If you must speak improperly, do it correctly

I’m fascinated by the various dialects of English and have studied them a little in graduate school. I’ve defended the regional use of “you all” or “y’all” as serving a valuable grammatical purpose. Most languages have a plural form of the second person pronoun.

Actually “you” IS the plural form, which explains why it always takes a plural verb: “you ARE,” like “they are”; “you eat,” like “they eat,” but “he eats.” What happened is that we lost the second person SINGULAR form, which was “thou.” As in other European languages, the second person singular–Spanish “tu,” German “du,” English,”thou”–acquired also a social meaning, so that it began to be applied as a “familiar” pronoun, reserved for either social inferiors or to people you are very close to. That Luther in his vernacular translation of the Bible used “du” to refer to God–something echoed in the English Bible’s “thou”–meant that though He is the high King of heaven and earth, He is also our close, intimate, heavenly father.

Anyway, if we can’t bring the singular “thou” back (with its conjugations, “thee” and “thy”), we could at least make room for a new plural. In American English, the South has “you all”; some Northern dialects make the pronoun plural the same way we make nouns plural, by adding an “s,” resulting in “youse.” In some Southern dialects–I have heard it in Arkansas and Texas–there is the contraction of “you ones”: “you’uns.”

Last week, though, I heard “you all” used as a SINGULAR! A fellow-Virginian passed me in the parking lot and greeted me with “How are y’all?” Now that is incorrect! It’s using a plural for a singular! When we speak improperly–in the sense of using a non-standard dialect–we must be sure to do so correctly!

The government’s pens

I love pens.  Since pens are the primal tool of my vocation, I treasure a good pen, from a cheap-but-reliable Bic to the classical-and-hefty Cross.  So I appreciated this feature on those government-issue black pens, which are found in post offices, bureaucratic agencies, and the military. Would that the rest of the government were so inexpensive and worked so well!

Blind workers assemble the pens in factories in Wisconsin and North Carolina under the brand name Skilcraft as part of a 72-year-old legislative mandate. The original 16-page specifications for the pen are still in force: It must be able to write continuously for a mile and in temperatures up to 160 degrees and down to 40 degrees below zero.

It has been used in war zones and gas stations, and was designed to fit undetected into U.S. military uniforms. According to company lore, the pen can stand in for a two-inch fuse and comes in handy during emergency tracheotomies. . . .

The unassuming pen stamped with the words “SKILCRAFT U.S. GOVERNMENT” in white letters has endured despite quantum leaps in communications technology that have rendered lesser tools obsolete. Taking over from the fountain pen, it has withstood the advent of the rubberized “comfort grip” and the freely flowing gel ink, not to mention computers, instant messages and smartphones. The U.S. Postal Service alone orders 700,000 a year. . . .

The original design — brass ink tube, plastic barrel not shorter than 4 5/8 inches, ball of 94 percent tungsten carbide and 6 percent cobalt — has changed little over the decades. It costs less than 60 cents.

The pen’s roots date to the Depression. The 1938 Wagner-O’Day Act required the federal government to buy certain products made by the blind, thereby creating jobs for a then-marginalized population. First came mops and brooms, but the program eventually expanded to include a full line of cleaning and office supplies under the brand name Skilcraft. In fiscal 2009, the program, now known as AbilityOne, raked in a record $658.5 million in sales of products and services.

The pens account for about $5 million in sales each year. About 60 percent of business is from the military, but the Agriculture, Commerce and Justice departments are all reliable customers, according to NIB. The pens are primarily issued through government agencies, though civilians can buy them by request through some retail stores. . . .

Part of the pen’s cult appeal comes from its writing capabilities. Among other things, the original General Services Administration requirements for items FSC 7520 (the ballpoint pen) and FSC 7510 (the refill) dictated that:

— The ink cartridge shall be capable of producing under 125 grams of pressure a line not less than 5,000 feet long.

— Blobs shall not average more than 15 per 1,000 feet of writing, with a maximum of 25 for any 1,000-foot increment.

— Writing shall not be completely removed after two applications of chemical bleach.

The pens have also spawned their own folklore. The length of the pen is said to be equivalent to 150 nautical miles on Navy maps, helping pilots navigate in a pinch. The metal tip has reportedly been cited as the maximum length for a woman’s fingernails in the military.

Chuck Lange, chief executive of Industries for the Blind in Milwaukee, said that the pens can write upside down and that they have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

via Low-tech Skilcraft pens endure in a high-tech world.

What are some other good, basic, but high-quality products like this?

When conservatives eat their own

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is one of the heroes of the legislature, in my opinion, the scourge of earmarks and the Scrooge of fiscal responsibility.  More than that, he is a strong pro-lifer.  And yet now he’s in trouble with his fellow conservatives:

Coburn has said he favors the death penalty for “abortionists.” He opposes “any and all efforts to mandate gun control on law-abiding citizens.” During the debate over health-care reform, Coburn said that “what the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight.” He is the Senate’s “Dr. No,” leading the charge this week against extending unemployment benefits. I could go on — but Coburn doesn’t need me to vouch for his conservative bona fides. Except for these alleged transgressions: At a recent town hall meeting, Coburn called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “a nice lady” — in the course of criticizing the speaker for telling him she did not want to set a “precedent” by paying for the extension of unemployment benefits. In my world, “nice lady” borders on dismissive with a slight, if unintended, tinge of sexism. In Conservative World, that description of Pelosi apparently is heretical. Coburn's comment was greeted with jeers and hisses, but he stuck to his, well, guns. “Come on now. She is a nice — how many of you all have met her? She's a nice person,” Coburn said. “Let me give you a little lesson here. I hope you will listen to me. Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn't mean they’re not a good person.” When a woman said she worried about the health-reform law because the Internal Revenue Service would be empowered to put people in jail, Coburn politely — and accurately — disagreed. “The intention is not to put anybody in jail,” he said. “That makes for good TV news on Fox, but that isn’t the intention.” Coburn went on: “What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what’s going on and make a determination yourself. So don't catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody is no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don't know what they don’t know.” The howling was swift. Rush Limbaugh: “Well, who cares if she’ nice? . . . Al Capone was a nice guy. Hitler had friends, for crying out loud. . . . So Coburn says, “There’s no intention of putting anybody in jail.' No, no, no. . . . Somebody tell Tom Coburn she was specifically asked about possible jail time, and she said “the legislation is very fair in this respect.' ” Glenn Beck: “The Republican that I”m supposed to defend because he's so unlike Nancy Pelosi was defending Nancy Pelosi.” Mark Levin, who manages to make Limbaugh and Beck sound like calm voices of reason: “We don’t need you hack, detestable politicians telling us a damn thing. Most of you are a bunch of pathetic, unethical morons. And so, no, Mr. Coburn, we won’t be told to sit down and be quiet. We won’t be told by you to watch CNN to balance off Fox. You got that, pal? Who the hell do you think you are? You sound like a jerk, to be perfectly honest about it. You, the jerk, who backed John McCain.”

via Ruth Marcus – Vilifying Tom Coburn for a moment of civility. Might conservatives blow their big chance by scaring or just putting off the general public?

Goodness, gracious, great ball of fire!

Did any of you see this thing?

Authorities in several Midwestern states were flooded Wednesday night with reports of a gigantic fireball lighting up the sky, the National Weather Service said.

The fireball was visible for about 15 minutes beginning about 10 p.m., said the National Weather Service in Sullivan, Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee.

“The fireball was seen over the northern sky, moving from west to east,” said the NWS in the Quad Cities area, which includes parts of Iowa and Illinois.

“Well before it reached the horizon, it broke up into smaller pieces and was lost from sight,” the service said. “Several reports of a prolonged sonic boom were received from areas north of Highway 20, along with shaking of homes, trees and various other objects including wind chimes,” it said.

It said the fireball was seen across parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. CNN affiliate WISN-TV said that people in Ohio also saw it.

Video from WISN showed a massive ball of light exploding across the sky. The Doppler Radar from the Quad Cities weather service appeared to capture a portion of the smoke trail from the fireball at just after 10 p.m., the NWS said. It appears as a thin line extending across portions of Grant and Iowa Counties in Wisconsin.

There has been no official determination as to what caused the fireball, the NWS in Sullivan said.

However, it said there is a meteor shower called Gamma Virginids that occurs from April 4 to April 21, with peak activity expected on Wednesday and Thursday.

“A large meteorite could have caused the brilliant fireball that has been reported,” the National Weather Service said.

via Massive fireball reported across Midwestern sky – CNN.com.

UPDATE: If your browser isn’t showing it, click “comments” and you can see a video of the fireball.

And what about that volcano in Iceland that has paralyzed global air traffic? Contrary to popular assumption, we haven’t tamed nature yet.

The first thing Jesus did after His resurrection

Touchstone editor Patrick Reardon on a Scriptural detail that I had never thought about before:

“That instant of the Resurrection of Jesus was the most decisive moment in the history of the world. It was the event of deepest importance for every human being who ever lived. It was the supreme kairos. The Law and the Prophets were fulfilled in that moment, and the existence of the human race took on an utterly new meaning.

“What, however, was the first thing Jesus did when the Resurrection life came surging into His body? The simplest and plainest thing imaginable: He reached up, pulled the kerchief from His face, folded it, and set it aside, as though it had been a napkin used at breakfast.”

“The universal Christ, the eternal Word in whom all things subsist, was still the same Jesus, to whom an act of elementary neatness came naturally. He spontaneously did what He would likely have done in any case, much as another man might unconsciously scratch his ear, or yet another look around for a stick to whack the weeds with as he walked along.

“The risen Lord was the same Jesus His friends had always known. He had just returned from the realm of hell, where He trampled down death by death. He was on the point of going forth as a giant to run His course. He was about to begin appearing to His disciples, providing them with many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

“Nonetheless, He was still the same person, whose instinctive habits remained identical. First, He took a moment to fold the kerchief He had used, and only then did He stride out to change the direction of history and transform the lives of human beings.”

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: The Christ of the Folded Napkin.

The vocation of a teacher

Congratulations to columnist Kathleen Parker–whom I actually met at a Patrick Henry College journalism event– for winning the Pulitzer Prize.  She credits a teacher for starting her on that road:

I materialized in James Gasque’s class in March of the school year for reasons that will have to wait for another day. Suffice to say, I knew no one and had come from a small high school in central Florida where, for some reason, no one had bothered to teach the diagramming of sentences.

Thus, my fellow students at Dreher High School in Columbia, S.C., were way ahead of me when Mr. Gasque finally called on me to identify some part of a sentence he had written on the blackboard. His back to the class with chalk in hand, he stood poised to write my instructions.

Every living soul knows the feeling of helplessness when a crowd of peers awaits the answer you do not know. Whatever I said was utterly ridiculous, I suppose, because my classmates erupted in peals of laughter.

I have not forgotten that moment, or the next, during all these years. As I was trying to figure out how to hurl myself under my desk, Mr. Gasque tossed me a sugarcoated, tangerine-colored lifesaver from the good ship lollipop.

He whirled. No perfectly executed pirouette can top the spin executed by Mr. Gasque that day. Suddenly facing the class, he flushed crimson and his voice trembled with rage.

“Don’t. You. Ever. Laugh. At her. Again.” he said. “She can out-write every one of you any day of the week.”

It is not possible to describe my gratitude. Time suspended and I dangled languorously from a fluff of cloud while my colleagues drowned in stunned silence. I dangle even now, like those silly participles I eventually got to know. Probably no one but me remembers Mr. Gasque’s act of paternal chivalry, but I basked in those words and in the thought that what he said might be true. I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could. I am still trying.

via Kathleen Parker – A sprig of verbena and the gifts of a great teacher.

Did any of you have a teacher who had a similar impact in your life?