Sunday, December 28, 2014

Filistine Foneticks and Other Frustrating Fenomena.

A friend recently posted a clever remark on Facebook:  "Why isn't 'phonetically' spelled with an 'f'?"

My answer was that "foneticklee" just looks silly.  In other words, habit matters more than logic or common sense or practicality.  We don't want to spell logically because, well, we are accustomed to spelling illogically and so there.

Besides the imbecilic orthography of English, there are numerous other "silly," backward, or unproductive habits that we cling to, even though a change based on reason or efficiency would probably improve our lives. Consacré par l'usage, say the French. Sanctified by use (but certainly not by usefulness). Here's a short list:

1)  The old imperial system of weights and measures, which even the British no longer employ. But dang, we just don't want to give up our pounds and miles and BTUs.

2)  Coins and paper money that no longer make much sense:  pennies get lost in dryers and a dollar won't buy even a doughnut.  Dollar coins and bills in different colors and different sizes would help us avoid errors in counting and accounting. there.

3)  Our outmoded and inefficient credit cards. Chip and PIN cards would put Americans on a par with other technologically-advanced countries.  These cards would also be more secure.  But...well...the cost...and wouldn't people forget their PINs?

4)  Our rotten transportation infrastructure.  High-speed trains would provide an invaluable alternative to planes and automobiles; clean and comprehensive rapid transit would revitalize our cities. But we can't seem to think beyond Amtrak and subways like L.A.'s that go nowhere.

5)  Our ossified and dysfunctional 18th Century political structure. State boundaries should be redrawn; metropolitan areas should be consolidated; the Constitution should be dramatically amended or replaced (to get rid of blatant inequalities, such as two senators for each state, regardless of population; to truly "ensure justice" by clarifying the Second Amendment and by banning gerrymandering and filibustering; to make inviolable the government's responsibility to honor its debts, etc., etc., etc...).  But, oh, dear, the "sacred" Constitution...what "God" hath wrought, let no man put asunder...

6)  Our practice of "judicial review."  There's nothing really wrong with the courts (including the Supreme Court) having the authority to determine whether or not a law is "constitutional."  But the whole process is incredibly time-consuming and expensive (and thus more or less inaccessible to people of modest means).  Something like France's "Conseil Constitutionnel" would be a definite plus:  proposed laws would need to be scrutinized for constitutionality by a judicial body before being enacted.  The Supreme Court would be responsible for cases involving the actual implementation of laws.

7)  Our genuinely stupid notion that education is not a national concern--and that decisions about a child's education should be the exclusive province of the parents.

8)  Our equally silly notion that children are the "possessions" of their parents.

9)  Our lack of a national identification card;  what possible "harm" can there be in uniformizing the ridiculously overlapping and conflicting state laws? A driver's license is not an efficient or even safe way of providing ID.

10)  Our reluctance to publicly fund culture and the arts.  We have little problem with providing public funding and/or subsidies for stadiums and arenas to be used by privately-owned sports teams; yet we are decidedly parsimonious about other providers of pleasure, entertainment, or intellectual stimulation.  Artists, writers, museums, orchestras, theaters, public TV--all are scorned and neglected. Why?

11) The notion that separation of church and state means that churches have no obligation to pay for the services that they receive from government.  Churches benefit just like any private organization from local, state and federal protections/services.  They should be taxed accordingly and receive deductions for their legitimate charitable contributions, just as others do (very few churches would qualify as true "nonprofit/purely charitable" organizations).  As it is, the state is actually "subsidizing" religions--and that is not separation; that is favoritism.  But, but...we've always been good to the churches...because they do so much "good."

12)  Stop lights/signs at rural and suburban intersections.  Why don't we use roundabouts/traffic circles?  So much more sensible...

Oh, I could go on, but...all this progressive, logical thinking has quite worn me out. Perhaps I, too, am a bit of a "filistine," too anachronistically attached to an ancient, hopelessly rickety but richly evocative "Streetcar Named Desire," even though that iconic line was abandoned years ago, survived only by more prosaic sisters--like this decidedly uninspiring Rattletrap Named St. Charles.


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