Sunday, December 30, 2007

Am I Really the Enemy? (Politics, Morality, Miscellany)

Okay, so it's been a while since my last post. This has had nothing to do with the unhappiness at work that had previously coincided with my absences from blogging. I'm between full-time jobs, and I've been working more hours at the book store in the meantime. I've actually been having a blast! Working in retail during the holiday season provides a bizarre sort of thrill, and I've enjoyed it immensely. The new job starts in about a week.

I believe it was the day after my last post that Mitt Romney gave the world his fantastic speech about how his religion would or would not influence him as president. From what I heard, he really gave a stirring, impassioned, convincing, honest, and reassuring speech. Really great! Congratulations, Mitt.

However, as magnificent as his speech was, he made it clear that I and my ilk are what he considers to be the enemy. Truly. I think it's really that stark. The enemy.

Why? Because I really do believe that we are better served if we take religion clearly out of the governance equation. I have no religious faith, and I think that scares the hell out of Romney. A true separation of church and state is something that I wish we could achieve. I believe Romney wishes for a true integration of church and state. And that scares the hell out of me. However, I really don't view Romney as my enemy.

----

I have now been to three stops on the Edwards campaign trail. I'm supporting him. I've done some volunteer canvassing and made some phone bank calls on his behalf. Perhaps that seems strange when you consider that I am running for president. It may seem entirely inconsistent that I don't consider him to be an opponent, to be defeated. I'm not bothered by any such concerns. I think he's a fine candidate, and I could easily vote for him in the general election. The same is not true of several of the other candidates, and I fear that I really might be put into the undesirable position of having to vote for myself.

Edwards does talk about restoring America's "moral authority" in the world. That bothers me, but only in a semantic sense. I consider myself to be amoral. Amoral is not the same as immoral, and I think that confusion is what has Romney so bothered by people like me.

I view the word morality as being tied deeply to a misguided belief that our better tendencies are somehow tied to god or godliness. I prefer to think in terms of ethics rather than morality. To me, the word ethics has absolutely no tie to religion or belief in a deity. Ethics has to do with behavior towards others and does not depend on a belief in any ties to the supernatural. Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned, the two terms are essentially interchangeable.

But the [pedestrian] religious-minded train of thought that I imagine holds sway in Romney's mind goes something like this:

  • Without [belief in or existence of] God, there is no morality.
  • No morality means immorality.
  • Immorality is bad.

The second bullet is incorrect. Correcting it requires just the substitution of a prefix: "No morality means amorality."

If you understand that difference, the third bullet is rendered completely irrelevant.

If you look at my life, the way I behave, the way I treat others...[and assuming you are among those who view the world through a religious prism] you would likely reach the conclusion that I am an extremely moral person. (Especially if you were allowed to assume that I go to a house of worship and that I pray.) I behave ethically, or at least I try to. And that keeps my behavior consistent with those who try to behave morally.

If you are a believer and if you take that second bullet as truth, then of course you would view me as the enemy. But that's wrong. There are many atheists out there who behave extremely well. We do so with an understanding that we have a choice. We have the good sense to not blame our failings on the work of the devil, and we therefore don't use superstition as an excuse. We are responsible for our own actions, and we understand as much. If you want to call this spiritual humanism, have at it. What it amounts to is that morality is unnecessary, except for those who need it as a justification for their own actions.

As for "restoring our moral authority", the phrase is troublesome to me. But not so much so that I view it as a detriment to Edwards. I've been thinking a lot about it, and I think it's just vernacular usage. We never had "moral authority". Not any more than anyone else had, anyway. Note: I'm NOT suggesting that Edwards is an atheist. He isn't. He's a man of faith. A believer. A God-fearing Christian. But I don't hold that against him.

What I think is the sentiment behind the notion of "moral authority" is this:

We should behave in a way that, in our moments of deepest clarity, we can and should honestly hope others will take as an example.

That's wordy. But it's a very good guiding principle.

And it's a principle that the Bush administration has ignored completely.

So the idea of "restoring our moral authority" is an idea that I believe in firmly. It's a noble goal. It's worthwhile. And it should be an extremely high priority for our next president. What I fear is that it is phrased in a way that comes across as arrogant and condescending. That's not setting a very good example. And I don't need to believe in a god to allow me to understand that.


---

I went to see John McCain this evening. I missed his speech, but I caught most of the question and answer session. After it was all done, I approached him (with my John Edwards campaign sticker on my coat). He made some comment about my sticker. I shook his hand and told him that I can't possibly support him. But I thanked him (sincerely) for his service to our country and for his sacrifice. I told him I hope that if he does get the job, he will have a few epiphanies.

He thanked me (sincerely) for coming out and participating in the democratic process. He said [paraphrasing! Please don't quote!!!!] that having young people participate in democracy is really the important thing. To which I agreed.

----

The Iowa caucuses are just 4 days away, and our New Hampshire primary is just 5 days after that. Let's hope for good outcomes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Rant on Romney and Religious Fundamentalism

I was listening to NPR's "All Things Considered" the other day when they aired part of an interview with presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The interviewer (Robert Siegel) asked about Romney's belief in the literal truth of the Bible, and Romney very slickly evaded the question while trying to make Siegel feel somehow dirty for asking the question. What follows is the feedback I provided to NPR:

Shame on Mitt Romney for trying to make Robert Siegel feel ashamed for asking a legitimate question and, by extension, trying to make NPR listeners feel ashamed for caring about the answer.

Does it matter to me which specific book(s) of the Bible a candidate takes more literally than others? Nope. But does it matter to me whether my vote supports someone who believes in superstitious hokum, to the exclusion of reason, logic, science, sense, and critical thought? You bet!

It's terrifying to me that Romney can, in one sentence, decry the "global jihad" that's threatening our way of life and in the next sentence say "My point is the Bible is the word of God". I hope I am not alone in seeing absurdity here.

Blind faith in religion is blind faith in religion, regardless of which particular religion is being used as justification. And it is dangerous.

Fundamentalists in the Middle East are out to destroy America. And fundamentalists in this country are out to win the White House. A fundamentalist led us into invading and occupying Iraq, destroying their infrastructure, and making our nation responsible (directly or indirectly) in the deaths of tens- or hundreds of thousands of innocent people there (depending on whose estimates you believe). That latter fundamentalist is also directly responsible for our country's loss of respectability in the eyes of much of the rest of the world.

It is absolutely legitimate for me, as a voter (and for Robert Siegel, as a reporter) to want to know just how trustworthy a candidate is in making important judgments of serious consequence.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I'm Back

Well, it's been a very long while since I've posted, but I'm back now. I noticed that my tendency has been to not blog any time while work had me miserable. I was miserable at work recently. Well, as of this past Wednesday, I've left that job behind. I'm optimistic that I will be considerably more in a cheery mood in the future.

Here are some things I've neglected to mention:

1) This year, Beth and I became baseball fans. Strange, that. I think it means we're getting old and our brains are slowing down. When I was younger, I just couldn't understand how anyone could be a fan of such a slow and dull game (I still refuse to consider it a sport). But now I actually find that it's somehow exciting. There are things about it I despise. (For example this business about "checked swings". As I recall, when I was a kid, I never saw the "checked swing". Is it really a new innovation, or am I imagining things? As I recall, in the past, if the bat left the shoulder, it was a swing. None of this business about whether the wrist snapped or not.)

Anyway, we became baseball fans in general and Red Sox fans in particular. So we're thrilled that the Sox won the series again!

2) Brownback got out of the race. Hooray!

3) I've chosen a candidate to support in this primary season. I'm behind Edwards. I've seen him speak a couple of times. The main thing I take away from him is this: Edwards is the candidate who's seriously and consistently talking about implementing some democracy in our "democracy". That's something I'm passionate about. I think he's right on a lot. I don't think he's dead wrong on anything. And I believe he's sincere and trustworthy. (At least as trustworthy as any politician out there.)

I went around canvassing for him (as a volunteer) a few weeks ago, and today I'm scheduled to do the same. I sincerely hope he pulls out the nomination. And if not him, then I'm hoping for Obama. I think an Edwards/Obama ticket is the best idea I've heard in a while.

While I've slightly softened on Clinton, I just can not get behind her, whatsoever. The more I see her, the more my opinion is solidified that she's entirely calculating and her motive is pure, unbridled ambition. I don't believe for a second that she actually cares about anything beyond what's politically expedient. I don't trust her at all. (Some "softening", huh?)

4) The following is not original content but it tells of a change I made to my blog (feedback is welcome, of course):

Introducing Snap Shots from Snap.com

I just installed a nice little tool on this site called Snap Shots that enhances links with visual previews of the destination site, interactive excerpts of Wikipedia articles, MySpace profiles, IMDb profiles and Amazon products, display inline videos, RSS, MP3s, photos, stock charts and more.

Sometimes Snap Shots bring you the information you need, without your having to leave the site, while other times it lets you "look ahead," before deciding if you want to follow a link or not.

Should you decide this is not for you, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Considerably Less Funny...

Now, this is scary....

A little later in the conversation, Brownback (a U.S. Senator) actually said, "We declared war," in relation to the invasion of Iraq.

Unbelievable!

Let's make this clear: WAR WAS NOT DECLARED!!!!!!!!!!!!

When I was a kid, there was this word I sometimes heard: "Yutz".

As in "What a yutz!"

Well, I propose we bring it back, specifically for Brownback. Yutz!

Just Thought This Was Funny

I tuned in the Republican presidential candidates' forum on PBS, in time to see Ray Suarez ask a question. Apparently, Sam Brownback thought the question came from someone named Race Juarez, as he said, "thank you, Race."

I just thought it was funny.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Orwell's 1984 -- A Book Review

A few weeks ago, we were watching Jeopardy, and one of the questions was about George Orwell's 1984. I said, "I really should read that one of these days." A few days later, we were at a tag sale and Beth spotted a paperback of the book for a buck. So she bought it for me. Now I've read it, finally, quite a lot of years after I should have done. I had read Animal Farm a long time ago, but I had just never gotten around to reading 1984. Now I'm sad that I let it wait for so long.

So I provided one of my little capsule reviews to the book store on Wednesday. But since the blog allows me to spend as many words as I want, I'm going to publish a somewhat longer review here:

Stylistically and structurally, Orwell's 1984 is a masterpiece. In addition, it is a triumph of imagination. Orwell imagined a world so thoroughly as to make it seem less a fictional setting than an alternate reality. His book, while fairly short, is as complete as could be hoped for. The novel is brutal, unpleasant, and offers no hope of a happy ending. Despite these characteristics (or perhaps because of them) the book is utterly satisfying. It left me satisfied, perhaps, in a way that no other book I've ever read has done.

Entirely without suggestion, Orwell got me to wonder, at first idly, and then more and more desperately, what was really going on. The big question: What's going on outside Oceania? More pointedly, is there really a war happening at all? (Perhaps Oceania is really no larger than the island of Great Britain, and perhaps it is merely isolated from, rather than in conflict with, other nations.)

Just when I could barely stand the strain of this question, Orwell asked it. And then he answered it. Having done so, he then answered it yet again, only this time from what seemed a much more trustworthy source within his narrative. And then the twist: He systematically stripped away all of that source's legitimacy. And finally, the master stroke... Orwell did to me exactly what the Party does to its members: He left me with only one possible conclusion--a logical checkmate, in which I was absolutely forced to accept one harsh truth: If the Party says there is a war, then there is a war. Beyond that, there is nothing. Whatever the Party says is absolute truth.

The upshot: Orwell converted me from reader into participant.

Wow!

If you haven't read this book, I suggest you do. It's amazing!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Another Candidate Visit... John Edwards in Concord, 8/25

Last Saturday, I went to a White Park in Concord to listen to John Edwards as he made a campaign stop. Elizabeth was there and said her piece before the John spoke. Their kids were all there too.

Going back... I started my day with Beth turning on the DVD of Bobby. It was early, and I didn't really want to be awake yet, so I was sort of fading in and out of consciousness. I wasn't paying especially close attention to the movie, but I was able to basically follow the beginning of it, and I was able to get a bit of a sense of RFK, from the interspersed footage of him on the campaign trail. I got enough of a sense of RFK that I was thinking that he really reminded me of Kucinich. (Or is it the other way around?)

I'll be the first to tell you that I don't know a whole lot about RFK. I know he was the brother of John and Ted. I know that he was JFK's attorney general. I know he was running for president and was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. And I know that he did a "poverty tour". That's about it.

What I got from those clips I saw in the morning was that RFK seemed to be a guy who was about optimism and hope. That's where the parallel with Kucinich comes in.

I happen to have caught a couple of minutes of Kucinich's appearance on that Logo Network "debate" that they aired earlier in the month. I was struck by just how contagiously upbeat the guy is. I was actually wondering how much of it was really his character and how much of it was a front. I wondered whether he was all smiles when the cameras were off or whether he goes home, turns the lights down, and sits down for a good cry every night. (Or perhaps instead of a good cry, maybe a round of banging his forehead against the nearest wall.)

You see, I like Kucinich. I like him a lot, and I think he brings something very real to the debate. I also think he's small in stature and just a little too funny looking for the electorate. I think it's a real shame, but I think his appearance is really what's going to once again keep him from getting anywhere in the Democratic primary. I'm not saying that the primary voters will vote strictly on the basis of perceived "electability", but I am saying that I think that a perceived lack of electability will act as a deterrent in their voting choice. So, while I think they'll give Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Richardson a fair shot (all perceived as being able to possibly beat the Republican candidate), I don't think they'll give Kucinich the same benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, when I finally really woke up, we got showered and dressed and went out to breakfast. There was something happening on the town common, so we went to spend some time wandering around there. The weather was oppressive, so from there we went home and relaxed until it was time for Beth to go to work. A few hours later, after I had sufficiently cooled down, I decided to make the trip to Concord to see Edwards.

This time around, I didn't ask any questions. I snapped some photographs and I listened. I was impressed by Edwards. He seems earnest and he seems to care about people. Frankly, he seems more genuinely caring than any of the other candidates. Of course, this raises the question of whether the sincerity is a well-rehearsed act, or whether it's absolutely honest. Who knows? I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I have no reason to believe that he's uncaring. (I don't have any real reason to believe that Hillary's uncaring, either. No reason but my gut instinct, that is. But I won't give her the benefit of the doubt.)

After the event, I came home and watched the movie that had started my day. This time, I watched it from beginning to end, and I paid attention. My verdict: A really solid piece of work. If I hadn't seen it for myself, I would never have guessed that Emilio Estevez could have been responsible for such a terrific film. I was actually extremely impressed. And I strongly recommend the movie.

Anyway, this time around, I was struck by how RFK-like Edwards is. Of course, to some degree, this is a conscious decision on Edwards' part. That is, he's chosen to make himself in the image of RFK. Of this, I have no doubt. The "poverty tour" is the obvious tip off, and I'm certainly not the first to have pointed it out. Well, if he's going to choose to model himself on someone else, there are certainly worse options available.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

You Can Say Anything With Words

Of all the pithy sayings I've ever devised, the following is surely among my favorites:

You can say anything with words.


If one keeps in mind what I wrote a few days ago about original ideas, one might wonder whether I was the first to formulate this sentence. I'm quite certain the answer is no. A quick Google search shows that whether I was the first or not, I'm surely not the only, although the sentence does appear surprisingly infrequently in the Google database.

I think the statement is true, although it may sometimes be difficult to find the appropriate words, and it may (on rare occasions) be necessary to invent new words to achieve the objective.

An interesting side-effect of this ability to say anything with words is that it's possible to say things that make no sense. Even more exciting: It's extraordinarily easy to say things that nobody has ever said before. This, despite many people's claims that "there's nothing new under the sun" or that "everything's already been said".

Take, for example, what was said by Miss Teen USA competitor, Lauren Caitlin Upton, during this year's pageant. If you haven't yet seen or heard the clip, click here.

Part of me thinks that her response is very sad (almost as sad as the statistic cited by the questioner). Part of me thinks it's extremely funny. And part of me is just astonished by the utter uniqueness of the response. While I'm sure Miss Upton's statement has been quoted many times since she made it, I'm every bit as certain that she was the first person in history to have ever assembled that combination of words in that order. There's not any chance at all that it had ever been done before.

Marvellous!

It's just more proof that plagiarism is an unnecessary art form. Why resort to plagiarism when the potential for original wording is so limitless?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hanging On For Dear Life (A New Photograph)

I came home the other day and the sun was setting and there was a very bizarre light out there. I decided to wander out to the flower garden that's in our side yard. I don't go out there very often, which means that when I do go out there, I'm almost always pleasantly surprised by what I find. All summer long, something is blooming, and I never know what it will be. There were some flowers out there this time that were obviously past their prime, and I just found this shot to be irresistible:

Flower, Last Petal, Hanging on for dear life


That last petal was just holding on for dear life. It was this incredibly vivid color, contrasting with this bizarre hub which used to contain so very many petals and had become so very barren. I think it's lovely. Let me know what you think of it.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Having Original Ideas (even when other people had them first)

I'm always disturbed by people claiming that Columbus did not "discover" America, on the grounds that people were already here. (There are other grounds on which to argue with the Columbus discovery myth, like (a) where he landed and (b) that there seems no good reason to call him Columbus. (Cristóbal Colón seems more likely the guy's name.))

Discovery does not require being the first to discover something. All it requires is finding something when you weren't already certain it was there. Although, even that requirement is a little sketchy. I think you can "discover" the truth, even though you were already aware of its existence. Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent even before I've started with the topic of this post.

Today, I thought I'd mention some original thoughts I've had. They were original thoughts, because as far as I knew, nobody had previously had them. I've since discovered that I was not the first person to have them, however. Meaning that other people have had the same original thoughts before I have had them. This does not mean that my thought process is diminished by not having been the first to get there. A good idea is a good idea, no matter who has it.

A few years ago, I had the original thought of setting up wave turbines to harness the power of the oceans. Turns out that other people already had that thought and industrious people were already working on implementing it. Now, it may turn out that the idea of harnessing the power of the tides is even better than the idea of harnessing the power of the waves. (I can make no claim to having thought of using the tides instead of the waves for electricity generation.) But still, the wave turbines idea is a good idea, and I'm proud to have thought of it.

I also had the original thought a while ago that we really should implement some system of having a national referendum. We have no such system in place, and I think that's a horrible strike against our system of government. As it turns out, Mike Gravel had already had the same idea. I don't know for sure whether it was an original idea in his case, or whether he borrowed it from someone else. I think Gravel has some crackpot notions, and I won't be voting for him. However, on this issue, he has a good idea, and I'm proud to have thought of it.

A long while ago, I was working out (as a thought experiment) how one would go about setting up a local currency. I had never heard of anyone doing it, and as far as I knew, it would be utterly illegal to do within the confines of the U.S. borders. I've recently discovered that not only is it legal, but that there are places where it's been done. Certainly, I wasn't the first to think of it. But I did think of it, and I did so without suggestion from other sources. So I would argue that in my case, it was an original idea. Whether it's a good idea or not, it's certainly an interesting idea, and I'm proud to have thought of it.

Now, I'm sure that most everyone has the "why didn't I think of that?" moments. And I'm sure that lots of people have the "I could have come up with that" moments. There are also lots of us out there who have the experience of having the "hey! I already thought of that" moment(s). It's easy to get discouraged by such moments. I would argue that getting discouraged it not the appropriate response...even if someone else is getting rich off of your bright idea. Just because someone else thought of it (whether they got there first or not), that doesn't mean that you didn't think of it. It doesn't mean that it wasn't your own original idea. And it doesn't mean that you shouldn't take pride in having come up with it.

I've also had this other fantastic idea kicking around in my head for several years. I'm not sure whether anyone else has ever considered it. But I'm sure it was an original idea of my own. I'm fairly desperate to try it out. Sadly, I'm an employee rather than an employer, which takes its implementation far out of my hands. At least for now. If you're in a different position, I encourage you to try it out and see how you like it. If you try it, please let me know how it goes. The idea: Switch from the seven-day week to the twelve-day week. Switch from the five-day work week to the seven-day work week. Switch from the eight-hour work day to the ten-hour work day. Keep the years at their current 365/365/365/366-day schedule, but instead of having each new year start on a different day of the week, the new year always starts on the first day of the week.

What you end up with, instead of 52 seven-day weeks (and one or two spare days left over) is thirty twelve-day weeks with five extra days at the end of the year (or six, in the case of leap year). Those five (or six) days can be used as bonus vacation days.

Seven ten-hour work days for each of 30 twelve-day weeks works out to 2,100 business hours. That's really close to the 2,080 hours that you get from five eight-hour work days, but you get the wonderful benefit of having five-day weekends! Factor in the extra five (or six) bonus days at the end of the year, and figure that when you take a week-long vacation, you actually end up with 17 consecutive days off, and I think you'll quickly see the advantage of my system. Basically, even though your work days may be slightly longer, you get many more free days with which to live your non-working life. Where you might now feel that your measly two or three weeks of vacation per year are just not enough, a one long-week annual vacation, combined with those year-end bonus days, combined with those five-day weekends may actually feel like just enough time off, no?

Now, here's the kicker: If you switch to this system, you suddenly find that you do not need to take days off just to attend doctors' appointments or to have conferences with your children's teachers or to go renew your driver's license or to take your pets to see the veterinarian or to do any of the many other chores that can only be done during normal business hours. This is because your "normal" business hours no longer coincide with everyone else's "normal" business hours. You can get cheaper airfare or hotel rates when you decide to leave town, because you don't have to schedule your travel according to peak travel dates and times. Sure, some weeks, you'll be working from Sunday through Saturday. But on other weeks, you'll have Monday through Friday off, just in the normal course of your life. You can go to see a midweek afternoon baseball game without having to "play hooky" from work, if that's how you like to spend your time. You can visit the museum to see that touring exhibit while there are no crowds, instead of having to go during the weekend like everyone else.

Oh, to dream!

Now, back to my main point: If you have an original idea, don't be devastated if you discover that someone else already had it. And don't let anyone tell you that it wasn't an original idea. If you thought of it all by yourself, then yes, it is your own original idea. Be proud to have thought of it. Just think of how many billions of people didn't think of it!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Meet the Donkephant! New T-Shirt Design

Well, after many months, I've finally put a new design on my on-line store. If you like the design, and want it on a shirt (or even if you don't especially like the design but want to show that you're a free thinker), you're invited to go there and order.

Donkephant politics not quite working for you? Vote anti-party!


As always, comments are welcome.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Some Insect Photography

Today I spent a couple of hours in my kayak on Willard Pond in Antrim, NH. This was my second visit to this particular pond. It's not very large, but there's an island towards the east end. To the east of the island, there's a field (for lack of a better term) of these aquatic purple flowers. Being no botanist, I don't know what kind of flower they are. What I do know is that the bumblebees seem to love them. So there I sat, surrounded by hundreds or thousands of bumblebees (none of which made any effort to cause me any harm--way too busy going about their pollination activities), probably a few dozen dragonflies, a pretty good number of damselflies and a few lovely butterflies. I had brought my camera with my longest lens, which I set to Macro mode and fired off a bunch of shots. I think I got a few good ones, some of which I'll share here. I hope you enjoy!

Bumblebees, bumble bees, purple flowers, Willard Pond, Antrim, NH, New Hampshire


Dragonfly, purple flowers, Willard Pond, Antrim, NH, New Hampshire


Damselfly, purple flowers, Willard Pond, Antrim, NH, New Hampshire


Butterfly, purple flowers, Willard Pond, Antrim, NH, New Hampshire

I also got to see a couple of fish jumping out of the water. If I had to guess, I'd probably guess perch. But it would be a wild guess. Anyway, they were quick, and of course I didn't get any shots of them.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Another Swig from the Linguistic Trough, and Another Poll

I also happened to invite the Linguistic Mystic to have a look at my July 31 post. He did so and was kind enough to give me a nice credit as the inspiration for his latest post, an interesting discussion of the mysteries of whether "tomorrow" begins at midnight or at wakey-time. Thanks, Linguistic Mystic.

Today's the third in my little series of linguistic discussions, again inspired by newscasters:

Why would you say "an historic event"?

I believe Peter Jennings used to do this. I always considered Peter Jennings to be the perfect exemplar of accent-free American English, despite his Canadian origins (Eh?). (Of course, it's all accents, really...and what I think of as "accent-free" is just as much an accent as is Apu-speak from The Simpsons. At the very least, however, Jennings didn't drop his R's or his H's and there was no chance of confusing the white race with the white rice.)

So why Jennings (and others who don't drop their H's) would use "an historic event" always seemed an inexplicable oddity to me. The best explanation I could come up with is a bizarre Anglophile motivation to try emulating The Queen's English by adding that "n".

Here's the rule I learned in school, which has always served me well:

Use "a" before any consonant sound or a long "u". Use "an" before any vowel sound except a long "u".

The a/an choice is based entirely upon pronunciation of the following word, not ever based on spelling.

So, for example, we get:

an egg -- vowel sound (short e)
a house -- consonant sound (h)
an umbrella -- vowel sound (short u)
a unique experience -- long u (the specified exception in the consonant sound versus vowel sound divide)
a potato -- consonant sound (p)
an honest man -- vowel sound, as the "h" is silent.

So to me, "an historic event" sounds just as wrong as "an potato", unless it's coming from someone with a British accent (for example), where historic is pronounced 'istoric.

If you don't drop your H's, then why would you use "an historic event"? Would you also use "an house"? How about "an halfhearted attempt"?

Note: The use of "an historic event" is certainly not isolated to Peter Jennings. And it's not isolated to spoken usage. I've noticed it in writing as well. And it always puzzles me, especially when I know the author is American.

Comments are invited. If you say "an historic event" and you pronounce the "H", what's your justification? If you know of other examples of people making different exceptions to the rule, please share. If you learned a different rule, what is it?

Here's my second poll:

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Linguistic Discussions

This morning, I invited most of the authors of the Language Log blog to take a look at my last blog entry. (Most, not all, only because there were a few whose e-mail addresses I was unable to locate.) Anyway, what has ensued is a fairly fascinating discussion that's been carried on via an e-mail thread rather than as comments to my blog. Oh well. At least they all included me in the e-mails, which have been most edifying. (They're a bunch of professional linguists, and I certainly am not.)

So here's the gist of what seems to be the consensus:

  • Both usages are in common parlance.
  • This does cause confusion when people of one camp converse with people of the other camp (especially when scheduling, as the "next Wednesday" issue is just as much a problem as is the "last Wednesday" issue).
  • The rift does not seem to be a recent development.
  • This has been previously studied from a linguistic perspective.
  • Such divergent dialectical usages are probably more common than most of us think.

In addition, I've gotten to learn two nifty words today: ideolect and ecolect. (Interestingly enough, both trigger the Blogger spell-check alarm.)

Amateur though I may be, I am much amused by linguistic topics. So today I will add yet another linguistic topic to my blog:

What I've learned from working in bookstores for so many years is that sometimes book covers have proofreading errors. Sometimes, these are especially interesting, including misprints of book titles on the spine. A few years ago, for example, I noticed the spine of a paperback edition of William Gaddis' novel, entitled A Frolic of His Own. The title on the spine read as follows (in two lines):

A FROLIC OF HIS
OF HIS OWN

This is especially interesting because sometimes the mind lets us see not what's actually there, but rather what it seems should be there. Most people, seeing that spine, would read the title the way it should have been printed rather than the way it was printed.

I'm sure the linguists have a scientific name for this phenomenon.

Anyway, on to tonight's discovery:

I found a Phonics book in the Spectrum series from McGraw-Hill. It's for Grade 3. The spine reads:

PHONCIS Grade 3

So I asked a coworker, "What does that say?"

His response: "Phonics, grade three"

So I asked again, "What does it really say?"

Same response.

Now, of course, this reading error is not any indication of stupidity. My coworker is quite literate and quite intelligent, and I don't mean to suggest otherwise. The point is that the mind plays tricks on us, and it's purely by chance that I happened to notice the printing error. Nine times out of ten, I might've read it incorrectly just as he did.

I bring this up, however, specifically because I find this to be an especially funny printing error. After all, it's a book about phonics!

My favorite t-shirt of all time had the following text:

Hukt on foniks wurkt fur me!

(If you're too young to get the reference, ask your mother!)

So, for the kids who have to spend their time plowing through this particular book, I think the final payoff is that they can claim, "I lurnt my fonciss!"

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Our Evolving Language?

Last week (a phrase that I believe pretty much always means "the week before this one"), I was listening to the radio, as I do regularly while at work. The day was Wednesday, July 25, and I was reminded of something that's been bothering me (mildly) for quite a while now.

The radio announcer mentioned the YouTube Debate that happened "last Monday". That debate had happened on Monday, July 23. That's a mere two days before the report I was listening to.

When I'm speaking, if it's a Wednesday, and I say "last Monday", what I mean is "the Monday of the previous week". That is, "9 days ago".

This is the idiomatic usage that I grew up with, and I believed that within the English speaking world, it was pretty much universal usage.

On a Wednesday, if I want to speak about something that happened two days earlier, I am happy to say "two days ago" or "on Monday". (Using a past tense verb in conjunction with this phrase clarifies that I'm speaking about the most recent Monday, rather than the upcoming Monday). I might even say "Monday", without using any sort of qualifier. But you won't catch me saying "last Monday" unless I'm mistaken about just how long ago the event happened.

Later the same day, again on the radio, I heard two mentions of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal that occurred in March 02007. Remember, I was listening to this report in July 02007. And twice in this one report, the scandal was mentioned as having broken "last March".

If it's July, and I say "last March", I do not mean "the most recent March". Instead, I mean "March of last year". If I mean to indicate "the most recent March", I will likely say "this March" or "in March", or "this past March". But I certainly would not say "last March". To me, "last March" means specifically not the March that occurred during this calendar year.

I started noticing people (mostly newscasters on both television and radio) using this (to me, bizarre) phraseology several years ago. More than about 15 years ago, I'm pretty sure I had never thought that saying "last Monday" or "last March" was an ambiguous usage. And now I'm pretty convinced that it's entirely ambiguous.

So my question to you, dear reader, is this:

Am I mistaken in believing that the usage and meaning of "last" has been undergoing an unnecessary and confusing transformation in recent years?

And here's The Repeal Of Gravity Blog's first poll ever:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

My First Mention in the Mainstream Press

After Richardson was finished at yesterday's event, as we were filing out of the restaurant, I was stopped by a reporter for the Eagle Times, a fairly local daily newspaper. He asked what I thought and so I gave him some opinions. When he asked for my name, I handed him one of my business cards, mentioned that I'm running for president, and encouraged him to check out my web site. He expressed some interest and asked a couple of follow up questions. Well, in today's edition of the Eagle Times, the top story is about the Richardson event in Claremont yesterday. And guess who got mentioned at the end of the article. That's right...little old me.

The following snippet is, of course, copyrighted material...and I encourage everyone to try to track down their own copy of the paper to read the full article. (Sadly, the Eagle Times' web site only includes the start of the article rather than the whole thing.) So here's the closing snippet, which amounts to my first mention in the mainstream press:

And even some opponents were happy with what Richardson had to say.

Louis J. Cassorla said he was "pleased" at what Richardson had to say and would be happy if he ended up as the president.

Cassorla is running for president in the primary, though he said he is running only to raise issues.

"I probably won't get any votes," he admitted. "But I'm against the two party system."


A bit of an error, as I'm not running in the primary, but rather in the general election. But that's fine. Any press is good press, right?

The byline on the article is By JOHN KELLEHER, Managing Editor, and I assume that's who I spoke with. He said they'd be in touch in the future, and I certainly hope that turns out to be the case. A little coverage of the "also rans" might be nice.

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I might as well mention that as he was shaking hands on the way out, I shook Bill Richardson's hand, gave him one of my business cards, told him that I am also running, told him not to worry--that I don't expect or want to take any votes from him--and told him that I would write something about him in my blog, and that it would be positive. I think I managed that in yesterday's post, right? I certainly hope it came across as a positive assessment. I think Richardson deserves it. He impressed me quite a lot. If he means what he says, I can easily see him as a very good choice indeed.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bill Richardson in Claremont, a Campaign Event

Well, Beth was working this morning, so I was left to my own devices. After taking the recycling to the local recycling center, I popped into Shirley's Restaurant in Claremont for a Bill Richardson "Meet and Greet", which I knew from the local paper was scheduled for this morning.

The owner of the restaurant, Dan Fillo, was quoted in the paper as having said, "We've been told by the campaign not to expect a question and answer format. He's probably just going to come in and speak, giving a brief 10- or 15-minute speech about his platforms."

So I was quite pleasantly surprised when after giving his talk, Richardson did open the floor to questions. In my last blog post, I mentioned that Beth got in the last question from the floor at our session with John McCain. I didn't say anything about what she asked him, however. So here I'll mention that she asked him about Darfur. We were both bothered that it took until she got in (right under the wire) for Darfur to be mentioned. McCain did respond pretty passionately, and it was clear that the genocide in Darfur was something he has thought about and that he does seem to care and want to do something about it. But still, it seemed clear from his not having taken the initiative to mention it himself that it is not terribly high on his agenda.

Well, I'm pleased to report that Richardson mentioned Darfur as part of his opening remarks. No prompting required. There's a point in his favor.

I was very disturbed by one thing Richardson said this morning. (In regards to what to do about illegal immigrants, he mentioned something about whether they were embracing American values/culture, and he mentioned as part of the criteria on which that judgment is to be made, "Do they go to church?".) I called him on it. (Frankly, I view that as a horribly scary test. "Do you go to church?" being one small step removed from "Which church do you go to?", which (in terms of whether someone is embracing American values/culture) is terrifyingly close to "do you worship the way we want you to worship?". (See: sectarian violence in Iraq, Sunni vs. Shia, religious persecution, Holocaust, Salem witch trials, Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, the Crusades, etc.,...)). To be honest, I was disappointed that when I called him on it, he didn't take a stronger position and admit that it was the wrong thing to say. Instead, he justified mentioning it, by citing that it's one of many criteria in already existing legislation. There's a point against.

HOWEVER...

Calling him on that was secondary to the real question I posed to him, which was about not only reducing our dependence on foreign oil (emphasis on foreign), but rather on reducing our dependence on oil. I'm very concerned about using up our natural resources. If reducing our dependence on foreign oil means simply shifting our focus to more domestic drilling and refining, well that's no solution at all, is it? To his credit, Richardson is firmly in the camp of those who want to move to renewable resources. "New sources of energy" rather than old. He's pro-coal, but pro-responsible-coal. That's a step in the right direction, as the current administration isn't pro-responsible-anything. Richardson is clearly very much pro-solar and pro-wind. I'm guessing (although he didn't state it) that he would also be pro-tidal/wave energy. And if not, then I would at least feel reasonably comfortable in assuming that he's not anti-tidal/wave energy. (Point in favor.)

Richardson is opposed to "No Child Left Behind" (he calls it "an unfunded mandate"). Another point in favor.

He's making real a point of being boldly, strongly pro-education, particularly in science and math. (Multiple points for.)

He's pro-science in general, and I believe if he gets elected, there will be a 180 degree turnabout in our electoral branch's stance on science. That is, I believe the war on science would come to an end. (Point for. (Exuberantly!))

He's also pro-arts education, as he sees the arts as a vital way to open young minds! (Another point for.)

He requires no prompting to talk about autism. (Point for.)

I'm not really on board with Richardson's views on illegal immigration. But then again, I haven't heard much I do agree with on that topic from any of the contenders.

In the end, I've come away from this morning's event as more a Richardson fan than I had been going in. I'm still not endorsing him. But at the moment, I'm thinking that I could imagine being happy with him as our next president. I think he's a pretty solid choice.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

This Morning's John McCain Town Hall Meeting, Claremont, NH

We went to our first presidential campaign town hall meeting today. This time was an event for John McCain at the American Legion hall in Claremont. I was surprised to get the phone invitation the other day from McCain's people. I guess he's courting the independent vote. As this will be our first presidential election cycle since moving to New Hampshire, I'm still not altogether certain of the process. From what I gather, we'll be allowed to choose which primary we want to cast our ballots in (assuming we wish to cast our ballots in either primary).

If you've read my campaign web site, you'll probably already be aware that I am, on principle, opposed to the whole two-party system. By extension, I'm also of the opinion that there ought not to be a primary election cycle. I think we'd all be much better off if we just went straight to the general election. Stop playing this game of trying to determine which of our like-minded people would best represent all of our fellow like-minded people when it comes time to vote against whichever of the like-minded people the opposing group of like-minded people has chosen to represent themselves in facing our like-minded representative. (Gorgeous sentence structure, no?)

What we should have is individuals, standing on their own beliefs, taking their own stances. If you want to run for president, run for president. Don't run for the opportunity to be chosen to run for president.

Ah, but that's my idealism poking through, isn't it?

The reality of our current system is that we have to work from within rather than from the outside. So, despite my opposition to the principles of giving political parties the power to determine who gets to be on the ballot in the general election, I very likely will end up voting in a primary election this time around. And frankly, I'm not at all sure which primary is likely to get my participation.

So I got invited and we went. I'll be happy to go to plenty of these events in the upcoming months, assuming I have the opportunity. The crowd was pretty small. My quick estimate put it at probably under 300 people. I figure that's reasonably intimate, considering the stakes. Beth got to ask the last question of the session. Overall, I'd say McCain's positions stood up to the sniff test better that I anticipated. He seems to be a reasonable guy who's willing to think about things and capable of thinking about things. That's vastly better than the guy who's in the White House right now.

I agree with McCain on some things, I disagree with him on others, and I respect his views on lots, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with him.

I'll probably blog more about specific issues in the coming days. At the moment I'd like to pick up on what may seem like a minor point in what he said.

He said that we need a line item veto.

I've gone through my own periods of thinking that the line item veto is a grand idea. I won't deny that. But I've since reconsidered. One big problem with the line item veto is that it will always seem like good idea when your guy (or gal) is in office. And it will always seem like a horrible idea when you're in the opposition.

Here's what I've been thinking more about recently:

What we need is to elect a president who will plainly tell congress (and mean it) that if they give him 200 individual (focused) bills that all make sense, he'll pass them. If they give him one bill that has 170 things that make sense and 30 things that don't, he'll veto the whole thing.

And we need to start electing congresspeople who agree to that principle.

If an idea can't stand on its own merits, it shouldn't be allowed to sneak in as a rider to some overarching bill.

McCain says that when the first pork barrel bill crosses his desk, he'll veto it and he'll make its authors famous. That's a pretty decent start. But what concerns me is this: What about the second one? What about the third?

You know they'll keep coming. I'm pretty sure McCain knows they'll keep coming. Until we have a meaningful shift within our legislative culture, I think we're doomed to having the bridge to nowhere and its kin.

If Bush had a line item veto, his war on science and reason would be much farther along at this point than he's managed to push it without the line item veto. He's hardly vetoed anything. When he has vetoed something, it's mostly been because it had provisions for funding stem cell research. He can justify that because he has that "conservative base" that supports such despicable positions. But if he faced dozens of smaller pro-science, pro-reason bills and kept consistently vetoing them, as he likely would love to do, I think even the support of that "conservative base" would begin to erode. It's one thing to take a stand on one issue (stem-cell research). It's quite another to take a stand on dozens, as I'm sure he would love to stop funding for a broad range of sciences, from evolution to mathematics to chemistry to physics. I'm pretty confident that Bush would consider quantum physics to be pure evil voodoo and the work of the devil, if he were aware enough to consider it at all.

Whether the ideas that currently hold sway in the world of theoretical physics will eventually pan out or not, there's certainly value in the exercise. There's benefit to working them through and pursuing them to see where they lead. If Bush had a line item veto, I'm pretty sure he would have gone a lot farther toward curtailing our brightest minds' progress in figuring out where they lead.

I figure that's enough for tonight. Sleep well.

Back for more, finally

Okay. So it's been well over a month since I've posted anything here. Very sad. Here's my list of excuses:

1) I was saddened to see the drastic drop-off of traffic to the site, once Google did whatever it was that resulted in the majority of my photographs no longer bringing search engine users here. I still have no idea what happened or why. I know that several people on the web have placed links to my bleeding heart flower photograph elsewhere. But given that they've not copied the photograph to other locations, and instead just left the photo on my server and used a link to display it elsewhere, I'm baffled as to why Google would treat those sites as the home of the image, rather than treating this site as the home of the image.


Bleeding Heart Flower


I suppose I could stamp my URL across all of my photographs, but frankly I don't like that sort of thing.

-----

UPDATE (July 17, 02008): Well, it happened again a couple of days ago: a sudden drop-off in traffic to my blog as a result of Google's sending traffic to another site that's using my bleeding heart flower photo. I sent an e-mail to the administrator of the other site. In the e-mail, I requested some simple courtesies (being given credit for the photo, for one), given that I am the copyright holder. In the meantime, Google seems to have done something to adjust itself. However, at the moment, it's sending people to a subpage of my blog where the image in question isn't actually visible. Odd! Anyway, if you appreciate this photograph, you might be interested in knowing that I've made it available on my newly re-launched online store both on a t-shirt and on a mouse pad (with somewhat different crops).

Bleeding Heart Flower white t-shirt



-----

2) Also related to that, I've been less interested in posting my photography here since all those photographs disappeared from Google. Maybe they're still searchable, but I just don't know what search terms to use to find them. Frankly, I'm really disappointed in Google, and I'm wondering why they can't get their image search to be anywhere near as useful as their text search. And I'm pretty disgusted about the way they've chosen to make it impossible to provide feedback to them or to get meaningful information from them about how to get their image search to behave as one would hope.

3) I've been thinking a lot about political issues recently. I've been trying to avoid letting this become a political blog. Or, more accurately, I had been trying to avoid letting this become a political blog. After wrestling with this issue, I've finally come to the conclusion that I should no longer make an effort in that direction. So as of today, I've come to accept the premise that if political thought is what's occupying my mind, then I might as well allow political thought to be what occupies my blog.

4) Time seems to have escaped me. More accurately, I've found more compelling ways to occupy my time than by sitting at a computer and typing. I got to do the photography for some friends' wedding. (Congratulations, Christina and Jimmy!) Beth started a new job that allowed her to be home during the evenings rather than working during the evenings. So we've been able to spend more time together, which has been really nice. She just left that new job yesterday. (It wasn't the right fit.) She'll be going back to work where she had been working (where she enjoyed the job, but was dissatisfied with the schedule), but it looks very much like her schedule there will be better, and so we'll still be able to spend our evenings together. Hooray! One door opened up and then another door opened up. This is better than that business about closing a door and opening a window.

Anyway, I'm back, and again I hope to post something new on a fairly regular basis.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Blog Reviews, a mixed bag

In my ongoing attempts to increase the traffic to my blog, I got it into my head a few weeks ago to seek out free blog review sites. I found a few and submitted my blog to them. So far, three such sites have published their reviews of this blog.

The first is the worst:
http://www.theweblogreview.com/review/3333/...In which the reviewer was kind enough to spell my name incorrectly twice (in different ways) and correctly zero times.

The second is considerably better:
http://blogs.qoody.net/reviews/the-repeal-of-gravity-blog/...In which I got some good advice. I'm not sure whether it will truly influence my blogging habits, but at least it's food for thought.

The third is my favorite:
http://reviewmyblogforfree.blogspot.com/ This one is very brief (which is neither criticism nor praise, rather just observation), and complimentary (which is flattering). I scored pretty well on this one, which is nice.

Unfortunately, none of these three reviews has resulted in a substantial increase in my traffic. So in that sense, getting my site reviewed was a bit of a failure. However, I have now cracked the top million(!) blogs, as listed in Technorati, which seems to rank blogs by the number of other blogs that link to them. I have no idea how many blogs are in Technorati's database, but I'm looking at a ranking in the top million as being a significant milestone.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Moose — some vacation photos

We took a vacation last week to a different part of our lovely state. We saw several moose, a fox, a couple of tom turkeys, and I spotted our first-ever live, non-captive porcupine. I only got photos of moose.


Female moose, mother moose, mama moose, moose, NH, New Hampshire


moose, NH, New Hampshire


moose, NH, New Hampshire

Friday, May 18, 2007

Corbin Covered Bridge, Newport, NH — a photo

Here's my "picture postcard" view of the covered bridge that's just down the road from our home.

Corbin Bridge, Newport, NH, New Hampshire, Corbin Covered Bridge

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Getting a Little Political -- Part 3

I watched some of the Republican debate the other night. There was a point at which the questioner asked for a show of hands of who does not believe in evolution. Much to my disgust, some hands went up.

I didn't catch whose hands those were, but I checked the New York Times online edition for the transcript, and they reported that the hands that went up belonged to Brownback, Huckabee, and Tancredo.

Assuming that the NYT transcript is correct, and assuming that the question's intent was clearly understood*, and assuming that we're not dealing with a semantic issue of what "believe in" means...these three men should automatically be deemed unelectable.

So here's where the semantic issue comes in:

Does "believe in evolution" mean "accept that evolution is a process that actually occurs"?

or...

Does "believe in evolution" mean "put your faith and trust in evolution"?

If it means the former, then Brownback, Huckabee, and Tancredo are addled. If it means the latter, then that's somewhat acceptable.

Here's where things get tricky: If you ask me whether "I believe in George W. Bush", my answer will be "No! No! NO!"

Does that mean that I am a denier of his existence? No. Certainly not. I believe he exists. I believe he's a dangerous ass. But I don't deny his existence.

So in that sense, I also don't believe in evolution, right? I don't put my faith in it. I don't believe it's working for my betterment. I don't believe it will provide any salvation to me or anyone else. I don't believe it will lead to an Eden here on Earth (or anywhere else). That's just dumb. But it is a process that happens in nature. So in that sense, you bet I believe in evolution. Just as I believe in fire. Just as I believe in gravity. Just as I believe in sexual reproduction among the mammals.

But I think that in common parlance "Do you believe in George W. Bush?" takes on one meaning and "Do you believe in evolution?" takes on another. It's a matter of semantics.

So, do we give them the benefit of the doubt? No way! Particularly not Brownback, who is a known fundamentalist religious nutjob. (For the record, I'm not saying that or casting any other aspersions on anyone's character here or anywhere else as a statement of fact, actionable as slander or libel. For the record, I'm saying it merely as a literary device. Call it parody. Call it satire. Call it what you like, but don't call it slander or libel, please!)

* Reading the transcript, the question seems less clear in its intent than it seemed as a spoken utterance. The questioner stumbled a bit on his phraseology. But having listened to it in real time, I believe the intent of the question was really quite apparent.

Getting a Little Political -- Part 2

Second topic: How is it possible to be willing to vote for Hillary? To use a gender-inappropriate term, Hillary was cuckolded. She was cuckolded more publicly and more embarrassingly than anyone else has ever been cuckolded in the history of the world.

That's not her fault.

Her husband is (or am I to believe that he's reformed and should I change that "is" to a "was"?) a lecher. That's no secret. It never was. I think we pretty much all knew it going in.

I remember having a conversation with a friend who was volunteering for his campaign in 1992. I asked her whether she thought he was merely the best of the available choices or whether she honestly believed in him and trusted him. (Her answer surprised me greatly. To me, even then--before he was elected, before all of the scandals broke--it seemed quite obvious that he should not be considered a fine, upstanding, decent member of the community, worthy of admiration and respect. To put a word on it, he was a slimeball. That has no bearing on how well he governed or what he was or wasn't able to accomplish while in office. But it's fair to note, as a matter of historical record, that it was out there.)

I repeat: That's not Hillary's fault.

However, she didn't divorce him. And that's not even what really bugs me about Hillary--not exactly. I'm not terribly concerned that she didn't divorce him at any given moment during that whole mess. I'm not terribly concerned that she didn't divorce him the second after his second term in office ended. What concerns me is that every day that goes by is yet another day when she hasn't divorced him.

That is her fault.

And when I say "her fault", I don't mean "a consequence for which she is to be blamed". What I mean is "her flaw". Namely, by not divorcing him, every single day that goes by, she demonstrates quite clearly that she has no sense of self respect.

Don't get me wrong. I'm certain that she has a great (maybe overblown) sense of her own value and importance. In fact, I'm sure that she's downright arrogant and cocky. That's simply not the same thing as having self respect, in my book.

I can't get past it. I can't imagine ever being willing to vote for somebody who has and who so proudly exhibits such an utter lack of self respect. There's no dignity there. And frankly, I can't stomach the idea of voting for her as long as she wakes up every day and again decides not to end that marriage.

Giuliani is a lecher, too. We all know that. Gingrich is a hypocritical lecher. I think we all know that too--and shouldn't forget it if/when he decides to jump into the race. John Kennedy was a lecher too, although I suspect it was less well known when he was elected--because the media didn't make a point of reporting it. Jefferson was a lecher too, apparently. I guess we have a long history in this country of electing people who are slimeballs in their personal dealings.

Frankly, I'm sickened by the culture of nosiness that has made sexual dalliances and proclivities a part of the political decision making process. I wish we could go back to judging candidates on their substantive ideas or lack thereof rather than on where they decide to "stick it". I blame the shift on the media, looking for stories wherever they can find them. And now that we've crossed that line, I don't think there's any going back.

In the past, I think we were allowed to believe (because we weren't told any better) that our elected leaders were admirable and worthy of respect. Now we are no longer given the opportunity to hold onto that illusion. Too bad. I think it was a nice illusion to have--healthy, in its way, for the nation's collective psyche.

But at this point, the "electable" candidates' lives are exposed too thoroughly to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So now, if we want to be able to respect our leaders, we must consciously choose to only elect respectable people to office. If we want to believe our leaders are decent, we can't simply assume that they are decent until proven otherwise. Instead, we have to take our impressions of their decency (or lack thereof) into the polling booths with us, and consciously choose to elect only those people who we believe to be decent.

Will that happen? I don't think so. We'll keep electing slimeballs. Frankly, because of the popularity W.J. Clinton retains, despite his thorough exposure as a world-class slimeball, I think lechery has become "the new normal". It's no longer considered a character flaw by the voting public. Instead, I think it's considered as merely a trait. I fear that "He (has/doesn't have) a southern accent" and "He (likes/doesn't like) to wear a jacket and tie while delivering his stump speeches" are now the ethical/moral equivalent of "He (can/can't) remain faithful to his wife". That's a shame.

I really don't want to vote for a slimeball. I'd rather have the slimeballs forced to step aside (or choose (of their own accord) to stay out of the race from the start).

But somehow I do see a difference between (a) disrespecting your wife or disrespecting your marriage and the vows you took and (b) disrespecting yourself enough to not even care when your husband disrespects you and your marriage and the vows he took.

Option (a) is vile, reprehensible, and disgusting. Option (b) is pathetic.

If you think you can convince me that I shouldn't be so thoroughly put off by Hillary's flaw, please do try. I doubt you'll succeed, but I'm eager to entertain your attempts. In the meantime, I'll go on believing that I will never be willing to vote for her--at least not until she chooses to end that marriage.

Getting a Little Political -- Part 1

I happen to feel like breaking from my usual routine on the blog today and stepping from apolitical posts to political. I'll probably get it all out of my system in a few rapid-fire posts and then be done with it for a few more months. At least I hope so, as I really don't want this to become a political blog. My apologies for this break from my usual programming.

First topic: Abstinence only sex education programs and "pro-life" rhetoric. Frankly, I don't want to hear it. And I don't want to hear about how RU-486 and abortions are wrong. I don't want to hear about how adoption is a wonderful option.

Right now, in America, if your daughter (or your sister, or your niece, or any young woman who is dear to you) goes to college, her odds of being raped are very close to your odds of rolling a six on a single die roll. I don't want to hear the anti-abortion rhetoric until those odds are a lot closer to your odds of winning the lottery.

And I also don't want to hear it until the backlog of kids in the system who nobody is willing to adopt is depleted to something very close to zero.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Winter Thorns — a new photograph

I'm going back to wintertime for this photograph. It's not quite as good as I would like, but I think it's interesting enough.

thorns, winter, snow

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Elevating the Pun to an Art Form

According to Samuel Johnson, the pun is "the lowest form of humour". I've always been inclined to agree.

To me, the pun has always seemed like a character type.

A Lyle Lovett lyric goes like this:

You are a lonely, weak, pathetic man.*

My favorite lyric from any Smiths song goes like this:

So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry and you want to die.**

If puns were people, these are the kind of passages that would seem entirely appropriate for describing them.

I have no real pity for the pun, no matter how much disrespect is thrown at it. The pun seems desperate, but not especially pitiable. I'm not saying that there aren't clever puns out there. Surely, there must be. But on the whole, as a class, puns are insipid. Is there a better word to describe them? I doubt it.

However, there is one area of human endeavor where I truly believe the pun has been raised to an art form: The mystery novel title.

There seems to be an entire subgenre of mystery novel that has sprung up around the punny title. Consider the following:

Diane Mott Davidson
  • Sticks & Scones
  • The Cereal Murders
  • Chopping Spree
  • The Main Corpse

Nancy Fairbanks
  • Crime Brulee
  • Truffled Feathers
  • Chocolate Quake

Laura Durham
  • Better Off Wed
  • For Better or Hearse
  • Bride and Doom
  • Acts of Violets

Charlaine Harris
  • Grave Sight
  • Dead Over Heels
  • Club Dead
  • Last Scene Alive

Maddy Hunter
  • Norway to Hide
  • Top O' the Mournin'
  • Alpine for You
  • Pasta Imperfect

Gillian Roberts
  • A Hole in Juan
  • Till the End of Tom
  • Adam and Evil
  • Claire and Present Danger
  • Helen Hath No Fury

...and the queen of the subgenre (in my opinion), Mary Daheim
  • Saks and Violins
  • Dead Man Docking
  • Fowl Prey
  • September Mourn
  • A Streetcar Named Expire
  • Legs Benedict
  • Dune to Death
  • Wed and Buried
  • Suture Self
  • Creeps Suzette
  • Silver Scream
  • Murder, My Suite

It's not that the puns in these titles are especially rich. (Mostly they aren't.) Rather, it's just the hokiness of the whole thing. A punny book title like these is almost guaranteed to belong to a mystery novel. Seeing all of these titles makes me seriously wonder what's going on.

  • Which comes first? The title or the book idea?
  • Do the authors maintain title lists for years, just waiting for the opportunity to cross the items off their lists?
  • Are the titles really tied to the stories? (I'm almost tempted to grab a few of these books and read them just to check on this one.)
  • Do publishers or agents provide the titles as writing prompts?
  • Do publishers salivate at the prospect of a new punny-title mystery series? Or do they all groan at the idea of yet another punny-title mystery series?
  • Are there punny titles that are rejected?

* Her First Mistake
** How Soon is Now

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Crocuses — a new photograph

Here's one of those shots from a couple of days ago. Beth has identified the flower variety as crocus. We have white ones and purple ones in bloom at the moment. I really like that they're on such short stems. Staying so close to the ground, I think they seem a perfect flower to "peek" out from all of the winter deadness, early in the spring season (relatively speaking). It's a nice contrast, I think.

crocus, Spring, flower

Friday, April 27, 2007

Self-Healing Technology

I love self-healing technology! It's kind of like skin. Cut it and it bleeds. But if you wait a while, it repairs itself. The mechanism is a mystery to most of us. But the results are the same: effortless repair, often just about as good as new.

Three examples:

1) My Sirius satellite radio receiver: A few months ago, I left it plugged into my car's lighter outlet overnight, and I forgot to turn it off. Three unfortunate things happened:
  1. It drew down all of the power from my car's battery, thus requiring me to get a jump from Beth's MINI.
  2. It blew one of my car's fuses, thus requiring me to replace an automotive fuse for the first time ever.
  3. The display died. So I spent a few months driving around with no visual indicator telling me which station I was tuned to, who was singing or talking, what song was playing, what the current score of the hockey game was, etc.,...
Since then, I have made a real effort to remember to turn off and unplug the receiver after each trip (less because of the fuse and the display issue than because having a dead battery is a real bummer).

However, one day last week, I forgot to unplug it. (But I did remember to turn it off, so at least it wasn't draining power from the battery. Not much, anyway.)

Guess what happened.

Self-healing!

Most exciting. The display is now working like a charm. Now I can see what I'm listening to.

2) My car itself: I spent a week or two driving around with the "Service Engine Soon" indicator constantly lit. This was a little troubling, as I really don't want to have to invest money in a costly repair. But I checked the manual to see what this indicator really means. It turns out that it seems to tie into an emissions monitoring system. If the emissions go funky, the light comes on--presumably because the car isn't operating as well as it's supposed to. I guess it really means that it's not burning fuel as efficiently as it's supposed to do.

Anyway, as I was driving home from the book store the other night, I was fretting about this light, but I was also calculating (as the fuel gauge needle passed 1/2 tank at about 215 miles since my last fill up) that if this pace holds up, my mileage for this tankful is going to end up at somewhere north of spectacular.

Lo and behold, when next I looked down at the dashboard, the indicator had been extinguished. Self-healing technology! Hooray!

3) Beth's MINI's driver's side door lock: A few months ago, it stopped wanting to let her out when she wanted to get out. Instead of just being able to take the standard two pulls on the handle (the first to unlock, the second to open), she found herself needing to use the toggle switch on the center console to unlock the doors before it would let her out. Then at the beginning of last week, things got even worse! Now the toggle swich refused to do the trick. So when she got to work, she ended up having to crawl out through the passenger's side.

Actually, it seems that the toggle switch did unlock the door, but the door handle refused to actually disengage the latch, so the effect was the same. Luckily, this knowledge did lead to a somewhat less strenuous solution than crawling out the other side of the car: She could roll down her window and reach out to use the exterior handle to release her.

We contacted a mechanic friend to see whether he could fix the problem. He said he'd need to diagnose it and order any necessary part(s) and then he'd be able to fix it when the part(s) arrived. So that's a two day affair, and it's a pretty good trek from here to there. So we didn't make the appointment. (Beth came down with a nasty cold in the meantime, anyway, so she spent some days in bed, not worrying about the car.)

Over the weekend, we did some significant driving (as far as Long Island). You'll never guess what happened...

Self-healing! The MINI fixed itself.

Did I mention that I love self-healing technology?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Spring Thaw — a new photograph

The daffodils in the back yard started opening a couple of days ago, and today I noticed some other flowers (species unknown to me, of course) on the front lawn. I've taken some shots of them, but before I start posting the flowery bits, I figured I might as well post a shot from a few weeks ago: melting ice on a calm stretch of a local waterway. I've actually done more color experimentation on this one than I normally like to do. I happen to like this version best:

Melting ice, Spring thaw, Sugar River, Croydon NH


I killed the color and then enriched the black with a little hint of blue. If you'd like to see an alternate version, with the color actually punched up pretty significantly from how it was shot, click here.

Critiques, as always, are welcome. Let me know which version you prefer...and whether you think either is any good or whether they're both just awful.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Capsule Review: The Ice Storm

Here's another of those little "Staff Recommendation" reviews that I write for the book store:

The Ice Storm, directed by Ang Lee.
Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire, Joan Allen, Katie Holmes. If you're a movie fan, these names should mean something to you. This low-key gem may actually be the best piece of work any of them has ever been associated with. We named our first dog after the Katie Holmes character. "Libbets? What kind of a name is Libbets?!?" The movie is centered around a couple of families during a strange and tragic Thanksgiving weekend in the 1970s. It probably won't make you cry, it may not make you laugh, but it might just leave you in awe.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Another Photo I'm Proud Of

I'm also pretty proud of this photo:

Newt, spotted newt, red spotted newt, Notophthalmus viridescens


This is the New Hampshire state amphibian, the spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Maybe My Favorite Photo

Of all the photographs I've ever taken, this one very well might be my favorite:

Toad


For some reason, it just strikes me as being particulary gorgeous, albeit pretty limited in its color range. I hope you like it. As always, comments are welcome--pro or con.

Another Keiko Photo available

In case anyone wants to see a fifth photo of Keiko, one has been featured on today's installment of the Bird A Day Blog. Thanks, Bird A Day!

Monday, April 16, 2007

New Blogging Strategy, Newton Baby Picture, Two Reviews

I know that I haven't been the most regular blogger. I would like to do something about that. I doubt that I'll get to the point where I'm posting something new on a daily basis. But I would like to post something new at least a few times a week. So, I've devised a new strategy.

While I certainly don't want to turn this into a photo blog, I have come to realise that my photography is what's getting me more hits than anything else. (Why doesn't my dictionary project seem to capture anyone's attention? I don't know. I've found it absolutely fascinating!)

So what I'm going to start doing is posting photographs more regularly, particularly when I don't have anything else to contribute for a few days. Some of these will be old photos that I haven't previously posted, but that I happen to like a lot. Some will be new photos. For today, an old picture of Newton, from when he was still a little baby, 4 1/3 years ago.

Newton Roo, chihuahua, baby, comfort


Strategy shift number 2:

For the book store, I sometimes make staff recommendations. Instead of just telling our merchandising supervisor, "I like this", I generally provide a brief review. It's almost certain to be a positive review. (Why recommend something I don't like?) But it's a review nonetheless. I figure I might as well make dual-use of these reviews. So I think that in addition to posting more photographs, I'll also start occasionally posting these reviews. Surely I won't always post both on the same day, but as today is the launch of my new blogging strategy, I figure I'll make it a super-bonus day. In fact, I'm going to give you two reviews today!



The Princess Bride, by William Goldman. Having loved the movie for over a decade and a half, I finally got around to reading the book and was surprised to find that I loved it just as much. The two are different, but they very much share the same spirit and I find that they can happily coexist in my mind as two parts of the same beautiful dream.



The Princess Bride, directed by Rob Reiner. So far, the only thing that dates this movie is the antiquated video game played by Fred Savage in the framing story. Eventually, the line "When I was your age, television was called books" will date it as well (as the word "television" drops out of common parlance). Beyond that, this is one for the ages…a timeless classic. This is undoubtedly of the most quotable movies ever made. I'm convinced it's also one of the most flawless. And it's suitable for the entire family.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pictures of Keiko

My sister requested that I post some pictures of our bird, Keiko. So here he is:

Keiko, blue headed pionus


Keiko, blue headed pionus


Keiko, blue headed pionus


Keiko, blue headed pionus
He's a blue headed pionus. Actually quite pretty. He's camera shy, though. I took over 70 shots and ended up with only about 20 that I thought were any good. From those, I chose to post these four.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Dictionary Project, Status Update

It occurred to me recently that some of the dictionaries in my testing are out of print. For example, the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition is no longer available. So I checked the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, which I believe is just a slightly updated version of the same dictionary, with a name change stemming from a merger. The results of that test: the same. So #15 is basically just #2, renamed. I've gone back and color coded the titles in previous blog entries to indicate which are currently in print and which are not. Blue indicates in print. Dark red indicates out of print.

I've also checked a few more dictionaries in the last couple of weeks. A couple are "on the record", meaning that I had my list with me and was therefore able to take an official count. Others are "off the record", meaning I worked from memory and don't have official tallies. In all cases, I have been satisfied that the dictionaries tested are inferior to the New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD), which still stands as the winner of this little competition.

Among those I checked "off the record" was Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged, which I just checked today. It's a pretty immense volume, and with a sticker price of $129, it's more than twice the price of the NOAD. Sadly, it missed on multiple counts: geographical entries, Goombah, ninja and ninjutsu, Scientology. Really, it was quite a disappointing showing for such an expensive offering. And it should be noted that I did not check all of the words on my list (again, working from memory).

As the table was already as wide as could fit comfortably into my blog layout, I've stripped out the out of print dictionaries from the new version of the table here:

dictionary comparison table, aardwolf, aitch, anhedonia, Baha'i, bumf, capybara, cavy, curmudgeon, em, epistemology, Fuji, full nelson, Gadzooks, goombah, habanero, Jainism, Kilimanjaro, nappy, ninja, ninjutsu, Orinoco, pariah, schadenfreude, Scientology, Sufism, zorilla, kayfabe

Key:
1. Webster's New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Copyright 2003
5. The Oxford American Dictionary. Copyright 1980
6. The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright 2006
7. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright 2001
8. The American Century Dictionary. Copyright 1995
9. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition. Copyright 2006
11. The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition. Copyright 2005
12. Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Copyright 2006
13. Encarta Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition. Copyright 2004
14. The American Heritage College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Copyright 2004
15. Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition. Copyright 2005

Special note: Dictionary #13 gives the definition I was seeking for habanero, but it lists it under habanera, which I view as an error, rather than a suitable alternative. I'll leave it to you to judge whether I am correct in this assessment.

And I've still not found kayfabe in any dictionary. So sad.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

We Have a Winner! And We Have a Winner!

It's been an extraordinarily long time since I last posted. Let's just say work has been hell and has sapped me of what energy I would have invested in blogging. I hope things will be improving soon.

Good news: I made a pledge to New Hampshire Public Radio, which earned me entry into a drawing to win some fabulous prizes. Lucky me! I was the grand prize winner. The prize: A vacation to Moab, Utah (airfare and fancy lodging included). We were just in Utah last year. From what we saw, it's a stunningly beautiful place. We didn't go to Moab, though, so this will be a different experience. We're looking forward to it. We'll probably go a bit later in the year, so it's not quite so warm during the days.

On the Dictionary Project front, we have a clear winner now. The New Oxford American Dictionary (which I had previously reported having high hopes for) managed to include all 26 of the non-bonus words. From what I've seen, it's a spectacular piece of work--definitely the next dictionary I want to own. I still haven't come across kayfabe in any dictionary. I guess we'll give it a few more years.

So here's the updated table:


dictionary comparison table, aardwolf, aitch, anhedonia, Baha'i, bumf, capybara, cavy, curmudgeon, em, epistemology, Fuji, full nelson, Gadzooks, goombah, habanero, Jainism, Kilimanjaro, nappy, ninja, ninjutsu, Orinoco, pariah, schadenfreude, Scientology, Sufism, zorilla, kayfabe

Key:
1. Webster's New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Copyright 2003
2. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition. Copyright 1993
3. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Copyright 1993
4. The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition. Copyright 1988
5. The Oxford American Dictionary. Copyright 1980
6. The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright 2006
7. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright 2001
8. The American Century Dictionary. Copyright 1995
9. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition. Copyright 2006
10. The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition. Copyright 1997
11. The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition. Copyright 2005
12. Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Copyright 2006

In related news, I've come across two additional flaws in the terrible car dictionary within the last week or two.

The first of these is forgivable: The omission of the word fenland. I came across this word in my reading, as we were riding around, and didn't know what it meant. So I consulted the dictionary and came up blank. As it turns out, it's actually absent from more of the better dictionaries than I would have expected.

The second newly discovered flaw is just astonishing and should be an embarrassment to the lexicographers at Webster's. The only definition listed for tenement is as follows:

a building divided into tenements; now specif., one that is rundown, overcrowded, etc.: in full tenement house

That's a circular definition! Shame, shame!

In slightly related news (I report this because I find it to be quite amusing)... I took an online IQ test yesterday, which I sometimes like to do because I think it's a fun pastime. The Analysis report that was provided offered the following two sentences in the "Strengths and weaknesses" section:

Your highest score was in Verbal

Your lowest score was in Verbal

I'm not making this up!