Archive for the ‘My Life’ Category

Toys Were Us

March 18, 2018

This is sad. Toys R Us is closing all of its stores. Here’s the report from the Washington Post.

Toy store chain Toys R Us is planning to sell or close all 800 of its U.S. stores, affecting as many as 33,000 jobs as the company winds down its operations after six decades, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The news comes six months after the retailer filed for bankruptcy. The company has struggled to pay down nearly $8 billion in debt — much of it dating to a 2005 leveraged buyout — and has had trouble finding a buyer. There were reports earlier this week that Toys R Us had stopped paying its suppliers, which include the country’s largest toymakers. On Wednesday, the company announced it would close all 100 of its U.K. stores. In the United States, the company told employees closures would likely occur over time, and not all at once, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

Toys R Us, once the country’s preeminent toy retailer, has been unable to keep up with big-box and online competitors. The recent holiday season dealt another blow to the embattled company, which struggled to find its footing even as the retail industry racked up its largest gains in years. In January, the retailer announced it would close 182 U.S. stores, or about one-fifth of its remaining Toys R Us and Babies R Us locations.

What is going to happen to all the Toys R Us kids?

I guess they all grew up and kids today get their toys from WalMart and Amazon.com.

The glory of capitalism is its ability to engage in creative destruction. Businesses and industries are all subject to the strict discipline of the market. If they can no longer serve their customers in an efficient manner, they are destroyed to make way for businesses that can. The result is, hopefully, ever-increasing prosperity. We ought not to be over sentimental about the loss of Toys R Us. The company has not been functioning well for some time. If Amazon or Walmart can deliver toys to children cheaper and more efficiently, than so much the better for all of us.

I cannot help, though, thinking that we are losing something. I know using e-commerce to deliver products right to your door is more convenient. I know superstores like WalMart are cheaper. But, I am afraid that the children of the future are going to be missing out on something special, the delight in stepping into a store full of nothing but toys. Maybe smaller toy store chains will take Toy R Us’s place. Maybe not. I guess there is no stopping progress, if that is what this is, but I regret the losses along the way.

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Pi Day

March 14, 2018
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi.

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p, because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way is not pronounce “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were not very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits. Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than a eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years to calculate pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately he made a mistake with the 528 digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
  45648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273
  72458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436
  78925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094
  33057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548
  07446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912
  98336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798
  60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132
  00056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872
  14684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235
  42019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960
  51870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859
  50244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881
  71010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303
  59825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778
  18577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

The Nativity According to Luke

December 19, 2017

Here is what Christmas is all about

 

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’s career. Here is Luke’s account.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

There is a considerable amount of skepticism regarding the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census, obviously, Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

Going With the Wind

September 23, 2017

It looks like the classic movie Gone With the WInd will be the next victim of the ongoing cultural revolution., as I read in this article from Deadline Hollywood.

One of Hollywood’s iconic films is under some serious scrutiny in Memphis, Tennessee. The city’s historic Orpheum Theatre is pulling showings of Gone with the Wind after the 1939 classic was deemed as “insensitive.”

Victor Fleming’s film was part of their summer series programming. After the first screening on August 11, the Orpheum received numerous comments about the film which prompted them to drop it from their 2018 series. Based on the book by Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and was set in on Southern plantation during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Although a landmark in cinema, the film and its subject matter has seen criticism for its portrayal of people of color and its overall perspective of the South during that divisive time in history.

Admittedly, the portrayal of African-Americans in the film is not altogether positive and it does tend to glamorize the Old South, reflecting the Lost Cause or Dunning School of Confederate historiography, but Gone With the Wind is still one of the best movies ever made, from an era in which they actually knew how to  make great movies. If we are to purge the culture of every work of art, literature, or entertainment that could possibly be construed as being offensive, we are not going to have many such works left to enjoy. If every new work of art, literature or entertainment must be produced according to the most exacting standards of political correctness, very few such works will be worthwhile. Certainly none will stand the test of time to become classics.

What is the point of this cultural revolution in which statues of Confederate statues are overturned and anything related to the Old South prohibited? If it is to fight racism, then we ought to declare victory and leave the statues alone. Racism as a political and social force is dead in America. Yes, I know that there are still many prejudiced people out there. That will always be the case, as long as there are human beings. Prejudice against people who don’t look or act like us is, to some extent, hardwired into our programming. Yet, the United States in the twenty-first century is probably one of the least racist countries in history. I doubt if any other nation has done so much to reverse past injustices as we have. We are not perfect, but if perfection is the standard, we will always fall short. The people who claim that contemporary America is an oppressive regime of systemic racism are simply too ignorant of history to know what they are talking about. If you want to see true systemic racism, you only need to hop into the Wayback Machine and travel back about sixty or seventy years.

Liberals often claim that Republican politicians promote racism by speaking in coded “dog whistles” that only liberals can hear. There was a time when Democratic politicians openly supported depriving African-Americans of their civil rights. The record for the longest Senate filibuster was set 1957 when Strom Thurmond spoke for twenty-four hours against the Civil Rights Act. Black Lives Matter claims that police officers routinely shoot unarmed Black youths for other reason than racism. Upon closer examination, these innocent youths invariably turn out to be criminals who attacked the officer in question. Yet, there was a time when police officers could indeed harass and even murder Blacks with impunity. There was a time when mobs of Whites could murder Blacks with impunity. There was a time when proposals for federal laws to prevent lynching were controversial.

Read that last sentence again and let it sink in. There was a time, less than a century ago, when laws designed to stop Americans from murdering their fellow human beings who had the wrong colored skin were so controversial that they could not be passed.

In my own home town, Madison Indiana, Blacks were required to sit up in the balcony at the local theater. If they got ice cream from the local drug store, they had to eat it outside. They were not allowed to swim at the public pool. They could not attend the same schools as the White children.

Speaking of schools, there was a time when President Eisenhower had to deploy federal troops to ensure that teenagers in Little Rock Arkansas could attend a school in compliance with a Supreme Court decision. Take a look at the infamous picture taken at that time and just try to imagine the hatred those young people had to face.

That is what systemic racism is really like. We are no longer that country. Attitudes about race have changed drastically for the better in a little more than a generation, to the extent that a lot of this behavior is incomprehensible to the people who didn’t experience it. I simply cannot imagine refusing to allow someone to use a public facility because of their race. I don’t really understand why normal, decent people behaved in a manner that even a hardcore racist of today might be ashamed of. We worry about microaggressions today. Blacks of a previous generation worried about real aggressions.

Of course, there is still racism and prejudice. There will always be prejudice as long as there are human beings. It seems to me, however, that if we want to continue to make progress against prejudice, or just maintain what progress we have made, conducting a purge of everything in our culture and heritage that might be considered racist might not be a good way to go about it. I would think that if reducing racism is the goal, than we should be trying to make race less important. We ought to be striving for a world in which the color of a person’s skin is just as inconsequential as the color of their hair or eyes. Instead, the people who profess to be the most against racism seem to be trying to inject race into everything. They seem to be trying to deliberately turn people against one another by stirring up racial tensions. I wonder if the goal is not fight racism but to encourage it. Maybe they need to believe that no progress towards racial equality has been made, or that the country they are living in is hateful and evil. Maybe they want Americans to be divided rather than united. Whatever the reason, this business of driving us apart has to go with the wind.

Sixteen Years

September 11, 2017

It has been sixteen years since 9/11. We said that we would never forget, but I am afraid we are already forgetting. They are even starting to teach in colleges that it was our fault.  A person turning eighteen this year, old enough to vote, was only four on that fateful day. I don’t imagine that they would have any clear personal memories of that day, unless they or someone close was personally affected. I am afraid that we are trying to forget the most important lesson of 9/11, that the world is a dangerous place, and there are people out there who would like to destroy us.

Well, I will never forget that dreadful day fifteen years ago, no matter how long I live. We will just have to keep telling the story to the younger generations so they will not have to experience any such attacks for themselves. With that in mind, I am going to copy what I wrote three years ago.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I were listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon WalMart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discus the business at hand. Instead we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

 

Obama Kids Revisited

June 12, 2017

Remember this video?

I wrote about it way back in September 2011. I still do not like the comparison made between Obama and Hitler. No American politician, either Obama, Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump is anything at all like Hitler. I also still think that having choirs of children singing the praises of a politician is more than a little creepy. It’s also odd that the same sort of people who didn’t have a problem with the Obama Cult are declaring that Trump is an evil dictator, just like Hitler. As far as I know, Trump has not had children singing about how wonderful he is, or artists depicting him as the Messiah, or celebrities pledging their unconditional allegiance to him. Perhaps this is projection? Maybe we are only safe from a would be dictator if he happens to be a Republican.

Anyway, I happened to see this video yesterday and I started to wonder whatever became of these children. They must be college age by now. Maybe some of them are attending Berkeley where they are participating in riots to drive away any conservative speaker who dares to show up. There might be one or two at Yale, screaming at professors who suggested that student might be able to choose their own Halloween costumes. They might be protesting against the systemic racism found at the University of Missouri. Perhaps they have skipped college altogether to attend “antifa” protests, fighting the threat of right-wing Fascism by beating up people and smashing store windows, in other words by acting like the Fascists did in Germany and Italy.

No contemporary American politician is anything like Hitler, but if a dictator ever does come to power in America, he won’t have any trouble finding recruits for his storm troopers from the sort of people who teach their children to sing hymns of praise to politicians.

The Timely, Relevant Handmaid’s Tale

June 4, 2017

Hulu has begun airing a series based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the critics are falling all over themselves in proclaiming how timely and relevant the program is in Trump’s America.

The Handmaid’s Tale, for those fortunate enough not to have encountered it, is a dystopian novel set in the “Republic of Gilead”, a future North American nation in which Christian fundamentalists have seized power. Naturally women are horribly oppressed in Gilead, since that is what Christian fundamentalists most like to do. Women are chattel who are forbidden to work outside the home or to have bank accounts. There is an epidemic of infertility caused by environmental pollution and those women who are still fertile are pressed into service as “handmaids” compelled to give birth to women incapable of having their own children. As you can see, The Handmaid’s Tale is timely and relevant, for women living in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. Since Trump hardly ran on a platform of disenfranchising women, the novel is probably not particularly relevant to the experiences of American women, whatever Atwood and her fans might believe.

An everyday sight in Trump’s America

The purpose of dystopian literature, and science fiction in general, is not to predict the future but to highlight circumstances and emerging trends in the present. If it had been Margaret Atwood’s intention to highlight the oppression of women in the Middle East by portraying a similar situation in a more familiar context, much as George Orwell highlighted Stalinist tyranny by placing it in the more familiar context of England, than her effort would be laudable. That is not what she was trying to do. By her own account, she was trying to show what the “religious right” intended to do to women when they gained power. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, at a time when the Moral Majority seemed to be on the ascendant, so it might have been timely and relevant then; except that not a single prominent figure on the “religious right” was proposing anything at all like the subjugation of women in the book. If treating women like chattel had been on the agenda of the Christian Coalition, I doubt very much if it would have had any influence on politics at all. And again, Trump is hardly a fundamentalist Christian, nor did he campaign on reducing women to brood stock as part of his program to Make America Great Again.

This is where The Handmaid’s Tale falls short as a dystopia. A dystopia works by pointing out the most extreme consequences of existing trends. The resulting vision need not be especially realistic. This is science fiction after all. However it ought to ring true. The setting of a dystopian work ought to at least seem possible, based on things already happening

As a man of the left, George Orwell knew from personal experience the totalitarian tendencies of most left wing movements. He knew what he was writing about when he wrote 1984. He was able to make the setting of his novel match the real life circumstances of totalitarian governments like the Soviet Union under Stalin and Nazi Germany. He believed, with good reason, that Britain was heading towards a totalitarian socialist state. We may not currently be living in Big Brother’s Oceania, but in an age of mass surveillance and bigger, unaccountable bureaucracies, we should certainly be aware of the possibilities.

Aldrous Huxley had considered very carefully the possible changes that advancing technology might bring to society. His Brave New World is a study of how advances in contraception, cloning (though the word hadn’t been coined at the time) might change family life. If we can design each person according to plan would we design different people for different jobs? What would the concept of equality mean if some people are designed before birth to be the leaders while others to be workers? Huxley also explored the implications of freedom of thought in a world in which thoughts are conditioned by persuasion techniques far more advanced than the crude advertising and propaganda of our time. You might not need the Thought Police if every thought in every head is put there by years of conditioning. It is possible that something like Brave New World might really be in our future, perhaps closer than we might imagine.

In contrast, Margaret Atwood knew nothing about the goals and aspirations of conservative Christians when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale and there is no sign that she has bothered to learn anything about them in all the years since. Her vision is one that simply does not match the reality. No prominent Christian leader of any sect or denomination has come out in favor of disenfranchising women. Christianity is not the religion that teaches that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. Historically, women have generally had a higher status in the Christian West than in any other civilization. It is true that women have often been discriminated against and patronized in the West, but women have rarely been treated as chattel or worse to the extent they have in East Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, and especially the Islamic world. It is in the Christian West that the idea that women ought to be treated as actual human beings, and even protected arose. Only in the West could anything like feminism come to be.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a fantasy. I think it is poorly written, but that is just my opinion. Perhaps others may think it a classic. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about the literary quality of the work, but please don’t insult my intelligence by saying it is in any way timely or relevant to contemporary America.

One Horn

May 31, 2017

I have been studying German lately, mostly by using Duolingo, and I have noticed an interesting difference between English and German. This article I read about Ira Einhorn, the founder of Earth Day who murdered and composted his girlfriend brought the difference to mind.

Ira Einhorn was on stage hosting the first Earth Day event at the Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on April 22, 1970. Seven years later, police raided his closet and found the “composted” body of his ex-girlfriend inside a trunk.

A self-proclaimed environmental activist, Einhorn made a name for himself among ecological groups during the 1960s and ’70s by taking on the role of a tie-dye-wearing ecological guru and Philadelphia’s head hippie. With his long beard and gap-toothed smile, Einhorn — who nicknamed himself “Unicorn” because his German-Jewish last name translates to “one horn”  —advocated flower power, peace and free love to his fellow students at the University of Pennsylvania. He also claimed to have helped found Earth Day.

Einhorn is actually the German word for unicorn. What I have noticed is that English tends to create new words for new or abstract concepts by taking words from other languages, particularly Latin and Greek and often combining them in new ways not found in the original languages. German tends to create new words from other German words and seems to be less eager to take words from other languages.

In English we watch television (Greek tele “far” + Latin visionem, participle of videre “to see”). Germans watch the Fernseher (literally “far-seer” in German). We may study science (Latin scientia “knowledge) in school while Germans study Wissenschaft (“knowledge” in German). If you study chemistry you may be familiar with the elements, like hydrogen (Greek Hydr “water” + gen “produces or born from” thus “made from water”) or oxygen (Greek oxys “acid”+ gen so “made from acid). In German they are Wasserstoff (waterstuff) and Sauerstoff (sourstuff). Carbon comes from Latin carbonem “coal” Germans call it Kohlenstoff, “coalstuff”.

Electricity (Latin electrum and Greek elektron both meaning amber) is one of humanity’s greatest inventions. The Germans do have the word Elektrizität but they also call it Strom “stream, current”. We may be afraid of exposure to radiation(Latin radiationem “shining” from radius “beam of light). A German would prefer not to be exposed to Strahlung “beaming”.

You don’t have to study science to notice the difference. English speakers may vote (Latin votus “to vow”) in an election (Latin ex “out of” + legere “to choose”) for Congress (Latin congressus from com “with” + gradus “to walk” thus walking or meeting together) or Parliament (French from parler “to speak”). Germans may abstimmen (choose or coordinate) in a Wahl (choice) for the Bundestag (Bundes “Federal” Tag literally “day” from Latin diet “daily” the name of various representative assemblies in the Holy Roman Empire and elsewhere). This body may pass legislation (Latin legis latio “proposing a law”). In German it is Gesetzgebung (Gesetz “law” + gebung “-tion” so “lawization”. In English, we may participate (Latin participare “to share”) in and organization (Latin organizationem from organum “organ”). In German they teilnehmen (take part) in a Unternehmen (undertaking). I could go on and on but you get the idea.

I don’t want to exaggerate the contrast between the two languages. German does have plenty of words derived from Latin, mostly taken, like English through French, and English, of course, does make new words out of older English words, just like German. We can say we take part in an “undertaking” too. In fact, English seems to have a double vocabulary, one made up of simpler words derived from Anglo-Saxon and another composed of fancier words from French and Latin. Which approach is better, the German or the English is a matter of taste, I think. English perhaps has more words and is more eager to appropriate words from other languages, but all those Latin words may make English a more abstract language in some respects, one more easy to obfuscate in. German seems somehow homier, yet as anyone who tried to read Hegel or some of the other German philosophers can attest, German can also be an obfuscating language with dense verbiage.

So, why is English half a romance language, while German remains, well, Germanic? Part of the reason must be that there was nothing like the Norman Conquest in German history. Germany was not conquered by a nation that spoke a Romance Language as England was conquered by the French speaking Normans and so there was not the huge influx of Latin derived words into German as there was with English.

Yet, I also think that there is another reason why English has generally been careless about adopting words. from other languages. For some reason, English speakers seem to lack the concern about language purity found in the speakers of many other languages. The French have the Academie Francaise, an official institution that tries to safeguard the purity of the French language by setting standards for usage and inventing proper French words to replace any foreign words that have managed to slip in. Almost every major language has a similar official organization to set standards, with one exception, English. There has never been any sort of official or semi-official body in the English speaking world with any authority to set official standards for usage, or even for spelling, nor has there been any serious movement to purify the English language by purging it of “foreign” words. Other languages have had spelling reforms sponsored by various governments. German spelling was reformed in 1901 and again in 1996. The People’s Republic of China simplified the characters used in written Chinese, and there was even a proposal, shortly after the Communists came to power to abandon the characters altogether in favor of romanization. Ataurk ordered the Turks to abandon their traditional use of the Arabic script to write Turkish in favor of the Latin alphabet. Nothing like that is likely to occur in English, even though English orthography is a mess and badly needs to be simplified.

It seems that there is simply about the Anglophone mind and culture that tends to resist regimentation and regularization imposed from above, even when such such regularization might make things easier. English speakers have generally been the most reluctant to adopt the metric system, and the United States still uses the traditional system of measurements. We seem to prefer things haphazardly and chaotically rather than rational and regular, and we don’t mind speaking a language where every rule has an exception and in which if we don’t have a word for something, we have no trouble stealing words from other languages. If the new words aren’t proper English words, we don’t care.

Maybe if English were more regular, it would be an easier language for foreigners to learn. Since English is rapidly becoming the Common Tongue of the whole world, maybe we owe it to the poor souls who have to learn the language to make it easier for them. On the other hand, the fact that English has at least one word from almost every other language may make it at least a little familiar to others. English is certainly a more interesting and dynamic language because of its propensity to borrow shamelessly from other languages and maybe that is part of the reason English is the primary international  language.

 

Organizing for Action’s Values

May 15, 2017

I still get email from Organizing for Action:

Organizing for Action
Friend —

The White House is doubling down on their immigration agenda, plowing forward with their multi-billion dollar budget request for taxpayer funds to build a border wall, deportation force, and expanded detention facilities.

This agenda does not represent our values, and we have to hold every member of Congress who votes in favor of it accountable.

Add your name to join the fight against funding this harmful, discriminatory immigration agenda.

The actions the administration wants to take wouldn’t just harm the way we’re viewed around the world, or waste precious dollars that could be used to improve our schools, advance research to cure diseases, or help small businesses: They would impact millions of people who are just looking for an opportunity for a better life. It shouldn’t matter where they come from — or how they pray. They want to contribute to the success of America.

The good news is that the White House needs funding from Congress to get this done. That’s our opportunity to intervene.

We need all hands on deck to let our representatives know that we won’t stand for an immigration agenda that runs counter to the values that make us strong.

Say you’ll hold your members of Congress accountable:

Add your name

Thanks,

Saumya

Saumya Narechania
National Issues Campaign Manager
Organizing for Action

Well, as a conservative, my values include the concept of ordered liberty under the rule of law, so I prefer that laws be enforced, including immigration laws. This means that a more vigorous enforcement of our immigration laws, as opposed to the more lackadaisical previous administration, represents my values perfectly.

The problem with illegal immigration is not the immigration but the illegal. The United States of America, like every other country in the world with a functioning government, has laws regarding who can enter this country and procedures that a person who wishes to emigrate here must follow. These laws are for the benefit of the people who already live here. No one has a right to emigrate into this country, or any other, and we are not obliged to allow anyone at all into our country, if we don’t want them here. We have every right to insist that the people wishing to come here learn to speak our language and agree to uphold our values. This means that if a potential immigrant does not want to try to learn English or wants to replace the constitution with Sharia law, we can refuse to allow him entry. We also should expect that a person who comes here to obey our laws. An illegal immigrant has already broken our laws.

The people at Organizing for Action seem to believe that our immigration laws are unjust. They may even believe that our borders should be open to anyone who wants to enter. Notice, however, that they are not advocating the repeal or alteration of our current immigration laws. Instead, they seem to believe that the laws should simply be . ignored. The rule of law, then, is not among the values they believe in.

Honesty in discourse also does not seem to be one of their values. They speak of the contributions that immigrants have made to this country and urge that we allow them in as if President Trump is closing our borders to everyone. No one is presently arguing for a complete ban on immigration. There is not even a movement to reduce legal immigration. The debate is over what ought to be done about illegal immigration, whether the relevant laws should, or should not be enforced. By blurring the distinction between legal and illegal immigration and attributing motives and policies to their opponents that they do not, in fact, hold, Organizing for Action and the left generally is arguing dishonestly. Why not argue for open borders, since that is what they seem to want? Because that would be unpopular and no politician who wants to keep his office would endorse it. Instead they have to rely on changing the subject and using glib words and outright lies.

Organizing for Action’s values are not my values. I hope that they are not America’s values.

 

Earth Day

April 22, 2017

Today is Earth Day and what better way to celebrate than to recall the predictions of the first Earth Day back in 1970. Here is a list, courtesy of Freedom Works.

  1. “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”  — Harvard biologist George Wald
  2. “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.” — Washington University biologist Barry Commoner
  3. “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”New York Times editorial
  4. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” — Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich
  5. “Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born… [By 1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” — Paul Ehrlich
  6. “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” — Denis Hayes, Chief organizer for Earth Day
  7. “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” — North Texas State University professor Peter Gunter
  8. “In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.” — Life magazine
  9. “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
  10. “Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” — Paul Ehrlich
  11. “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate… that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.'” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
  12. “[One] theory assumes that the earth’s cloud cover will continue to thicken as more dust, fumes, and water vapor are belched into the atmosphere by industrial smokestacks and jet planes. Screened from the sun’s heat, the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.”Newsweek magazine
  13. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.” — Kenneth Watt

For more information about these predictions, read this article from way back in 2000 in Reason.com. 

I grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s and heard these sorts of doomsday predictions all the time. I was young and foolish enough to believe them. I sincerely thought that the world of my future would be an overpopulated, polluted dystopia. As I got older, I happened to notice that none of these gloomy predictions seemed to be coming true. We were not all starving to death or choking on pollution. There was still enough gasoline to fill up our tanks and the price, adjusted for inflation, seemed to be constant. That didn’t stop the doomsday predictions. You might think that the people making these predictions would be relieved that none of them came true. Some them might even admit that they were wrong and try to find out where they erred. No, the predictions kept on coming. Now it is global warming/climate change that is going to destroy the world. Somehow, doomsday keeps getting put off. It is always ten to twenty years in the future.

This is one of the reasons I am skeptical about just about everything the environmentalists claim. I have a working memory and I remember very well the failed predictions that they have made. Since they have been wrong so many times before, why should I start believing them now? At some point you have to consider that they are either mistaken or lying.

Now, you can argue that the stricter pollution control laws enacted since that first Earth Day have prevented the dystopian future that had been predicted. That is undoubtedly true. Advancing technology has also helped. More efficient machines mean less pollution. The Green Revolution has helped to feed billions who would otherwise have starved. But, that also kind of proves my point, at least about predicting the future. People do not just stand by passively as the world falls apart around them. They take action to fix things. This is why future dystopias are never very accurate glimpses of the future. If the world is indeed warming, then people will take action to ameliorate any ill effects caused by changing climates. There is no reason to worry the future and every reason to be optimistic. And remember, we humans do not have the last word on what is going to happen to this world. That is the prerogative of the One who created it.


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