Plastic Power


Waves of plastic lapping on a golden beach: temporary and permanent, serene and gaudy, Man’s power dwarfed by Man’s powerlessness.


This edition continues an earlier trend in wordplay, homonymphora. Once again, I take my fascination with repeated words to a ridiculous extreme. This time around, the sentence is:

John, where Jack had had "had had", had had "had";
"had had" had had a better effect for the teacher.

Let’s dissect that sentence a bit. Presumably, Jack and John are grammar students trying to impress a teacher with their mastery of tenses. The sentence above recounts that Jack’s construction, in all of its past perfect glory, impressed the teacher more than John’s measly simple present construction. Let’s look at each occurrence of “had”, sometimes in pairs.

  • John, where Jack – as-is.
  • had had – past participle of “have”; can be replaced here by “had written”.
  • “had had” – still past participle of “have”, but this time refers to Jack’s writing assignment; can be replaced by “_some past perfect_”.
  • had had – past participle of “have” again, keeping with the overall tense of the sentence; can be replaced by “had written”.
  • “had” – simple past of “have”, referring here to John’s writing assignment; can be replaced by “_some simple past_”.
  • “had had” – still refers to Jack’s writing assignment; can be replaced by “_some past perfect_”.
  • had had – past participle of “have” again, keeping with the overall tense of the sentence; can be replaced by “had caused”.
  • a better effect for the teacher – as-is.

Rewriting the sentence with appropriate substitutions:

John, where Jack had written _some past perfect_,
had written _some simple past_; _some past perfect_
had caused a better effect for the teacher.

Eleven “had”s in a row – my new record.

Solving Voting

Voter involvement is a challenge facing democracies, in particular the US. Voting for political positions is too hard, and process impediments make it harder. Some of these impediments are archaic, such as the requirement that national elections be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Some of these impediments are devious, such as the attempt to suppress low-income or minority turnout by reducing the time available to register to vote. Some of the impediments are procedural, such as the requirement that all eligible people vote on the same day, within a fixed set of hours. Along with these impediments are various confounding items, such as the bogeyman of voter fraud, the prospect of hand-counting inaccurate ballots especially during recounts, the inconsistencies around counting of absentee ballots, etc.

I believe technology can solve all of these problems. For the rest of this discussion, let us put aside the question of political will. Can the rest of the problems be solved with the best technology we have or can invent? Will technology introduce new problems? Can we surmount those? If we can, I believe we will bring voting technology into the modern age, increase voter participation, and ensure fairer elections.

I believe we have the technology available to solve the problem of secure voting. Daily, we transact billions of dollars on the internet, using banks, credit cards, shopping sites. For the most part, these transactions occur flawlessly, with no loss, no faking of transactions, no leakage of private information. In addition, annually, an increasing fraction of the population submits its tax returns electronically, again flawlessly, safely and privately. Technologies such as cryptography and blockchain hold the promise of enabling secure transactions, with vanishingly low probabilities of insecurity.

There are three classes of problems that must be solved with technology. First, the basic voting problem, with its attendant sub-problems of authentication, authorisation, privacy, counting, etc. Second, the problems intoduced by technology, namely the perception that the technology can be hacked, the programmers introduce bugs or bias, the dangers of spoofing identity, the need for a “paper trail”, etc. Third, for the forseeable future, sections of the populace may not have access to the technology, therefore the technological solution must co-exist with a version of the “old-school” process.

For now, I do not have solutions to all of these problems. I don’t believe I will be able to invent the best solutions for all of the problems, or any solution to any of the problems. My goal in this post is to merely lay out the problems we have to solve, to spur our thinking.

Repeated Words

For inexplicable reasons, I am fascinated with a peculiar form of wordplay that I dub “homonymphora“. The idea here is to create a meaningful sentence in which a particular word is repeated consecutively. No cheating: the repeated word cannot be a proper noun, it cannot be some form of callout. It has to be a legitimate word, used legitimately, although each occurrence of the word can have a different meaning.

An early example I came up with is:

He said that that that that that man used was incorrect.

Translating into something more meaningful:

  • The first “that” is a conjunction introducing a subordinate clause.
  • The second “that” is a determiner, used to identify a particular thing. At the risk of being temporarily verbose, we can replace it with “the specific”.
  • The third “that” is the specific thing in question, which happens to be the word “that”. It could have been any word, so let’s replace it with “_word_”.
  • The fourth “that” is the a conjunction again, introducing a dependent subordinate clause. At the risk of being temporarily grammatically incorrect, we can replace it with the conjunction for an independent subordinate clause, namely “which”.
  • The fifth and final “that”  is a determiner again, used to identify a particular person. At the risk of being temporarily verbose, we can replace it with “the specific”.

Reworded, the sentence becomes:

He said that the specific _word_
which the specific man used was incorrect.

And there you have it, an example of homonymphora. I don’t know why it has fascinated me for years, but it has.