A baptism in the Orthodox Church tends to be a happily chaotic affair. Most baptisms are of infants and that involves family and friends on the joyous occasion. It is unlike other sacramental and liturgical events in the life of the church. Here, all the solemnity and pomp are set aside to welcome one more small life into the faith. The church can do pomp and ceremony, to be sure, but baptism is the one that kids truly enjoy.
It begins at the entrance to the church. The parents meet with the godparent (or godparents in some instances) and the presiding clergy. The child is given to the godparent and prayers are recited to renounce the devil and confirm the faith. Then the priest leads them into the church and to the baptismal font.
The font has been prepared in advance, of course, and the priest blesses the waters in the font, while the child is undressed. Every Greek Orthodox home has embarrassing (to the child) naked baby pictures. This step is necessary because baptism requires a triple immersion. Sometimes the baby enjoys the bath, Sometimes it is all a bit too much and then the crying starts. And it usually continues until baby is back safe in the arms of mom and dad.
The final step after the child is anointed and tonsured, is a procession around the font while final prayers are chanted. Often the whole family joins in, an exciting privilege for older siblings. At last, the baby is given its first communion and is henceforth an Orthodox Christian. Somewhere in all this, the baby inevitably begins to cry, probably due to the inordinate amount of handling and all the people.
[You need no more description than that from me. You will find more than one baptism recorded and published on YouTube. You can also learn more from this blog post, A Holy Bath indeed! I encourage you to read it as well.]
Thus was my great-grandson baptized recently. Here I must admit, with a slight degree of embarrassment, that he was born without the benefit of marriage. That, I trust, will come…soon, I hope. In other circumstances, he could have ended up like so many of his contemporaries, as so much medical waste. The grim fact is that during the period of his gestation, perhaps a half-million unborn children died. Just on the day of his baptism, statistically as many as 1,400 abortions ended the life of children like him.
But on this day, my great-grandson George was welcomed into the Orthodox faith as he was welcomed into life. The fact that he was conceived and born before marriage is becoming a common event. Out of wedlock births are at or near a majority of live births. This marks a huge change in the social order. In times past, it was treated as a shameful thing, often leading to family division and, ironically, abortion. That fact has been used endlessly by the abortion industry as a defense of the practice. The irony seems lost on them that far and away more abortions have been administered than ever occurred before it was legalized.
Perhaps the change in social attitudes is necessary. The abortion rate is declining but is still the highest of all the countries in which it is legal. It may be safe. It is certainly legal, but it is by no means rare. If we must change our standards to welcome all infants into life and stop the slaughter of the innocents, than change we must.
One more happy note. His baptism took place on November 30, the feast day of the Apostle Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. Yet he is named for the legendary slayer of dragons, St. George, patron saint of England. His English and Scottish forebears might take pleasure in that. We can hope those venerable saints will guide him through life.
For all you vexillologists, it is noteworthy that the crosses of St. George (vertical and horizontal) and St. Andrew (diagonal) comprise the British union jack. A fortuitous and happy coincidence indeed.
As we spend a couple of months or more each year in Greece, we have made it a point to take tours to various destinations in Europe. The tour guide will normally be Greek speaking, a disadvantage for me. On the other hand, it allows me to wander a bit and see what we are visiting instead of having my foot nailed to the floor while the guide drones on about whatever. This year, our tour choice was Poland.
Day 1: Getting there.
Our Greek home is in Peraia, a suburb of Thessaloniki. The tours originate from Athens so we have an extra leg. Athens is not my favorite airport. It is crowded, cluttered, clumsy and chaotic. It is certainly not what one would expect of a capitol city.
The tours have been using Aegean Airlines, a company that effectively replaced Olympic. They have a fleet of 60 Airbus A320’s, a crowded model with really tight seat spacing. I endured. I did not enjoy.
Our first destination was Krakow, wherein we found a very hospitable city centered around a plaza filled with restaurants, souvenir vendors and people. This, we found, is characteristic of every Polish city and impresses with the tidiness of streets and everything.
Day 2: The salt mine and the city.
On display in the mine are reminders of what such work meant in the time before mechanization. Some of the wooden machinery is very impressive.
In the morning, we began a descent into the Wielezka salt mine which, though now not operational, must have produced a few cubic miles of rock salt over the course of its more than 600 years of operation. More than just a mine, it contains a variety of sculpture, all in rock salt done by miners, that commemorate saints and kings and more. In all, the mine reaches depths over 1000 ft., and includes 178 miles of shafts and passages. In the course of the tour, you descend hundreds of steps. Wobbly legs are to be expected. The ascent is by elevator,
In the afternoon, we took a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter and the Wawel Castle and Cathedral. The cathedral is typical of the major churches throughout Poland, immense and magnificent.
The Jewish Quarter, by contrast, is very subdued. Prior to World War II, there were an estimated 80,000 Jews in the city. At the end of the war, a mere 7,000 had survived. Since then the Jewish population has virtually vanished. There are a few synagogues and no more than 200 Jews remaining.
This is characteristic of the entire tour. The simplest way to say it is that the Nazis thoroughly trashed Poland, and the Russians were none too careful in their reconquest. At the end of the war with the country mostly in ruins, Poland began a decades long reconstruction that continues to this day. There was more to come.
Day 3: Into the Heart of Darkness
As it is told, the Nazis originally only intended to force the Jews out of Europe. They considered sending them first to Siberia, but the invasion of Russia ended that. Then Zanzibar was considered. When they realized that it would be too expensive and probably not possible, the most expedient alternative was extermination, something they set about doing with typically Teutonic efficicency. The Jews were rounded up and shipped to a number of concentration and extermination camps. The best known of these was near the Polish town of Oswciem, called by the Germans, Auschwitz.
Much of this camp remains and is now maintained as a tourist destination. It was situated around a set of brick barracks built for the Polish Army. To these were added additional crude wooden barracks to house the thousands of prisoners. The brick barracks and some of the wooden barracks still stand. The Nazis destroyed most of the extermination facilities when they realized that they were about to loose the war and the Russians were approaching. The gas chambers and crematoriums are mostly gone. A sobering display is housed in several of the brick barracks.
It is impossible to comprehend the magnitude of all of this. Auschwitz alone accounted for some 1,500,000 Jews and others. The exhibits recount the treatment of prioners and the processing that sorted the capable from the less so. The latter went directly to the chambers. Those remaining were simply worked to death.
The most harrowing part of the exhibits are all the possesions conficated from prisoners as they arrived. There are piles of luggage, shoes, brushes, eyglasses and more. A large room is filled with human hair shaved from the corpses and sold to the textile industries. All this is only a fraction of what was taken, and that only at Auschwitz.
From the brick barracks, you are lead to the arrival tracks where the selections were made, and then into some of the wooden barracks. On display is a boxcar of the type in which prisoners were shipped to the camps. They would have little or no food or water. With as many as 80 people crammed into one boxcar, a trip that might last as long as ten days resulted in the deaths of many before they ever reached a camp.
These barracks were a minimal consruction that provided only shelter and no comfort at all. Imagine a half dozen people all crammed onto that shelf without mattress or blankets.
Once you have experienced this place, your perspective must change. Talking of the Holocaust without it is to deal with the abstract. Here at this place is the concrete and undeniable evidence and in overwhelming volume.
Is there a lesson for us here? Of course there is. There are many lessons. First and foremost is that in the political discourse of the day, to liken anyone to the monsters who perpetrated the holocaust is reprehensible. To do so trivializes what was done and diminishes the memory of all those vicitms. We would do well to rethink our poisonous politics and begin to restore some to civility to it. I do not say that we would or could repeat that history but the less we appreciate the enormity of it and honor the dead whose ashes are scattered there, the more likely we are to visit our own heart of darkness.
Peraia, Greece, August 2019: Life on the beach of Peraia in summer is one long succession of swimming, walking, relaxing, with leisurely lunches by the waterside. That is true for the human inhabitants. Maybe less so for the other denizens.
The beach of Peraia is a four mile stretch of sandy beach varying in width from a few feet to a hundred or more. What sets it off from other like places is that the water is shallow well out from shore. Even as much as a hundred yards out it is possible to stand on the bottom. Though lacking in significant surf, it is still a popular recreational area and locals and foreigners alike flock here every summer.
Less recognized is the wildlife that also occupies these waters. The wide sandy bottom looks at first like an aquatic desert but in fact there is an abundance of life to be found. It may not be a National Geographic coral reef with clouds of exotic fish but there is more to be found than meets the uncritical eye.
Stand for a moment a few yards out and watch. Very likely a number of small fish will come to investigate. Characteristically, they are elusive and well camouflaged, as are all the species here. There is little vegetation and no hiding place so species that thrive here are those that can blend in to the point of being invisible. At times those small fish seem able to bury themselves in the sand.
A note for would be fishermen: Forget your exotic tackle. No poppers, hoppers, droppers, no wooly buggers or redwing whizbangs. No spoons, spinners, none. What works for these little guys is bread. Throw a piece of bread in the water and you will start a feeding frenzy. Put a piece on your hook and expect a catch. Of course, they are barely bite size. For bigger fish, you need to get out on the water.
The keen eyed observer will ocasionally come across other oddities. Small conchs and snails are frequently found, usually by stepping on them. They are typically adorned with barnacles, the immobile barnacles taking advantage of the snails to bring them to food. Rocks of varying size are present sans barnacles, since they tend to get buried which would be unfortunate for any attached barnacles.
Many of the snail shells have been vacated in favor of small hermit crabs. I am not sure how the change in occupancy takes place but it is likely that the snails are the losers. Hold one of these for a minute or two and the crab will nervously investigate and sometimes try to escape.
A variety of shells litter the sea floor. Razor clams are present but only the empty shells will be found. Michael was able to find a live razor clam a couple of years ago. Curiously, they were offered at a Madrid food court but there seems to be no market for them here.
Above, tiny crabs vie for exposed clams.
At the waters edge, tiny clams seem to be the choice of numerous small crabs. Since there is constant wave action (mostly from the wake of boats and ships in the bay) these clams are churned up and become crab bait. Numerous clam shells testify to their aundance -and fate. There are also tiny fish, typically about 1″ long, frequently seen but which are so perfectly camouflaged that it takes considerable concentration to spot them.
Of all the creatures found here, the oddest is the salp. At least, that is what I believe it is. The locals call them medusa, a generic for jellyfish, but they are not that. There are no tentacles. They are about 6″ in length and appear like a small, transparent cucumber. They pulse slowly and tend to stay near the surface. Probably filter feeders, they do not seem to have any predators.
The most mysterious* aspect of them is that they will appear suddenly, a few one day, hundreds the next. And then they vanish just as suddenly. If you Google “salp”, a different creature wil be found. Out in the Mediteranean proper, they are found as long chains of individuals forming a tape like entity that can exceed 100′. These however, do not combine and merely float along, alarming the unwary and uninformed.
“Mysterious” is the favorite adjective of hack science writers everywhere.
The video above is probably the business end of a razor clam. The fronds appear as a black spot on the sand but when disturbed, they quickly hide.
One might think that the featureless seafloor along the Peraia beach would be bereft of life. It is anything but and a visit here will soon show otherwise. Maybe you should take a trip and swim here. You never know what might be under your feet.
Today, May 30, 2019, is a good day to contemplate service, as in service to your country. It is the original date designated as Memorial Day, and was originally called Decoration Day. You should consider a visit to one of the many cemeteries and monuments that dot the land. As with the rusting hulk of the USS Arizona, the tomb of nearly 1,000 sailors, it can be a moving and educational experience.
Military service runs through my family. We aren’t a military family on the order of, say, John McCain, but we have done our share. When I dig into my family history, the fact that many of my ancestors, both recent and as far back as I can go, served in one capacity or another is a bit surprising.
My own service was a curiosity. I joined the Navy to see the world, as they say, and spent
my hitch in San Diego and San Francisco. I never went to sea. That was in part a consequence of having a talent for things electronic and no command wanted to part with any technically capable personnel. The stint in San Francisco was while attending electronics school on Treasure Island. San Diego was for boot camp and three years tending radio transmitters at a now abolished naval radio station.
More immediately, my nephew also served in the navy, along with a brother-in-law who retired from the navy as a four-striper, that is with the rank of captain, no mean feat for naval officers. My father put in a stint in the army joining the 76th Field Artillery at
Camp Ord near Monterey during the height of the depression .
Further back, an uncle of my mother served in World War I. He made it to France but with the veterinarian training he had received , he was assigned to tending horses and he never got close to the front. Another of my mother’s cousins was part of a special forces unit. He made the news at the end .of the war by going into Tokyo without permission. Another cousin by marriage was not so lucky, dieing in Normandy in September, 1944.
There are others, not all of them lucky enough to return home. Two of my wife’s cousins died in WWII, one in a training flight accident, the other somewhere in the Pacific near the close of the war. Her father served in the Greek Army on the Albanian front, until Greece was overrun by the Nazis who came in support of Mussolini’s hapless Italian Army.
Even further back, you will find the
gaunt looking gentleman (below) in uniform.* He is Dr. Marshall Perkins, who served in the Union Army during the civil war and was present at Gettysburg. He would tell of an orderly who tried to catch a cannon ball and got his arms ripped off for his troubles. Even into colonial times, I have historical information concerning William Perkins and his military service. William was the first of the family to arrive in the new world and seems to have had some difficulty establishing himself. Records still exist that describe bis occasional lapses of judgment. Still, he was given the rank of Sergeant and served for many years in Roxbury.
All this is not to single out my family, or extended family. I suspect that many families have a similar history. I recently saw Cold Blue, the restored Wiliam Wyler footage taken at great risk to record the efforts of the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Some 127,000 men served and 28,000 died in the air war against Germany. The numbers are staggering and starkly underline the cost of service.
Kevin Williamson, who writes for the National Review (and briefly for The Atlantic) wrote recently “A friend who is a lifelong military man says that he wishes sincerely that people would stop thanking him for his service as though doing so were a kind of mandatory social convention somewhere between Welcome to Starbucks! and Have a nice day!” I am much in sympathy with Kevin’s friend. I have encountered that greeting frequently. When I compare my service to what many others endured, I feel not a little embarrassed to stand along side those who gave their all.
The practice of thanking anyone in uniform for their service began some time after the Vietnam war. During and after the war, the treatment of servicemen and women was terribly shabby. Public expressions of gratitude seems to be the product of a collective guilt complex, a means for making amends for past mistreatment. A far better expression of gratitude would be to add your service, whether it be military or in many civilian capacities. Which would be better, remembering those lost in that rusting hulk at Pearl Harbor, or posting more signs of faux gratitude that no one will observe?
Dr. Perkins was a captain, an officer and a gentleman, as were all doctors. Just think of M*A*S*H. As such he was required to wear a sword when in dress uniform. I had a
physics teacher who recounted once his experience as an officer in WWII. He was even then required to wear a sword with his dress uniform and found it particularly troublesome when going to a movie theater.
Stonehenge is a fascinating monument of mysterious origin. Are we building a similar monument?
The saga of California’s high speed rail project took an unexpected turn when newly elected governor Gavin Newsom decided to cut the project in half. Originally planned to extend from San Diego in the far south to the SF bay area and Sacramento, Newsom’s change of direction would reduce it to the Bakersfield to Merced segment, a distance of about 165 miles. The project is ~as expected~ well over budget, underfunded, and behind schedule. Not one inch of track has been laid but hulking monuments loom over the landscape. If the project is never finished ~and that is a distinct possibility~ one wonders what will become of them.
The project is a victim of the fact that those once open spaces are no longer open. When the first trans-continental railroad was constructed, right-of-way acquisition was a simple matter of surveying a route and laying track. Native Americans might have objected, but most of the land was under federal control and thus readily available. The structures being built in Fresno for HSR reflect the difficulty of finding a usable route. Rather than building on the ground, the planners have chosen to create an aerial path through the city.
As is typical in such instances, this project was sold on questionable premises. First, of course, was the original cost estimate. It was so far below reality that no one even mentions it anymore. Then it was the promise that it would pay for itself. That might have worked had the original cost held but at $66 billion and rising, it would be a long time happening. Amtrak currently quotes a Bakersfield to Sacramento ticket at about $45. Considering the faster service, one might expect an HSR ticket for the same route to be double. The segment to be built, if it extended to Sacramento, might cost $20 billion. If so, it would take more than 22,000,000 tickets to recover that cost.
Traffic reduction was another selling point. It is reasonable to think that some reduction would occur. If so, why is the San Francisco – San Jose corridor still a traffic nightmare? The California DOT, a.k.a. Caltrans, operates the Cal Train service over that route and claims 65,000 average daily riders. The impact on traffic for all that is vanishingly small. To have any significant impact on valley traffic, the HSR system would have to carry at least ten time that number of passengers. Are there a half million people eager to ride the train each day?
The critics of the project are legion and most of the arguments against have merit, as I have noted. One argument, however, is as fallacious as anything that has been offered in support of it. That is that trains are obsolete. This is a useless argument from the outset, and ultimately meaningless. Yes, it is an old technology in its essence. (I have a poster commemorating 100 Hundred Years of the Railroad that was produced by the Baltimore & Ohio for a centenary pageant in 1927, to illustrate how old it is.) If age is the criterion, the automobile and the airplane, competing transportation technologies are more than a century old. Should we be searching for replacements?
A line from Bakersfield to Sacramento may still be worth the trouble and expense, though I stand by the arguments that it will never recover its costs and have little impact on traffic. In fact, that route may be ideally suited to a high speed rail system just because the competing technologies do not serve us well. Anyone in the valley, especially south of Sacramento, knows the pain of trying to fly anywhere. If one were to book a flight from Bakersfield to Sacramento, the airlines typically will soak you about $500 and sned you to LAX or SFO in the process. And there is the enjoyable prospect of being scrutinized, x-rayed, maybe frisked or even strip searched in the bargain. Oh, and be sure to leave behind that bottle of whatever that is too large and anything vaguely resembling a weapon.
One more thing on which no price can be placed. People like trains. Given the choice between a bus or the train, most will gladly take the train. The same thing is true of streetcars or trolleys. There is something appealing about trains that cannot be quantified.
Stonehenge is a mystery to us. Its origins are lost in the mists of time. It has its own problems, mostly that it is a popular destination hampered by traffic problems. Perhaps Trainhenge will not be forgotten, all the troubles of its beginnings digitally preserved for the ages…maybe. But if the rail project is not continued, what will it become?
Let me tell you a story about a yearbook. No, not that yearbook. I will get to that a little further down. This is a tale of mixed identities in a mystery that I have only recently solved. Fear not, there are no villains, skulduggery or even a horse race, just a confusion that lasted for decades.
I graduated from then California State Polytechnic College ( University) in San Luis Obispo in the awful year of 1968. It was an awful year on the national scene. At least in that school year we could reflect with pride on the fact that we almost beat San Diego State in football. If you know anything about the history of football at Poly, you will understand why that would have been so. But that is a digression.
I still have my senior yearbook, though you will be hard pressed to find me in it. I was active with Poly Royal, a “Country fair on a college campus” the open house that was held at about the time of spring break. I would digress even more to delve into the circumstances of its demise. An annual open house, it was a major undertaking.
Fast forward now a half century and my Electronics Engineering class is invited to a reunion staged by the Electrical Engineering department. (The EL degree was retired some years ago and is now offered as an option in the EE department.) My college room mate and I have stayed in contact all these years, even though we are now almost a continent apart. He contacted me to find out if I was planning to attend and we made plans.
The reunion included a tour of the campus and the annual engineering banquet and great hospitality. I am grateful to school for making this effort. It was superbly enjoyable event, even though few of my classmates attended.
I am sure that I am not the only one who takes a reunion as an excuse to review old yearbooks and whatever other items we might still retain. I was even able to amuse my daughter and her cousin with the fact that I had acted in a Ray Bradbury play in my senior year.
Here I am with a Tektronix Curve Tracer that I used when I was there.
Dan Malone with the IEEE banner.
None of this directly addresses the mystery to which I alluded at the outset. The story is this. Though I never made an effort to inform Cal Poly of my occasional changes of address, year after year alumni magazines and newsletters would still find me. Of interest was the “Where are they now?” items which I would peruse with some interest. Then, in one issue about ten years on, I was surprised to read that I was now a 1st Lieutenant in the army stationed in Germany. This was erroneous to say the least and I resolved to inform them of the fact, something I never got around to.
Over the years I puzzled over that error. I recall a classmate remarked about it to me but the mystery remained. The reunion brought me back to my yearbook and finally I realized why that error had been made. It seems that there was a Rob Sexton at Poly during my time there what was a year or two behind me and in a different department. The similarity of our names caused some harried and overworked yearbook editor to assume that we were one and the same and that error was passed on to the alumni and newsletter editors and probably persists to this day. I do not know what happened to Rob or where he might be now. Perhaps he is puzzling over an invitation to participate in an engineering reunion soon.
All this came back to me when the news about Virginia governor Ralph Northam broke. It started with his lamentable comments on the Virginia abortion law but that was shunted aside when it was revealed that he had committed the unforgiveable sin of having done something stupid in his college years. That was where the yearbook came in focus. In his medical school yearbook a picture showed someone in blackface on his page. The fact of its existence was compounded by the ham handed handling by Northam when it came to light.
Make what you will of his transgression or his possible attitude or beliefs, these facts are certain. First, the picture shows two individuals, one in blackface and the other in a KKK costume. Neither can be positively identified as Northam nor does any caption identify the two. Such evidence is circumstantial at best and thus cannot -should not- be grounds for his resignation. Nor should anyone be similarly condemned except in extreme cases.
Northam’s handling, on the other hand probably ought to at least raise a few eyebrows. However, he belongs to the Virginia Democrats and, evidently due to the current politics, he remains in office. You may think he should or should not resign. But before you rush to the attack -or defense- you should likely not rely on his yearbook for evidence. Just ask me, I know.
Addendum: This name confusion struck again. On a recent hospital visit, my turn at the X-ray machine was missed because there was another individual with the same last name. They got my turn when the name was called. What would happen if I had a common name?
I was happily slurping my bowl of instant pho the other day while idly perusing the nutritional data on the label when I spied an amazing thing. The net weight was specified in grams. This was metric soup! I looked at another item, a can of beans. Here again a metric value. Even the green guy on that can of corn was metric. What is going on here? Have some insidious agents from a clandestine EU bureaucracy infiltrated our sacred domain? Have we been hacked? Horrors!
Actually, this is nothing new. I clearly remember a display of similarly labeled products displayed in a classroom at Cal Poly more than fifty years ago. The fact is, we have been on the metric system for all practical purposes even longer than that. This is a fact that was overlooked by the erstwhile Jimmy Carter during his sweater clad years in the White House, by the legion of petulant haranguers pining for the chance to buy a metric cup of coffee (8 oz. = 237 cc), and especially by all those for whom science is religion and should be the measure of all things -metrically determined, of course.
Alright, I kid. I also scoff. While the metric system has been widely accepted and used, its merits are generally misunderstood. The justifications for adopting it miss the real reason it came into existence; standardization. Up until the time of Columbus, world trade was relatively limited and local weights and measures prevailed no matter where you took your corn. But as communications improved and trade increased, the ability to order goods by weight or volume across national borders became critical. it was this motivation that lead to the creation of the metric system. Then it was adopted by France during the reign of Napoleon and has spread across the globe since then.
Here is where the system shines. The difference between that and the British Imperial system is that he metric system is coherent. It was developed over a period of time as an integral whole, whereas the Imperial (and American) systems grew out of a myriad of specialized systems.But even though units differ, these systems are all tied together such that local variations no longer exist.
So why object to the metric system? Why haven’t we made the switch? Let me be clear. I do not object to the metric system, but I do object to some of the arguments made in its favor. As to why it has not been adopted, a passage from the Wikipedia article on the history of the system is very revealing.
In 1790, a proposal floated by the French to Britain and the United States, to establish a uniform measure of length, a meter based on the period of a pendulum with a beat of one second, was defeated in the British Parliament and United States Congress. The underlying issue was failure to agree on the latitude for the definition, since gravitational acceleration and therefore the length of the pendulum, is proportional to latitude: each party wanted a definition according to a major latitude passing through their own country.
Alas, as is ever true, politics ultimately rules, and so we have the situation as it is today. Political consideration must always be accommodated, even though there are now universally accepted standards in place that require no earthly reference. Sadly, the whole issue has fallen into the red-blue conflagration and is not likely to resolved, or even taken up, anytime soon.
So why did Jimmy Carter fail? one must consider the character of the systems and remember that the impetus for the metric system was standardization. The reality was -and is- that adopting the metric system would give little or no benefit to the average American. In our day to day lives, we benefit from the standards that exist but, other than the numbers (as on those labels), nothing will change. How we fry our eggs, mow our lawns, drive to work, and all our other activities, will not be impacted at all. Moreover, if adopting the metric system in place of the current units included adopting European standards (which I think would be the inevitable follow-on) for such things as nuts and bolts, wire sizes, pipe, lumber and a myriad more, an enormous expenditure would be required and in the end, we would have nothing new, nothing better, just nuts and bolts, wire sizes, pipe, lumber and so forth.
Hidden in all the noise is the fact that most of the English and American units of measure were developed at a time when precise measurements were rarely needed. The peasant trying to cultivate his 40 acres with a wooden plow and maybe a horse, hardly needed to calculate anything to four decimal places. Nor would it matter to him if it were described as 16.19 hectares. He could pace off the size of his field knowing that his foot was, well, a foot. His outstretched arms were his height which would be somewhere between five and six feet. He would likely know that there were 640 acres to a square mile, or a section. In effect, he carried his standards with him. It is this human element that the metric system eliminates. Our hardworking peasant would have no reference with which to estimate anything in metric units.
There is more. The metric system is decimal based and why not? We have ten fingers to count on so it seems natural. The irony is that the development of computers ultimately required some pretty fancy software to do decimal arithmetic. Computers, at least the ones we use most, are inherently binary. One exercise for software developers early on was to code division such that 4/2 was not reported as 1.999999… Ironically, the old systems of measure rely heavily on division by two, something which is easy for humans to do physically. In liquid measure, for example, the units were jack, pint, gill , quart, pottle, gallon, each a multiple of two. Thus two pottles make a gallon and so on.
Proponents of the metric system ought to pay more attention to their arguments. Case in point, the supposed difficulty of the English system. In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, in response to a comment made by Sheldon as to why we don’t use the metric system, Amy says, “…because Americans can’t handle the metric system?” But consider, if the metric system is so much easier, it would be no problem. In other words she is saying that Americans are too stupid to understand the system. But the fact is that we have no problem with the English system when we use it. The admonition “use it or lose it” has real meaning here. In that it is coherent in design, the metric system is easier and we have no problem using it when the need arises.
As for ease of calculation, there really is no difference. it is quite simple to conjure up example problems that demonstrate this but they are very limited. The fact is, anyone who is reasonable adept at mental arithmetic will find it easy to multiply 3/4 by 5/8. (The answer is 30/8, or 3 – 3/4.) The decimal equivalent will send most everyone looking for the calculator or pencil and paper. Try it for your self.
So why haven’t we adopted the metric system? The answer is that we have in many ways but as I have stated, there is no pressing need. Do you wake up every morning dreading another day without it? Of course not. It would have no useful impact on our daily lives. I suspect, however, that it will take over gradually. From things I have heard, it may be that many teachers are simply neglecting to teach the English system of measurement. stressing the metric instead, even though they have an obligation to teach what is the accepted standard. The demand does not exist because it does not matter whether our speedometers indicate miles or kilometers per hour, or for that matter, furlongs per fortnight*. (A standard of measure peculiar to Cal Poly engineers. A furlong is 1/8 mile, another binary example. How long is a fortnight? Give me a couple of weeks…)
And there it is. Those trying to push us into the metric system are generally misguided and want it for all the wrong reasons. By adopting it, we have nothing to lose but our humanity.
A furlong per fortnight was the insiders gag at in the EL department at Poly in my day, far too long ago. One furlong/fortnight, or f/f, comes out to about 6mm per second. Calculating the speed of light in f/f was der riguer for any self respecting engineering student.
Today, February 8, is a somber anniversary. The event is not well remembered, as is, say, the Hindenburg disaster, but just as lethal. On this day in 1923 in Dawson, New Mexico, the #1 mine exploded at about 2:30 PM. The force of the explosion was such that pieces of the entrance portal were sent flying across the canyon, leaving a huge crater. There were 122 victims of the blast and only two survivors. It was the second major disaster in the Dawson mine complex, the first occurring ten years before, in which 283 miners died, my grandfather among them.
AHEPA chapters throughout the country commemorated the 100th anniversary of the 1913 disaster with memorials held at many Greek Orthodox churches. These memorials culminated in an observance held at the Dawson cemetery in 2013. Organized by members of the Albuquerque AHEPA family, I attended along with Brother Anthony Kouzounis, Supreme President of AHEPA at the time, and a number of others.
The Dawson mines do not quite fit the usual image of the careless mining company, oblivious to the dangers brave miners faced. The company town was also unusual, to the extent that to this day descendants and residents of the town come together for a reunion at the town site. The definitive work on the Dawson mines and town is the book,Coal Town: The Life and Times of Dawson, New Mexico by Toby Smith. The book is out of print and if you find a copy, you will find it rather expensive.
The Dawson mines operated for more than half a century before closing in 1950. In that time, some 33,000,000 tons of coal were produced. It was the declining market for coal rather than depletion of the deposit that brought the closure. It is believed that another fifty years supply of coal is still there, should the mine ever be reopened.
The news came as a shock. David L. McDonald, the former CEO of Pelco, had died suddenly.. Last Thursday, January 24, a memorial was held at the Saroyan Theater in Fresno. The service, conducted by former mayor Alan Autry, made a pretty good effort to convey the magnitude of all that Dave had accomplished in his 69 years.
I worked for Pelco for seven years, retiring at about the time that the company was sold to Schneider Electric. It was, to put it mildly, a unique experience. It was exceptional because Dave ~ we all knew him as Dave~ used a combination of perks and policies that propelled Pelco to becoming the dominant security camera maker in a highly competitive market.
To begin with, there was the orientation, a legendary experience that every new employee, no matter how high or low, would receive. The orientation was a day long seminar that gave the new recruits a comprehensive overview of the company’s operations. This was not put on by outside trainers, nor delegated to low level subordinates. Instead, each department head spent an hour or so telling and showing just what their departments did and how. Typical of Dave’s policy, at the end of each spiel, a small offering of gift items was handed out to each of us present. This included little things like pens, notepads, etc.
And then Dave entered the room. His role was the wrap-up, giving a thorough overview of the company concluding with the secret weapon of Pelco. You must understand that company organizations are hierarchical in nature. They have to be as someone has to be in charge. Someone has to make the final decision. All too often, this degenerates into a system of buck-passing, pushing decisions ever upward, trying to avoid responsibility for failures.
Dave had a different idea. In his domain. every employee was empowered to make decisions when dealing with customers. That is, if I went on a service call and decided that a camera needed replacement, I would not have to call the office for approval or permission. My only call would be to locate that camera and get it shipped ASAP. This policy gave all of us a sense of responsibility unlike any other business.
There were other policies, two of which were instrumental in building the company’s reputation for service. For one, shipping on the promised delivery date was sacrosanct. Missing a date would bring on a review at the weekly staff meeting by Dave himself. So rigorously was this adhered to that Pelco had a track record of shipping on time better than 99.9% of the time. Interestingly, as onerous as this sin might be, Dave never yelled at or humiliated the responsible parties in any way. The facts were reviewed and then he would simply state that steps must be taken to ensure this would not happen again. No one ever doubted that he was serious.
Along with that policy, repairs were guaranteed a 24-hour turnaround. Send in your broken equipment and it would be repaired and returned in 24 hours. Again, the adherence to this policy bordered on the fanatical. This sometimes meant replacing equipment if the repair solution was elusive, but it built a solid reputation for the company.
And Dave knew how to treat customers as well. Equipment training was a definite part of the Pelco experience. Not long before the sale to Schneider, Pelco acquired a private jet, but not for business travel. The jet was first and foremost for bringing customers to Clovis for sales meetings and the like. Annually, Pelco displayed at the security show in Las Vegas. This included a dinner and show and admission was much sought after by attendees. Pelco employees were brought to Las Vegas to get exposure to the industry and to act as hosts at this dinner. Did I say ginormous shrimp? And first class entertainment? I went twice and saw Huey Lewis and the News, and Kenny Rogers, just as an example.
Dave knew how to treat his employees just as well. There were things like the Friday donuts, the monthly department lunches. In the engineering department, when a project was completed, a special lunch was held. There were opportunities to volunteer for many of the charitable events that Pelco staged and sponsored. Fresno will never forget the campaign for Measure Z that helped fund the Chaffee Zoo. Nor has the Marine Corp forgotten the Toys for Tots donations that Dave promoted. There were the departmental safety gifts, handed out for each quarter that the department had a clean safety record. I still have a very nice thermos, typical of them, and a number of other items. And there were Pelco Bucks, given for various reasons and redeemable at the gift store.
All good things come to an end. Businesses are no exception. In 2007, it was announced that Schneider Electric, a major company in the building integration market, had acquired Pelco. With the change in management came changes in the policies and purpose of Pelco Since then, the plant in Clovis has essentially shut down and perhaps a third or more of the staff let go. The unique experience of Pelco is no more and now Dave is gone. It is a temptation to liken it to a Camelot but I will resist. Even so, it was a far better working experience than any other I have had and I know, judging by the fact that ex-Pelconauts still get together, that many others thought so as well.
Good by, Dave McDonald. May you long be remembered.
I belong to an organization called AHEPA. That is the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. It is closely associated with the Greek Orthodox Church but not officially tied to it. The proximity is due to the fact that most of our members are Greek-American and thus the relationship is strong. This is unlike the Knights of Columbus, a philanthropic charitable organization which is wholly a part of the American Catholic Church.
The knights are currently in the cross hairs of the presidential ambitions of one Senator Kamala Harris, recently California Attorney General and also recently highly visible in the Kavanaugh debacle. There, in spite of her beaming campaign photos, she displayed an icy, almost reptilian demeanor when interrogating Judge Kavanaugh.
And she is at it again. Since she is still a member of the Senate Judiciary committee, she is now raising objections to the nominee, Omaha attorney Brian Beuscher, based on his membership in the Knights of Columbus. The Knights, being an element of the Catholic church, follow the teachings of the church in regard to abortion, among other things. Ms. Harris’s interrogation of the judicial candidate focused on those issues as if the Knights were some far right extremist organization bent on a return to the medieval world.
Predictably, a howl went up from pundits on the right, as this was a clear violation of article 6 of the US constitution, which expressly forbids any religious test for public office. What has gone unmentioned is that it is certain that Harris knows this and was not attempting to expand her knowledge of Catholic doctrine. Given her presidential ambitions, this was an exhibition aimed at pandering to her -possible- base and shore up her credentials as the standard bearer of the far left.
It does have more ominous implications, however. She was joined in this attack by Senator Mazie Hirono, and this is not an isolated exception. Numerous similar attacks have been recorded in which Democrat Senators question the propriety of nominees involvement in religiously based organizations. Matthew Continetti, writing for the National Review, detailed many of these incidents. As he summarized it,
“No longer is the debate over Christianity in the public square. It is over Christians in the public square. And this is an argument in which people of every faith have a stake in the outcome.”
Looking on this as an AHEPAN and an Orthodox Christian, I can only shudder at what might come to pass under a Harris administration.