January 21, 2021

My un-inventions: Readers respond pro & con!

By John Guy LaPlante

Most interesting, their comments!

First, a P.S. from me.  I mentioned the Tucker car and its center Cyclops headlight, which pivoted left and right with the front wheels. This made it easier to see going around sharp corners. I said, hey, it shouldn’t take a Thomas Edison to make this a reality for us.

Well, the swiveling Cyclops exists, well, significantly improved. Some high-end BMWs and some Renaults have left and right lights that swivel.  And they do more than just swivel.   The industry calls them “adaptive” lights. Look it up.

Mark Lander astonished me by his all-out response to nearly all of my un-inventions. And on some, he made me think deeper, yes indeed.

A few words about Mark.  He is a retired prep school teacher of French. He speaks it—in fact, polished French–as easily and naturally as any Frenchman. And he started learning it in high school and fell in love with it.  Very rare to find someone speaking a second language so fluently. And he has another great love—bicycling. He rides daily, and not just around the block, believe me.  Has gone on long jaunts, and many times, some week-long.  And he is not a young retiree….  Also he is the enthusiastic co-chair of the Old Lyme Historical Society.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy the depth and breadth of his comments.

“John, I agree with you all or in part on your “un-inventions.”  Get rid of the penny; doing so will also eliminate the foolish 9/10 cent on gas prices. The only problem is that tacking on the sales tax will bring back total costs ending in something other than 5 or 0. Probably have to round up or down and hope it balances out.

Husband’s name. I agree that women should not have to take their husband’s name but it does create problems for the kids: what name will they be known by? The hyphenated name is fine for one generation but what happens then? Either one name has to go away or when the second generation  marries they’ll have four-part names: Smith-Brown-Thompson-Jones.

Someone once suggested a new name for a married couple, either a combination of parts of their birth names or a whole new name, most likely of some significance to them. Sally Smith and John Brown marry and take Detroit for their new family name as that’s where they met. !!

Gay “marriage”: I believe that gay couples should have all the rights, privileges and respect accorded to heterosexual couples in a union but I’ve never been crazy about the use of the word “marry.” That word is so locked into the traditional definition that it doesn’t seem right to change it. It’s not as though the word “marry” disguises the nature of the relationship. I still have trouble with hearing a gay man refer to his partner, spouse as his “husband.”  This may all be a tempest in a teapot.

Headlights; I seem to recall that there was an attempt in the 50s to create self-dimming headlights but the technology wasn’t available to make them dependable. I should think that today’s tech would allow it.  The turning headlights would probably be shot down by the automotive stylists.

Meat: I agree with you on the vegetarian diet but I don’t think I could handle it on a regular basis. We don’t eat a lot of red meat and I have experimented with some vegetarian meals; some years ago I took an adult ed course in Mediterranean vegetarian cooking and still have the recipes. I think it would be a great idea if everyone moved in that direction even if they couldn’t give up meat entirely.

Majors: Asking a student to commit to a major the first year in college is wrong but it needs to happen by the end of the second year. I don’t recall being asked to commit until late in my sophomore year although there was enough flexibility in my schedule before that to allow me to take courses toward my major w/o a commitment. Sadly, today, so many students arrive underprepared in the basics that I’m surprised that they would even have course room to think about a major.

Here’s something I’d like to see “un-invented.”  Words like selectwoman. The term selectman has gone past referring to a man; no one thinks of that position being solely the domain of men. If we go to selectwoman, then the Navy will need to call its entry level personnel seaman and sea woman, the Air Force airman and airwoman and ship captains will have yeowomen. However, I guess I’ve gotten used to chairwoman although I tend to use the generic “chair.”

Don’t get me started on the difference between house and home. Isn’t there a difference between a house wrecker and a home wrecker? House work and homework? Can’t apartments, condos, yurts, igloos, wigwams, trailers, houseboats all be homes even though they’re not houses?  ‘Nuff said. Best! Mark”

Now from Eunice Bonaparte. She writes from Bahrain! I met Eunice 10 years ago, when both of us reported to the Peace Corps “staging” in Philadelphia, in preparation for shipping out to Ukraine for our 27=month hitch volunteers.  We were part of a 70-member group, as I remember it.  It was an essential, intensive four-day prep for what we’d be facing over there.  We’d sit six to a table for session after session, absorbing briefings and pep talks.  Eunice and I sat side by side for the first session, and then every session. Our friendship goes way back to that.

I was 77. I could have been Eunice’s grandfather. She was a Californian but was teaching public school in New York City.

We both completed our hitches (some did not; Peace Corps ain’t easy). One hitch was enough for me. Eunice went off on another, to a different country. In fact, this has been her thing. Not always in Peace Corps. Sometimes some other do-good international organization. She’d finish one contract, come home for a bit, then go off on another.  All her assignments have been education-related, I believe. It’s always wonderful to get word from her. Never know where she’ll be checking in from next.

Eunice is a black gal. Important to tell you that. Why? Because it made her stand out in Peace Corps in a special and very good way. Apart from her talent as a teacher, she was … is … a wonderful ambassador impressing all she meets in how our country is truly a multi-racial and multi-cultural society. What a wonderful message! I’m sure she’s had the same fine impact in her other assignments.

Now her comment:

“Greetings from Bahrain!  Glad to hear from you as always, John.  I was thinking last night about what I would love to un-invent, and it is the plastic bag!  We just voted in California to keep the “tax” on them, which we only decided to have three years ago.  I was really shocked it was an initiative.

I mean, California has always been a “green” state!  Many people at home have always used reusable canvas bags of course, but many do not – and seeing them clogging up not only my home state but the whole world is just one of those things I feel is not so hard to tackle.

When I lived in Germany and in Switzerland I was so glad to see that everything had to be recycled and there was infrastructure and logistics set up so it wasn’t a burden.

Everyone needs to think like that.  There are too many dead zones in the oceans – plastic bags are a big part of that. So I say let’s un-invent the plastic bag!  🙂

Love, Eunice

Nigel Logan gave me an interesting insight into married women’s names in tiny Iceland. He and his wife Olwen recently returned from a camping tour there. He is a retired scientist from Pfizer. Olwen is a journalist and public relations practitioner.

The two publish two weekly e-newsletters here. Their www.lymeline.com serves the Lymes on the north shore of the Connecticut River, and www.valleynewsnow.com on the south side for the towns of Essex, Chester, and my Deep River. Check both publications.  You’ll see why they’re popular. I have contributed many articles.

Nigel’s comment:

“Thank you John – these are great.  I agree wholeheartedly with all of them except, perhaps, the vegetarian one.

I was particularly interested in the naming convention in Iceland, which is mostly patronymic, and relatively uncommon, I think.  So if my father’s name was William (as it was), I would be Nigel Williamson and my sister would be Jean Williamdottir.  And since women don’t change their name when they get married, a mother, father, son and daughter in the same family would probably all have different last names.  Probably works well in a country like Iceland with 300,000 people and sensible first names, but would not work well in a country of 300 million with a variety of (frequently) ridiculous first names….”

It does show the importance that both men and women, especially married women, attach to preserving their family name.

Their solution also resolves the problem of how to make this work for successive generations—a thought that Mark Lander had.

On the same subject, my daughter Monique sent me an email from her home in Morro Bay, California. I had written to you that when she wed David Nelson, she gave up my surname—but that was our American tradition—yet I was saddened, though I concealed it. I would have been saddened whatever the family name of the man she chose as her husband. I wonder whether other fathers share my sentiment?

Monique’s comment:

“Dad, I agree with a number of your comments, but you’re right that I’m content being Monique Nelson. I will say though that before David and I got married we played with the idea of becoming ‘La Nelson’.”

“LaNelson.” How about that? Ingenious, isn’t it? It does show that they were sensitive to the problem and did consider a solution, however problematic. It would be interesting to get an idea of how many women ponder the question. What a great topic for a sociologist!

And another on the same topic  from my old friend Arthur Lynnworth. I met Artie and his wife Margy in Santiago, Chile, while on my solo tour around the world. They invited me into their home for a week, I believe that delightful stay was.

He was the top executive of a large American chlorine plant there. He had had a similar assignment for the same company in Japan.  Remarkable, I think.

He is happily retired now and incredibly busy. He has authored several books on amazing topics and has given me generous credit for his taking that up. Also a frequent speaker and prolific blogger! Look him up at Amazon.com/books. And check out the extraordinary website that he and Margy keep right up to date.

Artie’s  comment:

“Hi John, I enjoyed this, despite its length (I hear that often). It read quickly and held my interest to the end (never knew about the Tucker car, since I was only 1 year old at the time). I too was thinking of the Spanish version of two last names, representing the father (first) and the mother (second), who always keep their own names. Thanks for sharing this.”

This Spanish tradition is universal, from what I’ve seen. It works. It makes the situation clear.

Well, assuming you want more, before long I’ll have another post for you about inventions that I think should be un-invented. Blame The New Yorker for getting me started on this. Of course I’d be delighted to hear your un-inventions!

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