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!