Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Recent Footnotes

Hello Reader
Got footnotes?

One of my favorite scholars, back in the days before black-and-white TV, once broke with tradition to write an entire book without footnotes, after he first excused himself to his fellow academics, saying he was trying to be more readable for the average reader. The book was about a noble ancient Roman, Scipio Africanus, the writer was Captain Sir Basil Liddell-Hart.

During recent times, one of my favorite websites is by web-essayist and book writer Scott Berkun. He once asked his readers about his next book. Question: Would they prefer his footnotes to be at the bottom of various pages, or held back until the end, in a footnotes chapter? The survey results were about half one, half the other. For myself, I prefer footnotes at the very back of the book—then I can read several at once, at my leisure.

Another web-essayist, computer millionaire Paul Graham, was one of the first people to realize that the Web will allow an Age of the Essay, He advised in his essay Writing, Briefly that for essays one can use footnotes “to contain digressions.” Yes! I can relate, for sometimes I just have too much to say. In fact, for about half my posts, my footnotes would become an awfully long list, unless I deleted some.

For a while I kept a collection of my unused footnotes, hoping that some lazy day I could save myself the trouble of composing another weekly essay and just post all my unused footnotes. Bad idea. Big surprise: When I hauled them out to look at them, well, they were as dry as an ancient mummy, one uncovered by a surprise sandstorm out in the Egyptian desert, lying in the middle of nowhere, no context, nothing to say.

Maybe a good definition of a footnote, then, is something time-sensitive and page-sensitive, something that can’t stand on it’s own. Yes, and then maybe the footnote is not worth writing in the first place. Sir Basil Liddell-Hart knew what he was doing.

My own website, Scholar-wise, doesn’t require any footnotes. That’s because I came up through journalism, which means I am keenly aware of how unintellectual the average reader is. Even in my university campus newspaper we (a) took care to explain everything, as if the reader had been away in an Iranian torture-prison, and (b) we used short declarative sentences—and that was for students! As for (b) I suppose graduates would retain their ability to read long sentences.

Footnote: Well, now I know yet another difference between secondary and post-secondary students. Not only are the latter, thanks to the West’s age of enlightenment, into free speech and free thinking, as in being able to study Huckleberry Finn (who uses the word nigger) but they can follow long thoughts: Schoolteachers use short sentences, professors use long. As the college students are hearing sentences with several clauses, they are becoming able to write that way themselves. End Footnote

Speaking of my own website, for the last few posts it has has featured longer, denser essays. Don’t worry, dear reader, my next one will be loose and easy. Call me lazy, call me “in love with my own writing,” or best of all, call me “not willing to waste any of the writing I do” but my next post will be a “sidebar” I have recently held back. Sidebars have more juice than footnotes do: They can go longer without any water.

Here are some footnotes I could have inflicted on you at the end of my previous post, but didn’t. You’re welcome.

Footnotes for U.S. readers:
Yes, I have seen the movie Milk, I know you have had line ups for metal detectors at your city hall at least as far back as 1978, and you even—going at least as far back as the old (1982) Sean Penn movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High—had line ups to get past detectors into your children’s schools, but such things would look silly in Canada. (Except we did put detectors in when we renovated our courthouse)

~ As mentioned two posts ago, the CBC and Canadian Boy magazine would be examples of things still protected under the Free Trade Agreement. Of course we have a distinct culture with lots of countryside—how distinct? Put it this way, our cowboys have never worn six-guns. And hey, country song pioneer Wilf Carter was Canadian, he sang here in Calgary. Nevertheless, our little sprig of a country and western magazine was stomped into the mud by Yankee imperialists who claimed it could not be legally protected because, they claimed, Canada has no Country culture. A pity.

~Recently Netflix was annoyed that the French at the Cannes Film festival were protecting their movie culture. Of course capitalism is good, of course, but maybe market fundamentalism is not qui-i-i-ite so good. Here is a big long article from film critic Roger Ebert’s website (link) called Everything you know about Cannes versus Netflix is wrong:

 ~No cowboy guns were needed because we had the mounted police wearing British army red coats. The North West Mounted Rifles, or N.W.M.R., later became the N.W.M.P., and still later became the R.C.M.P.

~Today in my city, according to a local policeman, you can’t be randomly killed, not unless you go looking for it, such as by consorting with criminals, or by arguing at 1 a.m. in a bar with a madman of low self-esteem. At high noon, even for women, there are no “unsafe” areas for walking in our fair city.

~Next month, if you come to the Calgary Stampede, (rodeo) then feel free to dress western like we do. Just don’t wear chaps or six-guns.

Sean Crawford,
Got Leisure Time?
If so, then here are some leisurely footnotes:

~I can’t resist saying that in a Series (season) 9 episode of Doctor Who, it’s no coincidence (I think) that the doctor finally reveals his first name—something he NEVER does—and it’s Basil!

You see, the episode’s theme was about breaking the cycle of having wars, while Sir Basil’s most famous book, Strategy could be subtitled The Strategy of Indirect Approach. Basil strongly disagreed with the most respected European war thinker of his time. Instead he agreed with ancient Sun Tzu that it is best to not to have any casualties at all, on both sides.

~Archived February 2015, with a nod to Sir Basil, is my long essay of a gorgeous translation of Sun Zu’s ancient work The Art of War. I wrote in the context of modern Chinese students, and, in the footnotes, with appreciation for a splendid Japanese TV series that became a major motion picture this year starring Scarlet Johansson.

~You could easily find on YouTube a four-minute “Doctor Who Zygon speech” of the doctor trying to tell two people, in a “press The Button” standoff, not to break the peace treaty. It’s a good dramatic speech. The scene is a grand metaphor, of course, not merely for “The Button” of the Cold War but for, say, Sunni Muslims living among Shiite Muslims in today’s middle east. 

Here (link) is the same speech, but within a complex, ten-minute version of the doctor struggling to use diplomacy. Many masked-as-human Zygons are, by secret treaty, peacefully and secretly living among humans. The two protagonists are Kate and Bonnie. Kate (older blond) leads the key United Nations armed forces; Bonnie (dark haired with lipstick) is a Zygon commander passing for human. 

Bonnie, metaphorically, is like a Saudi Arabian mullah (priest) who believes western Muslims today (her fellow Zygons) are traitors for believing Islam means peace. I like this clip better than the four-minute piece. (In the background, powerless, stand a human dark haired lady and a scientist-lady with spectacles)

~An application of being indirect:
My favorite science fiction author, Robert Heinlein, once wrote a novel, Sixth Column, where a reserve major, who in civilian life sells insurance or something, is in charge of the few surviving soldiers of the U.S. army. (Come to think of it, in the novel the U.S. lost the war because they expected an invading Asian army to come directly across the ocean, instead of sending their missiles and troops indirectly over the North Pole)

It’s a good thing he’s not a straight-thinking regular army officer: The good major has to keep reminding himself to use an indirect approach, because every time he tries a common sense military attack he loses.


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