Egypt
The Egyptian Army on Wednesday removed President Mohammad Morsi from office. He was arrested along with about three hundred Muslim Brotherhood officials, some of whom had been elected less than a year ago. The new Egyptian constitution was suspended. This statement is based on newspaper and internet articles I've read in the last two days. I have to assume that they are probably accurate.
What I don't know is the nature of the regime that was overthrown. One writer called it a fascist regime. He cheered the Army's action in ousting Morsi and his followers. Another writer called it repression of a democratic government, and predicted that the Islamists will conclude that democracy is not the way to go in achieving political power and the ability to reform the society and the economic system of Egypt.
Perhaps neither interpretation is useful in understanding Egypt and predicting the future of that ancient country. I think of an analogy here in the United States. I tend to think of the Muslim Brotherhood and its program of Islamizing the country to a numerous and vocal sect of American Christianity, the Southern Baptists. The SB's, like the MB, take their religion very seriously. SB's believe that the Holy Bible is the Word of God. It supersedes all mere earthly laws, in particular the US Constitution. I have never met a Muslim Brother but I'm pretty sure the group adores and believes the Holy Quran just as the SB adores and believes the Holy Bible. Muhammad didn't write the Quran by himself. Muslims believe that he was the last prophet of God and that God spoke to the people through Muhammad. Some of his followers wrote down the lectures, sermons, and teachings of the Prophet. In the same way, SB's believe that various prophets and other writers were inspired by God when they wrote the various books of the Holy Bible.
Let me make one thing clear. Most SB's and, I believe, also most MB's are not devoted to imposing the life style described in their holy books on the rest of us. The activists who go into politics vowing to change everything and recreating the society that existed at the time their holy books were written or compiled are a minority. They're very active and determined, but they are a minority. In Egypt these activists won control in a recent election. Similarly the activists here have won control in a few States of the union.
Now, suppose that you are a deeply religious person and you have gained political power. Your holy book (Quran or Bible) is the ultimate authority for what is right, fair, and just. You will therefore advocate and try to enact laws based on principles set forth in your holy book, rather than laws favored by a majority of the people. The majority, for example, may favor allowing homosexual couples to marry if they choose. Your holy book forbids that. Furthermore, your holy book advocates that such couples, who openly display their homosexual life style, should be stoned to death. Another example is the desire of a woman to get rid of her pregnancy. Again, the majority would give her the choice of ending it. Your holy book expressly forbids the killing of the fetus in the womb and advocates the stoning of anyone who participates in such an act.
Unlike Egypt, our Southern Baptist Brotherhood has not taken over our entire government apparatus - just the House of Representatives. However, the Brotherhood is very influential in several States. Today Texas is trying to impose more restrictions on abortions, to move us closer to the ideal as set forth in the Old Testament. There is resistance to that attempt. I doubt very much that the Texas National Guard is set to oust Governor Perry and most of the State legislators and put them all in jail.
What's left? I assert the analogy between Morsi of Egypt and Perry of Texas. Both men represent governments that put religious belief above public judgment. Both governments should be gotten rid of by being voted out of office when the next election occurs. It is a bad precedent for an army to change a government by force, no matter how incompetent or unrepresentative that government may be. Democracy requires that the people must suffer the consequences of electing a bad government, must understand that they have elected that government, and vote it out at the next election.
My conclusion: As bad as the government of the Brotherhood is, be it it Muslim or Southern Baptist, the remedy is to make the voting public suffer until the next election.