Saturday, August 25, 2007

Auquafina and the Meaning of "Pure"

Aquafina has been outed -- it is just city water in a plastic bottle. But we are assured it is pure. Or are we? I have just come downstairs from a Boston - Chicago baseball game where I have seen a TV ad that said its water was filtered, filtered again, purified, then filtered and filtered again and filtered and then purified and then filtered and maybe filtered again. The word "pure" means to me "free of all impurities -- period." And "purified" being a causative verb in this usage would have to mean (to me) "cause to come to be free of all impurities." But if Aquafina isn't lying through its teeth, it is being quite redundant. One purification should have been enough.

And what is their method of "purification?" The one I have in my house that Kinetico installed and services (now 3 times a year given my increased use of water making soda pop for my wife and me that I know the ingredients of), namely a reverse osmosis system and "other filtering methods."

Now wait a damn minute. If reverse osmosis is another filtering method, then they are doing no purifying at all. They are simply engaging in multiple filterings of their water. My water filtering company does not claim to give me pure water. It can't because there is no filtering method alive that will get rid of bacteria (correct me if this is wrong). Sadly, it is bacteria that can make water dangerously impure. Any filtering method that got out all the bacteria wouldn't be able to let water molecules through if my impoverished knowledge of biology and chemistry is correct.

Years ago, before most of you were born, I worked at an Air Force lab where I created deionized water. That was what we used in the lab. Fortunately we were doing inorganic chemistry because our friendly neighborly encyclopedia tells us that deionized water cannot rid water of some organic. Even distilled water is not guaranteed pure. But I am pretty sure that bourbon and scotch are pretty safe. You might drink that if you are desperate not to be poisoned by your liquid. It could be bad for your liver. And lead you to do stupid things.

Any time someone says they do something twice, they may not do that thing once. I'm in a hurry. I have to get back to my game.

Labels: , , , ,

Tweet This!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On Believing Generals on Active Duty

It occurred to me after doing my last blog on the Petraeus report that I missed the deeper point that it doesn't really matter whether he or George Bush writes this report. George Bush isn't believable because he has proved over and over that he will lie when it suits his purpose. Hell, I'm not sure he has ever told the truth. But what about Generals?

During the Vietnam War, there was an early phase in which reporters would hang out in Saigon bars as well as Saigon brothels, I would imagine, and show up for the daily briefing. This would be swallowed whole and regurgitated on the pages of our newspapers and our nightly news broadcasts. Then reporters started going into the field and they saw a very different picture from what was being told to them in these briefings and coverage of the war began to change. I didn't have a TV at the time but I understand that moving pictures of some of the events of that war were presented on national news shows while people ate their dinner.

I knew that war was a fraud almost before it began, thanks to a two page piece in the Houston Chronicle sometime in the late 50's on how the S. Vietnamese people felt about the Viet Minh (the precursors to the Viet Cong) and the Saigon government. What became a permanent memory for me is that it was reported that the people didn't seem to care who was in control of the part of the country they lived in. I decided that if they didn't care, why the hell should I?

As is well known, General Westmoreland and the rest Generals and the Pentagon and our Department of Defense lied through their teeth every day about progress in Vietnam. They had to lie because they had no clue whether they were making progress or not. Body counts began to be the norm as a way of keeping score. Unfortunately for the truth, an individual dead body, identity unknown, would be seen as a bad guy (unless he or she was an infant), and would routinely be counted multiple times as each unit that encountered it would count it. It could be that General Westmoreland's minions inflated the body counts so as not to piss him off with bad news.

The generals and the Pentagon civilians lied to our Presidents who, themselves, did not cover themselves with glory either. Indeed, the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident was a total fabrication, probably ordered by the President. I know that the incident was a total fabrication but can't tell you how I know. Even the report refenced in the link just given admits that we provoked the attack. But, believe me, there was no attack. I have a record for telling the truth as I know (remember) it so I hope you will accept this as an honest report of the facts. We needed reasons to level N. Vietnam. We finally had it. The problem with trying to level any third world country is that it is so easy for them to rebuild. The N. Vietnamese recovered from the destruction of its buildings way faster than New York has recoverd from the 9/11 attack. Indeed, some firemen were killed yesterday trying to put out a fire in a building damaged in the 9/11 attack. The reality is that nothing we did seem to inhibit the ability of the Viet Cong and the N. Vietnamese Regulars to kill enough Americans to make this war intolerable to the vast majority of Americans.

The fact that the Right Wing has no problems lying has led to a great deal of revisionist history about that war as part of their effort to smear Sen. Kerry. I have a Right Wing relative who told me that we actually won that war since we are now friendly with N. Vietnam. This is a highly educated person. But this is among the most stupid things I have ever heard. It provides a nice picture of the workings of the Right Wing brain.

Our current war is intolerable and has gone on too damn long. One reason is that the American people actually believed the Shrub, Rummy, Chaney, and the war leaders. They were heroes for good long while. But they lied through their teeth about everything concerning Iraq. I fully expect that Petreaus will lie about progress in Iraq. He has a reputation to try to uphold. If he really wants to do the right thing and possibly salvage his personal reputation (though also destroy his career) he will tell the truth. Whether the Shrub would have the guts to fire him after that would be fun to watch.

Do not ever believe what any General says about a war he is in charge of. The military is the paradigm Cover your Ass organization.

Labels: , , , ,

Tweet This!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Petreaus report as brought to you by...

I am clearly a little stupid. I had thought that General Petreas would come to the US and present Congress and the American people with a report of the positive and negative outcomes of the infamous "surge" that was supposed to make Baghdad safe for Democracy or, at least, safe. Of course, that hasn't worked and we all know it.

The other day we learned that Congress in its lack of wisdom had demanded of the White House a report on progress in Iraq in mid-September. And that seems to be what we will get. Petraeus will report to Bush and Bush and his political hacks will tell us what they want us to know and will call that "the Petraeus Report." It will be "The Petraeus Report as written by George Bush," as when a book about some NBA players life and loves comes out under his name with, below it, the phrase "as written by ..." Some sports writer will have written the book. So, General Petraeus's report will be ghosted by the White House. None of this is new. Generals do what they are told.

General Petreaus will also testify before Congress. What will he do? Testilie? Will he craft all his replies so they are consistent with the White House interpretation of his views? Or will he tell the truth? General Petraeus can be a great war leader only if he wins the Iraq war, whatever that might mean. What we can be sure of is that he doesn't want to be the General in power at the time that we "cut and run" as we surely will some day.

Bush has run out of options. He has played the "Wait until the September Petreaus Report" card and can't play the Petreas card again, especially now that we know that it won't actually be a Petraeus report. What matters now is what the Republicans in Congress will do. Will they work with Democrats to craft an end the war policy or not. Interestingly Deborah Pryce, a powerful House Republican is cutting and running. And this morning I learned that Dennis Hastert, the former leader of House Republicans is also cutting and running. I thought that Republicans are against cutting and running.

Maybe they will give the country a nice going away present by working with the Democrats to end this stupid war. They know that the Demos will take over the House and Senate and the Presidency unless they screw things up, as so many of us fear they will do. Who should be the Demo candidate? Hillary has real positives to go with her "negatives." Despite my opposition to the Iraq war, I am not a dove. In fact, IMO, we should have stayed in Afghanistan until every last Al Queda and Talliban member was dead or had cut and run. And then we should have chased them to wherever they set up their camps and bombed the living crap out of them. Just no stupid wars. Or should it be Obama. He has the virtue of having lived as a child in a Muslim country. That has surely given him a good perspective on the world. Unfortunately, a buddy called Obama "Obambi" in an email to me. This renaming, unfair or not, has colored my perception of him since.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tweet This!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Correcting Others

A certain party, who shall go nameless (a life saving measure), has the habit of responding to linguistic errors of mine by going blank and looking at me as if I am stupid (which I may be, at least relative to this other person who is going nameless). This party then corrects me. I then get ticked off. However, the behavior continues.

Today, this party blundered by saying that at least half of the blue cheeses in the supermarket made explicit that they were made from pasteurized cheese. I decided to pay this person back by saying, "Don't you mean, milk?" This person replied, "Oh, right, milk." What is the correct thing to do when someone misspeaks in this manner? The answer is to continue the conversation without making a correction. Here is a real conversation that illustrates the correct way to deal with these situations:
Him: "He," referring to guy on stage playing an alto sax, "also plays an alto sax."
Me: "I know."
Him: "I mean, soprano sax."
Me: "I know."
Emulate me in all future conversations. (A smiley should go here.) Unless, of course, some sort of serious confusion might be involved.

There are two kinds of corrections of adults of interest to me here. One is correcting another person's word choice. In some cases, the adult, say, someone like George Bush, seems not to know the word. You will have to decide for yourself whether you have the right sort of relationship with that person to correct him. Here is another real conversation. My friend was in the Air Force and wrote every letter and document his commanding officer signed. Once he used the word "vacillate" in a draft of something, knowing perfectly well his commanding officer didn't know the word. His boss asked him what it meant and he told him.
Commanding Officer (after his troops had been ordered to fall into line): "Stop vacillating and get in straight lines."
My Friend: (said nothing and didn't laugh out loud)
In the case of a child, especially your child, it is perfectly reasonable to correct word choices. Teaching words is the one thing you can help their kids with insofar as language learning is concerned. It is important, of course, to read to them as often as you can and even when you think you are too busy. If they ask you what some word in the book means tell them. What you are reading gives them a context of usage so the book does some of your work.

Now we come to the issue of correcting grammar and pronunciation. With young children, the answer is a simple one: don't do it. The reason you should not correct grammar with young children is that it may confuse them . The reason is simple. We adults usually know what the notion "grammatical sentence" means. We know it has to do with form, not content. Children do not know that. Explain to your three year old what you mean by "sentence form." I dare you. It is hard enough to teach that concept to college freshman. It is, after all, a quite abstract concept. As a result, since kids who don't understand the concept of grammatical sentence do understand the distinction between a true and false sentence, the odds are good that your child will think you are telling them that what they are saying is false when, in fact, it is true.

If you provide Standard English for your child when you talk to them, your work is done (except for word teaching). They will do the rest. There is a widely accepted belief that we teach our children language. The fact is that 99.9 % of parents don't have a clue as to the rules of English (Spanish, etc.) grammar -- I mean the real rules, not the superficial things our grammar teachers focus on. When children are 9 to 10 years old it will be time to clean up some of their errors to make sure they are on the path to Standard English but understand that some language learning goes on until a kid is around 12 years old, the last I heard. Any time we learn a new subject in college or read anything of any intellectual interest we are likely to have to learn some new words. That part of language development should continue throughout your life. I hope I sometimes provide examples that make you turn to your dictionaries for help. In many cases you will be undergoing some cognitive development as a part of understanding this new subject. This is a good thing, as Martha would say.

When your children are very young, it is a huge waste of time to correct their mispronunciations. They should be encouraged to speak and any corrections may discourage them. Depending on the stage of language development they are in, they may not be able to make the desired sound. So, if your 3 year old says "wed" for "red" don't try to correct her. Your child probably can't make an "r" sound yet. If the child is 12 and still makes that mistake, you may need to intervene. In general children's mispronunciations are funny. Enjoy them. At one point our kid said, "breakstress" for "breakfast." We enjoyed that. She said "moi" for "more." We thought that was cute.

One thing your children may do is illustrated by the following made up conversation, modeled on some I have read about in the literature.
Mom is grating some cheese for pasta.
Child: Can I grape some?
Mom: No, say, "May I grate some?"
Child: Yes, can I grape some?
The child in such a case seems to be hearing herself as saying what you are saying. If that is true, then trying to fix your child's English would be a real mistake. They will get it right eventually.

Though we each had Ph.D.'s in Linguistics, my wife and I never once corrected our child. She speaks perfect English. But then so do we. Fortunately she decided to use us for our models. Sadly, there are a lot of models out there that I wouldn't want my kid emulating.

Labels: , ,

Tweet This!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bridges and other dangerous things

The American Society of Civil Engineers is, fortunately, not a branch of the Bush Administration and as a result we can go to them for a truthful account of the progress the Bush Administration and Congress, which was, until recently Republican, have made in the improvement of our nation's infrastructure. If you compare our infrastructure in the momentous year of 2001 with what it was in 2005, the last year that the ASCE gave out grades -- there should be grades coming out this year -- you must conclude that our infrastructure under a fully Republican controlled government has gone from bad to worse, with two exceptions. These are aviation and schools. In some cases grades were not given out in 2001 so a comparison is not possible.

Of course, Osama Bin Laden may be partly responsible for improvements in aviation. And Bush's "No Child Left Behind" could have helped with our schools. The "No Child Left Behind" is a wonderful linguistic slogan, but it is also, like most slogans (the "War on Poverty" and all other similar slogans involving wars on problems that do not require soldiers) fatally deficient. Bush's goal is totally unachievable for some kids are very, very dumb or have very, very dumb or poorly educated parents who provide poor examples and poor guidance or the kids simply don't give a damn.

In every other category things either stayed the same -- bridges (still C), dams (still D), solid waste (still C+) -- or got worse -- drinking water (now D-), the national power grid (now D), hazardous waste (now D), navigable waterways (now D-), roads (now D), transit (now D+) and waste water (now D-). In two cases, no grades were given in 2001. One was security, which gets an incomplete because there is too little information and rail, which gets a C-.

The big story the last couple of days was the bridge collapse in Minnesota. Osama Bin Laden did not bring down that bridge. WE DID. And that was a bridge that had been deemed merely "structurally deficient." Let us suppose that a structural engineer looked at your house and deemed that a recent earthquake had made it "structurally deficient." Would you keep living in it if you had a spouse and two kids? Here's an easier question, closer to the current situation with bridges. If you were buying a house and the house inspector you hired told you it was "structurally deficient," would you buy it? How is it then that we drive over bridges with that designation? The answer is easy. We don't know which bridges are and are not structurally deficient. There needs to be a clear label on every bridge in the country as to its reliability.

We either have a very serious bridge problem or a very serious language problem. Given how I interpret "structurally deficient bridge," I would not knowingly drive my new grandkid over one. In my view, any bridge that gets that designation should be condemned until it is replaced or repaired, if that is possible.

We have the money to repair or replace all our bridges. Where is it? It is in Iraq. In fact, fairly recently a great deal of money was budgeted for infrastructure by Congress. What happened to it? It went to pork barrel projects. We should not be a bit surprised by that.

Yesterday, my wife and I drove over to our kid's house with their dogs to await the arrival of the new kid and her parents. I assessed each bridge and elevated ramp as to when it was built. Essentially all of the ones we went over were built since we arrived in 1971. That felt good. Coming home we went over some that were decidedly older. I was driving this time and I forgot to keep track of the bridges and other elevated structures. Oh well, such is life in the United States.

I don't think I have ever said anything kind about the French. Let me repair that by noting that I would like to go to France just to drive over its very long and very beautiful suspension bridge which was innovative both in regard to its design and in how it was built. This 1.6 mile long, 1,132 feet tall (at its highest point) bridge was the subject of a high definition Discovery Channel program that I watched. Of course, the French did build a superhighway that it intended to go into Italy without having any idea how cars would cross the Tarn River Gorge. The result was a lot of congestion for years as cars wended their way over old roads and through medieval villages. Alls well that ends well, of course. Too bad we can't say this about our thousands of structurally deficient bridges.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tweet This!