history, politics

Rowing Against the Current

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I row against the current.  My oar bends.  Will it break?

« Current ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #97 »
Thru a haze of fatigue, my mind drifts to a far away place and long ago time.  To Salamis.  I remember the ancient Greek navy, the mostly Athenian “wooden wall” that defied long odds to save Western civilization.  Salvation is not permanent.

trireme
Greek Trireme (public domain)

I cannot draw to save a life, and it is hard to find a trireme to photograph on short notice.  I used an image I did not create because something about triremes really matters now.

The rowers in Greek triremes were citizens rowing to defend their communities, not galley slaves rowing to avoid the lash.  Tho they could not see the Persian ships they needed to ram, they could trust their leaders to see and steer.  Themistocles owed nothing to Xerxes.

Here and now, rowing as a citizen is more complicated.  The peril is a strong current (stealthy as metastasis) that surges around breakwaters.  What is there to ram?  Will the rowers be swept out to sea while squabbling over which cove to head for?  Are the leaders loyal and competent?  What does Trump owe to Putin?

I row against the current.  I am not alone.

Update [2017-07-30]

Here is a good example of rowing against the current that has gotten less publicity than it deserves.  Senator Mazie Hirono [Dem-HI] interrupted treatment for stage 4 kidney cancer to speak eloquently and vote against the latest pseudoconservative travesty of healthcare legislation.  U can read more details and hear the speech (under 5 minutes) by clicking here.  U can sign a petition to thank her by clicking here.

history, photography, politics

Poem, Book, and Flag

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HughesPoem
The image atop this post comes from a new reading of the classic Langston Hughes poem Let America Be America Again, published in 1936.  On one hand, it is discouraging that the poem is still so timely.  Indeed, a speech from 1910 by Theodore Roosevelt is still timely and sounds remarkably like what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are saying today.  We have frittered away so much of the hard-won partial progress made since 1910 and 1936.  On the other hand, …

Slavomir Rawicz planned and led a small group’s escape from a prison camp in the Siberian Gulag in 1941.  About 9 months and 3000 miles later, the 4 survivors reached safety in India, having walked (with a little crudely improvised equipment and w/o maps) thru Siberian snow, the Gobi Desert, and high passes in the Himalayas.  Details are in his book The Long Walk.

There are many sane and decent people in the USA, and some of them may have the grit and ingenuity of Slavomir Rawicz and his companions.  In my own small way, I will try to help and will keep Yogi Berra’s Law in mind.

Having flown my flag inverted (as a protest) for a few days after the electoral disaster of 2016, I put it away.  The meaning of inversion would no longer be clear.  In the spring of 2017, I bought a new flag (larger and US-made) for occasions like July 4th, when flying the flag upright would not look so much like general approval of the way things are going.  Ceding patriotic symbols to bigots and plutocrats would be a tactical error.

Maybe I should be doing other things today, but I came across the new reading of the poem.  Despite not having burst mode on my camera, I then lucked into a good snapshot of my flag waving proudly.  As usual, I teared up when a radio station played The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Tonight, I will both smile and yawn when neighborhood fireworks keep me up late.  Tomorrow, the sane and decent people can return to the work of redeeming the promise of this day.

flag_716x632

Happy July 4th!

history, humor, politics, STEM

Make America AMERICAN again

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Wish I knew how.  Some of the ways being tried look promising to me; some look counterproductive.  In roughly descending order of promise, I will list 10 of them and add sad emojis for the 3 counterproductive items that end the list.  Pressed for time?  Read #1 and #2 (the most promising items); then skip ahead to #9 and #10 (the most counterproductive items).

First, let me say where I am coming from.  In ancient times (before the phrase liberal Republican became an oxymoron), progressives could be Republicans.  Tho imperfect, that option made sense for pragmatic progressives who disliked deficits, knew how the road to Hell is paved, and would not kowtow to “conservative Democrats” (white racists in what was then the “Solid South”) for the sake of party unity.  In ancient times, I was a Republican.  Now I am a Sanders/Warren Democrat who also donates to the Working Families Party.  That imperfect option is the best available for me today.

America has changed a lot more than I have.  Many changes for the better are in imminent danger of being undone.  Many changes for the worse accelerated when George W Bush became POTUS, were slowed but not stopped under Obama, and have accelerated drastically under Donald Trump.  Paranoia is not one of my faults; I hope I am mistaken in seeing a clear and present danger to liberal democracy itself (on top of 4+ years of monumentally bad governance) in the Age of Trumpery.

  1. Tea Party Tactics
    The all-too successful efforts of the Tea Party to obstruct Obama’s agenda included many tactics that could also be used by honorable people to obstruct Trump’s.  Some progressive former Congressional staffers have compiled the Indivisible Guide for badgering legislators.  In addition to many helpful refinements of what I already vaguely knew, the guide has an insight so jolting that I will discuss it separately, after this list.

  2. Voting Rights
    There are many ways to prevent elections from throwing the bums out.  Savvy modern tyrants need not be so crude as to refuse to hold elections or refuse to let any serious opponents campaign.  Republican state legislators have raised gerrymandering to a high art, passed voter ID laws carefully tailored to depress voting by “conservatives” much less than voting by other groups, and so on.  Election administrators can open fewer polling places in areas where the “wrong” kind of voters are common.

    One of the many ways that the ACLU defends civil liberties is by filing lawsuits against such shenanigans.  Please support the ACLU and anybody else who defends voting rights.  For more on subtle ways that voting rights can be hollowed out behind a facade of democracy, see While Democrats Chase Russians, Republicans Keep Rigging Elections by Richard Eskow.

  3. State & Local Elections
    Far too many progressives act as if voting for POTUS once every 4 years would suffice to make good things happen.  Government in the USA is not that simple. Pseudoconservatives also pay attention down-ballot and in off years.  It shows.  Our fragmented system makes it extremely difficult for POTUS alone to get much done that is worth doing.  Down-ballot results in one election can also have nasty consequences up-ballot in the next one.

  4. Boycotting Trump-branded Stuff
    Tho Trump’s claim to be a “successful businessman” is a wild exaggeration, he does care about money.  The website #GRABYOURWALLET lists many casinos, hotels, products, and retailers.  With careful reading of the website’s spreadsheet, U can separate the retailers who actively push Trump-branded products (or otherwise support Trump) from those who just sell them along with various competitive products.  Boycotting the retailers who just sell them is counterproductive.

  5. Protest Marches
    They seem to have mobilized and heartened opposition, but I cannot help wondering how many of those who march and shout now were perfectionists then, when many progressive purists refused to hold their noses and support the only alternative to Trump who could have won on 2016-11-08.  I hope nobody thinks that denouncing Trump in a raucous crowd is as good as thwarting him.

    My big worry is that protest marches will become old news and that some protestors will try to freshen them up by marching w/o permits, snarling traffic, provoking cops to overreact, and so on.  The resulting legal battles will divert resources from the defense of voting rights.

  6. Ridiculing Trump
    Intense and well-deserved ridicule did not keep Trump out of the White House.  It is hard to ridicule Trump w/o also ridiculing his supporters.  I must confess to having sometimes yielded to temptation on this point.  But anything that is perceived as ridicule will only delay the awakening of those Trump voters who are not bigots or plutocrats but who had good cause to feel abandoned by smug neoliberals and turned to Trump in desperation.

    On the other hand, years of relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton eventually built up an exaggerated and indelible image of dishonesty.  (Tho far from being a paragon of integrity, HRC is relatively honest, as pols go.  The last paragon at the presidential level was Abraham Lincoln, whose honesty did not preclude being calculating and shrewd.)  Maybe years of apt and varied ridicule can accomplish something beyond catharsis for snipers like me.

  7. Fact Checking
    Copious documentation of staggering mendacity did not keep Trump out of the White House.  That those who ridicule Trump are more likely to amuse each other than erode his support is sad but not shocking.  That much of the electorate does not give a rat’s ass for truth is another story.  As with ridicule, I see some small hope that years of hammering away may eventually break thru.

  8. Calls for Impeachment 😦
    The question is not whether Trump deserves to be impeached and convicted.  He does. So what?  Impeachment and conviction cannot happen unless both the House and the Senate are flipped.  Suppose that unlikely event happens in 2018.  Trump’s term would be served out by Mike Pence, whose agenda is just as vile.  By being less abrasive than Trump, Pence might be even more effective in pushing for bad laws and lulling people into accepting thinly veiled fascism.

  9. Centrism 😦 😦
    Obviously, the Democratic Party must somehow reach out to the Reagan Democrats who came back for Obama but did not stay back for Clinton.  How to do that is controversial.  Despite my own broadly centrist inclinations, I believe it would be a huge mistake now to take any more advice from Third Way or anybody else who thinks Dems can win by sounding at all like decaffeinated Republicans.  Dems need a coherent progressive alternative that seriously addresses Rust Belt concerns, not an echo of Republican quackery pasted onto support for LGBTQ/reproductive rights and sanity about guns.  While I do support those rights and that sanity, I am starting to understand why they have so little traction.

  10. Normalizing Trump 😦 😦 😦
    Exhortations to come together after a bitterly contested election are a venerable American tradition, dating back to Jefferson’s inaugural address in 1801.  Still in shock on 2016-11-09, I reblogged an eloquent one.  At the same time, I reblogged a very different reaction that was also eloquent.  It was a struggle to work out my own subtler response with a look back to 1814.

    Looking back not quite so far as 1814, I recall that paranoid slave owners violently rejected the results of the 1860 election.  That did not end well.  Looking just a little ways back, I recall my own anger at McConnell’s nauseating pledge to subordinate governing to making Obama a 1-term POTUS, after Obama won in 2008 w/o any help from vote suppression or Russian meddling.

    Putting this item last in the list was painful, but not as painful as seeing Trump confirm a truckload of grim expectations (bigotry; chaos; corruption; …) within a month of inauguration. A wait-and-see attitude did make sense on 2016-11-09.  It does not make sense today.  Will the sane and decent people in the USA wait until it is too late to avoid covert fascism behind a facade of democracy?

What is the jolting insight mentioned in list item #1?  When opposing a nasty Trump initiative that advances a subversive hidden agenda, do not (repeat—not!) try be constructive by offering a better way to deal with whatever problem the Trump initiative purports to address.  Keep the opposition to Trump broadly based and unified, focused on the vileness of the snake oil and not distracted by internal debates about what should be done instead of swallowing snake oil.

I come from the very collegial culture of STEM and can remember when American politics was less adversarial and more collegial than it is now, tho never as collegial as STEM.  (Yes, there are rivalries in STEM and maybe still a few chances to do some good by reaching across the aisle in politics.)  Tho jolting and saddening, the advice to oppose w/o trying to be constructive is wise.

Does my claim in list item #9 that “Dems need a coherent progressive alternative that seriously addresses Rust Belt concerns” contradict that advice?  No.  Context is crucial. Trying to prevent a particular criminal folly by those currently in office is one context.  Trying to elect officials who are much less likely to engage in criminal folly is another context.

Image published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US

In some ways, the American Experiment is back in 1778: hanging by a thread (in what Thomas Paine rightly said were “times that try men’s souls”).  Many images of Valley Forge would be appropriate; I especially like the well-known painting by Edwin Austin Abbey of Baron von Steuben instructing George Washington’s pickup army in carefully selected European tactics/techniques that would help it win.

Washington’s eye for talent looked beyond billionaires who had donated lavishly.  Washington did not tweet jabs at “Krauts” while assuming that anybody who sounded like a Hessian was on the other side.  Washington saw that an immigrant from Prussia could kick ass for the cause.  The rest is history.

education, grammar, history, humor, language, philosophy, politics

Writing Well – Part 2

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Babies, Names, and Snobs

Here are links to previous posts in this project of reviewing and supplementing the splendid book The Lexicographer’s Dilemma by Jack Lynch.

  1. Introduction
    What does the rise of “proper” English have in common with a physics conundrum about gravity?

Sorry, but we need a short digression on ways to name a word so we can talk about it.  Some details here will also contribute later to the overall project.

Failure to distinguish using a word from talking about it can lead to confusion, as in the following dialog:

Mother :         How was school today?
Small Child :  Fun.  Teacher showed us how to make babies.
Mother :         What?  WHAT?
Small Child :  Drop the Y and add IES.

In casual speech, we can insert “the word” in a few places.  That is clunky in extended writing.  There are 2 common ways to do the job in writing: quote marks and italics.  Using quote marks works well in short documents, but it can be confusing in longer ones that also use quote marks for actual quotations and/or for sarcasm, as in

After an ad blitz from the National Rifle Association rescued his failing campaign, Senator Schmaltz “bravely” defended the right of crazy people to buy assault weapons.

Maybe we should follow Lynch and use the convention popular among those who are most fastidious about the difference between using a word and discussing it: those who often call it the “use/mention distinction” and put words being mentioned (rather than used) in italics.  I do not mind doing w/o italics for emphasis because I prefer bold anyway, but italics are also used for titles and for foreign words temporarily imported into English.  I want those uses, and I found that Lynch’s use of italics for multiple purposes in quick succession invited confusion.

There is a simple way to give any word or phrase a name that works well here and in many other contexts, tho not universally.  Wrap it in square brackets (or curly braces).  Choose the wrapper U never (well, hardly ever) use for some other purpose in the current document and run with it.  If both wrappers are OK, use square brackets and give the Shift key a rest.

Now I can avoid confusion, even if I want to be emphatic, be sarcastic, and mention words (marking some as foreign), all in the same sentence:

Some snobs flaunt their “education” by saying [Weltanshauung] when [worldview] is all they need.

While not so disgusting as Senator Schmaltz, the flaunting snobs are enemies of clarity.  An enemy of my friend is my enemy too, and clarity is both a very dear friend and a concept crucial to amicable resolution of some of the tensions that Lynch explores so ably.  So I want to be especially clear and hope U will forgive the digression into metametalanguage.  Will put a quick reminder of the square brackets convention early in each subsequent post.  The next one will get down to business.

enlightenment, grammar, history, humor, language, politics, science

Writing Well – Part 1

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Introduction

lex-dilem_jack-lynch
Writing well ain’t easy.  If the word “ain’t” in the previous sentence raised hackles, U really need to read The Lexicographer’s Dilemma by Jack Lynch.  If not?  Read it anyway.  This post starts a series of posts that includes a glowing review of the book, with my own additions and amplifications for some points (and a few mild disagreements).

One of the few complaints I have about the book is that the title is too narrow.  Yes, the book considers lexicography.  It also considers grammar, punctuation, spelling, and vulgarisms.  In just 276 well-written pages (not counting source notes and such), it considers all these things with serious historical scholarship and considerable humor (mostly dry; sometimes LOL).

Why a series of posts?  Doing justice to the scope of the book in a single post would be tough unless what I wrote was only a book review, and the single post might still be quite long.  Better to write a separate post of moderate length on each of several themes in the book, adding something worthwhile to each.  In between posts in this Writing Well series, I can post on other topics.  If I think of yet another way that the sane and decent people in the USA might resist the Age of Trumpery, I want to interrupt the series rather than interrupt work on a single humongous draft.

Can a noncontiguous series work?  Across the Room and Into the Fire is working quite well for Óglach, with Part 6 (out of a projected 7) posted as of this writing.

Example 1.1: Recency of “Proper” English


Example numbers in this series have the form (part number).(number within the part), just in case I want to refer to an example in one part when writing up another part.

The following quote from page 10 of the book poses a conundrum that cries out for the kind of historical investigation exemplified by the book.

For just one third of 1 percent of the history of language in general, and for just 20 percent of the history of our own language, have we had to go to school to study the language we already speak.

When something is that strange, asking how the Hell it happened is not just idle curiosity.  It might lead to major insights.  Here is something similarly strange in physics.

For every chunk of matter in the entire universe (no matter what it is made of), the gravitational mass is exactly the same as the inertial mass.

For everything we can get our hands on, the equality of the 2 kinds of mass has been verified to more decimal places than I can count on my fingers.  Why is gravity like this?  Isaac Newton had no idea at all.  His theory of gravity could use this fact but could not explain it.  Early in the previous century, many physicists were uneasy about this apparent cosmic coincidence.  They were also uneasy about a piddling tiny difference between how Mercury orbited the sun and how Newton’s theory predicted it would orbit the sun.

One of the uneasy physicists was Albert Einstein, whose more elaborate theory of gravity gave an elegant explanation of the equality of the 2 kinds of mass and yielded predictions that were slightly different from Newton’s.  When Einstein published his theory in 1916, the only known differences were just barely measurable by those who cared about nerdy stuff like the perihelion of Mercury’s orbit.  Today, we know of many other differences.  Thanks to our knowledge of some of them, your GPS is more than just an expensive paperweight.

Acknowledgements


Jack Lynch wrote the book that anchors this series.  The historical perspective helped me refine my own views.  Want to see many examples of clear writing that is balanced and nuanced w/o being wishy-washy?  Read the book.

Óglach is among the bloggers who demonstrate that good writing can thrive in the blogosphere.   Thanking all those I know would take up too much space and omit those I do not know, but I must thank him for the inspiration to try a noncontiguous series.

Miriam Sargon taught the AP English class that I took in my senior year of high school.  (My post on lexicography will say a little more about that class.)  Back in the 1962/1963 academic year, well-informed people could still believe that Enlightenment values were winning (albeit slowly and with many setbacks).  She did not preach those values; she exemplified them.

haiku, history

Winter Waiting

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A Google image search led to the images in this post; clicking on them will jump to the source credits at the end.  The haiku in this post is my response to

with special thanks to one of Jane’s haiku about winter:

© Jane Reichold

gathering clouds
heavy and dark with holding
unfallen flakes

beaver-outside-harlan_778x519

Quiet Endurance

Cold.  Pond iced over.
Silent snow on tomb-like mound.
Beavers wait it out.

beaver-inside_778x404

However bleak and dark it may be, winter is unlike the bleak dark periods of history.  Winter’s onset and duration are roughly predictable.  Like beavers, those who prepare can often endure.  Too bad history is not like that.

Sources

I wrote the haiku while commenting on a wintry post by Poet Rummager that I liked.  The post did not mention snow or beavers, but inspiration is quirky.  Tho I liked my haiku enough to post it all by itself, I decided to wait until I had found images that would clarify it for readers unfamiliar with the way beavers wait out winter in their lodges.  Those who would like to see more detail can find it on a very readable webpage that was created for course requirements at Hamilton College.

The photo of the outside of a lodge in winter is from a well-illustrated post by Harlan Schwartz on the Canadian Canoe Routes website.  The photo was shared on PhotoBucket and downloaded from there.

The drawing of the inside of a lodge in winter is from the book Why the Adirondacks Look the Way They Do by Mike Storey (Nature Knows Best Books, 2006).  The drawing was reproduced in a very positive online review by Paul Grondahl and downloaded from there.

history, humor, politics

After 202+4 Years

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In 1814,

the British Royal Navy bombards the fort guarding Baltimore’s harbor with state-of-the-art artillery.  The attack inspires a mediocre poem that is just barely singable (if U pretend that “yeh-et” is a word) to the tune of a British drinking song.  The Brits eventually get a consolation prize for the failure of the seige of Baltimore, when their song becomes our national anthem (but with lyrics from the poem, not the pubs).

On the morning of Election Day in 2016,

pink-rebel-386x342

I find that the Pink Rebel (a Xmas cactus that blooms when it damn well pleases, and never at Xmas) has a nice blossom.  I take that to be a good omen. Good omens have been in short supply recently, as the pseudoconservative coalition of bigots and plutocrats bombards a wobbly electoral process with state-of-the-art ratcrap, propelled by dark money and deep resentments.  The pseudoconservatives hope for veto-proof majorities in Congress as a consolation prize, if they cannot install a protofascist buffoon as President.

My local polling place is crowded.  The people who run it have finally found an efficient way to arrange all the stuff that must be crammed into a tiny room in the firehouse: a sign-in table, little booths for marking the ballots, and a machine to scan the ballots and keep them secure in case a recount is needed.  I have finally remembered to remove my ballot from the privacy sleeve before feeding it to the scanner.  (It is only in theory that the scanner can grab the ballot by an edge protruding from the sleave.)  The scanner accepts the naked ballot w/o fuss.  Walking back to my car after an unexpectedly smooth and quick process, I tear up a little.

I have just now experienced an America that is calm and polite and competent.  For how long?

On the morning after Election Day in 2016,

sad-flag-386x527
I rise with the dawn’s early light and go online to see the results for races that were not foregone conclusions.  Mostly vomit-worthy, with a few consolations in the Senate.  The Dems will keep the NV seat that Reid is leaving.  The new Dem for IL is a combat veteran who knows the difference between patriotism and posturing; a seat for NH also flipped.  Maybe filibusters can keep the pseudoconservatives from passing the very worst things on their wishlist.

For at least the next 4 years, I expect that American politics will not be calm and polite and competent.  I hope I am wrong in this prediction, and not wrong merely because of surrender by those who oppose the pseudoconservative agenda.

Remember Mitch McConnell’s declaration (soon after the 2008 election) that preventing a 2nd term for Obama would have his top priority?  I was angered by that commitment to reflexive opposition (regardless of the cost to the nation) to whatever Obama might propose.  So I will try to keep an open mind.  It is conceivable that Trump will surprise everybody (even himself) by growing quickly and well into his awesome new responsibilities.  But not at all likely.

What is likely?  Zombie economics and accelerating climate change will lead to global suffering comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930-s.  Less likely (but still far from being alarmist hype) is the possibility of descent into thinly veiled fascism.

Yes, our traditions of liberal democracy are stronger than those of the Weimar Republic in 1932 and 1933.  The question is not whether our traditions are stronger than Weimar’s but whether they are still strong enough to withstand escalating bombardment from pseudoconservatives who have honed expertise at selective vote suppression.  The land of the free has its share of people with authoritarian personalities and deep resentments, often legitimate but exagerrated or misdirected.  As did Germany in the 1930-s.

The Royal Navy bombardment in 1814 was 202 years ago.  After the imminent 4 years of intensified pseudoconservative bombardment, will our flag be still there?

s-s-b-386x342.jpg
Star-Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian Institution

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