Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A New Archbishop for Chicago

Just now, our local (Chicago, Illinois, USA) television concluded the broadcast of the installation ceremony of a new Roman Catholic archbishop for Chicago. For those who care, his name is Blase Cupich and he had been the bishop of Spokane, Washington. More important, he is expected to further the policies and attitudes of Pope Francis.
I'd like to share some thoughts and reflections on this event.

I am not a Catholic nor even a Christian, but who the local Roman Catholic archbishop currently happens to be still might affect me. Who the archbishop happened to be at the time undoubtedly affected my Jewish ancestors in Europe as it could be a matter of whether they, as Jews, would be persecuted or, more likely, how vigorously they would be persecuted. (I find, more and more, that when I think about cathedrals or the Catholic Church I think about the persecution of Jews by their Christian neighbors for nearly 2000 years.)

And even today, I can still be affected by who currently is in power in the Roman Catholic Church because, if the Church preaches anti-gay prejudice, that has the potential to stir up those who hear such words and incite them to anti-gay prejudice and even anti-gay violence which I could be the victim of. Also, the Church has been influential in opposing anti-gay discrimination laws and same-sex marriage at the legislative level.

So, who the leaders of the Catholic Church are has the potential to affect me personally in several ways, and I am glad that the current pope and similarly his appointee, the Archbishop of Chicago, show signs that they are going to be more liberal, more human and more humane.

Copyright © 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Money in Politics.... Or, How Much Will That Office Cost Me?

In the recent election in my state, Illinois, the Republican candidate for governor was a man named Bruce Rauner. Rauner is a billionaire, and his annual income (as he released the figures during his campaign) is 60 million dollars.
I did not vote for this man. I'm not likely to vote for a Republican, but also, in this particular case, I felt that he believed he could buy the election--personal wealth, when put into a political campaign, translates into more TV campaign advertising--and the election results proved that he was right.
Generally, in America, there is not much class resentment. The poor don't resent the wealthy and mobs don't stone the Rolls-Royces as they roll by. One reason is that people still buy into the great American myth that anybody can "make it," that you might be rich some day.

And how might that come about? Well, some people live in hopes of winning the lottery. But rags-to-riches is a myth for most people during waking hours. While occasionally someone starts as a mailroom clerk and ends up president of the company, it's more the rule that your socioeconomic class tends to stay the same throughout your life.

I don't know the whole story of Rauner's financial success, but he owns a number of businesses. To put Rauner's wealth into perspective: there are not many avenues, not many occupations, that will give you an income of 60 million. Some professional athletes have multi-million annual incomes, but I don't think they typically make 60 million. An Elvis Presley or a Michael Jackson makes that much. I would not be surprised if J. D. Rawlings (author of the Harry Potter books) has made that much.
Copyright (c) 2014.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Shoot Your (Ex-) Boss

There have been numerous incidents in the news of disgruntled employees shooting their bosses, particularly employees who have been fired, going back to the workplace and shooting the person who had fired them.

I've had a number of bosses who were truly evil; and I've been fired more times than I care to admit. But I can't say that it occurred to me to go and shoot them, or even that I think that doing such a thing is reasonable. But yeah, I get it.

So, much as I abhor guns, I was thinking about how you'd want to do it.

It's easiest to sneak in a small gun. Mind you, I know almost nothing about guns, but I have absorbed the fact that a small gun may well just wound, rather than kill. So it might take more than one shot.

However, after the first shot, people who heard a gunshot will come running. Maybe that's why so many of these boss-shooters, when they're caught in flagrante delicto, as it were, turn the gun on themselves.

Well, I think this is how you want to do it: First, shoot the boss once. Then—assuming you had been planning to off yourself as well, rather than face all that nasty business of a trial and probable imprisonment—shoot yourself. Then, if you are still alive and able to manage it, fire one or two more shots into your boss. Sic semper tyrannis!

Copyright © 2014

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Columbus' Stupid Mistake

Every time someone uses the word Indian, it requires clarification. Does it refer to a person from India, or a Native American? The problem stems from what I call "Columbus' stupid mistake."

As every schoolboy knows, when Columbus reached the New World, he thought he had reached India, which was what he had set out to get to. (At some point he realized, "This is not India." I don't know how long the realization took.)

Well, actually, it may be wrong to accuse Columbus of having been stupid. The ultimate cause of the error was that he had bad information on the size of the Earth. He thought, "It's x number of hours' sailing to India—based on what I know to be the diameter of this planet. I have sailed for about x hours; therefore I must have reached India." But the Earth is bigger than he thought, and he had no way of knowing that there was a very significant land mass between Europe and India (going west). So—maybe a reasonable mistake.

But his naming the New World natives "Indians" has caused a problem for more than 500 years. I imagine the Native Americans never cared for being called (and apparently confused with) Indians from India.

The British get around  the problem by using the term "Red Indian." Of course it would also help if we always, or reliably, used Indian only to refer to someone from India and used Native American (or "First Nations," as I believe they say in Canada) for the other meaning. It also works if you use "East Indian" for the Indians from Asia.

Copyright © 2014.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Social Inequality, Then and Now, There and Here

The British-produced television series Downton Abbey has proved very popular with American public television audiences. Somewhat in the tradition of an earlier series also shown on PBS, Upstairs Downstairs, it's about an English family of high social class and depicts the dramas in the lives of both the family (the "upstairs" part) and their servants ("downstairs").

Since Downton Abbey begins in 1912, when Lord Robert and his family receive the news of the sinking of the Titanic (and thus the loss of the heir to the family's title and property), we can say it shows life as it was 100 years ago. The lives of the family members who live in the grand house, Downton Abbey, are contrasted with the lives of those downstairs—the family's many servants who include a butler, a housekeeper, a cook, many subordinate kitchen servants, a valet, a lady's maid, a chauffeur, footmen, and more.

The family (and their guests) eat sumptuous food; whereas the servants eat simpler food.

The family eat their food off splendid china, silverware, crystal, and so forth. It's not too clearly shown but we can be sure the servants eat off more rustic china, and so forth.

The family have better clothes, and they don't dress themselves—don't button their buttons nor tie their ties--because that's what the servants are for.

Where does the hereditary wealth and power of this and other, similar familes originally come from? Sometimes it stems from the grant of land by the king to an ancestor, 400 or 500 years ago. Or the family may be descended from the conquering Normans who seized all of England in 1066 and thus had the power to take the land from the Saxon nobles who had previously possessed it.

There are other cultures with similar and perhaps even greater social inequality, for example India, with its caste system (now officially and/or in principle abolished) or Ecuador, where the people of native blood, the Indios, are discriminated against and have a very lowly status.

People in England, at least before the system began to change after the First World War, took all this inequality and the class system for granted. People who live under such a system usually accept, with little or no questioning, that there are one's "betters," who are worthy of their superior wealth and power. The idea has even been promulgated that all this is divinely ordained, that God decreed or created a hierarchical system.

I write this from the perspective of an American of the 21st century. Not that there is not and never has been any social inequality in America, or any class system--there is in fact considerably inequality of wealth and it has been worsening--but Americans do not believe that one's station is part of one's fate in life and decreed at (and by) birth. There is no hereditary privilege similar to the right to serve in the British House of Lords, which was in fact recently abolished. This was put in our Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal." And Americans have always had faith that under our system it was possible to rise. In the Great Britain of Downton Abbey, a man could achieve wealth through business but he might still not be completely accepted by the aristocracy. He would still lack the "breeding."

Thus, inevitably, I think that an American watching Downton Abbey has to find the social-class system, as depicted there, quite a curiosity.

Copyright © 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Guns, Killing, Hunting

Regular readers of this blog probably have a good idea of how I feel about guns: I think guns are horrible, appalling, loathsome things, and I hope to continue my record of never having touched one.

Nearly everyone is prepared to sanction gun ownership by hunters. I don't even approve of hunting. There may very well be some inborn and inbred instinct to hunt. Certainly for much of the million-year history of the genus Homo (as in Homo sapiens), human beings killed animals for their food, and in the course of that million years developed better and better tools (in this context known as weapons) for doing so.

It's only been 10,000 years since the twin, revolutionary inventions of agriculture and domestication of animals (the latter, of course, not precluding the killing of animals, but when we slaughter a domestic animal that does not constitute hunting) precluded the need to forage for edible plants and hunt animals. (We now know that our species can live without eating animal protein, but I don't think there were very many vegetarians prior to that 10,000-year-ago watershed. And I do not choose here to go into any of the pros and cons of a vegetarian diet.)

So my point is that possibly we have an instinct to hunt and/or kill animals. That is why, I think, when a driver more or less deliberately chooses to hit an animal in the road—yes, it happens, I am sure, and maybe not rarely—maybe he is just giving rein to his hunting instinct. I call it being "the great white hunter," in allusion to the image of the Western man on safari in Africa. You can also view it as machismo, though what is so macho about killing some poor little squirrel or opossum with your car is open to argument.

But we in so-called developed countries usually rely on others to provide our food, animal or not; so to a large degree the skills, instincts, etc., of a hunter are no longer needed, but evolution does not work quickly enough that we lose traits that are no longer needed.

Still, all that being said, I still don't sympathize very much with hunting nor with the people who want to  hunt. Hunters say they appreciate, even love, wildlife. I say, if you love something, you don't kill it.

Copyright © 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Origins of Some Technology Terms

  • Google. The word in this exact form was originated by Google, the company that makes the search engine Google; but I presume that the name is an alteration of the word googol, which is used for the very large number 1 followed by 100 zeroes. The origin of the word googol is, according to the story, that it was uttered by Edward Sirotta, the nephew of the mathematician Edward Kasner.
  • Yahoo. In Johnathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver's fourth voyage takes him to a land where there is a "race of filthy, loathsome brutes" [Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia], called the Yahoos, who resemble human beings. The intelligent and admirable race in that land are the Houyhnhnms, who resemble horses. The Houyhnhnms have tamed the Yahoos, who Swift intended to represent his rather cynical view of the human race.
  • Bluetooth. This was an epithet of several Scandinavian or Viking kings or chieftains, and especially Harald Bluetooth, who was a 10th-century king of Norway and Denmark. Some of the high-ranking Vikings did indeed have blue teeth, due to the painful custom of putting colored inserts into the teeth, for decoration, to look formidable, and to show bravery in the face of this painful procedure. According to Wikipedia, "the Bluetooth logo consists of the Nordic runes for his initials. . . ."

Copyright © 2014.