Friday, September 28, 2012

Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon this weekend. Hunters' Moon is about a moon.
Not sure if this particular harvest moon will be bigger, brighter, more magical than other full moons, but it's sure a sign to harvest what is bountiful. Great night for metaphors - the full moon, harvest, rooting down, digging old roots, planting the new.
I'm searching for a perfect pumpkin myself.
Enjoy your harvest. Love the moon. See you next week.
 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

News that is fit to print

As much as I love her, I shut off Rachel Maddow last night and went upstairs. Too much noise pollution, too many repeat stories, too many shots of Mitt in Boca Raton. Seen it. Heard it.
If we are in repeat season everywhere, how about that sound bite of him not understanding why they don't have windows that open on airplanes? Seriously. That's worth a repeat.
Going to put people to work by making new windows for planes and screen windows for safety. Hey, Mr. Pigeon, think you can fly through this?  There's more fodder there, at least for me, than watching a rich guy telling other rich guys what they want to hear.
Rant over.
On the road this afternoon, so just some nonsense from the local newspaper. I read only the little fillers in the paper - they tend to be more meaningful than the big stories. And shorter.
Here's what I found of interest in today's Denver Post:

Clinton, World Leaders Announce Deal to Cut Cost of Contraception
(why isn't this a major headline instead of a filler? this is such good news.)

Police Check Out Hoffa Tip
Not such big news. People are still looking for Jimmy Hoffa's body? Guess someone has to do it.

General charged with adultery
Obviously, a desperate filler. This is not news.

Alligator rips off woman's arm
What was this 84-year old woman doing in the canal by herself anyway?

Police chief resigns, leaving dog as town's only officer
Nikka, the drug sniffing dog, is the only one left. Police chief had to resign when he learned he couldn't carry a gun because of his criminal background. Really. Page 16A of the Post if you don't believe me. 

Love the news on line, but I do miss digging for the fillers in the middle pages. All still fit to print.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Getting to School


Still slightly dark at 6:30 this morning, with the sidewalk wet from the rare rain that fell last night.
Sunglasses in the pocket of my fleece as I ventured out a few minutes later than usual. I define, ever so loosely, the perimeters of my Lowry neighborhood as Quebec St to the west; Yosemite to the east;
11th to the north; and Lowry Blvd. to the south. Big rambling sort of square with the Great Lawn Park taking a chunk of space.
Deviated from my usual path through the park and walked up 11th, hooking a right towards Yosemite.

It's quiet at that time, little traffic and few dogwalkers. But the first bus stop had a gaggle of girls, standing. Only two were talking, the others were reading or listening to music.  Second bus stop a bit mixed, and turning the corner on to Yosemite, found myself with about 30 young men and women waiting for the bus.
I surmised the early morning bus riders were from the other side of Eleventh, the Post Office side of 11th, with neighborhoods of small homes, a few apartments, and non-manicured walkways. Definitely the neighborhoods of what politicians would call working-class folks. Not a white student in the mix, as far as I could see. But, in my quick encounter, it was clear that this was one diverse group heading out to school. Students with Asian, African, middle-Eastern, Indian backgrounds. Probably Caucasian also, just not so visible.

I have no idea where they were all going, but guess the groups were heading towards elementary or middle school. Maybe a few teenagers. No idea how long the ride to school or back, no idea how heavy all the backpacks were. Don't know how much school choice was involved, what they had for breakfast, and how early they had to get up to get to the bus stop. Actually, I know nothing about these young women and men making their way to school.

Took the long way around, coming up to our townhouse, walking by Bishop Machuebeuf Catholic High School, Primrose School, International Baccalaureate elementary and middle schools and past British Stanley School. Traffic churns around the traffic circle next to Bishop Machuebeuf, as parents turn into the school, drop off some students, and head back down 6th.

Deciding to take the private school route, I see the SUV's before the buildings appear.  I'm especially fond of the shiny yellow one on Syracuse and the red SUV on Trenton that are in place most mornings. But today I am equally impressed by the shine on the black and white mini-vans with the sun just coming up and over their tops.

Coffee cups or cell phones in one hand, child's hand in the other as many parents walk their little ones to the doors of the IB schools. Ditto for British Stanley. New cars, nice cars, big cars. Oh, there's diversity here, but it's still a whiter shade of pale. All school choice.

I wonder when and where these two different clusters of  school kids will meet. Could be on a soccer team; could be in an AP History class in high school. I wonder what difference it makes to be part of the public transportation cluster or the personal drive to school group. 

By the time I walk in the front door of my townhouse, the sun has risen and the coffee has percolated. I've had some sort of  anthropologicial course, visiting two sites within close proximity. Just wondering if it all suggests what I think it does.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More Random than Usual


That Psych sandwich made me tired yesterday. All those inkblots and all those labels and drugs brought up some old memories.
Long ago, back when my friends and I were having our babies, things turned out well for most of us. Within the year following the birth of my first son, Rob,  my very, very good friend Vivian had a son as well. Mark.
Mark was sort of strange from the beginning, but those were the times when we were all a bit strange. Doing the hippie thing, smoking, eating whatever. It wasn't until Mark's head banging became obvious to everyone that we knew this was an unusal case. Long story short: finally a physician declared that Mark was autistic, marginally retarded and prone to perhaps having epileptic attacks.
So all of us eagerly read anything we could find about autism. Had never heard of it before. No computer to google back then, no webmd, mayoclinic.com, ask.com,  just what we could find on the bookshelves. What was the prevailing theory, diagnosis back then? You got it. Mom's fault. She traumatized the baby by putting food that is too hot in the child's mouth, isn't attached enough, you know the drill. Freudian, but with a cultural anthropologist's twist on family of origin stuff. I remember it as if it I read it last summer.
Pathways to Madness by Jules Henry was the book of choice, with the theory/diagnosis of choice.
Things turned out well for Mark, far better than most people could have imagined. No, it wasn't Vivian's fault. Never was. But back in the day, that was the expertise. The pediatric neurologist knew better, but most of us didn't. Today we have new expertise. The prevailing winds go one way. Chemotherapy seems miraculous these days. It will seem barbaric in new days. So it goes.
One gets to live within the cultural context of the times. Once Upon a Time and In the Future...we're smack in the middle.

Such a tragic-comedic world. On the one hand, most people do the best they can to make well-informed decisions about medications, school choice, job offers; on the other hand, with good intentions, a nurse throws away a kidney on its way from donor to recipient. Just yesterday. Picked it up in all the slush, keeping the operating area clean. Down the hall, down the drain.
I know, it's not funny. The reasons given for Mark's problems weren't funny either.
But in some perverse YouTube world it all could be. Mel Brooks and Michael Moore doing healthcare.
It's a bit of a ramble today, I know. But it's not easy tying in a true story about a nurse throwing out a kidney with a psych sandwich. On to better things.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Psych Sandwich


Just sitting down to post on my Psych Sandwich this weekend, but saw Pat O's comments on my Saturday post and had to respond. What a gift.

Back to the Psych Sandwich.
Yeats once wrote something about 'you, me and my mind' and I always thought of the 'you' and 'me' as Wonder Bread and BLT as the mind. I know, all white bread and no meat. What can I say?

This past weekend brought the image to me. Psych Sandwich was what I had for nourishment this past weekend. More than I could digest.  Bread of Psychology Friday evening, hearty Camino reunion meat on Saturday, Bread of  Psychiatry during the game on Sunday. So much to digest.

Friday's bread was light, familiar, and tantalizing. 
A well-respected psychologist is sitting at the long dinner table, awaiting the paella, and comments that it will have to be an early evening as there's an all-day seminar on Saturday on the Rorscharch and MMPI. Mostly Rorsarch. Had no idea those inkblots were still reliable indicators. We chewed on those tests for a long,long time.
 Rorscharch Inkblots and MMPI questions. In the 60's, we had analyzed responses to those ten inkblots endlessly. No, none of us had ever studied rating the test, validity, assessment, evaluation; none of us had been trained. But we had all had just enough psych courses to know that the real truth, the hidden depths of our feelings were to be found in those inkblots.
In the '70's, filled with wisdom from having taken several Ed Psych courses in doctoral studies (I have no idea why) a professor returned my long, long response to an essay question with only this comment. 'Did you think this was a Rorscharch test?'  Guess he figured I was either profound or mad.
During that time period I briefly entertained working for the CIA. Drama. Took the MMPI to pass the security clearance. Passed the test, and found my mind. No CIA.
Loved hearing about how those tests are being used and evaluated these days.

Saturday night - reunion with friends from Seattle and CO, buffet-style, salmon, edamame salad, figs, feta, artichokes, red peppers. Think of each of those platters as different topics about our pilgrimage to Santiago and pilgrimages in the future. Full of good stuff. Old friends, lots of changes, real food.

Sunday afternoon - it's a ball game. Sun bursting with energy, team not quite feeling it. Lulls in interesting plays leads to stimulating conversation. I find myself engaged with two people extremely well-informed and even more connected in the world of psychiatry. The slice of bread that completes the psych sandwich.
No inkblots here, but no lack of diagnoses. Tales about seven and nine year olds diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, Schizophrenia, Bi-polar illness. One has all four; the other has just one - but one of the bigger ones. Labeled and medicated. I'm no neophyte in this world.
One doesn't work in University undergraduate studies without becoming acquainted with the terms; one doesn't have a creative, unusal family without hearing various labels bandied about. We all love to have a term, a prototype or archetype to help us explain our world. But...
The people I'm talking with Sunday afternoon are smart. And they seem to trust the diagnoses and the seemingly positive outcomes that will emerge from early interventions and medications. Still I'm as stunned by the psychiatric piece of bread as I was the psychological.

So that's my weekend - wrapped up in a psych sandwich. No more white bread; this is hearty stuff, full of grains and nutrition. Took a while last night for my head and stomach to stop spinning, and drift off into dreamland. Still processing today. Surely I can eventually digest all of this and my system will ferret out what to keep and what to discard.
Hope your weekend sandwich was tasty.

Prose to Poetry



Prose to Poetry - thanks to Pat O'Driscoll, man of brilliant prose and poetry

Wish I were a poet
This morning, walking east into the rising sun,
Just past the compass sculpture that looms
Large over much of the park, the birds
Sounded noisier than usual

One bird for every treetop, one bird
For every lamplight
Surrounding the walkway
Each one had found a place of its own --
Clearly the meeting had been called to order
I joined
But stayed grounded on the walkway
Business began

If I were a poet,
I'd write about the meeting --
The agenda, the controversies, the agreements:
“It's time to leave town now.”
“Not now but as soon as it gets cooler, or
Maybe wait to see what the geese are doing”

If I were a poet
I could tell you all about the birds and describe
The trees, the lights where each one staked out
A place of distinction --
I could tell you what they were saying
As the sun rose behind them

Wallace Stevens gave us
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird --
But the Lowry breakfast meeting of birds,
Held on September 22nd, has adjourned
And I can give you
No poem of celebration –- they took
Their notes with them
As I gathered my astonishment
And walked away

Wish I were a poet

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wish I Were a Poet

Wish I were a poet. This morning, walking east into the rising sun, just past the compass sculpture that looms large over much of the park, the birds sounded noisier than usual.

One bird for every treetop, one bird for every lamplight surrounding the walkway. Each one had found a place of its own. Clearly the meeting had been called to order. I joined, but stayed grounded on the walkway. Business began. If I were a poet I'd write about the meeting, the agenda, the controversies, the agreements. 'It's time to leave town now.' 'Not now but as soon as it gets cooler, or maybe wait to see what the geese are doing.'

If I were a poet I could tell you all about the birds and describe the trees, the lights where each one staked out a place of distinction, I could tell you what they were saying as the sun rose behind them. Wallace Stevens gave us Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, but the Lowry breakfast meeting of birds, held on September 22nd, has adjourned, and I can give you no poem of celebration. They took their notes with them, as I gathered my astonishment and walked away. Wish I were a poet.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mellow Fruitfulness



Perfect fall day here in Denver. Not an New England autumn day, with burst of color everywhere. It's early Colorado fall, with shades of green mixed with yellow. An occasional orange or red leaf shows up and we pay homage to those who transplant trees and flowers from rainforest to desert (or some modest variation thereof).
But I've spent most of the day far away from gourds and over-ripened tomatoes. Been in the downtown convention center with over 2000 people at an event for the Denver Women's Foundation. A worthy event for a foundation committed to getting girls through high school, through poverty, through the attending traumas that accompany the illiterate and/or poverty stricken. Robust talk and tough statistics by keynote speaker Geena Davis, whose own research foundation is taking on the media and gender representation as offered in those P and PG movies. Thelma did herself and us proud. Going to check out Thelma and Louise twenty plus years later.
Enough of the head stuff. I've got better things going for you and for me. For you, To Autumn; seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness. No better description of fall anywhere, anytime.
I'm heading outside to feel, smell, hear, taste and touch some of that mellow fruitfulness. Hope you get to do so also. 


John Keats (1795-1821)
TO AUTUMN.                    
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.                                             
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.                                             
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Coconuts - Making the Most of..

Another delay in writing about those reunions. Not smart on my part, as there is still another reunion coming my way this weekend. I don't remember the fall being so speckled with these group gatherings in the past. Feels sort of Shakespearean as we move into the fall of our years.

But, in re-arranging a filing cabinet this morning, I came across a letter written to my grandmother from my aunt, Sister Pauline, a Medical Missionary Sister in India. July 30, 1944. Palai, Travancore, South India. Paragraph three:

"The cocoanut is a most useful tree. For food, and in the summer, the juice provides a refreshing cool drink - and is clean. The shell is used for fuel - it is a good substitue for charcoal for heating our iron. The lit cocoanut shell is put inside the iron as one would charcoal, and so the iron becomes heated. Also, it supplants charcoal for use in the censer.The fiber from the outside of the shell is used to clean the pots and pans instead of 'brillo.' Oil extracted from the cocoanut is used for cooking, to burn in lamps for lights, for rubbing on the body, for use in the sanctuary lamp and other things. The cocoanut leaves are used for thatching houses, for making brooms, for making fences and the tree trunk is useful for various building purposes and fuel. Almost forgot - a very common use for the leaves is - umbrellas! All the workers in the fields use these woven umbrellas with a little band inside to fit on the head so their hands are free for working."

"An altar bread iron and particle cutter were given us, so now we make our own altar breads. They are made over a cocoanut shell fire which is made on rice husks in an open earthenware pot. This makes a hot, clean fire - one has to keep blowing it up with a bamboo stick."
                                   ----------------------------------------------------------------------
And so it goes. Young, mostly American, women on a mission to help with childbirth during a time when male physicians didn't touch females. Medical missionary sisters there not only to assist, but to teach women of India to be nurses, to attend to childbirth. Teachers, trainers on a medical mission, making the world a safer place. Somewhere, someone is probably still putting the coconut to many uses. But not here in my privileged and fortunate world.

This year, coconut water is quite the rage among health food lovers and pretenders. People walking with bottles or cans of coconut water take some pride in their drink of choice, looking askance at the uninformed Red Bull drinkers stepping quickly down the sidewalk.
Where I live it's a quick drive to Whole Foods for a bottle of coconut water. Don't even have to smash the coconut.

 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

FOMO

It just keeps coming. Having spent a good ten days somewhat communication gadget free, I'm now in Delete style with a vengeance. Do I really need all this equipment to hear from places or people in which I have no interest? How many orgs can ask for just $3 (or a lot more) in one day? Politicians whom I don't know and people asking for money are the highest ranking e-mailers to me. Sad state of affairs.
Then there's breaking news by ipad, phone, paper or television. I had forgotten how tedious or mundane (choose one or both) the news can be. I had not seen a television truned on until we got into our own living room last night. Should have been pulling together some thoughts about the two reunions in which I recently participated, but got sucked in by the two attractive talking heads.

 It took me a while to figure out the rant about the '47% of people pay no taxes' remarks by Romney came from a fundraiser in May. Is anyone surprised that he made those comments in a 'closed' room of donors? Really.
I want some up-to-date blunders if I'm going to listen. Thanks Rachel and Anderson for opening my eyes. I prefer to keep them shut. If over 40% of people aren't paying federal income taxes, then I feel like a bit of a sucker. I just thought paying taxes is something one does if one earns enough money. And it made sense to me that people who didn't make enough money to live on shouldn't pay taxes because they don't have money.  But those tax shelters. Those weren't terms I ever heard around the plastic tablecloth. 
Also I didn't really need to hear that even worse than not understanding tax shelters - even worse, even more horrifying than my lack of knowledge is my lack of a moral foundation. Turns out I am lazy and feel entitled to anything I can get free. Wow. What a slug I've been all these decades.

Pondering all this, I walk through the park trying to understand why I am back home, hooked up, teched, tuned, and turned in, shuffling through every mindless detail that comes my way.
Aha! Epiphany...
Back on familiar grounds, my FOMO has re-surfaced..  Fear of Missing Out - FOMO.
Afraid something might pass me by.

Up until two weeks ago, I hadn't heard the term. I can see clearly now, fog is gone.  Don't want to miss a damned thing, so here I am. Could have been a hoarder, bulemic, suffered from oppositional defiance disorder, borderline personality, but I got FOMO. Could have saved a lot of time and therapy if I had figured this out earlier. Not sure when the FOMO bug hit me, not sure if it's chronic, recurring, or triggered by sorting laundry, but now that I'm self-diagnosed, I'm going to find myself a remedy.
What do you have?
 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

in media res


Back from a week with twelve women at Rehoboth Beach and another three days with Roscoe's three college friends and their wives at Lake Erie in Ohio. Lots of catching up to do, and even more reflecting, more pondering the group dynamics, differences, similarities, and just plain good times. Good times still abide in this world. As does brilliance.

But before posting a few thoughts, there's all that catching up to do after coming home. Plants, indoors and out, survived. Cherry tomatoes in abundance outside and no moldy or rotten food in the refrigerator inside. Good news.

Then there's the laundry. Packed conservatively, or so I thought, but ended up with as many unused articles of clothings as used. More simplifying to be done. Left cosmetic bag in Ohio, so some forced face simplifying. Not sure anyone will notice.
Back to the laundry. Raise your hand if you've ever thrown in jackets, sweatshirts, whatever shirts with balls of kleenex rolled into the pockets. Raise your hand if you spent an unrevealed amount of time picking those kleenex flicks off washed clothes and the floor space between the washer and dryer.

If you are truly neurotic or afflicted with the 'all coupons must be ripped out of magazines immediately' disability, you know there's a chunk of time consumed by that ritual. Reading the magazines will have to come on another day. And, while I'm at it, there's a minute or two of being appalled by the larger than phone book (remember those?) size of a Restoration Hardware catalogue. I've only bought holiday candles and maybe one or two items at RH in my lifetime. Shame on you.
Decided to not even rip open the gigantic plastic wrap containing the catalogue before dropping it into recycle.

If you ever wondered what mundane means, you've just read a description. I'll try harder after I catch up with myself today.
BUT, for some real prose, I'm handing off the venerable, or not, Stanley Fish article in NYT on Free Speech. Definitely worth the read.

Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web


September 17, 2012, 9:00 pm

Libya, Violence and Free Speech



Back when Salman Rushdie was made the object of a fatwa because his book "The Satanic Verses" was regarded by many Iranians as a blasphemy against the prophet, I went to a conference where a panel discussion was devoted to Rushdie's situation. A member of the audience raised his hand and, without a trace of irony, asked, "What's the matter with those Iranians? Haven't they ever heard of the First Amendment?"
The implication was that if they had heard of it and read it and gotten its message, they would have understood that you don't target or attack people because of what they have written; you don't respond to words, however harsh and wounding you take them to be, as if they were physical blows. Now, in the wake of the events in Libya, the same kind of thing is being said by American politicians and commentators. If you're listening to the radio and tuning in to the cable news shows, you're hearing any number of people (including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton) declare, first, that of course the video vilifying Islam is reprehensible and, second, that nevertheless nothing can justify the eruption of "senseless violence."

"Senseless" means without reasons, and the assumption is that it can't be a reason to set a consulate on fire that someone in the consulate's home country made a movie saying nasty things about your religion. After all, if your religion is worthy and strong it will survive a malicious representation of it. And besides, an assault on your religion is not an assault on you; it's not personal. This is the point made by the Florida pastor Terry Jones, who insists that the video (with which he is associated in some way not yet specified) was "not designed to attack Muslims, but to show the destructive ideology of Islam." In other words, we're not attacking you, just some of the ideas you hold, an assertion that makes sense if you think that your religion is just an add-on to your essential personhood, like the political party you belong to or the football team you root for.
That is the view of religion we inherited from John Locke and other "accommodationist" Protestants, Protestants who entered into a bargain with the state: allow us freedom of worship, don't meddle in our affairs and we won't meddle in civic matters or attempt to make public institutions reflect theological doctrines. In his Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke is eloquent when he explains how this parceling out of the world into two distinct spheres - a private sphere and a public sphere - will put an end to the violence that is likely to occur when religious imperatives stray from their proper home in the heart and the chapel (or mosque or synagogue) and insist on ordering every aspect of life. If church and state will "each of them contain itself within its own bounds, the one attending to the worldly welfare of the commonwealth, the other to the salvation of souls, it is impossible that any discord should have happened between them."
Those who buy into this division of labor and authority will themselves be bifurcated entities. In their private lives they will live out the commands of their religion to the fullest. In their public lives - their lives as citizens - they will relax their religious convictions and display a tolerance they may not feel in their heart of hearts. We give witness to this dual identity when we declare, in fidelity to the First Amendment, "I hate and reject what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
It hardly needs pointing out that the protesters in Libya and Egypt won't say that - not, however, because they don't understand the First Amendment or the firewall that should separate religion from civil life or the distinction between one's identity as a citizen and one's identity as a believer or the difference between words and blows, but because they reject all four and, indeed, regard them as evil. In their eyes, a religion that confines itself to the heart and chapel, and is thus exercised intermittently while the day's business gets done, is no religion at all. True religion does not relax its hold when you leave the house of worship; it commands your allegiance at all times and in all places. And the "you" whose allegiance it commands is not divided into a public "you" and a private "you"; it is the same at home as it is when abroad in the world.
And since for them religion is not an internal, privatized matter safe from the world's surfaces, but an overriding imperative that the world's surfaces should reflect, a verbal or pictorial assault on their religion will not be received as an external and ephemeral annoyance, as a "mere" representation; it will be received as a wounding to the heart, as a blow, and as a blow that is properly met by blows in return. No "sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me" for them.
So the entire package of American liberalism - the distinction between speech and action, the resolve to protect speech however distasteful it may be, the insistence that religious believers soften their piety when they enter the public sphere - is one the protesters necessarily reject. When they are told that the United States government had no part in the production of the video and deplores its content, educated Libyans and Egyptians reply (reporters tell us), "Well, if they think it's bad and against their values, why didn't they stop it or punish those who produced it?" The standard response is that we Americans don't suppress or penalize ideas we regard as wrong and even dangerous; in accordance with the First Amendment, we tolerate them and allow them to present themselves for possible purchase in the marketplace of ideas.
But that means that protecting the marketplace by refusing to set limits on what can enter it is the highest value we affirm, and we affirm it no matter what truths might be vilified and what falsehoods might get themselves accepted. We have decided that the potential unhappy consequences of a strong free speech regime must be tolerated because the principle is more important than preventing any harm it might permit. We should not be surprised, however, if others in the world - most others, in fact - disagree, not because they are blind and ignorant but because they worship God and truth rather than the First Amendment, which not only keeps God and truth at arm's length but regards them with a deep suspicion.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What Do The Beach Bookies do?

Not easy finding time to write in a house of twelve women - definitely not Twelve Angry Men- with all that's going on.
For example, one of my bunk mates is out walking the beach before 6:00 am, another was up even earlier, 4:00 am, catching up with office work as she had just flown in from Prague the day before. Then there is yoga, walking the boardwalk, riding the beach bike Round town, googling the news, and so it goes all morning...And, of course, talking.

Surf's up and the beach is quiet, minus the little kite flyers and young body surfers. Walked by a posse of women yesterday, all in beach chairs, reading books... Books of paper, every one of them. Our group is divided, maybe leaning more towards the kindle/nook side of the game.

Dolphins were even more up close and playful today. Back flips, tail flips, following in order ploys, entertaining our small audience and leaving us to ponder intelligence in its many forms. I suspect even the gulls and sandpipers enjoy the dolphin show.  Not quite sure about the blowfish washed ashore.

Salmon cakes, spiral of ham, shrimp, pasta putenesca, - splendid meals cooked one night after another by the gourmet chefs in the crowd; the rest of us try to prepare the long table and then clean up. All the vegetables, and I do mean a hearty, hefty all, are farm fresh. Bountiful feasts.

Evening rituals , year after year.
One night a week is for Wellness tips, with a hint of old-fashioned beauty tips thrown in. Some examples:
Coffee grounds and egg whites for exfoliation
Tai chi demonstrations
Five breathing exercises
Chapstick on fuzzy eyebrows
Retin A on brown spots
    And more and more...

Book selections and book review from previous year's list
Film selections and film reviews from previous years
Presentations and plugs for non-profits and other groups and concepts we support
Political rants
Religion

Quick example of post-dinner chat about last year's books covered:

The Hiding Place
One Thousand White Women
The Post American World
Caleb's  Crossing
A Good Indian Wife
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

More to come, but that is it for now. My time for the shower.
Oh, just in case it sounds too ritualized, never, ever underestimate the presence of rambling stories, anecdotes, jokes and stinging  satire...and the totally unexpected.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Beach Bums

Storm blew into Rehoboth Beach early Sunday and blew away all the humidity. Every bit. Imagine the pounding of the ocean, a heavenly 76 degrees, hot sun and no humidity on the east coast.  As good as it gets.  Sunday afternoon, dolphins play in the waves, up close as if they knew we had spotted them. This is the private Rehoboth beach.
In the early mornings, half a beach block away from where we live, tree frogs, cicadas and morning birds fill the skies with their noises. Nature is singing to my soul, and the white geese take off to the next stop.
Busy day, so I'll just give some quick background and demographics.
Twelve women have been renting this same house for six years. One from PA, one from Boston, three from CO and four from MD.
How do we know each other? Some met in high school, others in college, others in church, others In Turkey.  Mary Jane Daly is the common thread, the only one who knows all, and the one who brought the group together - brilliant move she made for one of those significant birthdays.
Single, married, divorced, partnered, parents, grandparents, no kids. Teachers, bakers, candlestick makers, gourmet cooks, hi tech and low tech professionals, consultants, librarians, professors - most of the women with a range of skills. Not much that can't be fixed or created.
Ask us about our book lists, religious beliefs, politics. How much time do you have?
There is a snapshot for now. More to come later. Going to sit on the porch, listen to the waves lap in and the brids sing out.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Love the One You're With

Before I start, just an announcement that Mozilla Firefox has apparently divorced me. Left me sitting at my desk bereaved. Don't think he's coming back. I'm finding another full-time replacement. Soon.

New day, new energy for politics, even for Politics and the English Language.
Loved the Nuns on a Bus last night and loved Clinton. Who didn't? Who doesn't know he has a few personal flaws, who doesn't know he was the epitome of "If You're Not with the One you Love, Love the One you're With? 
But there we were with Bill on a mission,  and Fleetwood Mac once again reminding us 'Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow. Clinton brought us into a world of true narrative, an epic tale told not just by teleprompters, but by stutters of the heart. Oh, how we yearn for storytellers whose stories tell the facts and reveal the grander truth, storytellors whose tales transcend time and space. This was only politics, but a grand story for politics.

That's the mood that Bill Clinton put me in, so when Obama came out and the two men hugged, I was right back there with King Hrothgar and Beowulf, Odysseus and Telemachus. The elder passing on wisdom to the younger, everyone's favorite first 'Black' president passing on wisdom to the first Black president.

Enough. I just had a conversation with a couple of friends with sons and daughters entering and graduating from college. The great lament these days isn't just the debt these kids pass on, but the bewilderment about what one is supposed to do with a debt-ridden undergraduate degree in sociology English,  political science or whatever. Should have told them their kids can name drop Telemachus, Achilles, Beatrice and a whole bunch of other people no-one else knows. Add a couple of graduate degrees, and one can become just about unbearable.

Early tomorrow morning I'll be heading to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware for a week at the beach in a big, open house near the beach. Ten women, ten points of view, probably ten different diets, and ten different stories. I'll be thinking about you. While I'm gone, friend Ann will begin a long pilgrimage - Rio de Janeiro to Mexico City. One foot in front of the other.

 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Making the World Better


Oh, those arms. Arm envy, shoulder envy, dress envy and so it went last night. Michelle Obama, or as some like to call her, Mrs. Obama, knocked it out of the proverbial park last night. Won the wife-off hands down. She even delivered a mighty fine speech, a speech that also flew out of the park and into the hearts and souls of many. I am crazy about her.

However.... however. Call me curmudgeonly, sanctimonious, haughty or not haughty enough. You can even call me insensitive, lacking compassion, hard-hearted, or unfeeling. But if I hear another First Lady or First Lady Wanna Be gushing over her husband, oozing love, loving him even more now that he's successful, I'm going to boycott all things political - or puke...or both.
And I don't want to hear Elizabeth Warren give an all swarmy, mushy thing about her husband. No spouses, no partners, no whatevers. Save it for the kitchen table or the pillow or wherever you go that the secret service does not. It all just seems so demeaning to me, a smack down of the speaker and an even greater smackdown to the rest of us. Does anyone really think that someone will choose to vote for a president based on how much fun his wife had when they were temporarily poor and in college or temporarily poor just launched with an Ivy education? Do we look that dumb?

And, just in case that harangue wasn't enough, I have another one. The Children. Making the World Better for Our Children. I love my sons - wholeheartedly and unconditional. Ditto my two grandchildren. But, for me, that doesn't have a whole lot to do with making the world a better place.
As Marion Edelman (no slouch as a child lover and supporter) said: Service is the rent we pay for being on this earth. And it's cheap rent, if you ask me.
People without children have been paying school taxes here in the US for a long time. They aren't doing it for 'our' children, they do so for 'the' children, to make the world a better place. You may think I'm being picky, but the 'our children' slogan just seems so self-serving. Why not just say Making the World Better for the future?  Then there is the whole sentient being philosophy...How about ALL the sentient beings?

Enough, enough. Feeling better already. Breathing in, breathing out. Nothing like venting.

On another note...maybe a higher note. CSU and CU scientists have joined a consortium to creat a flushless, power-generated toilet for developing countries. The whole research consortium was awarded awarded a 1.3million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation. For some reason, that news just made me so grateful that Bill and Melinda Gates have the minds and commitments they have.
I quote from the Denver Post today, "The toilet will be designed to disinfect liquid waste, dry and burn solid waste, and convert the resulting combustible energy into stored electricity."  Think of the positive changes such a design would bring to the developing world. If 4 out of 10 people in the world don't have safe ways to dispose of their waste, and we know that none of us is in that 4 out of 10, what a breakthrough in terms of health, living conditions, just about everything.
Maybe it's the fact that I've been fortunate to travel, to spend time in places where a working toilet is a sign of wealth that this project seems so inspiring to me.

Sorry for the long vent. It's only politics.  But Kudos to the Gates family and all those smart people wherever they are who try to make the world a better place. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Politicos and the English Language


REMEMBER WAY BACK WHEN?  back when all of us read this essay, wrote about this essay, tried to write the way Orwell recommends?  Some of us even taught this essay. I'm not sure I've read an essay this long, other than in The New Yorker, in a while. But I figure if my brother Garrett tricked me into re-reading this via Facebook early this morning, I'm going to pass it on in case you want a trip down language memory lane.  Wish I had thought to read this before the Republican Convention, but think it will still come in handy with the Democratic Convention.

For your convenience, and if you don't have the pre-convention time to read the whole smashingly brilliant essay, here are the six rules that come in the summary. Those rules once rolled off the tip of my tongue, now they don't even roll off the tips of my thumbs. What's a writer to do?

Says Orwell: But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

 --The whole essay follows and will be wroth remembering as we lumber through this nasty, barbarous campaign.
You had your moments, Ann, Clint, Paul, Mitt.
Go Dems. Block those metaphors. Bite your tongue, Mr. Biden.

George Orwell

Politics and the English Language

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.
These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:
1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)
2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.
Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia)
3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)
4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen's clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.
Communist pamphlet
5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o'clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma'amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!
Letter in Tribune
Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.
DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.
OPERATORS OR VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.
PRETENTIOUS DICTION. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i. e., e. g. and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers(1). The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.
MEANINGLESS WORDS. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for the words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’
The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning's post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: ‘[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany's social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain.
I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence(3), to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.
To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one's words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.
I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.
1946
(www.orwell.ru)
1) An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-awayfrom the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific. [back]
2) Example: ‘Comfort's catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness... Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull's-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly.) [back]
3) One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field. [back]