Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Monday, August 30, 2004

Greenspan's Big Idea

Wonderful idea, Mr. Greenspan. Since we all live longer, we should all work longer before we get Social Security. It's brilliant, except for a few small details.

1. Not everyone gets to work with their intellect, like Greenspan. When you work with your muscles, you may be a lot older at 65 than he is at 78.

2. Not everyone is getting older, just people well enough off to have health insurance and a decent standard of living.

3. Exactly how are most of us going to work at good jobs into our 70s, when the most fashionable prejudice in the working world is ageism? I left marketing for technical writing, at 47, because in the former field, one was too old to contribute after 45. One of the reasons I've left technical writing is that, at 57, I "can't learn new things (because I'm old.)"
During the eight months since my last IT job, I've learned fencing, medieval and renaissance tailoring, Welsh, and medical terminology. During the next eight, I'll learn anatomy, physiology, and health care administratrion for my new career. God, it's tough to be too old to learn.

The economic and demographic imperative is that people can and should be able to work as long as they wish. That should not eliminate the responsibilities of a decent government to see that older citizens aren't dying in ditches for want of food, shelter and health care.

The imperatives of unmanaged American capitalism run counter to this. We are rather close to a future in which one's "career" spans the ages of 25 to 45. If you're under 25, you're too young to fit in. If you're over 45, you're too expensive, too old to learn, or would be bored.

So, to make Mr. Greenspan's vision succeed, I'm spending a year learning the new things I'm allegedly unable to learn, to pursue a new occupation that pays about half what my old one did. That's because I'm too expensive and too easily bored.

Saturday, August 07, 2004


Dw i'n dysgu 'n Cymraeg, ac dw i'n hoffi.

I'm learning Welsh, and I like it.

Why? Why not? Does one ask an Italian-American why she or he learns Italian?

It's my native language. My grandparents spoke some Welsh, what I now recognise as the rather half-ass bastard tongue which good Welsh Socialists promoted at the start of the 20th century, but Welsh of a sort. My father, in the traditional mould, stopped learning it when they came here, part of the old assimilation thing. I've spent 50-odd years busily doing the opposite of what my Dad wanted, so I suppose this is one more act of rebellion.

Welsh (which is having a rather successful revival, for many reasons) is also fun because it is decidedly, and defiantly, not English. We're encouraged to speak English as the lingua franca of the global economy. Well, I'm more or less retired at 57 thanks to the global economy, which hasn't made me feel very friendly toward that idea. I don't mind a lingua franca as long as its advocates don't insist I use it exclusively.

I've also spent much of my working life working with words under American English usage. In my retirement, I'm devolving back to the British English of my childhood. Even if the Labour Government has kissed the arse of American Imperial pretensions, the average bloke in the UK has not, so enough of American, thank you.

Welsh is not a cake-walk but it's a hell of lot simpler than German and, when you get down to it, simpler than English. One has only to memorise most of those scary looking combinations and the mystery fades. One is left with a remarkably lean and colourful language. OK, "LL" is an exception (yn lladdwr am Saeson, a Saxon-killer) which requires some lingual calisthenics to acquire.

The idea annoys the hell out of the same people who can't pronounce my name, and that's appealing. It's in-yo-face to the American "intelligence" agents who shadowed a Welsh insurance broker because they thought his name sounded Arabic. Finally, the attempt is reportedly good for free cab fares and rounds of beer from Welsh who are delighted when Americans have a go at Welsh. That would lend interest to any trip back home to use the ancestral to^ bach. Imagine what might happen if more Americans tried learning more foreighn languages. We might really have a global economy.

Gay Marriage: BOO!!

The little engine that drives American life in general, and issues involving religion in particular, is hypocrisy. The gay marriage issue has the legs it has because some of the true believers forgot that, and think politicians are really trying to protect families.

Most pronouncements of the American Family Association (AFA) make me giggle, but any that have to do with "the homosexual agenda" are particularly out there.

The "agenda" is the shocking notion that people's civil rights depend on their citizenship as Americans, not what they do under the covers. The AFA would rather no one wondered what would happen if insurance bean counters and government agencies simply recognised all domestic partnerships as civil contracts eligible for joint benefits. They could include gay and lesbian partnerships, children who forgo marriage to care for aging parents, or people like my wife's aunt and uncle, a brother and sister who lived together for 90 years. Why should any of these arrangements not have the financial advantages of civil contracts executed between opposie sex partners?

Oh...right...we NEED breeders! We haven't got enough people on the planet. Enter the hypocrites. Holy Mother Church, with its feet firmly planted in 1404, has proclaimed again that procreation is the sole purpose of marriage. Now, try being Catholic and getting a divorce because your spouse hasn't put out for 15 years. I know a quiet, conservative couple who knew they could not have children before they were married. Are they entitled to their marriage benefits?

We could simply step back from the window dressing and have a spasm of candour about the issue. Once, just once, I want to hear one of the politicians, clergy, or lobbyists opposed to equal civil rights for same-sex partners tell the truth. Just one primal scream of "I HATE FAGS!"
They were happy enough to watch evangelicals bring children to the Mass. State House picket lines, and teach them to say they hated fags (in so many words).

We might then hope to hear Archbishop Sean (Trust-me-I-wear-a-beard) O'Malley admit that the Roman Catholic Church is playing its role to spin the clercial abuse scandal. Thoughtful Catholics know that that non-consensual sex between sexually immature priests, and altar boys, isn't about homosexuality but about power. If the Church didn't have this to play for a diversion, it might have to revisit the bankrupt concept of celibacy, the equally bankrupt idea of all-male clergy, and contend again with the truth that it is power, not sex, that is the surest corrupter.

But no: the hierachy is circling the wagons. For 150 years the people, the rank and file Catholics of the US, took the abuse and suspicion that all Papists took their political marching orders straight from Rome. Just when we'd about convinced them we don't, we do. For 150 years, those people literally spent their life's blood, gave the bread from their children's mouths, to build churches that were communities of belief. Now they're shuttered and sold for condos that few of the parishoners could afford, to pay the price of maintaining a celibate clergy and the prerogatives of priestly rank.

Granted, Catholic hypocrisy on the gay marriage issue is more subtle than that of evangelicals. One does have to peel way a couple layers of this onion to expose the rot. Most evangelicals just want what they've always had: "different" people who are willing to hide their difference, even if the act of hiding costs them all their self-respect or even their lives.

If you don't mind the spam, by the way, AFA doesn't vet the letters sent to Congress via it's email links. I've used the AFA several times to send messages to Congress supporting equal rights for same-sex couples.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

My real name...

is Bryn. It is a one-syllable masculine Welsh name, common in the British Isles but not even on the U.S. Census radar for male names. If you remember that you can pronounce the letter "y" as "ih" (as in "physical") it is easy to pronounce in English. My daughter, now an adult, had the name taped by age three. (Welsh is another matter, but unless you're a Welsh speaker, that's not your problem.)

All my life my name has been a useful intelligence test, and I have to say most people flunk. My observation after fifty-some years is that most Americans are lazy, stupid, arrogant, or all of the above when it comes to name recognition.

Let's parse that.

Most people hear me say my name and then say something else, usually Bryan, Byron or Byrne. Same goes for those who read it. I rarely bother to correct them any more. They just get one of Bill Engvall's signs and we go on from there. It's a helpful name to have in crowds: my daughter learnt very young to call out "Bryn" instead of "Dad," if we got separated.

Over the last generation, I've had to contend with the new breeds of arrogant American. One is the single-malt arrogance of people who assume that I'm unable to spell and pronounce my own name. Regrettably, many of these people find work either in human resources departments (or developing resume-screening software) and can't deal with anything but standard (and usually WASP) names. Such people and their software also assume I'm Bryan, Byron or Byrne, and a sloppy speller. I've even had a couple of these people tell me to my face that my name is Bryan.

I read the "advice" of one of these geniuses recently on a job-hunting Web site. H/she said smugly that s/he deletes any Word resume that has "those red error marks."

Well, D'uh. I've been in the name business as a subset of my occupations for a long while, and I don't think Word has more than two percent of possible individual, company and product names in its default dictionary. Has anyone done a poll to see whether John Smiths and Jane Joneses get more work than Teodoro Guzmans or Bryn Evanses? (And heaven help anyone who hasn't worked for The Redmond Goliath or its suppliers: Word has a very hard time with competitor names, even when you train it.)

The second brand of arrogance is the blended variety. The blended arrogant encompass the pseudo-Celtic cutesy name cult of the suburban bourgeoisie. They can't quite get their brains and tongues around the idea that, for instance, Caitlin is more or less pronounced "Kathleen" in Irish, so their daughters go into the world as someone they call "Kate-Lynn" (hello, Bubba, it's Katie Lynn: got a clue?) Some twenty years ago, one of the intellectual giants who publish books of baby names stumbled across "Bryn" and decided it was a cute girl's name, especially if you add "ne" to the end. The feminine equivalent of Bryn in Welsh is Branwen. This name, with its decidedly Wagnerian overtones, has yet to take off in pseudo-Celtic circles. Still, let's imagine what happens when one of these female Bryns reaches sensitive adolescence, happens to develop an interest in opera, and discovers that she shares her first name with a leading baritone? I don't think witness protection would help the parents.

Perhaps it's all ingenious Celtic revenge. The people most prone to these solecisms are the grandchildren of people who did their utmost to keep Celtic Americans from even graduating high school. In this generation, Celts at home may have a problem with the gender of the unfortunate offspring, but they'll have no problem deciding who the idiots are.


I believe it was Frederick The Great who said that God is on the side with the biggest battalions:
not any more. God * (there will be more on that abstraction, I guarantee) is now on the side with the fewest morons. At this moment in the "war on terror" we seem to have stalemate in the moron department.

Actually, I don't have a problem with the latest terror alert, only with the attendant media hype. It seems to me a damn sight wiser to be thinking about al-Qaeda's unfulfilled 2001 goals than to spin speculative webs about what they might do if they just had superpower resources.

First, the West in general and the U.S. in particular has a weakness for overestimating enemies. In the U.S., this goes back to the Civil War, when McClellan's Richmond spies exaggerated the size of Confederate forces by 400-500 percent. The UK and France did the same with Hitler in the mid-1930s. In both cases overestimation, and the result tendency to see the problems rather than the opportunities, resulted in longer and bloodier conflicts than should have been necessary.

Al-Qaeda--like most terrorist organisations-- doesn't reason. Terrorism is a pure act of the limbic system, the old brain, where all questions are black and white and all solutions violent.
Left to its own devices, the old brain will simply repeat an attempted solution until it succeeds or until it is killed. This is how crocodiles hunt, for instance. It follows that al-Qaeda will try anything that has worked (or is on the to-do list) before moving on to something new.

Being alert for unmet al-Qaeda objectives ideas does make sense. What would make even more sense is to cut the flow of new ideas. Rather than scare ourselves silly in public, we should be spinning what-if scenarios in private, and making realistic assessments of what a loose confederacy of terrorists can achieve with limited resources.

It would make sense if we had an administration which didn't think it has more to gain than to lose by maintaining a permanent threat. Regrettably, Republicans can be almost as limbic as terrorists. After all, permanent threat worked fine in the Cold War for domestic social control. There too, we overestimated an opponent who, when we began to play the threat card, would have had to throw turnips at us in retaliation. By the time we finished screwing around, the opoponent's capacities were real.

Follow this link for something missing from what Zbignew Brezinski calls our "pretend war:" a dose of common sense: