Sunday, February 28, 2021

Welcome to GonnaWannaLand


Much of the verbiage we hear emanates from the Media. Radio, television, the movies, the Press, the internet, public address. The Media in turn reflects the linguistic habits of the general population. You would think that Media outlets, such as television and radio, would be self-conscious about what they project, and that might once have been true. As standard-bearers of a level of speech (and grammar) performance, you might think Media would take some responsibility for its mandates. But you'd be wrong. Once upon a time, purveyors of news and information in America would have understood that talking down to its audience was cheap pandering, that audiences might see that as a form of condescension. But in today's media world, the news and information media have dropped all pretense of standards, and are happy to share the slack-jawed complacence of commonplace exchange, the passivity of the vulgate.

At any given time, people are likely to employ short-handles of language, which propagate like viruses in everyday talk. Here is a sampling of such phrases, words and slang, which have become habitual in the Media.

Have to say -- This is a phrase which is inserted whenever the speaker wants to signal a sense of reluctance in insisting that their sentiment is somehow necessary, or feels a mandate in expressing it, as if the speaker had no choice, or was slightly embarrassed to have to say it. It's an expedient caution or flag of presumption that I find offensive, and tiresome.      

Just sayin'--This phrase is also an apologetic shield to protect the speaker from being perceived as too declarative, or wants to be forgiven for expressing their position. Its slanginess I find objectionable, and should never be used. 

That said -- A short-hand for "having said that." I don't know when this slick little handle entered the vulgate, but it's become nearly universal in its use. People use it as a transition phrase, to lend a sense of authority or justification to what they're going to say next. They think it sounds sensible and authoritative, but it just sounds naive and pretentious.   

Feel like -- This phrase appeared a few years back, and it's become universal. People of every persuasion and degree of sophistication use it freely, most often in place of "I feel" or "I think" or "I sense." It seems to constitute a form of evasion or fake modesty, that the speaker is unwilling to take full responsibility for an assertion or reaction, and instead distance themselves from that responsibility by claiming to have a feeling that is "like" a feeling one could have, or may have, or is simply too vague or uncertain to say directly. Whenever you feel yourself about to use this phrase, ask yourself whether just saying "I think" or "I feel" wouldn't be more direct and explicit than introducing the simile "like" to the statement. Do you really not quite feel or think what you are saying? Or is this merely a bad habit you've picked up and are using for convenience? 

That's a great question -- Not just celebrities or experts, but everyone in the Media is now using this stupid phrase. The point of asking and answering questions in public is not to enable the responder to judge the efficacy or relevance of the question, but to ANSWER the question! Saying "that's a great question" tells us nothing. It may be a way of complimenting the questioner for their relevance, or of admitting that the responder can't answer it (it's too hard, or too "big" a question). The simplest solution is not to use this response at all, since it accomplishes nothing. Just answer the question, and drop the dumb rejoinder. 

Gonna' -- The use of "going to" may be marginally acceptable in accurate speech, as in a promissory or predictive sense, but it's much over-used, and in this elided slang form "gonna" it's offensively "familiar" and should be avoided. If something will happen or is likely to happen, then say that it will happen, not that it's gonna' happen!

Gonna' wanna' -- You can always tell when a speaker is a casual dunderhead when they use "gonna-wanna." Going to want to is awkward, and even if the speaker wants to sound casual, or politely condescending, it tends to undercut the message it's designed to impart. Gonna is bad enough; gonna wanna is three times worse. 

Actually -- I suppose in our computer age, "actual" may be a foil for "virtual"--as in virtual reality as opposed to reality itself. But people now have become habituated to its insertion in nearly every instance in which emphasis is intended. If you want to emphasize a fact, or a phenomenon, ask yourself if what you mean to say is "actual" or merely definite or definitive. The "actualization" of something is not its importance, or emphasis, but its being as a physical or specific fact. If you say "I'm actually going to do that" you're not adding anything whatever to the doing, except showing your inappropriate use of the word actually. In addition, many people mispronounce the word, saying "ack-sha-ly" ignoring the "t" and "u" sounds entirely. Ignorance incarnate.  

Any time soon -- This is an entirely inaccurate and useless phrase in the language. Any time, or soon may be used separately, with some accurate comprehension, but "any time soon" means essentially nothing. Any time soon might mean in an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year, a decade, or a century. In fact, it may mean all of these durations, or none of them. It's a stupid phrase, and anyone who uses it should be flogged. 

It is what it is -- Cute little meaningless tautology, whose inventiveness is diverting the first time you hear it, but irritating whenever it reappears. People think it's so charming, so obvious, so clever. It isn't. It's just dumb. 

Which I said that -- This is a pronoun now commonly misunderstood. Used in a sentence to refer to a previously mentioned thing or things, it forms the subject of a subsidiary clause, of which it is the subject. Therefore, following which with "that" is ungrammatical, since which is the subject, i.e., it's redundant. Even people who have been to college seem to misunderstand this. It's breathtaking. 

Going forward -- This is another transition phrase that people use to indicate the future. It's usually unnecessary, and adds nothing to the sense of the statement. You could add "going forward" to almost any sentence about any subject, and people would probably accept it. Why not use "in future" or "in the future" or "in the coming days" instead?

Massive -- Grammarians and anthologists may argue about this word, but its clear sense is density, not size. It does not mean large, or very large. Everyone says everything is massive these days. A massive mistake, a massive earthquake, a massive stroke, a massive consequence. So stop! They're all wrong!  

Contra-VER-shle -- The word is pronounced con-tro-VER-see-al. Not the other way. Learn it. Say it right. It's as bad as nog-ger-A-shun.  That's een-aug-gure-A-shun. Thank you, Yamiche.  

Ahnt-ta-pa-NOOR -- Entrepreneur is a delightful word of French derivation, one which deserves to be pronounced correctly. EN-tra-pin-ERR. Please drop that 'OOOOOOR" at the end. Sounds dumb. Is dumb.  

Healing -- Healing has become another of those buzz-words so fond to psychologists, social activists, and religious vigilantes. Anything wrong in the world causes hurt, or injury. Therefore everyone must be "healed"--i.e., mended, bandaged, cared-for, rested, assisted, made whole again. Whenever I hear the word healing I know the conversation has gone south, into a precinct where nothing of value or intelligence can occur. Everybody must get stoned. Everybody must get healed. Heal thyself! 

In regards to -- There's simply no excuse for the bad grammar. Regards--the plural form of regard--is commonly employed as a sign-off to letters or messages, as in "kind regards" or "best regards" but it is thoroughly ungrammatical to say "in regards to" or "with regards to". The correct construction is "in regard to" employing the singular of regard (not the plural!). 

Sorta and Kinda -- These adverbial interjections are sloppy and vague to begin with, but when used by otherwise intelligent speakers, indicate an unwillingness to qualify a statement properly, attempting to seem familiar or casual in an assertion. If a thing is rather true or partially true, it's probably best not to frame it as a simple statement, and instead provide a qualifier with more grace. These are related to feel like, in that they are used to distance the speaker from responsibility for their assertion. 

You know what -- Usually employed, like "guess what" to indicate emphasis, but rarely effective. "And you know what?" is overused these days, and it adds literally nothing to the sense to which it points. It's meant to announce some degree of revelation, but it's usually unnecessary, or just plain inappropriate.  

Way-dumb -- The use of "way" in place of "very" or "pretty" is an indication of ignorance. It's become a cute slangy way of indicating a superlative, but it simply signals naiveté. Anyone over the age of 13 who uses it, should be spanked.   

That's on me -- Another instance of juvenile slang. To say that anything is "on" someone is akin to saying that someone in a game of tag is "it." It's poor slang, at best, and ignorant at worst. 


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Ball That Ruth Hit


                                                                The ball that Ruth hit

                                                                Went straight up and over

                                                                The centerfield wall

                                                                And kept going

                                                                Gathering speed

                                                                Throwing off its cover

                                                                And trailing string

                                                                It kept going

                                                                Into a time warp

                                                                And landed in the backyard

                                                                Of a kid in Ohio 

                                                                In 1928

                                                                Who found it, just 

                                                                A mass of tattered 

                                                                Thread and cork and rubber

                                                                In the grass so

                                                                The kid scavenged it

                                                                Put it in his cigar box

                                                                Of strange unidentified 

                                                                Flying objects

                                                                Alongside the indian arrowhead

                                                                The steel penny

                                                                And the other artifacts 

                                                                Of a vanished




Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Variable Timepiece

What kind of a mind creates an interlocking configuration such as this?

I suppose, broken down into its subsets, it's a completely logical and straightforward arrangement of parts, coordinated into movements and settings and increments that exactly mark the progress of time. A time piece. A piece of time. A device for the measure of the passage through a dimension. 

In the digital age, humans can now create electronic circuit boards that probably make this picture primitive in comparison. It's just an integrated "circuit" made from metal (and perhaps some jewels) designed to move at precise divisions, whose duration is in turn based on the movement of other bodies, i.e., the earth, the sun and other heavenly bodies. 

Philosophers of the past might once have thought such an instrument as being almost supernatural in its qualities, just as they surely would have been astonished at the digital technology that drives our interactive techno-culture today. In our time, science and philosophy have merged increasingly together, as speculation has been overtaken by discovery and empirical proof. As theoretical physics becomes more and more abstruse and even metaphysical in its implications, what we think of as miracles seems more and more to resemble reality.     

This watch mechanism is diverting to the eye, but it's also a crude attempt at mimicking what has developed naturally in the universe. Bodies are clocks, just as astronomical bodies in motion are. Our hearts beat at a certain rate, though with constant small variations. 

Can we eventually create computers that have their own motivations and desires? Or are we mistaken in thinking that our free will is more than an illusion, and that the mechanisms through which we exist have always been determined, by the designs themselves? 


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Announcing the publication of an Eigner broadside The Music, The Rooms.

In 1965, Larry Eigner published The Music, The Rooms. It was later issued as a folding broadside, which of course has been out of print for many years. I've always regarded it as Eigner's finest poem of some length. Though he wrote other poems of approximately this length--poems perhaps 2 pages long--this one seems particularly dense and involved--un-typically so, given the nature of his writing style. 

Back in April 2009, I wrote at some length about this poem in a blog post here at The Compass Rose, so I won't go on about it again. 

The broadside was printed letterpress by Richard Seibert in an edition of 50. It will be given away to the friends of The Compass Rose. Others wishing to purchase a copy should contact us. 


Monday, August 10, 2020

A Greek Coda

Patrick Leigh Fermor, an English war hero, eccentric and poet of travel and account [1915-2011]. I'm just beginning to know and appreciate him, through his own travel writings, which focus upon Greece. The British seem to spawn these restless, curious, perspicacious rogues, who set out for exotic locales, and return with astonishing accounts and tales and impressions, sometimes never returning home, who apprise and appreciate and regard and in some cases adopt and occupy, the foreign destinations they discover. Fermor is one of these. An adventurer, a searcher, a builder, an interpreter, and ultimately a creator of a life in exile, more interesting and absorbing than he could ever have found or made in his native country. 

"Paddy" Fermor as he was known, was dubbed "a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness" as a boy by his schoolmaster. At 18 he did a walking tour of Europe, from Holland to Turkey. Paddy fell in love with a Romanian noblewoman, and spent the next several years moving restlessly about, principally in Greece. With the outbreak of war in 1939, he returned home and enlisted in the army. Because of his knowledge of Greek, he was sent there and fought in Crete, organizing the local resistance, and famously capturing a high German general, for which he was decorated.   

After the war, he took up the role of travel writer, and lived in Greece. He designed and had built a magnificent house, and remained there for the rest of his long life, writing and living splendidly, dying at age 96.  

Roumeli [London: John Murray, 1966] is a book about Northern Greece, a country and a culture which Paddy loved. I've been dipping into it lately. The final chapter 6, is a paean to this world, and it is filled with poetic evocation, a riff of pure lyricism. A catalogue of impressions of places, ending with a chanting denouement, which I quote below.  


Pictures of Fermor's house in Greece.

The seas of Greece are the Odyssey whose music we can never know: the limitless sweep and throb of prosody, the flex and reflux of hexameters scanned by winds and currents and accompanied, for its escort of accents,

for the fall of its dactyls
the calm of spondees
the run of tribrachs
the ambiguity of trochees
and the lash of anapaests;
for the flexibility of accidence,
the congruence of syntax
and the confluence of its crasis;
for the fluctuating of enclitic and proclitic,
for the half ot caesurae and the flight of the digamma, 
for the ruffle of hard and soft breathings,
for its liquid syllables and the collusion of diphthongs,
for the receding tide of proparxytones
and the hollowness of perispomena stalactitic with subscripts
for the inconsequence of anacolouthon,
the economy of synecdoche,
the compression of hendiadys
and the extravagance of its epithets,
for the embrace of zeugma,
for the abruptness of asyndeton
for the swell of hyperbole
and the challenge of apostrophe,
for the splash and the boom and the clamour and the echo and the murmur of onomatopoia\

by the
islands and harbours and causeways and soundings and crescents of shingle, whirlpools and bays and lagoons and narrows and chasms and roadsteads, seismic upheavals of crags in the haze of meridian panic, sockets and smouldering circles of stone and dying volcanoes; islets lying in pale archipelagos, gulfts, reefs and headlands, warrened with cavities, that end in a litter of rocks and spkes where the limestone goes dark at sunset; thunderbolt sea-marks scattered on the water, light in the reign of the Pleiades, slowly spinning the sea-sounds that sigh in thew carves of solitary islands.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A Sunny Day in 1952 or so

Edwin Denby is a pleasure probably as obscure to most people as one might imagine, given the scope and intensity of his work. 

He was a professional ballet dancer in his youth, and would become one of the best writers (or critics) about dance there has ever been. Along the way, he produced some very original verse, which even fewer people probablyt know about. His Wiki gives the basic bio, though it tells you nothing about the quality of his writing.   

I have appreciated his poetry, and it's eminently quotable, but here I just want to quote this stunning passage from his essay on the New York City Ballet company, from 1952. For me, it evokes some of the gentle serenity of its time, when people had the leisure to enjoy a quick diversion from the business of living and working, or getting from place to place. Denby loved New York, and this is how it feels to love something that is complex and somehow fleeting and permanent at the same time. 

"I hadn't expected so intense a pleasure, looking at New York again, in the high white February sunlight, the chidishly euphoric climate; looking down Second Avenue, where herds of vehicles go charging one way all day long disappearing into the sky at the end like on a prairie; looking up a side of a skyscraper, a flat and flat and a long and long, and the air drops down on your head like a solid. Like a solid too the air that slices down between two neighbor skyscrapers. Up in the winter sunlight the edge of such a building far up is miraculously intense, a feeling like looking at Egyptian sculpture. Down in the streets the color, the painted colors are like medieval color, like the green dress of the Van Eyck double portrait in the National Gallery, intently local and intently lurid. And New York clothes--not a trace of charm, dressing is ritualistic like in Africa (or the Middle Ages); the boys are the most costumed; dressed men and women look portentously maneuverable; one set looks more dry-cleaned than the other, and those count as rich. New York is all slum, a calm, an uncomforatable, a grand one. And the faces on the street by day: large, unhandsome, lumped with the residue of every possible human experience, and how neutral, left exposed, left unprotected, uncommitted. I havve never seen anything so marvelous. A detachment from character that reminds me of the Arhats in Chinese painting. Women as well as men in middle age look like that, not comforting but O.K. if you believe in marvels, "believe in" in the sense of live with. They have no conversation, but a slum movie put on its marquee: "Sordid"--Times; "Unsavoury Details"--Herald Tribune. I never saw so civilized an advertisement in Paris. Manners are calm, everybody is calm in New York except where maybe somebody is just having a fit. No one looks dominated. But one minority looks sometimes as though it suffered acutely, the adolescents. They throw themselves about the city, now supersonic, now limp as snails, marvelously unaware of adults or children. Suddenly across their blank faces runs a flahs of anguish, of huntedness, of brutal vindictiveness, of connivance--the pangs of reformatory inmates; a caged animal misery. They are known as punks and jailbait and everybody defers to them, everybody spoils them as people do to what they recognize as poetic. They are not expected to make any return. A few years later they have put on weight, whether girls or boys, and the prevalant adult calm has commenced for and closed on them too, and others are adolescent. Another magic thing about New York is that everything you look at by day, people, buildings, views, everything is the same distance away, like in Egyptian sulcpture too. When I look about me in New York I feel as if I saw with an eagle's kind of eye; lovely Italy I looked at with a dear simpatico horse's eye. But you want me to tell you about the city's ballet company, which I adore . . . ."

--from Dancers, Buildings and People in the Street [New York: Horizon Press, 1965, p 23-4. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Sierra Club Turns Left

Fair warning here: I have never been a member of the Sierra Club, and I have never spent time supporting any environmental protection organization, though I have occasionally given money to support them. Some will always accuse you of not putting your time and money where your mouth is, but participating in a political debate doesn't require that one must have been involved in something to have an opinion about it. 

From an early age, I was taught to respect nature, and to view with suspicion and disdain any attempt to compromise the health of the natural environment through resource exploitation or unrestrained human expansion. Our family took camping trips, where we hiked and fished, frequently in National or State Parks in California. Later when we were raising our family, we took trips to Montana, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. 

I tacitly accepted the value and purpose of nature reserves for public appreciation, though I later came to be somewhat disillusioned about how those reserves were managed and maintained by the agencies and services empowered to run them. Later still, I came to understand more about the history of the American environmental movement, and the various continuing disputes regarding its mission and strategies. 

The core purpose of nature reserves it to preserve them against development, environmental degradation, and to facilitate access without compromising their values. There are many kinds of appreciation of nature. Most people are not interested in "roughing it" in nature, and would be incapable of doing so. But most people have also come to understand that the environment is a whole condition, interconnected and indivisible, which must be viewed in its totality. Though most people in the modern world live "inside" civilization--in cities and precincts that are not natural, but artificial--they do accept and acknowledge that our connection to the whole of the planet's systems is a fact. We can't separate ourselves from nature, and pretend that it (nature) is something "out there" which we can exploit and visit and treat as a discrete entity. Philosophically, this suggests that whatever we do "to" nature we also "do" to ourselves, that use or misuse of the environment affects everything else, including all the land and water, and the creatures who occupy it (including humans). 

Human civilization is not static. It has evolved over time, through movement and development and struggle. The earth has evolved into a collection of nations, or nation-states, each of which dictates to a greater or lesser extent, what happens within its boundaries, and to and among its people. This is a sovereignty that is generally respected, but frequently violated. The history of civilization over the past two millennia is the record of conflict, shifting boundaries,  imbalances, oppressions, and instabilities. But the notion of national sovereignties living peacefully, in cooperation, is a persistently expressed goal. We pay lip service to that principle, though we seldom live up to it. 

What seems clear is that in disputes involving environmental preservation, national sovereignty holds sway. One country cannot dictate to another country, what its politics should be with respect to environmental practice, human habitation and economic development. Each nation is restricted by this principle to the affairs and laws that apply within its own boundaries. As much, for instance, as we would like Brazil to stop burning its rain forests, or China from damming its rivers, we don't have the authority to force them to do so. 

This is another way of saying that we only can have control over that which belongs within our jurisdiction. As long as we live in a world of nations, we're largely restricted to focusing on conditions within our own territory. If we wish to apply the principles of environmental balance, or piecemeal environmental preservation, we're limited to our own borders. 

John Muir with Teddy Roosevelt 

Yesterday, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued a press release, "Pulling Down Our Monuments" in which he outlined the club's new position with respect to its founder John Muir. Brune accused Muir of being "racist". The proof he gives of this assertion is that he "maintained friendships with people like Henry Fairfield Osborn, who worked for . . . the conservation of the white race . . . [and] helped found the American Eugenics Society in the years after Muir's death." He says that Muir "made derogatory comments about Black people and indigenous peoples . . . [which] continue to hurt and alienate indigenous people and people of color who come into contact with the Sierra Club." 

Has there ever been an outcry in the Media or from private citizens about the racist nature of The Sierra Club? If there were, I've never heard of them. Was the Sierra Club formed as an "white supremacist" organization, like the Ku Klux Klan, to enforce bigotry and oppression of minorities? On the contrary, the Club was created to foster protection of nature, and to encourage its appreciation through sponsored visitation and appreciation. The Sierra Club, though highly political in its operations--through its attempts to influence and direct legislation and rulings favorable to its environmental mandate--was not created to foster social justice or racial equality. 

One could make an argument that any organization which has a high profile, and carries a charter that sets up social and economic goals, would need to conduct itself in a free and open manner, not making decisions and choices that reflect undemocratic sentiments. That's what you might expect. 

But that is not to suggest that it should alter its mission to make itself an advocate or player in legal disputes surrounding race or ethnic identities. Why should it be necessary to demonize the founding members of an organization, in order the suit the political vagaries of various pressure-groups which want to penalize and hijack the organization for their own purposes, which have little or nothing to do with environmental protection? 

Does it help the environment in the Southwest to allow unbridled illegal immigration from Central and South America? Who benefits if millions of such "refugees" stream northward, straining the limits of our resources to accommodate them? Are we to set up a choice between "humanitarian" concern for the poor of Third World nations against the environmental health of our own country? Can the Sierra Club solve the inequities of racism by dethroning its founder? 

The attempt to accommodate political pressure groups by adopting internally embarrassing or destructive policies is a phenomenon we're seeing across the board right now. Some years ago, there occurred a schism within the Sierra Club, when its then head David Brower, who felt the club needed to take strong stands against extractive industry, population growth and uncontrolled immigration, left the organization to found a new group called Friends of the Earth. Brower felt that too many concessions had been made to industry. The Glen Canyon Dam and the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant both happened during his tenure. Clearly, the club had not succeeded in its core mission to protect these important natural places. 

Some would argue that Brower represented a liberal revolution within the environmental movement, a radical departure. But Brower's version of the club's mission was closer to its original mandate, than what the club had become by 2000. 

Within the context of the shifting definitions of environmental protection, Brune's position appears, once again, ironically, to be a hard left turn, not toward more commitment to the environmental commitments, but rather to political correctness. Whereas the club once struggled to find a political balance between hard-line and compromise with respect to the environmental struggle, it now attempts to repudiate its first founders, and will "Pending approval from our board . . . shift $5 million from our budget over the next year -- and more in the years to come -- to make long-overdue investments in our staff of color and our . . . racial justice work." In other words, the Sierra Club will spend some of its money on minority outreach and hiring, and diversity training. 

In all honesty, I have a hard time understanding how this can benefit the environment.