Monday, August 29, 2011

For Whom the Tabs Toll

I've always been self-conscious about my use (or lack thereof) of whom, especially in spoken English. Now I feel just a bit vindicated. Mike Pope writes that whom is unnecessary in spoken English:

You will not find native speakers hunting around for guidance on the difference between I and me or between he and him. That's because native speakers don't need that guidance. However, there are many pages on the web...that explain the distinction between who and whom. If native speakers of a language — including many people who obviously read and write just fine — need schooling to learn a feature of their native grammar, that feature of the grammar is on artificial life support.
The disappearance of whom would be just fine with Mike:
Some people disagree. For example, some people think that if we lose whom, we lose an important grammatical distinction in the language. My thot: many grammatical features of English have disappeared without damaging the expressiveness of the language: an entire case (dative), all gender distinction in nouns, almost all verbal conjugations in regular verbs (except 3rd singular), and the distinction between informal and formal second person (thou/you). For each of these, you could argue that they represented important grammatical markers, and they were. But they disappeared anyway, and we don't really miss them today.
Now if I can just get it eliminated from the requirements of written English, too.

I quite enjoyed this op-ed by Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect, pointing out the inconsistencies in Republican tax polemics. All taxes are bad, right, including ones that were cut only for a specified time, like the Bush tax cuts. But the temporary decrease in the payroll tax, which primarily benefits lower and middle-class workers, doesn't count somehow:
In an editorial this weekend, the Wall Street Journal termed the payroll tax reduction “an inferior tax cut,” arguing that tax cuts should be “broad-based, immediate and permanent.” Broad-based? The payroll tax cut, which the Journal dismisses so contemptuously, benefits every employed American, while the tax cuts the paper champions — on capital gains and millionaires’ income — accrue to a far smaller group. Immediate? Unlike taxes paid annually or quarterly, the payroll tax is drawn from each paycheck from the moment the law takes effect. Permanent? The payroll tax is the tax that funds Social Security, so reducing it really can’t be a permanent policy. But the impermanence of the Bush tax cuts, which had been set to expire this year but were extended, presented no obstacle to the Journal’s fervent support for them.
Banking economist George Magnus, writing for Bloomberg of all places, made a similar argument in favor of payroll tax cuts. And he even mentioned Marx. Sheesh.

I occasionally engage in what I guess could be considered criticism (with a capital C), though I have no bona fides that qualify me to do so. John Scalzi schooled me today on the four possible goals of criticism: consumer reporting, exegesis, instruction, and polemic. All in typical Scalzian style; well worth a read.

If you have time, check out this video of James Baldwin debating William F. Buckley in the U.K. on the question of whether the American Dream is predicated on the subjugation of "the Negro" (my recollection of the question, not exactly how it was worded). This short segment shows only Baldwin's response... I have to dig up the other parts as well as find the time to watch them all.

What would it take to make clean drinking water available to everyone? Not much, as it turns out.

A friend clued me in to inventor and water engineer Michael Pritchard's Lifesaver bottle. Their filters remove everything down to 15 nanometers, which includes all known bacteria and viruses. Pritchard describes and demonstrates the bottle at a TED talk, complete with rabbit poop in the water. The bottle filters come in 4,000 and 6,000 liter models; the larger jerrycans in 10,000 and 20,000 liter models, the latter of which would supply enough water for a family of four over three years.

Michael Pritchard with his Lifesaver bottle
While the bottles and jerrycans are not super cheap (you can buy one for between $160 and $400, depending on the model, with replacement filters a bit cheaper than that), they're commercially available and cheaper than the projected price of Dean Kamen's Slingshot water purification system, which up until the Lifesaver had sounded like the best distributed system.

Maybe the Gates Foundation will pull a few billion dollars out of funding dysfunctional school testing efforts and put clean water in the hands of those who need it most. As Steward Brand wrote in Whole Earth Discipline, "It is so important to free up newly urbanized women from their traditional role as fetchers of water and fuel that, as the UN report drily suggests, 'the provision of water standpipes may be far more effective in enabling women to undertake income-earning activities than the provision of skills training'."

1 comment:

Crystal said...

You might not find native speakers hunting around for guidance on the difference between he and him, but I wish they would. I hear variations of "Him and I went to the store" nearly every day, by people who should know better, and it sounds like nails on a chalkboard.