Saturday, March 20, 2010

David’s Definitions for May 2010


In modern usage, this almost always means a person who controls the flight of an airplane. We also use it as a verb: To pilot a plane. The word first appeared in English in the early 1500s, and originally it referred to the person who controls the direction of a ship. In the 1800s, it came to mean the person who controls a balloon. It didn't take on the airplane meaning until the early 20th century. It stems from a Greek word, pedon, meaning "steering oar." That word is related to the Greek word pous, "a foot." So pilot is distantly related to octopus ("eight-footed") and podiatrist (someone who treats ailments of the feet). At one time, podiatrists treated ailments of the hands as well and were called chiropodists, from the Greek word for hand, chiro, combined with the Greek word for foot. A related word is chiropractor, combining the Greek word for hand and the Greek word praktikos, "practical." Which brings us back to pilot, because after you spend a few hours crammed into a modern airline seat, you need a chiropractor to straighten you out again.

(Will be published in the May 2010 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these at:

Monday, March 15, 2010

I don’t have a criminal record

Sometimes, waiting for a response to job applications, I have this irrational fear that some guy with the same name as me has a criminal record, which shows up when potential employers do a routine check. But I'll never know. So I should think about other things and not let myself go crazy. That's what the giant, fanged rabbit keeps telling me. He says I should worry instead about the coming end of the world.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Coffee Party

I just went to a local Coffee Party meeting and left before it ended. Too weak, too diluted, too much emphasis on holding hands and playing nice and working together. It's not left or right, Republican or Democratic, not an answer to the Tea Party. It's just lots of good intentions and optimism.

Also, despite the lip service to the organization being grass roots and bottom up, the whole event was predetermined and dominated by the moderator and his script, which parroted what's on the Coffee Party Web site.

I want an organization that will tap into and represent the anger of the left. I don't know if such an organization would have a political impact, but I don't think the Coffee Party will, either.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Ghastly executions and cheering crowds

But not in movies. For some reason, with the occasional exception of Westerns, Hollywood likes to portray the crowds attending grisly public executions as being horrified by what they’re watching and filled with sympathy for the prisoner.

I’m pretty sure I remember the protracted, gruesome execution of William Wallace being depicted that way in the terrible Mel Gibson movie (or is that redundant?) Braveheart. I’m quite sure I remember the execution of Guy Fawkes being depicted that way in the movie V for Vendetta.

I suspect that in reality, in both cases the crowd was cheering on the executioners. After all, the crowd knew what to expect in such executions, and if they found the drawn-out torture and death of a prisoner so repulsive, they probably wouldn’t have attended. It’s my understanding that public executions in England, and probably elsewhere, were considered wonderful spectacles, and people went there to be entertained by the awful suffering and exposed viscera of the condemned.

Moreover, Wallace was not a hero to the English. In their eyes, he was “an outlaw, a murderer, the perpetrator of atrocities and a traitor” – an accurate view, given his violent, destructive raids into (civilian!) England. Nor was Fawkes a champion of liberty and opponent of royal tyranny as implied by that entertaining but fundamentally silly movie. Had the Gunpowder Plot succeeded, many innocent people would have died along with the targeted ruling class, and the country would have been plunged into chaos. That chaos, the plotters hoped, would have been followed by the institution of a Catholic monarchy that would have been far more repressive than the rule of James I. So the crowd was probably very happy to see Fawkes being slowly dispatched.

In fact, I suspect that there were many older people in the crowd who were disgusted. I can imagine one of them saying, “These executioners, they’re going to make that fellow die too quickly. He’s not going to suffer anywhere near enough. Why, when I was a lad, torturers and executioners really knew their business. They could draw it out for days, I’m telling you. Ah, well, what can you expect? These are evil and declining days, and the country’s going to the dogs. Dogs! Did I ever tell you about the time I saw a man torn apart by a pack of hungry dogs? That was back in the good old days.”