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Letters: Plastic Bags, Roman Numerals


It's time now for your comments.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Plastic or paper? How about neither? That was the response several of you had to our story about San Francisco wanting to ban plastic bags at grocery stores to help the environment. Listener Liz Paul(ph) writes: I have four canvas grocery bags that I purchased 25 years ago and they work just fine. When will American consumers and merchants start thinking a wee bit outside the box? Or maybe she means outside the bag.


Carol Oartree(ph) of Galesburg, Illinois, heard the story while driving home from work and just then, she writes, a bag flew in front of my van. It started me counting the bags caught in the fences and weeds along the road. In the time it took to listen to the story, I counted 36 bags.

INSKEEP: Now let's do a recount of the number of construction cranes in the city of Dubai. During an interview about Halliburton moving it's CEO to Dubai, we heard that city is growing so rapidly that it has 20 percent of the world's cranes.

MONTAGNE: But don't believe it says Seth Wanger(ph) of Athens, Georgia. He writes an article in the Engineering News Record investigates this urban legend and interviews a tower crane manufacturer who estimates that Dubai has, at most, one to two percent of the world's cranes, which, he adds, is still impressive.

INSKEEP: Some clarifications this morning. We heard the story on voter fraud and in it a congressman said an audit in Utah found that 14 non-citizens had voted in that state.

MONTAGNE: The audit actually says that the 14 appeared to be non-citizens. It's not known for sure what their status was.

INSKEEP: In a report on medical marijuana we referred to a drug called Marinol as the legalized pill form of pot. But to be clear, Marinol contains no actual marijuana. It does contain a synthetic form of THC, which occurs naturally in pot.

MONTAGNE: And a correction. In a story yesterday, we identified Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed as a former Marine. He is a former Army Ranger.

INSKEEP: And now for a little drunken celebration.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) XCI bottles of wine on the wall. XCI bottles of wines.

MONTAGNE: To honor the Ides of March, this is how reporter Robert Krulwich imagined that Roman senators would celebrate the death of Julius Caesar. It's a drinking song we all know, but they were Romans so they used Roman numerals.

Unidentified Group: XCI bottles of wine...

INSKEEP: Many of you thought the song was ridiculous, others loved it. Surely some thought it was ridiculous and loved it anyway, and at least one Latin teacher wrote to say the ancient Romans did have real names for their numbers that were not based on the cumbersome of Roman numerals.

They have proper words like the number is, well it depends on how you want to pronounce it, but decem or daychem(ph) or daysam(ph)? Let's find out how the ancient Romans would have counted by 10 by going to our best source, NPR Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: According to the classical Latin, what the ancient Romans spoke, the Roman numerals are decem, viginti, triginta, quadraginta, quinquaginta, sexaginta, septuaginta, octaginta, nonaginta and centum.

INSKEEP: Wait, wait, wait, this gets even better.

POGGIOLI: For these pronunciations, I consulted Father Reginald Foster, the pope's principal Latinist.

INSKEEP: The principal Latinist of the pope is now your source for how to properly say the numbers in a drinking song.

MONTAGNE: And we're about to come full circle, because yesterday was the Ides of March and there in Rome Sylvia Poggioli happened to record this song of praise to Caesar.

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

MONTAGNE: We don't know who the singers are but we can't help noticing they sound remarkably like the revelers in Robert Krulwich's skit. We revel in your comments everyday. Please write to us by going to and clicking Contact Us.

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.