Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beauty and the Beast

    One of the poems written by John Keats opens with the observation that, "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever". Another poem's opening line, this by Lord Byron, is, "She walks in beauty, like the night..." The unanswered question which remains even after eons of thought and study and discussion by artists, musicians and philosophers, "What is beauty?".

    Among the various definitions offered are, "The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality" and "One that is beautiful, especially a beautiful woman."

    Some behavioral scientists believe that awareness of beauty and beautiful things is hard wired in the human brain from birth and that it has more to do with harmonious agreement among the various qualities which describe the object or sound or person and less to do with what is fashionable for the moment.

    So from an early age the appreciation of what is beautiful and what is not becomes a life-long learning process. That implies that the longer a person lives, the more sensitive and aware that person becomes to beautiful things. Unfortunately it seems to apply only to inanimate things.

    Enter the beast, an older man who still finds beauty in a younger woman. Such older man is allowed to find beauty in art and music but after a certain age appreciating the beauty of any woman more than a few years younger than himself renders him the dubious status of "dirty old man".

    Some definitions of "dirty old man" describe a "middle-aged man roughly between the ages of 45 and 65 with lecherous inclinations". "Lecherous" is defined as "excessive indulgence in sexual activity".

    How then, I wonder, can a sensitive, thoughtful man who has had the good fortune of surviving into middle age and who still marvels at the nubile beauty of a young woman with absolutely no sexual activity, excessive or otherwise, be labeled a "dirty old man". At what age must he limit himself to appreciating the beauty of music, the arts and poetry but not to the living beauty of an attractive younger woman?

    Were this man wealthy or powerful (Can they be separated? Wealth can engender power; power can generate wealth) he would be applauded by his contemporaries for capturing a beautiful young thing half his age or less (You sly old devil you — wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

    Cases in point, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who wed billionaire Aristotle Onassis and all the very young women who flocked to Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion in Chicago. It appears that if a man has prizes to offer, the age difference is of no concern and a younger woman will happily share her femininity and her femaleness.

    But, if a man has the good fortune of surviving to middle age or beyond and has only himself and neither land nor wealth to share, a younger woman may be happy to talk about the weather or the sports page but little else.

    Beautiful day today. Hey, what do you think about them Phillies this season?

I guess I'm ready.
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Sunday, March 23, 2014

To Stop or Not to Stop, That is the Question

    The laws governing when to stop for a school bus vary from state to state but all states require vehicles to stop when the top red lights on the bus are flashing. The very few exceptions are generally common sense exceptions such as traffic moving in the opposite direction on a divided highway with a substantial physical barrier such as a concrete divider or a guide rail.*

    The rules for the school bus driver are very explicit about when the flashing red lights are to be activated and when they are not to be used. Also explicit is the timing and the distance at which to activate the advance warning yellow flashing lights before activating the red lights.

    I came upon a situation recently where a school bus was stopped and no warning lights were flashing except the ordinary four-way flashers used to indicate a break down or a stopped vehicle on a roadway. Traffic in both directions was stopped and beginning to cause a long back up. I was aware that this was not a required stopping situation so I turned on my four-ways and walked toward the bus to see if the driver was having a mechanical problem and met him as he walked toward the rear passenger side of his bus.

    He began deploying a ramp to allow his wheel-chair bound passenger to get off the bus. I asked him to confirm that driving past his bus was legal and he confirmed that it was completely legal for cars to pass when discharging a wheel chair passenger from the passenger side on the curb side of the street.

    I returned to my car and with a hand signal indicated to the other drivers patiently waiting that it was okay to proceed. Seeing such confusion among so many drivers led me to search the law to see if I could find the specific language to share it with those who find themselves uncertain about when it's legal to pass a stopped bus.

    I found it in the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes:

     Title 75

         Chapter 33. Rules of the Road in General

              Subchapter D. Special Stops Required

                  Section 3345, Meeting or overtaking school bus.
                       subsection, (f.1) Use of school buses for transportation of disabled persons.

— Whenever a school bus is being used upon a highway or trafficway for the transportation of disabled persons exclusively and the school bus is equipped with red signal lights, the driver of the school bus may actuate the signal lights in the same manner as set forth in this section regarding the transportation of school children. The driver of a vehicle approaching the school bus shall have the same duties regarding stopping, passing and overtaking as he does with respect to a school bus carrying school children.

    I emphasized the words "may actuate" to show it is one of the few non-mandatory circumstances where it is at the school bus driver's discretion to determine whether safety considerations might demand the use of the signal lights.

    The key clues for an upcoming stop are the top yellow lights flashing which must begin no more than 300 feet from a stop and no less than 150 feet from that stop. When the yellow flashing lights come on, be prepared for a stop about to happen. If none of the top lights are flashing, you may pass the bus in either direction, but once the red lights begin flashing there should never be any confusion about stopping. STOP. And when you stop, make sure you are no closer than 10 feet from the bus. After the last exiting student has reached a point of safety, the driver will turn the lights off and retract the semaphore arm and you can then proceed.

    If in doubt, STOP. We're talking about our school children's safety. They are our future even if they haven't learned yet how to buckle their belts at their waistline.

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*Guide rail has replaced the former term guard rail for unknown reasons but it has been suggested that 'guard rail' implies greater protection from potential injury than that structure can provide. Some barriers may, by the very nature of their construction, cause injury rather than prevent it. To lessen the potential liability of a municipality, the words have been 'softened' to better shield the municipality from expensive litigation.
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Melting Pots, Salad Bowls and Official Language

    Even before the 1908 premiere of Israel Zangwill's play, The Melting Pot, our country has been described as one because of  the mixture of different nationalities, cultures and races. But 'melting pot' is not really an apt metaphor to describe the melange of people who populate this country.

    For instance, the heterogeneous ingredients including iron, carbon, nickel, chromium, titanium and others will, in a melting pot, fuse to become stainless steel - a homogeneous result. There is nothing homogeneous about the population of America.

    Amy Chua, a scholar from Yale University has suggested that the term, Salad Bowl, would be a much more accurate description since none of the ingredients in a salad lose their individual identity in a kind of peaceful coexistence.

    An 'Official' language is an excellent idea because a common language spoken fluently by every person is as the salad dressing binding this admixture of peoples. The question remains, "Which language should be the Official language?"

    There are some groups presenting bills before government assemblies to declare Spanish the official language. Why? Spanish as spoken by Puerto Ricans is not the same as Spanish spoken by Mexicans nor is it the same as that spoken by natives of Spain. Similarly, the French spoken by natives of Quebec is not the same as the French spoken by the natives of France. And some languages require gestures or altered inflections to achieve understanding.

    English on the other hand is such an accumulation of words with roots from a whole spectrum of other world cultures and languages that whatever message is to be conveyed can be done with such exacting precision that any nuances intended will be delivered by the right choice of words. English is infinitely flexible and though misunderstanding can occur, a more appropriate choice of 'right' words can eliminate any misunderstanding.

    Those who come to this country and encounter English as a second language should be welcome to retain their native language as part of their cultural identity. The diversity adds flavor to our salad bowl. Considering that English was the language spoken by the majority of those already populating the salad bowl, additional ingredients should not be allowed to overwhelm the basic character of the salad.

    Not to adopt English because of any "I was here first so I make the rules" attitude. If that were the case, our primary language might be Nordic after Leif Ericson's (son of Eric the Red) landing in far north America 500 hundred or so years before the Mayflower pilgrims arrived or perhaps the Wampanoag language which greeted the pilgrims. The sheer weight of years of the accepted use of English commends its use.

    It's the long arm of a lever which exerts its force on the short end not the other way around.
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

"O Say Can You See...", Or Not

    A recent Facebook posting, "Should the National Anthem be sung before sporting events?" raises the question, Why? Of National Anthems I've heard, many if not most speak of strength and valor in the successful defense of home and country. Is a sporting event the outcome of which will have no significant impact on a country or its people worthy of such commemoration? Consider the anthems of other countries:

France: La Marseillaise [Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin] (War Song for the Army of the Rhine)

    "Arise, children of the Fatherland
     The day of glory has arrived!
     Against us, tyranny
     Raises its bloody banner...

    "To arms, citizens
     Form your battalions
     Let's march, let's march!
     Let an impure blood   
     Water our furrows!"

    In the film, "Casablanca", the singing of this anthem brought some to tears of patriotic fervor.


Italy: Il Canto degli Italiani (Song of the Italians)

    "Fratelli d'Italia,
    l'Italia s'è desta...

    ...siam pronti alla morte.
    Siam pronti alla morte,..."

   (Brothers of Italy,
    Italy has woken...

    ...We are ready to die.
    We are ready to die...")

    In an Andre Rieu concert in Cortona, Italy, his performance of this anthem aroused a fervent patriotic spirit in the audience.


    Now to our National Anthem: I was brought to tears by Roseanne Barr's outrageous rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a baseball game between the Padres and the Reds on July 25, 1990. It was patently offensive.

    (Barr claimed that some baseball officials encouraged her to "bring humor to the song").

    It's not a "song". It's an anthem. Our National Anthem!

    Other famous and not-so-famous celebrities have presented their own disrespectful musical variations on our National Anthem and it besmirches the values for which our Star Spangled Banner stands.

    I was also brought to tears on the parade ground at morning Assembly during the bugle playing To The Colors as the flag was raised smartly to full staff followed by the Navy band's instrumental version of our Anthem.

    The living are giving and the dead have given to protect our flag and what it stands for. If sports officials and fans insist on presenting our National Anthem prior to a usually bloodless competition, then ensure it is done with the dignity and respect it deserves. No less than a military band or orchestra can accomplish that. Let the raucous and profane remain as part of the half time show if you must.
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