Monday, December 29, 2014


The hyphen shows that this has nothing to do with the name "Stanley". It is the suffix for a land or country, as in Pakistan Hindustan, Waziristan, Kurdistan, etc. I like the two "anchors" on the PBS Newshour, which Barbara & I watch almost every night (Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff) But they don't pronounce "-stan" properly. The main additional announcer is Hari Sreenivasan, who pronounces it correctly as "stahn". The BBC also use the right pronunciation. I sometimes wonder why their producer doesn't instruct them to use the same pronunciation. On the other hand, if she/he did order them to con form, it would be the "wrong" one. So I am thankful when Hari is the news reader.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Diplomatic Representation

Barbara & I were delighted when the President announced a thaw in our nation's relations with Cuba. I can't say I was surprised when he received criticism for this détente, but it is unwarranted. We are not engaging in a military alliance, or even establishing a trade treaty, we are merely ready to exchange ambassadors, and asking Congress to end the punitive embargo on commerce with an independent nation. We want to "normalize" our relationship. Critics who complain because Cuba is not making any "concessions" to the US miss the point. We are merely ending a unilateral "cold war" against our neighbor initiated because of our leaders dislike of the lack of US-style "'freedoms" in a "communist" state. There are aspects of Cuban society which we may envy--free health care and education, in particular, just as there are aspects we deplore, such as restrictions on political expression and free travel. I have no desire to smoke any of Cuba's fine cigars, and adequate substitutes are available for its superb rum, but I would welcome the end of trade barriers. I would like to see the US return Guantanamo to its rightful owners, but that won't happen until we either end our policy of holding prisoners without trial there, or find another country we can persuade to accept them.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Roll of White Paper

The late philanthropist Warren Hellman was a friend of my step-daughter, Laurie Lewis, and through her I knew him slightly. He once said that life was rather like a roll of toilet paper: the closer you got to the end, the faster it went. Some folk may remember the controversy in Dear Abby, many years ago about whether the top sheet of paper should come from over or under. Ours is an "over" household- although on one occasion I needed to take off the roll and reverse direction. Although Barbara and I have been together for over forty-five years, I only recently noted an instance where our respective customs diverge. When I have made use of TP, I always leave one or two sheets of paper ready for the next user. Barbara, on the other hand rolls it up so that no loose paper is showing. In my view, this makes it harder for the next user. We have never spoken about this to each other; we have just continued our respective practices. Our different views on this issue are essentially trivial, so I think there is no end in site for these different approaches. I sometimes wonder how this is handled in other families.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hand Washing in a Mild Climate

As a child, I was taught the routine: Turn on the hot tap (faucet) until the water begins to warm up; insert the plug in the drain outlet; add warm water into the basin; moisten hands; apply soap; wash; rinse; dry. Soon after I went to work for American Home General Agency shortly after coming to the USA in 1057, I wa surprised to find that there was no drain plug for the washbasin in the men's room. My request for what then seemed a necessity was promptly complied with, but it was explained to me that most folk didn't fill the basin: they just used warm water directly on their hands. I soon accepted this American short cut when washing my hands. I have always tried to avoid wasting water, but during the present ongoing drought in California, I have avoided running the hot water supply until warm water arrives--a longer time in the upstairs bathroom. At first I used water from the hot supply, but then I realized that this was a waste of fuel, since the replacement water was being heated. So now I just use the cold water faucet, and I find washing in cold water here in California is easy and pleasant.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Health News

It may seem an irony that as we increasingly conquer disease, and people live longer, the market for the print form of Health News continues to expand. However, as we live longer, there remains a hunger for ways of extending life. For many years, we have subscribed to the University of California's monthly publication The Wellness Letter. Somehow, month after month, this publication finds new items to write about. Another institution that offers a similar product is Johns Hopkins, and I'm sure there are many others. We recently received a solicitation from some place, probably a hospital. The publication Bottom Line has a "report" with the same concept. Some months ago, the San Francisco Chronicle began publishing a weekly section of Health news, (I never read it, not being obsessed by the subject). I have no quarrel with these publications. I just wish the developed countries of the world could do a better job of seeing that the poorer nations of the world had easier access to.clean water, shelter, and adequate food.

Monday, November 24, 2014


When this word is used today, almost everyone thinks only of unwanted emails, etc. Old timers will remember its older meaning as a canned food, with its name abbreviated from "spiced ham". Probably for most of those living on this side of the Atlantic, spam was a convenient food to keep in reserve, for occasions such as days when floods made it impossible to buy fresh meat. During wartime, spam was highly regarded in the UK at a time when such staples as butter, meat, and candy were rationed. Our ration books also provided "points", which could be used at one's discretion to buy certain supplementary foodstuffs. The UK had long been an exporter of finished goods, and an importer of food. Merchant ships bringing food were often the victims of U-boats but some shipments did get through, and one could often by spam with one of one's precious points. Spam was not a particular favorite in Britain, but it was certainly welcomed as one of the ways to stretch our limited diets.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ten Fruits

The letter "p" is often mute in English: e.g. psalm, psychic, etc. But this is the season of persimmons and pomegranates, and it reminds me that their are many other fruits with that same initial letter. Pineapple, peach, pear, plum, prune, papaya, passion fruit, and pluot.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Every year, we are sent more calendars than we can use. There is little demand from family and friends for any of the unneeded copies. I do keep a calendar in my office, because it is helpful to know on what day of the week some future event or appointment will take place. However, when we refer to "the calendar" we usually mean the engagement book supplied by our stockbroker. This is a vital part of our life, a "calendar" in which we enter dates and times of future engagements, from medical appointments to classical music concerts. It is rare indeed for us to forget to attend a play or a concert, thanks to the.calendar. I have one small gripe: the timing of the arrival of the next year's issue. Morgan Stanley, our stockbroker's firm, seems to regard distribution of those excellent engagement books as a sort of Christmas present. Of course, we would like to receive them several months in advance, so that we can enter our engagements for the first few months of the coming year. Instead, we make use of a page at the back of the earlier year. When the new book arrives, the first thing that I do is to transfer those items into the newly-arrived book. Somehow I manage not to complain about the delayed arrival, as those engagement books (our "calendars") are a very important part of our lives.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Poor Example

The San Francisco Giants recently defeated the Kansas City Royals (in what we should call baseball's "National Championship", but in what other countries consider as "American arrogance" is better known as the "World Series".) A parade, fireworks, etc. in celebration were held, all of which was perfectly appropriate. However, we were informed by our local paper that this year twice as much confetti (2,400 lbs) would be used as had been scattered when the local team had last triumphed two years ago. A few handfuls of confetti thrown by friends and family after a church wedding is traditional, and can be promptly swept up afterwards. Dumping a huge amount of confetti during a victory parade, as large an amount as 2,400 lbs, is a poor example for young people whose parents are trying to teach them to keep our streets and sidewalks clean.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Holidays we need

I would like the day after Thanksgiving to be a national holiday, and I would like the same to apply to Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas ("Boxing Day" in the UK). On the other hand, as a former business owner, I am adverse to increasing the number of mandatory holidays. What three existing holidays would I sacrifice in favor of the ones I would prefer? As a child, I very much appreciated November 11, which we knew as "Armistice Day". I was born almost ten years after the end of WWI, but it was fresh in the minds of my elders. Britain had lost many of its young adults, particularly males of the "officer class". That day is known as "Veteran's Day" in the US, of course, and I'm certainly not opposed to honoring those who have served our country. I would combine the celebration of the service with those who sacrifice their lives, "Memorial Day", We don't think much of Columbus day in California, and my guess is that many young people could not tell you the date on which it is observed. Except for those working for federal, state, and local governments, it is not widely observed. The business world dislikes it because no mail is delivered that day. Efforts to honor Leif Erikson and "Indigenous People Day" instead have drawn little traction and should go. Finding a third day to drop is somewhat harder. The relatively recent combination of "President's Day", to honor our two most famous presidents is not a day that I would sacrifice. I am left with a relatively recent creation the day that honors Martin Luther King, Jr. Adding this as an extra holiday displeased the world of business, and perhaps that attitude was reinforced by racism and by conservatives who complained about his womanizing. If we were to eliminate that holiday, I am sure those who do so would be accused, in turn, of racism. Oh well, perhaps the best answer is to allow the workforce to go home a little early on Christmas Eve instead...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Ebola Panic

One person from West Africa has died in the United States from Ebola. Two nurses who treated him became infected, both of whom seem likely to survive. (One is reported to have recovered already.) The TV news, the newspapers, and other media are full of Ebola stories. It is too early to determine if it has already been eliminated, but even if that is not the case, the impact of this disease in the United States will be minimal. We seem powerless to enact sensible gun laws, and hundreds of our citizens are killed by gunfire every year. Despite excellent roads, proactive enforcement of traffic laws, and all of our efforts to avoid casualties, hundreds of our citizens die every year from road accidents. Despite these human tragedies, the public has plaid a much greater attention on Ebola these past few weeks. Perhaps it is understandable our fears of, all of an unfamiliar disease receives such prominence, but I look forward to the time when its impact here is forgotten.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's in a name?

I recently saw a television program about the way in which different generations of royal children have been raised. Recently, it was announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate to most people) are expecting a second child. This made me speculate on what the first name of the child might be. Any royal baby may have many names, but I am really only thinking about the name which will be in common use. If the baby is a girl, Will it be time for another Elizabeth? Royal names often repeat earlier names used in the family, but I don't expect the child to be called "Diana". What if it is a second son? I don't expect Charles or Edward for example, to be selected. Perhaps "Phillip", after his great-grandfather. It would be a nice tribute to the Scotts if he were to receive a Scottish name, "Gavin" and "Hamish" would be going to far. "Alistair" is a good name, but not linked to the royal family. "Andrew" seems to be a possibility. One might think that such modern parents as William and Kate could choose any name they liked, but they are a wise couple and will probably conform to tradition.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Luverly Grub

What does "rasher" mean, other than "more rash"? It is the term used in the UK for what we call "slices" of bacon. It brings back memories of food I used to eat in the UK and haven't seen lately. My memories fall into three main categories: food that I am fond of; food that I feel indifferent about; and food that I shall be happy never to eat again. Some of the food I am fond of but am not able to readily get in the US include: Finnan Haddock and Kippers at breakfast; broad beans, kedgeree, steak & kidney pie, veal & ham pie, pork pie, gooseberry fool, summer pudding, loganberries, greengages, and damsons. Some I manage to find, such as Marmite and rabbit. Here are some examples of food that I wouldn't mind encountering again, but which I would not actively seek out. This would include vegetable marrow, rice pudding, and Jerusalem artichokes I shall be delighted never to be confronted with any of the following: Yorkshire pudding, suet puddings, and tapioca.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The enemy of my enemy

There is a wise saying that such a person is my friend. In my lifetime, an example of this was the Soviet Union in WWll. Less than twenty years earlier , Britain was still using military force in an unsuccessful effort to crush the Bolshevik regime, and the Russians were trying to stir up conflict against the British Raj in India. But once the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, the Russians became our allies. We deplore the Syrian government's murderous assaults on many of its citizens. The Obama administration came close to attacking Syria some years ago, chanting "Assad must go. We now have a common enemy , the Islamist extremists known by various names, including Isil. Syria is engaged in a civil war with various rebel groups, ranging from 'Moderates" to Al Qaida affiliates. Instead of trying to reach an understanding with the Syrians that we may seek permission--probably in back channels, because the Syrians would not agree openly to our attacking Isil on Syrian territory-- we brazenly announce that we shall ignore the frontier in order to attack our common enemy. Obama is seeking congressional approval to provide open support to"moderate" rebels. I fear that these "approved" rebels may be more interested in the fight against the Damascus regime than in defeating Isil. I suggest we should concentrate on the one prime and common enemy at a time, quietly working with the enemies of our enemy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

One Nation

The result of the recent referendum to consider independence for Scotland is one I greet with relief, for many reasons. I have been a U.S. citizen for over 50 years, but also retain my native British citizenship. My full last name is "Lindsey-Renton", and I am part English and part Scottish. At cricket, I support the English team; in Rugby Union football I am happy if Scotland wins. "Lindsey" is an English name for part of the large county of Lincolnshire. Not that this ever prevented my sisters and me from selecting Lindsay tartan for kilts, rugs, and bathrobes! Besides the Seattle suburb of Renton, there is a small suburb of Glasgow with that name. When Barbara & I were touring in Scotland, we planned to go there, buy postcards, and send them to family members. It's a miserable place, we found, and the post office had been permanently closed. Scratch that idea! The Rentons were lowlanders, mainly living near the River Tweed border with England. I once asked what was known about the Rentons, and was told that north of the border they were considered patriotic warriors: south of the border they were considered just lowdown cattle thieves.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


The San Francisco Chronicle recently published a letter that I wrote, which read as follows: A permanent resolution of the conflict between Israel and Gaza will not be acceptable to Israel if Gaza can import weapons. It will not be acceptable to Gaza if the compete blockade remains in force. Surely the reasonable solution is to allow the import of non-lethal goods, controlled by a neutral party. This could be Egypt, or perhaps reliable monitors established by the United Nations. Undoubtedly there would be complex negotiations to arrange this, but wouldn't the positive result of such an arrangement be worth the time and trouble? For the purposes of publication, this was necessarily brief. A friend pointed out that what I was suggesting was essentially an idea brought out at the unsuccessful meeting in Cairo, and he informed me that this common-sense idea was rejected by the Israeli's. When I see pictures of the devastation the Israeli bombing has caused in Gaza, it disturbs me. It was a response totally out of scale by comparison to the ineffective but relentless firing of rockets into Israel. It is hard to see how this conflict can ever be resolved without each side making concessions. It would be humiliating for the Palestinian's to have to accept control over the imports by a third party, but it would certainly be preferable to the complete Israeli blockade, which stifles peaceful economic activity.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Double Jeopardy?

I deplore violence against women. I am glad that the NFL is finally getting serious. Most of us saw the video of Ray Rice dragging his future wife out of an elevator, and applauded when the original 2 game suspension was increased to six games. Then a second video emerged, of the vicious punch which floored the woman. Frankly, I had imagined such violence from the first video. Ray Rice was "cut" (lost his job) from his team. Then Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, banned Rice "indefinitely". That seems to me inappropriate--not that it was the wrong response to the offense, but that he had already been punished for it, and such a severe penalty represented a changed policy.. We would not consider it right to introduce legislation to upgrade a misdemeanor to a felony, and then charge someone with a felony for an act committed before the change in the law. Unless the suspension is lifted.within a year or two,this talented athlete will have lost the rewards of his career. It also seems that Goodell is more interested in keeping his own well-paid job than being fair to the player. The one good thing about this saga is that it may discourage such physical violence in the future. The practitioners of a violent sport may think twice about jeopardizing future earnings running into many millions of dollars.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Weights & Measures

We don't use the word "stones" when discussing a person's weight in the USA. We limit ourselves to pounds and ounces, and I doubt if many children learn that fourteen pounds of weight is known in Britain as "one stone". When it comes to coinage, I learned as a child to deal with farthings, shillings, pence, florins, and half-crowns. [We did not use "crowns" and it always seemed somewhat redundant to have two shillings (a florin), as well as two shillings and six pence (a half-crown).] At a higher level, there was the, "guinea" mainly used at expensive stores, being one pound, one shilling. I used to think that the decimal system, in use in most other civilized countries, was simpler and superior, eliminating the need for many troublesome mathematical calculations. Since my childhood, the British have reformed their monetary system, and also adopted the decimal system for currency. Meantime, why are we still talking about inches, feet, yards, and miles in this country? The world uses centimeters, meters, and kilometers for distances, although it seems to have rejected decimeters. We still use quarts and pints for liquid, rather than liters. I can only suppose that our politicians are afraid to make changes to our measurements, as they would not always be very popular! We measure gasoline in gallons, but we don't use the same "gallon" as the British, who cling to the outdated term "imperial gallon", despite having long ago lost an empire.

Monday, August 25, 2014


Of the various social media options, LinkedIn was originally designed primarily for business folk, but clearly such a limit no longer applies. About once a month, I am asked to be in contact with someone on LinkedIn, always replying that I am not part of the circle. I don't think the solicitations are initiated by my correspondents, but rather by the owners of LinkedIn. i know very well that what I write online is "harvested", and that doesn't bother me, but I dislike having this reality thrust in my face.

Monday, August 18, 2014


I don't think that I have ever posted anything on Facebook: that just isn't my style. On the other hand, I am very glad that I joined Facebook many months ago. It is a great source of news and photos of our extended family. I also can't remember ever posting a comment, but I regularly "like" many of the items that I read there. I am not eager to reveal my comments on Facebook to the world, a reticence which is inconsistent with my regular weekly blog. Somehow, I now have 23 followers, and I thank you all.

Monday, August 11, 2014


This is a useful term to describe a group of people, usually male, often young, and subject to some form of orderly discipline, such as marching or riding in formation. Boy Scout troops, and cavalry troops, are good examples of this usage. Unfortunately, this sense has been blurred by the media, where the word is used to mean individual soldiers or perhaps marines. "Six troops killed in ambush" is a typical newspaper headline. As is usually the case when a word is misused,one can't prevent this. The best I can do is to deplore it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

School's Out by Alison Boulton

For various reasons, my blog this week is belated, but I am taking the opportunity of posting with her consent an article written by a friend of mine, who is an occasional columnist for the Oxford Mail. Here it is: School’s out, and Oxford rejoices in its young families and confident, sassy teenagers. The summer stretches ahead with its long, lazy days and reversal of routine. Spare a thought for those other schoolchildren somewhere in the forests of Northern Nigeria: the 223 young girls snatched from their school in Chibok at gunpoint, and taken by force into the jungle, separated from everything they know, and faced with a new world order: subjugated in religion, lifestyle, liberty and matrimony. With their adult lives ahead of them: education promised them something infinitely precious: freedom of choice. Choice of career, marriage partner, location and belief – all have been seized – snuffed out in their brutal abduction by Boko Haram soldiers. The name means rejection of Western Education. But have they and their imagined futures been obliterated forever? It’s not yet clear. They may never be heard of again: their young lives and hopes absorbed in a new society. The old society of their families, religion and state may reject them yet: too difficult to extract, to rehabilitate, to marry off, blighted by alien captivity. For centuries, women have been carried off by force, and if kept alive, integrated into the societies of their captors – the spoils of war. The remarkable thing is that in an age when Michelle Obama – the wife of the most powerful man in the world - can pose with a slogan card that reads ‘Bring Back our Girls’ for a global audience, the Nigerian Government seems powerless to act effectively to both protect and rescue these, its most vulnerable and innocent citizens. Courageous teenage campaigner Malala Yousafzai has flown from Britain to Nigeria to highlight the missing girls’ plight, meeting President Goodluck Jonathan, in an attempt to refocus the world’s attention and action on behalf of Malala’s fellow school girls. When she visited Oxford some months ago, Malala spoke of the hunger for education among girls worldwide – and the lack of opportunities so many face. While Oxford students rose to their feet and applauded her before she’d said a word, Malala looked around the famously shabby Debating Chamber of Oxford Union - with awe. Standing beneath a portrait of Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated President of Pakistan, and one-time President of the Union, Malala declared the following: ‘Superpowers should not be judged on the size of their armies, or the range and power of their nuclear arsenals. They should be judged on the number of children in school. That is what I would like to see,’ She spoke of the beauty of Pakistan’s Swat Valley which she and her family were forced to leave after the attack on her school bus by the Taliban, which left her severely injured, and several of her school friends too. What kind of political or religious movement targets school children? Two at least – Boko Haram and the Taliban - who are gaining political power. Both seek to obliterate womens’ education. So Oxford, enjoy your school holidays. You don’t know how lucky you are to have a school to return to in the autumn.

Monday, July 28, 2014


In sport, such as football, the meaning of he word is clear. It opposes the other team,'s offense. When it comes to politics, George Orwell would have appreciated the distortion of the word's meaning. We have a Defense department, successor to the former War Department. In the UK, although the word is spelled "defence", it is the same concept: it refers to all the armed forces. The Israeli force that has destroyed much of Gaza's infrastructure is the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force. Lately, a more appropriate name might reflect its role in aggressive actions against Palestinians.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Death Penalty

A federal judge in Southern California has said that the death penalty in California is unconstitutional, on the grounds that it causes cruel and unusual punishment. I think that it is about time for such a decision, with well over 400 people (mostly male "minorities") on "death row". There is probably still a majority of voting Californians who approve of the death penalty, despite the views of most state legislators, etc. Although I personally oppose the death penalty, I continue to believe that this is a decision for the majority of voters. However, when I read that it may take as long a twenty-five years to exhaust all the appeals and other delays, I agree with the judge's reasoning. Most developed countries have done away with the death penalty. If it needs to be retained in the USA, there also needs to be a limit to delays because of appeals, etc. I don't expect such legislation to pass, and so I strongly hope that the judge's decision will hold up against any appeals.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A federal judge in Southern California has said that the death penalty in California is unconstitutional, on the grounds that it causes cruel and unusual punishment. I think that it is about time for such a decision, with well over 400 people (mostly male "minorities") on "death row". There is probably still a majority of voting Californians who approve of the death penalty, despite the views of most state legislators, etc. Although I personally oppose the death penalty, I continue to believe that this is a decision for the majority of voters. However, when I read that it may take as long a twenty-five years to exhaust all the appeals and other delays, I agree with the judge's reasoning. Most developed countries have done away with the death penalty. If it needs to be retained in the USA, there also needs to be a limit to delays because of appeals, etc. I don't expect such legislation to pass, and so I strongly hope that the judge's decision will hold up against any appeals.

Monday, July 14, 2014


It's hardly a vice, but perhaps it is a bad habit: I seldom decline to respond to a survey online. Some of these ask questions about income and/or assets and my honest responses lead me to questions about such luxuries as expensive watches or upmarket clothing. I'm really not interested in either of these items. Longines is the name of a long-established Swiss watch maker, and I do have a relatively inexpensive Longines watch that I bought many years ago for perhaps $20. I'm really not interested in gold watches, and I am absolutely content with the silver case of my Longines. However, it needs to be wound up daily, so it is now my "spare". In its place, I use an inexpensive Casio wristwatch, which never needs winding. It keeps perfect time, as I know when I check the time on my cell phone. I used to own a beautiful gold pocket watch, which had belonged to my father. It is a luxurious object, which was presented to him on some special occasion. It has become an heirloom, to be passed down to one of my sons. There must be very few American men who still make use of pocket watches. Wristwatches are also often not found on the arms of younger men. Personally, I still prefer to lift an arm to tell the time, rather than reach into a pocket to see the time on my cell phone. Perhaps in fifty years' time, my Longines will be treated as an heirloom in its turn. What fate is in store for my inexpensive Casio?

Monday, July 7, 2014

At work on a Holiday

I am writing this on July 4, and for good reasons, more than one person is working here today, by choice. It brings back a happy memory from 1949, when I was one of four officers in a Wreck Dispersal vessel. (Our job was to blow up ships that had been sunk in shallow waters, in order to allow for unfettered navigation.) We would always return to harbor for holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, and Whit Monday, traditional holidays in the UK. Two of my fellow officers were married, and the third was "dating", as we would say these days. I was very popular, because we always needed to have one officer on board, and I would volunteer for this, to allow the others to spend the holiday with their loved ones. The task on which we were engaged required many long hours, seven days a week, and so we were allowed sixty days of "leave" (vacation) in a year. I was the Navigating Officer, and rather enjoyed the work. When we were within sight of land, we referred to my work as "pilotage", a task which was greatly assisted by what was then a new invention, allowing us to fix our position within a hundred yards or so, thanks to the intersection of three radio beams from shore-based positions. I greatly enjoyed the quiet days when I was in charge of the ship while the other officers were on leave. I spent most of my time reading, with minimal interruptions.When working on a wreck, HMS Annet could carry out its task in coastal waters without me, so I took my leave when it suited me. However, I did envy my colleagues who had female companionship when they were on leave. My first "relationship" was still over a year in the future.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Semantic Slide

I am by nature a "purist" as far as the English language is concerned. Nevertheless, I recognize that the meanings of words change with time. When the British adopted the German word Blitzkrieg, they were not referring to lightning warfare, but the extended almost-nightly bombing of London and its environs in 1940 and subsequent years. A much-abused word is "troop". We still see some usage of it in its original form meaning essentially a body of soldiers: "Troop 7" refers to a unit of Boy Scouts. It is one of those words which is convenient for headline writers, in phrases such as "six troops killed in Tikrit". In other words it has become a synonym for individual soldiers. It is acceptable in the plural: "Syrian troops enter Aleppo". Although I don't like this development in meaning, there is no way that I can "stop the tide from coming in". The only satisfaction that I can obtain is to express my dismay, while I learn to live with it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Men are from Mars...

There is a very convenient built-in shelf in our shower cabinet, It holds a container of shampoo belonging to one of the owners--and seven containers of assorted unguents belonging to the other. I bet you can guess which is His and which is Hers.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Here in the U.S., when someone suffers from a cold, we discourage others from getting too close while the sufferer is still "contagious". In the U.K., one would use the term "infectious", while " contagious" refers to actual physical contact.. In the nineteenth century, the U.K Parliament passed the first version of the:Contagious Diseases Act. This authorized the police at Naval ports and Amy bases to detain prostitutes for examination. If they had a venereal disease, they were taken to a "Lock Hospital", and kept there, in an age when few means of cure were known. Although "contagion" was by no means limited to VD, to this day when words related to "contagious" are used they bring VD to mind. So, if a Brit is told that someone is still "contagious", it might be helpful to clarify that the speaker may simply suggest that you avoid coming too close to avoid catching that cold.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Expensive Penalty

A young man (probably deranged) climbed up on the roof of his vehicle, and took aim on a Longmont police officer. Fortunately, when he fired, he completely missed . Found guilty on two separate charges related to this incident, he has been sentenced to a total of 72 years in prison. Taxpayers will be paying out thousands of dollars, and he may spend most of the rest of his life in captivity. I'm in no position to judge whether he should be in a mental hospital, but this sentence seems to meet the test of "cruel and unusual punishment".' How can this punishment be said to fit the crime?

Monday, June 2, 2014

The VA Problems

People tell me that if only we had a "single-payer" health system, there would be no problem to solve: veterans would be folded into the system. But that's not going to happen in my lifetime. I know of no other country that has set up a separate bureaucracy for its veterans. We have to deal with political reality. It might be sensible to transfer aging veterans to Medicare, but that's not going to happen. The realistic way of dealing with the unconscionable delays for those veterans waiting more than a brief period for initial examination and treatment, is to authorize them to be seen (without charge to them) by a "civilian" health provider until they can be accepted by the VA system. The taxpayers will need to pay for this.

Friday, May 30, 2014

"Strong" Verbs

I seldom see this used here in the USA, so perhaps I should explain its usage in English. An example may help: the past tense of "sit" is "sat". I really don't understand why Americans who would readily agree that a machine gun "spat" it's bullets would report that someone "spit" out something from their mouth. Why not "spat"? I would say the same thing about another word which rhymes with that example, but delicacy and the reader's imagination make this unnecessary. There is another form of the past tense in English in which American usage and that of the British differ: Brits would say, for example, that a new coat "fitted" them very well: American usage would be that it "fit" the wearer. Of course, this is just one of many linguistic differences. When I arrived in the USA with my late first wife, she really did crack up our hosts on our travels across the country when she asked the man of the house to "knock her up" in the morning, using a common British expression that simply meant to awaken her.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Death Penalty

Although I am personally opposed to the Death Penalty, which seems barbaric to me, I do believe that the people of a state should have the right to retain it by popular vote. It does bother me that most of the states that do retain such a punishment probably tend to have voters who see it as a means of protection against persons of color. But I am totally opposed to the system which allows many years between a guilty verdict and closure of the case (either by proceeding with the death penalty or commuting the penalty, or perhaps exonerating the accused). I recently read of a case in California finally closed after more than twenty years. Justice delayed is justice denied. Unfortunately, well-meant attempts to limit the time for appeal require action by legislatures. The beneficiaries of such delays are lawyers, who make up a large proportion of the elected legislators. One can detect a distinct reluctance to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs that enrich the members of their profession.

Monday, May 12, 2014


This has become something of a buzz word, primarily because of its use in describing the administration's reduced emphasis on Europe, and an increase of concerns about Asia. It is also a trademark or a brand of instant messaging. It is a common term in sport, particularly in basketball. One sense is for turning with one foot moving, with the other staying in the same place. Another but somewhat less common word, meaning much the same thing, is "swivel". For a ballet dancer, I suppose that "pirouette" means much the same thing.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Political Labels

I saw recently that the term "liberal" has become associated with the far left. It is suggested that we call ourselves "progressives" instead. Many years ago, when I saw myself as a liberal, an Episcopal church curate, in response to something I had said, remarked (with a laugh) "Nigel, no one would ever accuse you of being a radical". I accept the truth in that, but it seemed to paint me as being far more conservative than I felt, or even acted. This was at about the time that I drove down to the United Farm Workers headquarters in Delano, to hand Cesar Chavez a check from my parish. I also spent one day marching with the farm workers on their way to Sacramento. On another occasion, about a dozen years ago in Colorado, a friend described me to someone else (in my hearing) as being a "Progressive". That is not a label I would choose for myself, although I support progressive taxation, as is our present system in the USA. From time to time I respond to a survey, which asks which political party I support. When I respond accurately "Democratic", the next question is often "Are you a strong or not so strong Democrat?" I choose the latter option. I am by nature something of a centrist, a suppoeter of the Establishment in a democratic society. I am certainly somewhat left of center, but not as far left as is Barbara. When I grew up in England, my family was a supporter of the Conservative party, often called the "Tories". When I was at Oxford, I was a member of the Bow Group, still a Tory, but very much on the left of that party's attitudes. At that time, the Tories published a pamphlet: Change is Our Ally. When I showed this to an older, more truly conservative, friend, he expressed some difference from the whole idea. I guess "Moderate Liberal" is abut as accurate a label as possible for me. In truth, it depends on the issue. I have some stocks in oil companies, but I strongly support issues of women's health and the Environment , for example

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Universal Adjective

You know the word of which I am thinking, but I'm somewhat old-fashioned, so I will not show it here. Instead, I will use the asterisk symbol. When I was sixteen, I wrote a story in English class, in which one of the characters would certainly have used *. Knowing that this would not be appreciated by the English Master, I substituted the word "copulating". The English Master was not amused. Until recent years * was used mainly in speech. There were some folk who could hardly complete a sentence without at least one *. It did not appear in newspapers or books: such usage was taboo. Times have changed. Two of my favorite writers of fiction, both of whom have been published for at least twenty years, have recently decided to print * in their works of fiction. Patricia Cornwell uses it judiciously. The last book by John le Carré that I read- I think it was A Delicate Truth- the text is peppered with *. My biggest shock was reading Pastrix, by a Lutheran woman pastor. So far, all I have read is the introduction, where I found two *. O tempora! O mores!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dumbing down?

A recent announcement told us that revisions to the SAT were underway. One was the omission of certain words that were not used in college or career atmospheres. However, a study guide includes such words as: phlegmatic, punctilious, and occlusion, which are slated to disappear from the tests. The SAT is published by a for-profit company. Lately, it has been losing ground to a rival test, the ACT. I can perfectly well understand why the publisher needs to make changes if it is to continue to sell its product to educational establishments. However, the SAT results are not simply pass/fail tests: the totals give some guidance for the educational establishment purchasing the service. There is another reason why I wish this change were not being made. A secondary purpose of the testing is to encourage students to make use of a wider vocabulary, not just to make use of less common words, such as those listed above, but also to help them understand such words in printed form, whether in books for study or books for personal enrichment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The "Cuban Twitter"

This week, our Sunday paper carried an op/ed article about the folly of an attempt to destabilize the regime in Cuba by developing a social network site called "Zunzuneo". (This is usually referred to as the "Cuban Twitter".) Citing congressional criticism, the article characterized this as a "dumb idea", pointed out that (despite denials), there had been a half-baked attempt to hide the source of our efforts, and an unnecessary link to the Agency for International Development (USAID), which should steer clear of controversial issues. While I certainly agree with these three criticisms, I am also distressed that the administration is treating Cuba to "Cold War" tactics. We criticize Putin for destabilizing Ukraine, and yet we spend resources to destabilize the Cuban regime. It is understandable that there are aspects of life in Cuba which are disliked by most Americans, but I consider it unforgivable for us to try to undermine the Cuban regime. We turn a blind eye to many of the activities of our "allies", such as Saudi Arabia. It seems hypocritical for us to engage is such behavior. One wonders who suggested this stupid idea, and what senior official approved it. It "smells" like a CIA operation, but we may never know who was responsible for this idiocy. Are some of our people still smarting over the humiliating debacle of the Bay of Pigs?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Donner und Blitzen!

No, I am not referring to two of Santa's reindeer, nor uttering a mild imprecation in German. Thunder and lightning sound better to my ears in German, and this is a report of an unusual happening in Berkeley. I grew up frequently hearing thunder and lightning in the UK, and they are a common occurrence, usually in the afternoon when we are staying at our place in Colorado. I remember being shown, as a child, the function of a lightning conductor, and I was very glad that our Berkeley home is equipped with one. The lightning actually struck our house, and someone working at a computer in my office observed a blue flash appearing on my computer screen. I was relieved to find out that everything was still working when I next went online. "Blitz" is most familiar from its use in the word "blitzkrieg". I and my fellow countrymen became very familiar with that term: the German invasion of Poland and Denmark were certainly examples of lightning warfare. Defeat did not come so rapidly in Norway or the Low Countries, nor did the Nazis succeed in Hitler's plans to invade Britain. The German aerial warfare on London and elsewhere in the British Isles began in 1940. It was anything but a lightning success for the Luftwaffe. Nevertheless, the term "the Blitz" became embedded in the English language, referring to the years of aerial attacks.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


I recently finished the latest book by Laurie R. King: The Bones of Paris. There was mention of a popular park, the Bois de Boulogne. It reminded me of a song, which was popular when I was a child, which went something like this: He walks along the Bois de Boulogne with an independent air you can hear the crowds declare he must be a millionaire! He's the man that broke the bank at Monte Carlo I also remember that when I was at a farewell gathering of business friends before leaving for the United States in the fall of 1957, someone suggested jokingly that they would expect to hear from me when I had earned my first million dollars! By comparison with my earnings in the UK, my remuneration for my first job ($375 a month) seemed generous- and this was despite having achieved a rare distinction at the Royal Insurance company of having my salary doubled a few years earlier. In those days, American millionaires were probably mostly- if not all- in the top 1% of earners. Times change, and nowadays one has to become a billionaire to be considered really rich! Originally, one was considered a millionaire if ones total assets, including one's equity in a residence, totaled a million dollars. If we continued to use that yardstick, a significant proportion of Americans who own their own homes would qualify. I think it is time to limit the term to the fortunate folk who have an annual income of one million dollars. I certainly would not qualify under that definition!

Friday, March 28, 2014

"Off of"

I believe this combination of two prepositions is unique to American speech. Why is that second word needed? If a man fell off his horse, why report that he fell "off of" his horse?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ethnic Russians

It is easy to understand why Putin brought about the events which have resulted in the Crimea apparently on its way to become part of Russia once again. In the middle of the 19th century, Russia lost the Crimean War to the combined forces of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. That episode from so long ago is still an unhappy memory for many Russians. With Russian troops massed along the Ukrainian border, Putin is now promising to "protect" ethnic Russians living in such countries as Latvia, Belarus, Poland, and Moldova, as well as Ukraine. This results in destabilizing most of the European countries on Russia's borders. Although I do not expect a major war to break out, it is possible that we shall see parts of eastern and southern Ukraine swallowed up by the big, bad, bullying, Bear. What we don't hear is any cries for help from the sizable Russian minorities in these countries. I think that most such inhabitants are more comfortable staying in these peaceful and relatively moderate nations. I do not expect any clamor for these minorities to be "rescued" by forming part of Russia's repressive regime.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I was an avid tree-climber as a boy. Although we had a large garden at Dovers, the family home, there weren't many suitable trees for climbing. However, there were wonderful opportunities at my prep school, Port Regis. I formed a "Tree Climbing Club", and taught many other boys the best routes. In my mid-twenties, living in the Wirral peninsula of Cheshire. I enjoyed solo climbing in the mountains of North Wales. What I was doing would be called "bouldering" by Shannon these days. I barely remember climbing with others on a rope, although I probably did this a few times. These memories surfaced recently as a result of news accounts of the damage being done by climbers insisting on conquering Everest, the world's highest mountain. The days of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who accompanied him on his historic conquest of the mountain, are long over. Hundreds of climbers from various countries have made the ascent, usually leaving a lot of debris behind them, including mounds of excrement. Some clean-up has taken place, but the mountain is still littered with debris. Recently, four corpses were removed from the mountain, victims of failed attempts to reach the summit. It is not cheap to climb Everest. I saw an estimate of the range between $30,000 and $120,000 as the cost for an American team to purchase, transport, and use the equipment needed. Part of the cost is needed to purchase a permit from the state of Nepal. Suggestions have been made to eliminate or (more likely) curtail the number of climbers, but apparently this would have a major effect on the Nepalese economy. There are many other mountains in the Himalayas which would challenge mountaineers, such as K2 and Kanchenjunga, and it would be desirable to divert most future climbers to one of these challenges. However, I don't think that any action would prevent those who are determined enough - and wealthy enough - to attempt an ascent of Everest. Perhaps we should rename that mountain "Neverest".

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The US has eliminated most racist nicknames, but one example remains: the Washington Redskins. The team owner (Dan Snyder) says he will never change the name. There will be continuing pressure for him to do so. We have "Giants" in baseball and football as well, so we could just as well use the name "Washington Capitals", despite it being the name of an ice hockey franchise. We could use "Senators", no longer used for the capital's baseball team.An alternative would be "Washington Redwings", despite another ice hockey team, the Detroit Red Wings. "Red socks" would upset the Boston Red Sox. "Red Legs" doesn't sound great, and I don't think that the "Washington Irvings" would fly. I believe that there should be a contest to come up with a new name. Maybe we could consider three options, and allow the fans to choose a favorite. I know a professor who specializes in Sports Marketing, and I think I'll seek his advice.

Monday, February 24, 2014

31 missed calls

We have 3 separate phones for the single landline in our Berkeley home. The main phone is in the kitchen, but there are also phones in the office space in Barbara's room. and in my office. Few calls on this line are for me, as most friends know that I have a personal cell phone, which I carry around. Often, when Barbara is out, I can't reach the landline in time to answer it..That's why we pay a little extra for an answering service. We both make charitable contributions, but Barbara is ahead of me in giving to political causes. Many of the recipients of her bounty exchange names and phone numbers for what I call their "sucker lists". Most of those who solicit donations from Barbara don't leave messages: they hang up and make their "pitch" at a later time. The phone in my office shows the number of unanswered calls: currently, it shows 31.I have no idea how to erase this statistic--perhaps it deletes a missed call after a month. I admire the technology, but I dislike it. I can't see that the number of unanswered calls is of any relevance to us. Not only is the information unnecessary, but also there's an implication of negligence on our part. How could we be so lazy as not to answer these 31 calls--most of which were probably to ask Barbara for money?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Warming Oven

I consider this the best way of keeping hot food at least reasonably warm, before it is served. I don't think many homes have one, but when our kitchen was remodeled many years ago, I successfully held out for the installation of a warming oven. It is a capacious oven, set alongside the kitchen range, with a switch to adjust the level of heat desired. We use it almost every day. There is no warming oven at our second home in Colorado, so we use a different system there. Above the range are two racks, one on each side, with separate controls for heat and for light. It works pretty well, without the nuances possible with a warming oven. It certainly helps this stickler for warm food at breakfast time.

Monday, February 10, 2014


The same urge I have to "straighten out" people who (IMHO) have the facts wrong has a more benign manifestation in my love of "sorting".I really enjoyed my undergraduate years as a mail sorter during the Christmas season. I was assigned the "West Road", mail from the main Tunbridge Wells post office where we worked, destined for the western and south-western areas of England. There were two frames for the West Road, with "pigeonholes" (slots) for the principal cities and towns, and a slot for "other" destinations. I never needed a second sorter, and I also set up many slots for lesser known towns, lessening the work for the sorters who accompanied the mail on the trains for the west. My thorough and speedy work so impressed my full-time colleagues that on my last day I was presented with a touching handwritten document, signed by all of them, congratulating me for single-handedly covering the West Road. The good side of my enjoyment of sorting is that there are times when this can be helpful for others. The bad side is when I take the time to "straighten out" someone unnecessarily, often for a trivial reason. Fortunately, there is a harmless way of "feeding" my obsession. When I first work on my computer most mornings, and before I go to bed, I usually play a form of solitaire known as "Free Cell". This almost always comes out for me, and my actual success rate is about 98%. I perfectly well understand how I am wasting time, but if it reduces my "need" to correct everybody else's errors, it is well worth while. My other outlet is my monthly work as proof reader and copy editor for the parish magazine. I bask in the compliments that I receive for this work.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cold toast

One of my responsibilities as a husband is to consume what otherwise would be wasted leftovers. Recently, Barbara brought back some cold toast from a breakfast joint. On it I spread a little Marmite, and it soon went "down the hatch". This reminded me that many years ago, perhaps as early as 1957, I brought a "toast rack" from the UK. Toast and marmalade is a staple of British breakfasts, and it is normal for several pieces of cold toast to put in to a rack set on the table. With the third meal of the day in Britain, known as "tea", one may find warm toast, kept from getting cold by being placed in a cunning metal container, with a bowl of hot water placed under the plate of toast, with a cover placed on it. (This same container is sometimes used for another occasional feature of British "tea time".) There is a popular savory spread in the UK, called "Patun Peperiun" spread on warm toast, I prefer this to the alternative, toast and jam.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


We had a little drizzle this morning, just about enough to dampen the sidewalks. It wasn't much, but it was certainly welcome. Weeks ago, it was evident that less rain would be arriving this winter than the normal amount. The reaction to this has been measured, a polite way of saying that it has been very slow. We have had suggestions for a voluntary 20% cut in water use, but little else. I believe that it would have been better to impose mandatory cutbacks and more specific directions. The watering of lawns could have been forbidden, or at least restricted to one or two days a week. I expect more restrictive steps to be implemented soon. On January 27, the San Francisco Chronicle printed my letter urging this About 30 years ago, when I was specializing in professional liability insurance for architects and engineers, I attended an annual conference of what was then known as the California Council of Civil Engineers and Land Surveyors (CCCELS). I heard a very interesting presentation and discussion on the use of secondary water lines. At least one community, probably in Southern California, had developed a secondary water system, with the pipes painted blue, to distinguish them from the domestic water supply, using highly treated potable water. The less highly-treated water was used for irrigation, saving money and making it possible to keep the lawns green during a dry season. Of course, it took some capital outlay to set up this system, but the payback was worth it. Ideas to prepare for drought seem to have no traction during times of "normal" weather. As our population increases marginally, and demand for water grows, it is time that we took some serious action to mitigate the effects of a prolonged drought. If this does not happen in the remaining years of my lifetime, it will become an unwelcome burden to our grandchildren.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Minimum Wage

In the recent past, the age of 21 was key in many respects. It is still important these days for such concerns as the legal age for consuming alcohol. However, one becomes an adult at 18. I greeted this change with some appreciation, having become a member of the Armed Forces at age of 17, exposed to the possibility of being killed in action, it seemed only fair that I could vote at 18. I do support an increase in the current federal minimum wage. California is among several states that already have a higher minimum wage. However, I am aware of the millions of unemployed young people in our country. I am not alone in thinking that there might well be a differential, to encourage initial employment of young adults. This could be phased in so that it would not reduce the hourly rate of those already in employment. My hope would be that it would encourage employers to find work for those under (say) 21, although I realize that the effect of such a change is debatable.

Monday, January 13, 2014

More on the Death Penalty

My personal position remains unchanged: I am not personally in favor of the death penalty, but I do believe that it is reasonable for any decision on this matter to be made after public debate and decision making. I believe that it is appropriate for each political entity qualified to reach a decision on this matter to make it's own choice. This morning I read of a man who had been sentenced to death in 1989, whose conviction has now been overturned. It seemed probable that he was the only person responsible for the crime, but the courts have determined that the witness's identification of the perpetrator was insufficient and unsupported. Let me make it clear that I have no quarrel with the court's conclusion. I certainly understand why the accused's family and friends would do everything in their power to keep him alive. However, in my opinion the lengthy delay in reaching a conclusion is unacceptable. I believe that there should always be a final date for the filing of any appeal of a conviction, especially one which might result in the imposition of the death penalty. The desire of the victim's family and friends for "closure" is totally understandable. I don't have a strong opinion on the timing of any final appeals, but it seems to me that two years might be appropriate.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Gender Issues

In past years, gender was strictly a grammatical term. It is now used for a person's sex. Here I use the word in this latter sense. Each of the following phrases has a distinct but related meaning: 1. Gender preference. Although this may be illegal, as in employment advertising, the concept certainly exists. I recently used the idea for myself, making a list of what I was looking for, in an opening for live-in help. I was open to the idea of a man, but thought it probable that we would be selecting a female. 2. Gender equality We still have a long way to go to reach this ideal, in which a person's gender is irrelevant. 3. Gender balance. When males and females are both eligible for positions in (say) a company, one achieves gender balance by arranging for the successful applicants to be roughly in proportion to the respective genders. 4. Gender neutrality. This is an ideal which is seldom achieved. A person's gender is simply not considered, one way or another. A potential problem is that this may give the perception that the result is out of desirable balance.