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Author Archives: Farrar Richardson

Save Social Security and Medicaire – Support Bernie Sanders

Today the issue of tax cuts for the wealthy is once again front and center in Washington, as part of the debate over how to reduce the federal deficit. And Mr. Sanders is once again talking, carving out a place for himself as the antithesis of the Tea Party and becoming a thorn in the side to some Democrats and Mr. Obama, who he fears will cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits as part of a deficit reduction deal.

This guy is the reason why I am a Socialist, and why I would move to Vermont if it weren’t so cold. He is precious.


Help Sooth This Obsessive Grammarian

I wasn’t always this way, but I spent a few years as an English teacher, which obliged me to bone up on fine grammar points. When most of my reading was confined to books and magazines, I didn’t see many errors. Now that I read so many blogs, however, I’m seeing more and more. It’s not quite driving me up the wall, but after several hours of blog reading the irritation builds.


When I see its/it’s errors or there/their/they’re mistakes, I actually feel a surge of anger, even though I know the writer was just in a hurry and probably didn’t have time to edit.


If get too upset I try to calm myself by recognizing that English is changing as languages do over time.These days everyone splits infinitives, which used to be frowned upon. I do it myself, although I still reflect to see if there is any way I can avoid the split without making my phrase awkward or unclear. Since Winston Churchill gave us permission, we no longer mind leaving prepositions at the end of sentences, as I just did back there.


And I guess I will have to be politically and socially correct and get used to “they” as a singular pronoun when the gender of the referent is not specified. I note, however, that some militants are consistently using she when gender is unknown, perhaps to atone for past sins of male chauvinists.


But there are a few errors I may never accept, such as using “different than” instead of “different from”. When we stop to think about it we remember that “different” is not a comparative adjective such as “bigger”. which would obviously be followed by “than”. 


On the subject of comparative adjectives, it may already be too late to save the word “fewer”. Practically everyone says, “I have a few coins”, but too many of us say and write, “I have less coins than he has”. As our sixth grade teachers reminded us, “less” is the comparative form of “little” and is reserved for uncountable things like “money”. Every day there are fewer bloggers who get this right. I may soon be the only one left.


It is certainly too late to try to save “try to do something”, when even polished writers are using “try and do something”. Strange! The latter version doesn’t even make sense. My sixth grade teacher was very tough about that, but she apparently didn’t get the word out to everyone.


I would also like to save the American subjunctive. I call it American because the English have already given up on it. I fear it’s too late because most English speakers don’t learn it in school, and think it’s something only Europeans put in their mouths, like smelly cheese. But take a look at these: It’s important that he be on time! It’s essential that she do her homework! Well, I suppose it won’t be a great loss if it disappears, even though I will miss it.


I’m going to close this long lament with a question in the hope that some grammar guru will read it and provide guidance. It’s about gerundive phrases. Most grammar books say that if a pronoun is the subject of the phrase it should be a possessive pronoun as in the following: I’m worried about his going to Afghanistan. I feel more comfortable with this: I’m worried about him going to Afghanistan.


All that is not to claim that I’m perfect. I really have to watch my commas and capitals, and you will probably find other errors even in the above text.


What do you think, grammar gurus? Please give me your opinion or this and other points.


The God Glut – Frank Bruni has the Courage to Write What Many are Thinking

We Americans aren’t careful at all. In a country that supposedly draws a line between church and state, we allow the former to intrude flagrantly on the latter. Religious faith shapes policy debates. It fuels claims of American exceptionalism.

Some may feel a duty to evangelize, but please stop trying to overburden the public discourse with questionable interpretations of scripture which not everyone believes is sacred.

California Comebacks: First Steve Jobs, Now Jerry Brown

Of all the state election results across the nation, few can top the shocking good sense of California voters in approving temporary tax increases to raise $6 billion a year to shore up the state’s tattered public schools and university system. That’s right: There were voters in these hard times agreeing to be taxed despite the “no new taxes” mantra of simplistic conservative politicians.

“The ballot measure, Proposition 30, was an audacious gamble by Gov. Jerry Brown”.
Just about everyone knows the Steve Jobs comeback story, but just about everyone outside of California has forgotten that Jerry Brown had already served two terms as Governor of California, leaving office the first time in 1983. After that it was all downhill for a long while. He was defeated in his 1982 run for the Senate, and then failed in his third and last bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, that time against Bill Clinton.
Then in 1999, Brown began his climb back up the political ladder, winning two terms as Mayor of Oakland, and one as California Attorney General, before winning a third term as Governor in 2011.
Jobs will no doubt remain the most popular California comeback hero, but even though I’m a faithful Mac user since 1984 I believe that Brown deserves just as high a place in public esteem thanks to what he has accomplished in this election.
Let’s hope that California will once again lead the way, and that voters nationwide will remember that it’s worthwhile to pay higher taxes in order to maintain essential public services.
(The above quotations are from today’s NYTimes editorial, “Californians Say Yes to Taxes”.)

The Marshmallow Study revisited

For the past four decades, the “marshmallow test” has served as a classic experimental measure of children’s self-control: will a preschooler eat one of the fluffy white confections now or hold out for two later?

Now a new study demonstrates that being able to delay gratification is influenced as much by the environment as by innate ability. Children who experienced reliable interactions immediately before the marshmallow task waited on average four times longer—12 versus three minutes—than youngsters in similar but unreliable situations.

I’ve often thought that this must be the case. We’ve all heard stories about poor people who come into a bit of money, spend it all right away, and eat beans for the rest of the month.

Is God a TV Zapper or a Pinball Player? Irreverent Pop-Theology as Seen by an Obsessive Agnostic

At the beginning I was a proper Calvinist. Before it got watered down in the 18th century, Calvinism was very often about predestination vs. free will. So when I started researching the subject, I went back as far as the English Puritans and moved forward to Jonathan Edwards, who was certainly the most reasonable and convincing of all the Puritan theologians.

That got me to thinking that if Edwards were alive today he might describe predestination as a fourth dimensional necessity. For God, time would simply be another dimension that SHe would perceive instantaneously as we perceive the other three dimensions, which means that God would perceive in an instant what we mere mortals perceive as eternity.

(I have been wondering which pronoun to use for God, and have considered He, She and It. I decided on SHe as being gender neutral while still being personal. I thought of adding It to the SHe, but that could lead to an inappropriate combination of letters.)

Back to the main stream in the person of that contemporary philosopher, Elvis Costello. My son the poet tells me that Costello once said that he thought of God as lying on a big circular bed surrounded by an infinite number of television screens. In Costello’s vision, God holds a tele-command which enables Herm (objective case pronoun proposal) to intervene when things start going wrong.

Now, even though Edwards probably did not own a television set, let alone subscribe to cable, he would certainly have objected strongly to Costello’s vision because it detracted from the idea of God’s omnipotence. I would agree with Edwards. What kind of a god would it be who didn’t get everything right in the first place and had to keep zapping to set things straight? Besides, I have cancelled my cable subscription and now watch TV only over the internet.

Further meditation led me to another theological insight, which I feel corresponds closely to American WASP religious thinking. Conceive of God as a pinball player using a very advanced, holy machine. Each time SHe pulls and releases the plunger it sets off a Big Bang in one universe or another. Obviously God would use that plunger with such finesse that the big ball would cross the table just as SHe had planned. Certain souls would be saved and others damned. But God might change Hers (possessive adjective proposal) mind and jog the table from time to time to modify the ball’s trajectory. Doesn’t that leave a little room for human exercise of free will, perhaps even for someone else to jog the table directly? In any case, that’s what Edwards’s followers decided, thereby leading to today’s Christian compromise.

This idea is most appealing to us ex-pinball players. But our agnostic leanings make us doubt that this is more than an illusion. Nevertheless, I sit and wait, sometimes hoping God will invite me over to play. Sometimes I even think I’ll walk over and put a quarter in the machine, or maybe just give it a little jog while hoping it doesn’t light up TILT.

Copyright: Edgar Farrar Richardson

Can You Believe My Bordeaux Wine Posts Get More Hits Than My Political Rants?

As usual, the so-called law of supply and demand explains everything. There’s not enough information on the web about good, affordable Bordeaux wines, while there are too many political rants. I suppose it’s the election season. Or maybe it’s the Gresham’s law of blogging: bad dope drives out good.


But I won’t tease you any longer. I’ve come to you here on the web today to give you more good news about Bordeaux wines of the 2011 vintage just coming to market. In this recent post I told you why I thought they would be good, especially the Saint Emilions Today I offer you taster’s proof positive. A few days ago, I found some Lussac Saint Emilion from Château La Croix de Chereau, vintage 2011 at €9 the bottle in my neighborhood supermarket. This wine is a real miracle at that price. It’s just as round and full as the Graves I wrote about the other day, but it’s also got enough tannin so that it can travel well and keep for a few years. Addionally, it has special nutty overtones that I’ve seldom tasted in other reds. I’m going to buy a few more bottles for special occasions.


The Lussac Saint Emilion is a small northern suburb of the main Saint Emillion district. It has less prestige, but a bit more merlot (65% rather than 60%), and commands a lower price. The nearby Fronsacs will probably be interesting, too, and I will let you know if I find some good bargains. All these wines are near neighbors, if not kissing cousins of the  Pomerols (70% to 80% merlot), which people who can afford them often rate the world’s best reds.


I should warn you: I’m not an expert, just an ordinary wino wine-lover like you.