haiku, history, humor, politics

What Luther Did Before Nailing

Did U ever wonder how an outraged monk could be like a frightened squid while being quite unlike the squid in a closely related way?  Neither did I.  The answer hit me before the question.
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The answer hit me while I pondered an intriguing juxtaposition in

Haiku Poems: Grip (For Samantha) | Poet Rummager

that inspired me to write a haiku:

Squids and Scribblers
|Squids squirt ink to flee.
|Writers also (sometimes), but
|often to confront.

• Image from © Brad Scot Lark | ShutterStock
• Image cropped from © Michele Paccione | ShutterStock

Long after Martin Luther’s time, fundamental institutions have yet again strayed from their missions and been corrupted.  Of course, people write (and mesh their words with images) very differently now.  Writers depend on the media (rather than a trip to the hardware store) to nail things to doors.  But if U listen carefully, U can still hear hammering.

2017-09-22

NON SEQUITUR © 2017 Wiley Ink, Inc..
Dist. By ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION.
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

haiku, history, humor, language, photography, tanka

Seedless 😀 — Needless 😬

With the usual (?) wryness, we consider how categorizing things is intrinsically simplistic but sometimes useful.  Or not.  We start simply (with a useful categorization of watermelons) and then go up (with a not-so-useful categorization of poems in haiku form).
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With what I hope is the usual wry humor, we consider how categorizing things is intrinsically simplistic but sometimes useful.  Or not.  We start simply and then go up, in importance as well as complexity.

1: Seedless 😀

I like watermelon but am far too old to like spitting out the seeds.  Of course, I buy seedless watermelons.  But what is that off-white speck on one of the chunks of watermelon in my bowl of fruit?  A closer look at the chunk shows that it has lots of seeds.  Did the supermarket cheat me?  No, those seeds are small and soft and immature forever.  They will be unnoticed on the way in and on the way out.  I wish the body politic could so easily excrete a POTUS that is small and soft and immature forever.

As “may contain occasional seeds” on its produce label hints, a “seedless” watermelon may well have a few serious seeds.  They are large and hard and nasty to eat.  But they are also large enough and dark enough to be easily seen when on or near the surface of a chunk.  I hardly ever let one slip past for an uninvited tour of my extensive collection of tooth crowns and fillings.

big-seed-slice_800x479

Putting watermelons into little bins with the labels [seedless] or [seeded] distorts the literal truth but is easy and useful for my purposes.  Plant breeders would need more detail.

Categorization is not always so easy as when buying and selling watermelons.

2: Needless 😬

There are situations where useful categorization is hard.  Friend or foe?  Right or wrong?  We must often proceed despite the knowledge that such tidy-looking categories are misleading.

Happily, some of the problematic contexts (where it is hard to decide which little bin “should” receive something we may feel an urge to categorize) are also contexts where putting things into little bins is a waste of time.  Compare something to other things in the same big (and obviously appropriate) bin; do not fret about little bins and dubious claims that things in the same little bin are importantly alike in some ways.

For example, consider the problem of deciding whether a little bin labelled [haiku] or a little bin labelled [senryu] is where a short poem (written in English, not Japanese) belongs.  The metaproblem of deciding whether this problem is meaningful is a step up from whether we should categorize watermelons but not so difficult (and steeped in nastiness) as deciding when (if ever) it is meaningful to put people into bins with labels like [black] or [white].

Imported into English from Japanese for good reasons long ago, the English word [haiku] does not mean exactly what the Japanese word [haiku] did mean in Edo Japan or does mean in modern Japan.  Most words do not even have exact meanings.  Different groups of speakers use the same word in different ways, with varying degrees of similarity.

To me and many other speakers of American English, any poem in haiku form is a haiku (tho not necessarily a good one).  For now, we need not fret about what “the” haiku form requires or what is recommended (and often beneficial) but not required.  Whether a poem is a haiku (or a quadrille or a sonnet or …) does not depend on its content.  The poem’s form alone indicates whether it is a haiku.  Tho common, this usage is not universal.

2.1: HSA Usage

For both [haiku] and [senryu] (as English words about poems in English, with several nods to Japanese usage), the Haiku Society of America adopted the definitions and notes quoted below in 2004.  We consider [haiku] first.

HAIKU

Definition: A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.

Notes: Most haiku in English consist of three unrhymed lines of seventeen or fewer syllables, with the middle line longest, though today’s poets use a variety of line lengths and arrangements.  In Japanese a typical haiku has seventeen “sounds” (on) arranged five, seven, and five.  (Some translators of Japanese poetry have noted that about twelve syllables in English approximates the duration of seventeen Japanese on.)  Traditional Japanese haiku include a “season word” (kigo), a word or phrase that helps identify the season of the experience recorded in the poem, and a “cutting word” (kireji), a sort of spoken punctuation that marks a pause or gives emphasis to one part of the poem.  In English, season words are sometimes omitted, but the original focus on experience captured in clear images continues.  The most common technique is juxtaposing two images or ideas (Japanese rensô).  Punctuation, space, a line-break, or a grammatical break may substitute for a cutting word.  Most haiku have no titles, and metaphors and similes are commonly avoided.  (Haiku do sometimes have brief prefatory notes, usually specifying the setting or similar facts; metaphors and similes in the simple sense of these terms do sometimes occur, but not frequently.  A discussion of what might be called “deep metaphor” or symbolism in haiku is beyond the range of a definition.  Various kinds of “pseudohaiku” have also arisen in recent years; see the Notes to “senryu”, below, for a brief discussion.)

I applaud the way the HSA keeps the definition of haiku form very short and broad, then discusses some formal details lucidly in the notes.  Apart from the ominous last sentence, the notes will be helpful to anybody puzzled by the multitude of formal considerations to which various people attach various degrees of importance.  But I have 2 concerns about the definition.

  1. Must I allude (however subtly) to the human condition whenever I celebrate an experience of nature?  Must Basho’s frog carry some human baggage whenever it jumps into the old pond?
  2. Form is lumped with content.  The poems in haiku form that do celebrate nature (or the season) and do have another layer of meaning get the label [haiku], while the others get [poem in haiku form] or a clunkier phrase.  Is a nice short word wanted?  Yes.  Does [senryu] do the job?  No.

SENRYU

Definition: A senryu is a poem, structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way.

Notes: A senryu may or may not contain a season word or a grammatical break.  Some Japanese senryu seem more like aphorisms, and some modern senryu in both Japanese and English avoid humor, becoming more like serious short poems in haiku form.  There are also “borderline haiku/senryu”, which may seem like one or the other, depending on how the reader interprets them.

Many so-called “haiku” in English are really senryu.  Others, such as “Spam-ku” and “headline haiku”, seem like recent additions to an old Japanese category, zappai, miscellaneous amusements in doggerel verse (usually written in 5-7-5) with little or no literary value.  Some call the products of these recent fads “pseudohaiku” to make clear that they are not haiku at all.

Right after the definition limits senryu to being about foibles, the notes rescind the limitation.  Maybe an aphorism is a senryu?  Maybe a serious short poem in haiku form, like the wistful classic

© Alexis Rotella
|Just friends: …
|he watches my gauze dress
|blowing on the line.

is a senryu?  Maybe yet another poem in haiku form is something else, neither a haiku nor a senryu?  Maybe we should rummage in a Japanese/English dictionary for words like [zappai]?

Maybe we should speak plain English.

Importing the Japanese word [haiku] into English gave a good name to a new kind of English poetry inspired by Japanese poetry; importing [senryu] helped discuss the history of Japanese poetry.  But we already had plenty of words for saying that the mood of a poem is humorous or inspirational or philosophical or wistful.  We still have them, along with plenty of words for saying what a poem is about and why we like or dislike it.  We do not need special words for saying such things when the poem happens to be in haiku form.  Barbarians like me are not the only ones who prefer to use [haiku] broadly.  As Jane Reichold argued in 2010 with allegorical apples, [haiku] versus [senryu] is becoming a distinction w/o a difference.

2.2: Pushing the Envelope

That haiku forms are good for naturalistic subjects is beyond dispute.  Some of my favorite haiku (among both those I have read and those I have written) are indeed naturalistic.  But I also push the envelope of haiku subject matter and am far from alone in doing so.  A classic by Alexis Rotella has already been mentioned.  This section has more examples of pushing the envelope (not necessarily of being classics) and closes with a takeaway tanka.

2.2.1: Spike Gillespie

Page 104 of the 2003-01 issue of the magazine Smithsonian had a collection of humorous haiku ranging over the entire history of our little blue planet, with more detail from the 18-th century onward.  An image of the whole page is available on the web.  Back in 2003, I read the page in hard copy.  The haiku were mostly amusing w/o being memorable, but I liked one dealing with the 20-th century so much that I memorized it spontaneously, w/o trying:

© Spike Gillespie
|One World War follows
|another.  Rosie rivets.
|Patton rolls.  We win.

OK, it is not a great haiku.  Excessive devotion to the 5-7-5 rule leads to awkward linebreaks.  A tiny rewrite yields a better haiku:

Apart from the linebreaks, Spike nailed it!
|One World War follows another.
|Rosie rivets.  Patton rolls.
|We win.

While Brits and Russkies could object to the Yank-centric viewpoint, the haiku is a remarkably concise and accurate poetic summary of major aspects of World War 2 and its roots in the bungled ending of World War 1.  Neither war was a moment in nature.  Neither war was a mere foible.  While I needed Google to recover the author name and magazine date, the haiku itself just stuck, somewhere between my ears.  Maybe such stickiness was part of charm of poetry in preliterate societies.  Maybe it still is, even for those who are literate and online.

2.2.2: Mellow Curmudgeon

As there is already more than enough grimness in the real world, I usually dislike grim art.  An envelope-pushing haiku by Poet Rummager is so good that (despite its grimness) I reblogged it with my own grim haiku.  As with all my posts, the Comments section will remain open as long as my blog stays up.  (I overrode the WordPress default.)  Anybody who wants to criticize any of my haiku is welcome to comment, unless they want to quibble that my haiku is “really” a senryu or a pseudohaiku.

While I have not yet written a haiku about pizza, duct tape has been a subject.  The table below links to some of my other posts with haiku on outside-the-box subjects.  While some of my haiku are weird and/or knowingly silly, most do have a serious undercurrent about the human condition.  So does this post.

becalmed sailors | bereavement
Buddhism | Genesis
Hildegard of Bingen | history of biology
Jane Reichold | music
Platonism | quantum physics
sadness | silliness
Taoism | time travel

2.2.3: Takeaway Tanka

Some lines are better left undrawn.
|Haiku or senryu?
|Lumping form with content hides
|what poems can be:
|salutes to whatever is
|true and good and beautiful.

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

Wish I knew how.  Some of the ways being tried look promising to me; some look counterproductive.  In roughly descending order of promise, I list 10 of them and add my own idiosyncratic comments.
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Sad emojis mark 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 all 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?
  2. Babies, Names, and Snobs
    We name words by wrapping them in square brackets to avoid overloading more common conventions.
  3. Descriptivism, Prescriptivism, and ????
    We add a new ISM to the familiar duo of attitudes toward English language usage: readabilism.
  4. Why is English Spelling Such a Mess?
    An insight into the difficulty of spelling reform has wide-ranging significance, far beyond spelling.
  5. Ambiguity Sucks!
    Ambiguity is almost always at least a little harmful to clear communication. It can be disastrous.
  6. What is the Point of Punctuation?
    Careful punctuation helps avoid unwanted ambiguity.
  7. Yogi Berra’s Paradox
    Sometimes bad English is good English that’s good because it’s bad.
  8. Blood & Gold End This Series
    Apart from a concern about the examples on 2 late pages in the book, I could applaud those pages until my hands bleed.

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 :         What did you learn in school today?
Small Child :  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

Here are links to all 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?
  2. Babies, Names, and Snobs
    We name words by wrapping them in square brackets to avoid overloading more common conventions.
  3. Descriptivism, Prescriptivism, and ????
    We add a new ISM to the familiar duo of attitudes toward English language usage: readabilism.
  4. Why is English Spelling Such a Mess?
    An insight into the difficulty of spelling reform has wide-ranging significance, far beyond spelling.
  5. Ambiguity Sucks!
    Ambiguity is almost always at least a little harmful to clear communication. It can be disastrous.
  6. What is the Point of Punctuation?
    Careful punctuation helps avoid unwanted ambiguity.
  7. Yogi Berra’s Paradox
    Sometimes bad English is good English that’s good because it’s bad.
  8. Blood & Gold End This Series
    Apart from a concern about the examples on 2 late pages in the book, I could applaud those pages until my hands bleed.

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, seasons

Winter Waiting

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 the beavers in my haiku, those who prepare can often endure.
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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

Carpe Diem Universal Jane #8 gathering clouds

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, politics

After 202+4 Years

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 sleeve.)  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 exaggerated 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
happy-flag-386x349
(reblog), history, humor, politics

Tough Lessons

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Learning from history is tough, even for those who remember it.   Parallels are never exact.  The importance of each difference between then and now is a judgement call.   Consider a darkly hilarious cartoon by Jen Sorensen:

Mandatory Birthing Center

Yes, the resemblance of the armed guard to a Nazi storm trooper is as subtle as a sledge hammer.   Fine by me.   Maybe it will overcome the American propensity for historical amnesia and wishful thinking.

Much to my dismay, Hillary Clinton is the only Trump opponent who might conceivably be elected.   The progressive purists who disdain supporting Clinton are confident that something like what happened in Germany in 1932 and 1933 could not happen here and now, with a Trump victory.   Yes, our traditions of liberal democracy are stronger than those of the Weimar Republic.   The pertinent question is not whether our traditions are stronger but whether they are still strong enough, after years of relentless assault from the pseudoconservative coalition of bigots and plutocrats that controls staggering amounts of dark money and has already taken over the GOP.   Dammit, the answer is not obvious.

(reblog), history, politics

Loyalty

The failure of Congress to renew the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program endangers people who served as translators for US troops in Afghanistan.   Enduring the same dangers and hardships as the troops, the translators sometimes fought alongside them.   Links to details will follow shortly.

This is not about whether the war in Afghanistan (or any war) was justified.   This is about doing right by good people who put their lives on the line but are being abandoned by lazy pols.

As a thoughtful video (under 3 minutes) produced by No One Left Behind points out, this is one of those extremely rare situations where it would be fairly easy to act both honorably and in our own self-interest, if only Congress would listen to a few combat veterans in its own ranks.

The rest of this post is excerpted from e-mail about the visa crisis that I received 2016-09-19 from No One Left Behind.   There are plenty of links to details in the excerpt.

˙ ˙ ˙

Congress left Washington, DC at the end of last week having failed to hold a vote on the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program.   As a result of their unconscionable inaction, the State Department will run out of visas on 1 October 2016 (the start of the new fiscal year).   The current backlog of visas is roughly 10,000 applicants (when one includes family, we estimate the true number of applicants is 35,000+).  Thanks to Congress, our country will now break its promise to our Afghan translators and other wartime allies – who will continue to wait in limbo, in hiding, afraid that any moment might be the one where the Taliban or ISIS’s death squads finally find them.  How many will die before Congress does their job (votes to renew the program and authorize and issue more visas to the State Department) and honors our nation’s promise?

To help highlight the national security implications of this issue and the importance of protecting the honor of the American military, veterans, and credibility, we organized a Letter to Congress, which we delivered on 6 September 2016.   Hundreds of thousands of veterans, representing every branch of service in every American conflict dating back to World War II joined Medal of Honor recipients from Vietnam to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, former Chairmen and members of the Joint Chiefs, numerous wartime commanders, and other general and flag officers in adding their signatures to the letter.

˙ ˙ ˙ This past weekend, the [Wall Street] Journal joined the New York Times and the Washington Post in urging the Congress to renew and properly fund the program – the nation’s three leading newspapers are rarely this unified on matters of policy.

This is the 11th hour.  The State Department will run out of visas in 11 days.  Unless we build a movement and demand Congress renew the program immediately, it will likely die an unceremonious death, lost as an obscure program that got drowned out by the intense rhetoric of the 2016 election.

Help us prevent this tragedy by doing two things:

˙ ˙ ˙
© No One Left Behind
P.O. Box 3641, Merrifield, VA 22116
Tax ID: 47-125-1659http://nooneleft.org/  |  info@nooneleft.org

Update [2016-09-20]

If U have not already done so, please contact your Senators and Representatives.

I dislike phones and try to be much less scathing when communicating to pols rather than about them, so I used the e-mail links on my legislators’ web pages to send the following message.

General topic:  Immigration | National Security

Specific topic:  Afghan Special Immigrant Visas

Message text:

The failure of Congress to renew the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program endangers people who served as translators for US troops in Afghanistan.   Enduring the same dangers and hardships as the troops, the translators sometimes fought alongside them.  This is one of those extremely rare situations where it would be fairly easy to act both honorably and in our own self-interest, if only Congress would listen to a few combat veterans in its own ranks and do right by good people who put their lives on the line but are being abandoned.

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haiku, history, humor, math, politics

Bhaskara for President!

Fooey.  He has hardly any name recognition, was not born a US citizen, and has been dead for centuries.  Being more reality-oriented than those who handed Donald Trump the job, I cannot seriously promote Bhaskara.  What a pity.  His elegant old proof helps me stay sane in the Age of Trumpery.
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Who’s Bhaskara?  We will get to that question shortly.  First, consider whatever gadget U are using to read this post.  It depends on many things, discovered over many years by many people who (unlike many pols) preferred building up to tearing down.  With many steps omitted (and “depends on” abbreviated to ), a few of those dependencies go like this:

Your Gadget quantum physics coordinate systems Pythagoras’ Theorem

Back in high school, Pythagoras’ Theorem may have seemed like a little fact about right triangles that may have been mildly interesting but did not deserve the effort of slogging thru the book’s tedious proof.  I could read the proof line by line, observe that it was valid, and be glad that I never needed to retrieve it for a test.  Hardly anybody could remember it for more than a few minutes.

Pythagoras’ Theorem turned out to be essential to blogging (and much else), so it would be nice to have a proof that mere mortals could remember, appreciate, and be inspired by.  Enter Bhaskara, 1114-1185.

Bhaskara replaced the usual picture (of 3 squares glued to the sides of 1 triangle) with a picture of 4 copies of the same triangle, arranged to form a big square with a little square inside it:

Pythagoras
(a+b
=
4 · ( ½ · a · b) + c²

The proof is sometimes displayed more tersely, with just the figure.  I prefer to write out a little algebra (while not belaboring why the angles do add up the way the figure suggests).  Tho he did not have modern notation, Bhaskara did have an elegant way to provide more detail for the mathematically fastidious.  He displayed another figure that also puts the 4 copies of the triangle inside a big square with sides a+b.  In the other figure, the area not covered by copies of the triangle amounts to a²+ b² because it consists of 2 small squares.  But the not-covered area amounts to c² in the figure displayed above, so we can conclude that

  a²+ b² = c²

w/o bothering with algebra and how to compute areas of right triangles.  We just need to bother with drawing both figures.  Wanna try your hand at drawing the other figure?  U can find the answer by following the link provided by Sieglinglungenlied in the comment section.

Googling reveals some variation in what is attributed to Bhaskara. The 1-figure proof I displayed appears in several places (sometimes attributed to Bhaskara and sometimes w/o attribution).  A similar 1-figure proof is commonly attributed to Bhaskara, with a big square of length c.  The 2-figure version that avoids algebra is attributed to Bhaskara in Math in 100 Key Breakthroughs, a nicely illustrated book by Richard Elwes.  Historical accuracy is not crucial at the moment, so I went with the best story w/o worrying about who got it right.

OK, I admit that having written a proof of mind-blowing elegance does not really qualify Bhaskara to be POTUS.  Too bad that many people think mind-blowing arrogance can hack it.

Clicking on the “politics” category or tag in this post will display all my uses of acidic humor to cope with the current state of US politics.  But acids are corrosive.  Sometimes, I forgo acid and contemplate some of the enduring (so far) glories of modern Western civilization, one of which is that it is not exclusively Western.  In particular, we got some elegant math from India and some elegant poetry forms from Japan.

One Way to Stay Sane in the Age of Trumpery
|Cherish all that is
|true and good and beautiful
|(like Bhaskara’s proof).

 

history, humor, oversimplify, politics

Who Wrote That?

The following 3 quotes all come from the same person.  Can U guess who? 

  1. The citizens … must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they themselves have called into being.
  2. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced.   Corporate expenditures for political purposes … have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.
  3. Those who oppose all reform will do well to remember that ruin in its worst form is inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism.

The choices listed in the following poll have varying plausibility; they do include the actual author.   Please have a go before scrolling down to see the answer and why it matters.

Scroll down for the answer …

we-the-people-with-stars-stripes

The image of the US Constitution’s famous oversimplification “We the People” was downloaded and resized from http://mtviewmirror.com/wp-content/uploads/we-the-people-9.jpg.

All of the quotes are from a speech on The New Nationalism delivered 1910-08-31 by Theodore Roosevelt.  More than a century later, the work has still not been done.  More than a century later, pseudoconservatives still dump truckloads of ratcrap on anybody who opposes running the USA for the benefit of the biggest corporations and richest billionaires.

What to do in 2016?  Yes, I feel the pull toward a protest vote like writing in Bernie Sanders (or Theodore Roosevelt).  In what is not so obviously a mere gesture of protest, I could vote Green or Libertarian.  But I will not.  Unless U live in a cobalt blue or screaming red state, voting Green or Libertarian in 2016 is voting for Trump.  In the real world, all options suck.  Some suck worse than others.  Much worse.

Yes, one can hope that the combination of Trump in the White House with McConnell and Ryan dominating Congress will be so blatantly toxic that “the people” finally wake up, rise up, and wrest control from the plutocrats.  Alas, the 99% of us who are getting shafted includes bigots and nitwits.  It includes those who bought the Fox News claim to be fair and balanced.  It includes heavily armed crazies like Omar Mateen and Dylan Roof.

Popular uprisings do succeed now and then, as when the government of East Germany collapsed in 1989.  Hey, the good people on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall suffered only 44 years (*) of communist oppression before that.  More often, uprisings are either crushed (as in Hungary 1956) or seem successful for a while but descend into chaotic violence that spawns yet another tyranny (French Revolution; Russian Revolution; Arab Spring; …).

So I will trudge to the polls, hold my nose, and vote for Hillary.  I will also remember a more familiar quotation from TR, excerpted below with a few letters added in italics:

It is not the critic who counts; … The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; … ; who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; …

While Hillary is deeply flawed, she is not one of those “timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” detested by TR.  For that matter, neither is Trump.  He has other issues.  While TR was far from being a pacifist, he could see the downside of putting an impulsive jerk in a position to start a war.  That jerk also thinks appeasing the NRA is more important than making it harder for crazies like Adam Lanza to murder school children and their teachers.

(*) The physical wall stood for less than 44 years, but the whole point of erecting it was to stop desperate dashes thru the political wall erected in 1945.
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economics, history, humor, oversimplify, politics

Twelah of Stonina

No, the title is not the name of a character in a dreary fantasy epic.  It links 2 examples of something that can happen to oversimplifications as circumstances change: what is initially harmless (and perhaps mildly beneficial) can become pernicious.
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As in my earlier post arguing that oversimplification is unavoidable but can be done honestly, a whimsical example that is easily understood breaks trail for a serious example that is not.

1. Puzzles

Instructions for puzzles usually explain what the solution should look like, w/o constraining how to get there.  The Jumble series of puzzles has been around for decades, originally just on printed pages but now online also.  I sometimes solve the puzzle as printed in my daily newspaper.  (Yes, I am that old.)  Taken literally, the instructions for a Jumble do constrain the how, but in a way that strikes me as a harmless oversimplification in explaining the what.  More precisely, it was harmless until the series went online.

The weird words in the title of this post are scrambled versions of the ordinary words wealth and nations.  A typical Jumble puzzle invites the reader to unscramble several such scrambled words and then use the letters at some specified positions in the ordinary words to complete the caption of a cartoon.  Printed and online versions of the puzzle for 2016-06-10 are displayed below.  Both the layout and the use of “Now” in the printed instructions indicate that unscrambling comes before completing.  Similarly for the online instructions revealed by the [HELP] button.

2016-06-10_E23_Jumble

While I sometimes proceed in the instructions’ order, I more often guess the completion before unscrambling all (or even any) of the words.  So what?  I can put my pen anywhere on the page at any time.  The sequencing in the instructions is just a convenient way to explain what would be a solution to a Jumble puzzle.  One could rewrite and reformat the instructions so as to explain that w/o extraneous sequencing (as in the instructions for Sudoku), but it is not obvious how to write sequence-free instructions for Jumble that are as clear as the oversimplified instructions with extraneous sequencing.  Why bother?

Here’s why.  Look at the online version.  That bright green square is a place for typing, if U so choose.  The interface does a good job of allowing U to drag letters rather than type.  After unscrambling all the scrambled words, U will see the available letters appear above the caption and can type or drag to complete the caption, just as U typed or dragged when unscrambling.   While the interface displays several signs of  good software engineering, it takes the informal specs too literally and mandates the heuristic of unscrambling all the words before doing anything to complete the caption.   (Being a nerd myself, I can sympathize.)   What began as a harmless oversimplification became a killjoy.

As it happens, I started by guessing the caption for the 2016-06-10 Jumble, then verified that my unscramblings of 3 words were consistent with my guess, and then used the resulting tentative knowledge about letters to be contributed by the word still scrambled as a hint about how to unscramble it.  (A tiny example of how science works.)  No can do in the online version.  There is a [HINT] button that doles out a single letter in a single word.  My preference for making my own hint is not just a consequence of my being compulsively self-reliant.  My own hint is discovered and might be misleading because I might have guessed wrong at the start.  The online hint is an infallible gift from on high.  No fun in that.

If U want to work on the online version of this particular Jumble, U can click on its image to visit a page with today’s puzzle and then use the page’s calendar widget to go back to 2016-06-10.

Now it is time for the serious example, which starts in the same century as the scene depicted in this example, but on the other side of The Pond.

2. Free Markets

The other momentous document published in 1776 was Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, with a then-harmless oversimplification that has become a now-pernicious dogma.

Smith’s readers were familiar with intrusive governments and quasigovernmental organizations like craft guilds.  Mercantilist governments restricted who could sell what to whom.  Guilds set the prices of what their members made.  That was normal, as was censorship, state-sponsored religion, and commercial privileges granted by royal whim.  Smith was aware that his readers might find his free-market ideas disturbingly anarchic, and he tried to reassure them with his famous fantasy about an invisible hand.  He succeeded too well.

Smith remarked that, while he advocated much less intrusive government than his readers considered normal, there were still important government functions needed to make his free markets work.  He mentioned some explicitly.  Unsurprisingly, he did not mention those that would not be on anybody’s radar for over a century.  Markets cannot work properly w/o transparency: potential buyers need to know what they would be getting and how much they would be paying.  Apart from providing a trustworthy money supply, there was no obvious need for laws and regulations to make markets transparent.  They seemed obviously transparent; nobody wearing a 3-cornered hat noticed that transparency was being assumed and might someday need to be enforced.

With the passage of time, Smith’s ideas took hold, the economies of his nation and ours grew richer and more complex, and economists eventually realized that markets cannot be perfectly transparent.  What happens when they are seriously opaque?  When getting pertinent info is costly?  When some of the info floating around is false?  When insiders have pertinent info that they act upon but keep to themselves?  Long technical answers won Nobel Prizes for Kenneth Arrow and Joseph Stiglitz.  The financial crisis of 2008-2009 and its precursors illustrate a somewhat oversimplified short answer that suffices for present purposes:

The shit hits the fan.

By the time the importance of transparency and the need for laws and regulations that enforce it had become common knowledge among thoughtful advocates of free markets, the invisible-hand fantasy had morphed into market fundamentalism.  That dogma is a godsend for anybody who wants to act like a psychopath but suffers from the inconvenience of having a conscience.  It is OK if I scramble to enrich myself and U scramble to enrich yourself, no matter how much we harm each other or anybody else.  If the stupid gummint stays away and just lets “The Market” work its magic, everything will come out as well as possible in the real world, where resources are scarce and buying anything precludes buying something else with the same money.

Like religious fundamentalism, market fundamentalism is rigid, simplistic, and oblivious to the suffering it causes.  The real world is indeed harsh.  It is also vastly more complex than fundamentalists concede, perhaps more complex than they can imagine.  Enforcing fairness and transparency w/o stifling useful innovation is not easy.  More generally, finding a good balance between public and private economic activity is not so easy as it seems to market fundamentalists (or to socialists, at the other extreme).

Much longer (but still readable) discussions of opacity and other market failures can be found in books like The Roaring Nineties by Joseph Stiglitz.  Perverse incentives lead to perverse behavior.  Is that really surprising?

enlightenment, flowers, history, humor, language, photography

Lion’s Tooth

I like the scattered violets that appeared in my lawn some years ago.  In the spring I let the grass get high before I mow, so that the violets will have a good chance to set seed.  The delay also gives the dandelions a good chance to set seed.  Fine.

DandelionViolets

Would the dandelion have a better rep if we had translated (rather than anglicized) the Old French name?  Not likely.  Every flower is the same bright yellow, so there is no variation for plant breeders to coax toward white or red and then offer “Snow Ball Lion’s Tooth” or “Fire Ball Lion’s Tooth” in seed catalogs.  Any klutz can grow dandelions, so they give gardeners no bragging rights.

Nowadays the French have a derogatory-sounding name for dandelions.  Were the royal gardeners frustrated by the plant’s defiance of the oppressive formality of the plantings at Versailles?  The Germans have kept the good old phrase “lion’s tooth” (in their own language, of course), as have the Italians and the Spanish.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

When many people see a dandelion, they see a weed.  I don’t.  I see Löwenzahn, the Wagnerian Heldenblume that thrusts green and gold into the grayest and grimmest of our cityscapes.  I see Dent de Lion, the Enlightenment philosophe whose call for liberty and rationality rides the wind.

DandelionSeeds_few

I do pull weeds; I do not pull dandelions.

Flower of the Day – July 20, 2018 – Dandelion

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haiku, history, humor, politics

Rhyming Haiku: Couplet and Triplet

I enjoy smuggling rhymes into blank verse but have not yet gotten all 3 lines of a haiku I really like to rhyme.  My response to Carpe Diem #932 silk tree is a pair of all-new haiku.  I do like the one with a couplet.  The one with a triplet (plus an internal rhyme in the title at no extra charge) is submitted in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s corny jokes during the American Civil War: I laugh so that I will not cry.

Sound of Sunlight
|Rushing waters bring
|joy to those who hear them sing
|and see them sparkle.

Silly Rhymes for Scary Times
|A rhyme in blank verse?
|President Trump would be worse.
|Vote Dem or you’ll curse.

US_flag_inverted

Image Source

A public domain image of the American flag has been turned upside down to reflect the current state of US politics.

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