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MONTEBELLO E-NEWS

April 5, 2007

 Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.
Samuel Johnson,
poet, essayist, one of England’s greatest literary figures, 1709 - 1784

In This Issue

 1.     Has George Orwell Left the Grave?

2.     How Little We Know, Part 3

3.     Announcements

4.     Fun (?) Facts

5.     The Flashback Quarterback

6.     About Montebello E-News and “My Montebello”

  

Online Community Lesson

 Has George Orwell Left the Grave?

          In high school in the early Seventies, we read George Orwell’s 1984, in which a socialist England controlled people’s lives, even manipulating language so as to exert control.         

          I recall that, when the year 1984 did come around, it was noted that Orwell’s vision had not come to pass.  But I think that we have resurrected Orwell in the meantime. 

          Some of us would look at how elected officials redefine words or how “spin doctors” reinterpret events.  The battle between the present Administration and Congress is an example.  Our calling Al-Qaeda the devil’s spawn and their hurling the epithet back at us is another example.  But it is not just in politics that language is manipulated. 

          Our definition of words used in economics is an example of the effect of language on our view of the world.  (That is where the concern lies:  manipulated language means we see the world through tinted—if not tainted—glasses.  See the essay “How Little We Know” in this newsletter.)  Let us take a word as seemingly innocuous as “costs”.   That is the amount deducted from income in order to calculate profit. 

          So, what are “costs”?  This becomes quite interesting.  There are recurring, predictable costs, like utilities, wages, taxes, and contributions for worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance.  And there are occasional, unpredictable costs which normally are not within the definition of cost.  Let us call these latter costs “external” costs, also known as “hidden” costs. 

          Examples of occasional, unpredictable costs: 

·        identity theft;  if you have gone through this, you lose time and money re-establishing credit, and your health may deteriorate;  yet, if the thief is caught, you are not reimbursed for your loss of time, money, and health;  (see the article “Who’s Guarding Your Data in the Cybervault?”, USA Today, April 3, 2007);

·        when the power went out in Montebello on March 27, much business was lost, many people stopped at blinking red lights while others drove to a shut-down business and returned home, students did not have computers;  for the hours that the power was down, what was the cost to Montebello residents, students, businesses, and local government, not to mention the environmental cost?

·        the incidence of pulmonary maladies, like asthma, among children and adults caused by gases and particles emitted by vehicles and factories;  it is true that the incidence is increasing, but the cost of these maladies has not been figured into the price of the fossil fuels contribute to the maladies.

The upshot of our “Orwellian” definition of a word like “costs” is that the public pays the bill for costs which others should pay.  Has anybody calculated how much of his or her costs should actually be paid by somebody else? 

If you answer the multiple-choice questions below and e-mail to lessonanswers@mymontebello.com with “Lesson answers” in the subject field, you will be credited toward a “certificate of recognition in community affairs” to be awarded in 2007 by a local nonprofit organization. 

1. How we look at the world

(a) is independent of how we use language.

(b) is closely tied to how we define words.

2. If we took external costs into consideration,

(a) polluting fuels and vehicles would cost their owners more.

(b) a utility would pay those affected by the failure of its service.

(c) those convicted of crimes would be obliged to reimburse, even if it took them the rest of their lives. 

 

 

How Little We Know, Part 3

 The main focus in my life now is to open people's minds so no one will be so conceited that they think they have the total truth.  They should be eager to learn, to listen, to research and not to confine, to hurt, to kill, those who disagree with them.

Sir John Templeton, American-born businessman and philanthropist

           In part 1, we saw that we could not have precise or complete knowledge.  In part 2 we saw that our society had means by which to handle imprecise or incomplete knowledge.  We now turn our attention to the application of one such means to candidates for elective office, namely, the use of a judicial process to give us accurate information about candidates.

           If we applied a judicial process, we might well see candidates squandering far less money on misleading propaganda.  At the same time, we might see some of that campaign money having a direct and beneficial impact on our community.  (Ponder that possibility.)

           The closest we come to the application of a judicial process to candidates is a debate with a moderator, for which the League of Women Voters has a good reputation.  Yet, a debate is constrained by time to an extent not found in a judicial process.  (I am talking about a real judicial process, not Judge Judy.)  Because of the time constraint, a candidate might impress a falsehood in the minds of the audience and not be challenged.

           Also, a debate does not involve third parties other than when questions and challenges are offered from the audience. 

           Thus, with the intent to separate fact from fiction, we would find it useful to restructure a candidates debate to better approximate a judicial process:

·        sufficient time for rebuttal, even if there has to be a recess for everyone to freshen up;

·        the ability of a candidate to call somebody from the audience to testify to the veracity of an assertion, and the ability of the other candidate to cross-examine the “witness”;

·        a panel of moderators who would use American rules of evidence in admitting or striking statements made by candidates;

·        a conclusion by the audience or randomly chosen members of the audience about the veracity of candidate statements, this conclusion becoming an “official community document”, without any intervention by government;  the audience would have to take an oath affirming that it would conclude impartially;

·        a source of funds to support this enhanced candidates debate;  this source of funds could be campaign money.  (Ponder that possibility.)

           It is important to note that the aforementioned judicial process would not prevent a candidate from mouthing, outside the room, whatever he or she pleased, in whichever manner desired, as is now done.  But he or she would be more cautious because of the power invested in the community and the funds available to set the record straight.

           In the next part, we will look at a judicial process as applied to elected officials.

  

Announcements

FOR EVERYONE.  Montebello Friends of the Library has a sale of fiction and non-fiction books on Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, 2007, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Montebello Regional Library, 1550 West Beverly Boulevard, Montebello.  For more information, 323.722.6551.

FOR EVERYONE.  April has key holy days.  You can go to www.mymontebello.com and click on “Community Lists and Services” in the left margin, in order to go to a list of churches and temples.

FOR YOUTH.  Art and creative-writing contests.  U.S. savings bonds awarded to the eighteen winners by Wells Fargo Bank.  The theme is “Looking Back and Moving Forward:  Commemorating History, Heritage, and Culture of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans”.  Any student in grades kindergarten through twelve in Los Angeles County may enter the art contest.  For a .pdf file with instructions about the art, make a request to project_teacher@mymontebello.com, subject field “E-News Announcement”.  Students in grades seven through twelve may enter the creative-writing contest.  For instructions about the creative writing, e-mail Elizabeth Morín at elizabeth.morin@lacity.org, subject field “Please give instructions for creative-writing contest about Asian culture”.

 

 

Fun (?) Facts

In the past 40 years, many Americans have swapped nutrient-dense milk for sodas and other beverages that are mostly bereft of nutrients.  In 1966, Americans drank, on average, 20 gallons of soft drinks and 33 gallons of milk.  In 2003, Americans drank an average of 46 gallons of soft drinks and 22 gallons of milk.  Milk contains minerals, proteins, vitamins and, most importantly, calcium.  “Acids in Sodas Erode Teeth, Study Says”, Robin Lloyd, Live Science, 3.23.07

 

 

The Flashback Quarterback

In the essay series “The Eleventh Commandment”, we learned of the importance of checking facts.  A failure to do so could cause us or somebody else grief.  An example appeared on the Internet recently:  fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger was accused of making racist remarks while appearing on the “Oprah Winfrey Show”.  Interestingly, an explanation at a hoax-buster Web site includes this:

You might also consider visiting Oprah Winfrey's own site to see what she has to say. Turns out she did a special segment during her January 11, 1999, show specifically to put this lie to rest. "Mr. Hilfiger has never appeared on the show," reads the synopsis. "In fact, Oprah has never even met him." ...

 

About Montebello E-News and “My Montebello”

To learn about this newsletter, Montebello E-News, and the accompanying, growing Web site, “My Montebello”, visit www.mymontebello.com.  Also, you will find instructions and contact information for submitting announcements for publication in this newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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