Walter E. Williams

It's not easy being me. I'm disturbed by statements that many Americans accept or don't question that are ludicrous, if not crazy. The terms "change," "agents of change" and "change agents" are being bandied by presidential hopefuls, their supporters and media commentators. I'd like to ask Americans listening to these people whether they are for or against change. For one to be for or against change, in any generic sense, qualifies as stupid, but maybe public stupidity is the stock and trade of politicians.

Politicians and media people don't have a monopoly on silly talk. How many times have you heard a weatherman say that the sun will try to come out later in the day? Sometimes their prediction turns out to be false and I wonder whether they would explain it by saying the sun didn't try hard enough. But it's not just weathermen who use teleological explanations, ascribing purposeful behavior to inanimate objects. I'm currently listening to CD lectures on particle physics and I'm told that strange quarks want to decay. I'm wondering how the professor knows what a strange quark wants; has he interviewed one?

But it gets worse and sometimes mildly unpleasant. An information operator might tell me that the number I want is 61o-777-8o7o. In the past, I have asked operators whether I'd reach my party by pressing the telephone's "o" key instead of the zero key. Operators have always told me that to reach my party, I'd have to press the zero key, whereupon I'd ask them, why did they say "o"; were they deliberately trying to sabotage my communication efforts? Our brief conversation begins to go politely downhill. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe their source of confusion stems from the fact that the zero key doubles for the operator key.

But there's hope for the future. In my classes, when the opportunity arises, I give my students the definitions for "o" and zero. "O" is a vowel and the 15th letter of the English alphabet. Zero is defined as any number that when added or subtracted from another number does not change the value of that number.

I have other problems. When I attended Stoddart-Fleisher Junior High and Benjamin Franklin High schools, during the '40s and early '50s, teachers insisted on proper grammar, even though these schools were predominantly black and among Philadelphia's lowest ranked in terms of academic reputation.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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