Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Message From General Use

One day last week, Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac page had this timely note:

The first mass inoculation of the Salk vaccine against polio began on this date in 1954, at the Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The year before, there had been 35,000 reported cases of the highly contagious disease — and by 1962, after the vaccine came into general usage, there were 161.

In 1954 I was a schoolboy some thirty miles away from Arsenal Elementary, and we soon were lining up for the vaccine. We knew of children with the dreaded disease of polio, and saw photos of the iron lung. Dr. Salk was a hero to us.  So I've got no problem with highlighting his achievement.

What I have no use for however is that phrase "after the vaccine came into general usage."  In standard English usage as I learned it, that's a wrong use of usage, or it used to be.  Not only that, the phrase "in general use" is itself a standard description.

"Usage" used to be used almost exclusively for the standard or traditional way to use something--most familiarly, a language.  Now the misuse of "usage" is part of a trend of using extra syllables or words, especially as abstractions or passive-voice constructions, to give the impression that the user is pretty damn smart.  A similar example is using "closure" to mean "closing,"  as in a road closure.  As one language website puts it, "some people use the word 'usage' as though it were just a fancier form of the word 'use.'"  Such misuse demeans both words and impoverishes the language.

But usage these days is determined by how people use words at this moment. And once again we clot up the language and eventually change the standard, so that usage replaces use just because we get used to it.

It pains me that a website for writers misuses this word, especially captained by the plain spoken Garrison Keillor (who repeats this misuse in his audio portion.)
Of course, I still love the site.  I'm not one of those churlish users who cries, "I used to love his site but he's betrayed me! I've been used!" over one usage disagreement.  But I still hold out the possibly vain hope that this misuse of usage does not come into general use.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Deja Robo

One day early this week the phone rang.  I answered it.
"Hello," I said.  Nothing.  "Hello" I said again, noting that silence that usually means a robocall.

"Oh, hello!" said a female voice, sounding flustered, followed by a kind of giggle.  "Sorry about that, I had a problem with my headset."

Then she went into her spiel, though I've forgotten what it was for. I tried to interrupt but she kept going, so I said something like "No thanks" and hung up.

About three days later the phone rang.  I answered it.
"Hello," I said.  Nothing.  "Hello" I said again, noting that silence that usually means a robocall.

"Oh, hello!" said a female voice, sounding flustered, followed by a kind of giggle.  "Sorry about that, I had a problem with my headset."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Plausibility of Our Human World

“I had an epiphany once that I wish I could stimulate in everyone else. The plausibility of our human world, the fact that the buildings don’t all fall down and you can eat unpoisoned food that someone grew, is immediately palpable evidence of an ocean of good will and good behavior from almost everyone, living or dead. We are bathed in what can be called love.

And yet that love shows itself best through the constraints of civilization, because those constraints compensate for the flaws of human nature. We must see ourselves honestly, and engage ourselves realistically, in order to become better.”

 Jaron Lanier
 You Are Not a Gadget

Lanier (VR pioneer and big thinker about the digital realm) seems to subscribe to the T.H. Huxley view of human evolution: the human species obeyed the biological imperative by competing with--i.e. killing off--other species in its niche, but human civilization can evolve in the opposite manner, by societal and personal cooperation, ethics and, as he says, love.

In this way, people shape the kind of world they want to live in by their daily behavior, and by the behavior and commitments of the institutions that set expectations beyond their lives and lifetime.  That's the danger of shredding institutions with hate, greed and by people mindlessly letting their dark side rule.

I've had cause to interact recently with a number of people on the North Coast whose jobs are in health care.  Unfailingly they have been friendly, direct and competent.  These are the kind of people that are building the future, not the ego-mad monsters in Washington and on Wall Street.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Defining the Darkness.16

The next step in growing and consolidating power for a flailing and unpopular regime with an apprentice dictator is to start a war or react violently against a terrorist attack, probably also by starting a war.  The attack, according to some, is itself a present danger:

In terms of a major terrorist attack in the United States or on U.S. facilities, I think we’re significantly less ready than we were on January 19,” said Richard Clarke, who served on the National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations. “I think our readiness is extremely low and dangerously low. Certainly [government] agencies at a professional level will respond [to an attack], but having a coordinated interagency response is unlikely given the current cast of characters [in the administration] and their experience.”

"Clarke’s conclusion is based in part on the upheaval on the National Security Council," the Atlantic article goes on to say, but the regime's toxic relationship with American intelligence agencies, the US military and key foreign allies along with basic incompetence makes this both a more likely and very dangerous scenario.

As for terrorist organizations not totally ripped to shreds by the relentless dismantling conducted over the past eight years, the Washington regime's xenophobic and particularly anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric should help them rebuild with new recruits, eager to take advantage of the chaos fostered by the improv circus of the deluded in Washington.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Holiday of Shame

It's going to be like this.  Each annual event in Washington, in addition to every hour's news, is going to remind us what a travesty and a tragedy we're living through, thanks to the results of the 2016 presidential election.

Now we've got President's Day, and apart from honoring the best that have held that office, we're faced with the present incumbent, and his moral corruption, incompetence and the daily dishonor he does to the office and the country, so extreme (as I foretold you) that it's unlikely either will ever be the same.  So this is our first holiday of shame.

“The job of being President of the United States is one of the most difficult, the most nearly impossible, ever devised by the ingenuity of man," H.G. Wells wrote in 1935. "A politician is elected and he is expected to become a divinity.”

No one who has held the office has been perfect, and even the best made morally questionable decisions and backed morally troublesome policies.  But on balance, many served honorably, and we owe our country's survival and freedoms to several.  The top 3 in the latest survey of 91 presidential historians fit the bill: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

(By the way, President Barack Obama ranks as the 12th best in his first appearance in the survey, and would have ranked higher except for bad grades on his "relationship" with the absolute opposition of Congress.)

But now we are barely a month into the regime of Homegrown Hitler, whose recent statement that the press are "enemies of the people" marks him (again) as a dangerous apprentice dictator, according to those raving leftists, Senator John McCain and Fox News' Chris Wallace.  While his regime busily dismantles federal programs and protections to benefit the uber-wealthy, federal spending has ballooned so large to support him and his family in their corrupt style that the usual system can't keep up.

But it's not only this shameful incumbent that makes this a holiday of shame.  It's the voters who put him there by not voting.  In the first election in this century, complacency and blithe misunderstanding of consequences put Bush-CHENEY in the White House (with the material assistance of the Supreme Court in a travesty of democracy), and eight long years of horror and near bankruptcy ensued.

 But in 2016 potential voters didn't learn, they didn't heed the warnings.  They did not have the maturity to understand the need to vote regardless of their small feelings and tastes, their micro-grievances and political fantasies.  Or impelled by aspects of their inner darkness they cannot admit.  They didn't vote, or voted for third party candidates.  And they got what they deserve.

Though the price will be paid by many, including many yet unborn. As for those who welcome the Apprentice Dictator because it encourages a political revolution, they seem among the least likely to be among the many hurt by what the Homegrown Hitler regime does.

There are multiple protests every week (including one mockingly mourning the death of the presidency.)  Did all of those people vote?  Maybe.  People voted for the apprentice emperor because they were "angry," it's said.  Well now, reports of town halls for officeholders of both parties show that everybody is angry.  The anger has at least doubled.

A disturbing piece in the New York Review of Books, on the World Trade Center buildings to replace the towers felled on 9/11 says this:

As the latest studies make abundantly clear, the transformation of the World Trade Center site was hampered to a shameful degree by the intransigent self-interest of both individuals and institutions. As a result, an effort ostensibly meant to display our country’s unified spirit in response to an unprecedented calamity instead revealed that communal altruism of the sort that helped America to survive the Great Depression and triumph in World War II had largely become a thing of the past. Although all major construction schemes face tremendous problems, the World Trade Center rebuilding encapsulates everything that is wrong with urban development in a period when, as in so many other aspects of our public life, the good of the many is sacrificed to the gain of the few."

So anger at the bottom, greed at the top, and we not only don't appear to have an actual President, we may find that the coherent, semi-cohesive country being governed is also slipping away.

Maybe the place to start is to admit the shame, and feel it.  This weekend throws it in our faces.

Update: FYI Not My President Day across US.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sign of the Times

Sign at the scientists rally in Copley Square Boston on Sunday, via Boston Globe. But apparently needing some help from English majors on verb agreement.  Extra credit though for the 1950s/60s atomic era colors and typography.