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.


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.