Friday, June 29, 2018


Minor note: As a poor boy, having to attend university as a career major, instead of taking liberal arts, I would have missed out on any language changes that others might know of, that might have been made since my strict elementary years.

Hello reader,
Got Anglicizing?

“Anglicizing,” of course, means pronouncing stuff so it sounds regular, not twisted. After all, nobody tells tongue twisters in everyday life. But if you are tempted to, then I totally recommend a tome of tongue twisters, The Fox in Sock by Dr. Seuss—My second favorite childhood doctor. 

As for who is my favorite doctor… I have a nice blue ceramic copy of a certain police telephone box, complete with piggy bank slot.

Recently, I was delighted to hear the pronunciation by “the doctor” during a TV commercial. Watching historical figures appear: “There’s Winston Churchill… and there’s Van Goff,” adds the doctor, not Van “Go.” As for me, I will say “go,” but only because, among American adults, I have heard Vincent Van Gogh’s name spoken so very many times. 

I suppose the doctor was being polite to nice British children: As practical journalists know, (see Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style) “there are new babies being born every minute who have not heard the name pronounced,” not by anyone in their dear housing tenement. The innocent children who read “Gogh” will say it as it is spelled. The standard way.

Is being “innocent,” with “standardized” speech, right and proper? Not necessarily so. Suppose you are a child: If your parents can afford a nanny like in those Mary Poppins books, if you are growing up in a big house with a nursery and a drawing room, if your parents buy expensive art at timely intervals, giving you enough time, between each new painting, to practice saying strangely the name of each new foreign artist… then practice away! 

If your parents for some reason want you to say “limb” instead of “leg,” and a “pride” of lions and a “murder” of crows, instead of a bunch or a flock, then practice is important. Maybe your parents are more concerned with “appearing classy” than with being courteous and fair to those poor kids reading in the tenements. Since they are your parents, please forgive them.

As for me, I think of a truck driver: my brother Jimmy. If he were to drive all across Canada, all of five and a half time zones, then I would hope all the other English speakers would use standard words and pronunciation too. For any new words, they could still all talk nicely together. Not getting fouled up. No, because all across Canada, all of those people raised without nannies would have agreed to a common sense default for new words pronunciation. No fault, no foul. 

Jim’s lifestyle allows him time to read good books, mostly westerns and science fiction, but he hasn’t enough time to learn exceptions to the rules of English pronunciation. Having learned as a child the five vowels, “and sometime Y,” James won’t take time as an adult to stand in front of a mirror and practice shifting gears to drop into strange foreign vowels and back up again. In other words, his sentences will not include any words abruptly spoken in italics. 

As for driving trucks and cars, Jim and I both learned to drive a manual transmission, shifting gears smoothly, but such learning required extra work. There’s a good reason most Canadians stick to automatics—it’s practical.

And so is English practical. When I was in high school taking French, every year I kept learning a new list of irregular verb forms, a lonnngg list, even during my last year. And those conjugations! “I rock, you rockez, they rockoley…” No wonder, as a rebellious youth, I failed French. I just wanted to rock. (But I took it again and passed) 

We still have a few English exceptions to memorize: I drink, I have drunk, I had drank … but fewer all the time. These days, only swimmers my age and older say “I dove in,” just as only older basketball players switch to taking penalty shots with an underhand throw—Young players complain it’s not practical to learn to do so. 

Another practical English thing: no genders to memorize. No la knife and le fork. For our innocent nonsexist children, no teacher and teacher-ess. I like how in Britain the semi-sexist binary “ladies and gentlemen” is being replace with a unisex “you lot.” ( phrase I hear on Doctor Who) In Australia, Judging by a lady journalist on Youtube interviewing the doctor and Clara, unisex is “you guys.”

The language encourages non-sexist democracy for English speakers. Not like in Germany, where, according to some guy in a tavern, there are seven “verbal salutes” built into their language, where you must acknowledge a speaker of a higher social class as being your superior. I suppose the German language has sexism too. In Japan, as I heard in the aforementioned tavern, there are 27 salutes, but some of those are only for addressing the emperor. Well. No need to ask whether the Japanese have sexism, eh? No wonder back during my youth in Vancouver, when a rebellious Japanese teen was addressed in Japanese by his parents, the boy would reply in English.

Back in the mists of time, back when France was still Gaul, then, on lush green hills across the English Channel, the original creators of English were practical and democratic. They had to be: After the fall of Rome restless tribes poured in, mostly the Jutes, (there’s a Jutland in Denmark) the Saxons, (There’s a Saxony in Germany) and the Angles. Others too, of course. An English common prayer ended, “And deliver us from the fury of the Northmen.” 

My vision: If, late on a tired English afternoon, you ran into a bearded fellow from the next valley, looking at you under his furrowed brow with suspicion, his sword loose in his scabbard, well, that was no time to be throwing a childish tongue twister at him. If the man was from another tribe, then you needed a practical pidgin language. Can do? No time for memorizing irregular verb exceptions. No irregular vowels. The nonsexist, non-classist democracy of the language was a happy side effect.

For the English, anglicizing was a practical courtesy. The constraints of simplicity and only having five vowels freed them to speak for peace.

(...Next Week is Part Two, or 
Anglicizing With My Brother Jim...)

Sean Crawford

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Tale of Two Classrooms

“You cannot be a powerful life-changing presence to some people without being a complete joke and embarrassment to others.”
Mark Manson  (link)

Hello Reader,
Got classroom participation?
As practise for elsewhere?

Been There, Done That
Class one
Class two
Class one plus two

You may recall that after the Americans tossed out King George, there was a fear that in a few years, a few decades, or a few generations, they might go trumping along and elect an Uncle Joe or a Big Brother or some other “king in all but name.” Part of the reason they didn’t elect a Donald Duck to rule their pond was their experience with participation in all sorts of nonpolitical things. A French observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his 1830 still-in-print classic Democracy in America, reported back to Europe that the Americans were big on forming associations… independent of government. 

Needless to say, an association can mean speaking up in participation. 

De Tocqueville pointed out (in my own words) that if government does not allow people to make decisions—with a sense of agency—in small things, then, for a big thing like voting, the people would fail: Their vote decision, however important, would lack the personal responsibility and intelligence that comes only after instilling a feeling of agency.

I think what you don’t want is a North American looking towards the expansive frontier with the same slumped shoulders as a proletariat looking at the factory walls saying, “I only work here.” For any democracy, to have the population saying “I only live here” is a disaster. 

My university student newspaper had a front page banner slogan, “The price of democracy is participation.” Nevertheless, some of the students, during their classes, would sit slumped like high school kids, feeling no sense of agency. Mere passengers. Bumps on a log. Children in adult bodies.  Others, though, would make their education serve them. They would listen… and, if need be, they would also talk, they would participate.

Been There, Done That
Out in the real world, at a community centre one night, during a break, someone told me I always speak concisely. Yes. I developed the skill of brevity partly by writing as a student newspaper reporter, partly by practising brevity as a student speaking in class, and partly from using a walkie talkie.

Class one
So there I was, in a liberal arts class, learning of Outstanding Lives. We studied three unusual people: Mahatma Gandhi, (Indian, assassinated) Simone Weil, (French, did not survive the war) and Thomas Merton. (U.S. monk, died with head wound but no autopsy) Having missed the very first class of the semester, I ended up sitting at the front, off to the side. (But we could turn around) 

My choice of seat worked out fine, as I ended up being literally touchy feely with a fellow mature student who sat beside me. She told me the others thought we were lovers. A young married woman next to her ended up inviting me as her “plus one” to a dinner for Dean’s list students. We three participated in class, as did a knot of people in the middle, and a knot of people in the back, and, well, as did everybody in that room, for that happy semester. 

Down the years, I have never attempted to ever be part of any “popular” or “in crowd.” Of course not: We intellectuals, and/or nerds, are traditionally independent. But for this class, I remember once, outside of class, a popular looking young woman saying sadly of we three (or more) “Why are you guys such friends (and not me)?” The main answer, which I didn’t share, was that my affectionate friend and I both had “a past.” I was sure happy I lucked out.

Of course it wasn’t pure luck, because I had used my sense of personal agency: 

So there I was, in my professor’s office, during the first week of classes: He already knew me because I attended the very first class of his other section (class two) for Outstanding Lives.
“May I transfer to your other section?”
“It would fit your schedule better, eh?”
“No, it knocks out my lunch break! But the section I attended is no good… On that first day, I swear I participated almost as much as the rest of the class combined!”  

Class two
What I didn’t tell my prof was that I had sensed, that first day, that I wasn’t respected. I would hope I wasn’t as bad as in Mark Manson’s quote “…a complete joke and embarrassment to others.” I had tried to lead by example, even heroically sacrificing some dignity, you might say, so as to encourage others to speak up too, but in vain. Not being one to cast pearls before swine, I transferred out before trying to help my peers a second time. I never dreamed what a splendid decision that would prove to be.

Class one plus two
We met up, both sections, for the final examination. While my own class had warm bonds, like under a warm yellow light bulb, I noted the other class as being awfully silent with each other, awfully drab, like being under a dull fluorescent light. I had no sympathy for them.

A few weeks before the final class I privately asked my prof, “Did your other section ever start participating?” “No.” I asked what it takes: He told me that if you can get three or four students to talk, as a critical mass, then you may have a class radiating excited conversation for learning. 

So how do you participate? By Listening well, that comes first. Encourage your peers with eye contact, head nods and smiles. 

I might add that some folks learn by solely listening, not talking. I myself have often been thanked after community centre meetings, where I barely said a single word, for contributing my intent energy for listening. 

Next: “Think before you speak.” People aren’t concise because they “wing it” but because they think it over first: As you rehearse what to say, try not to move your lips. (Joke) Army guys with back pack radios, and I was one, are taught to swallow their pride and write down their sentences on a field message pad, if that’s what it takes, before they speak. Looking back, I don’t recall anyone doing so. 

The army teaches BASS: Brevity, Accuracy, Speed and Security. 

BASS for civilians: I already covered how to be brief.
 Accuracy could mean citing your sources as you talk, as if in a newspaper article. “According to…” 
Speed means, again, don’t try to slowwwwly think “standing on your feet,” not while you are monopolizing everybody else’s time
And security? Among civilians, that could mean don’t blab anything behind someone’s back you wouldn’t say to their face. I ask you: How could anyone, in a public setting, accidentally say something prejudiced against another race, religion or creed?

Bonus tool: Unless you’re out in the field carrying a big pack with a built in radio transceiver, just relax and be yourself. We are all looking for authentic people.

Sean Crawford

“Here’s a piece on talking, written by a transcriber. The best part is the numbered advice near the end. (link) 

~Here’s a (link) to the shortest textbook I ever bought, a “life changing” thesis written by Simone Weil during the Nazi occupation of France, with the Greek parts translated by essayist (Settling the Colonel’s Hash) and novelist (The Group) Mary McCarthy. I have mentioned Weil and her thesis before, first in Troy, the Iliad, and music, archived January 2014, and more recently in Yankee B.S. and Doctor Who, archived December 2017. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Schools within Society within Citizenship

...He (Ayama) believed a mistake of historical proportions may have been made as Japan prepared to deal with its future. The nation, he suggested, was producing workers rather than full citizens, and he once told me in passing, almost as a throwaway, that it was a great deal easier to produce a good car than it was to produce a good human being.

The Next Century, 126 hardcover pages, by David Halberstam, referenced in my essay archived June 2015

Hello Reader,
Notice how things are embedded in society?

Utah passed a law recently stating that children are allowed to play outside alone as well as walk or bike to school without parental supervision. It is the first law in the US of its kind. And the fact that it’s even needed in the first place kind of freaks me out.
From Mark Manson in his only 2018 April blog essay for non-subscribers. (link)

How grim. Manson goes on to explain that baby boomers, as part of their bizarre entitlement, see their kids as trophies to be shown off. Part of this means having their children well rounded and sent to enriching activities, even if this happens too much, even if natural “child’s play” must be “scheduled.” As must “play dates,” too. 

My formative years were of the 1950’s. A time when an “only child” was unusual. Our vocabulary did not include “play dates” or “helicopter parents.”

Back in my day children all attended their neighborhood school together. Maybe a city would have one vocationally oriented school, a school that would then usually turn out to surprise the teachers by garnering a bad reputation for having troubled youth. That was then. 

Now, in my own city, we have evolved a spaghetti snarl of bus routes as so many kids are crisscrossing the city going to special classes. This in perhaps the biggest city, by square miles, in the whole country. (And the fourth largest by population) The school bus costs are proving to be unsustainable for the taxpayers. The experts have no solutions.

…Easy for me to say it’s hopeless to give schools any thought; hard for me to think around the subject from an angle of ancient history. But I feel I have to try…

Meanwhile, over in sunny Greece, everybody knew that well rounded schools were the way to go. The children would be outside dancing and tumbling, reciting poetry, running relay races, singing, learning to strum the lyre, tackling geometry and rhetoric. The ancient Greeks had no problem doing all of this and the three R’s too: Reading, “Riting” and “‘Rithmatic”. Of course, our knowledge of Greek society comes from idealistic writing. 

Maybe, off the page, Greeks shared with each other ignoble, petty reasons for having their well rounded schools, like the reasons Mark Manson notes of our baby boomers; just as Americans, without saying the word hubris, had verbal reasons for keeping troops in the Republic of South Vietnam that didn’t get into history books. (Americans wrote of reasons such as honoring their word, saving the world from the spread of evil Godless communism and believing in South Vietnamese self determination)

I said “maybe.” In the end, if we want to be inspired by our Greco-Roman heritage (as well as our other two heritages, Christian and Hebrew) then we would do well to take the Greeks at their word. Greek parents would have been influenced by what adults told each other: “Not life, but a good life, is expected of every citizen.” As for that alien idea of having schools do nothing but specialize all day, every day, in the three Rs, Greek slogans included “moderation in all things” and “nothing in excess.”

As I see it, the Greeks understood in their very bones that the best way to maintain their freedom was with democracy, and the best way to maintain democracy was with good schools producing good human capital. The mighty Persian Empire, so close by, would have been instructive. Mighty, with a huge armed forces, but also with a vast unschooled public unused to freedom, unused to thinking for themselves. If once conquered, the downtrodden Persians would never rise up again. As Alexander the Great easily proved. Persians were like a giant chessboard where, if the king became resigned to his fate, all the pawns would surrender. Not like checkers. Not like in Greece, where every “citizen,” by definition, felt himself a king. For every new Greek generation the land would have to be re-conquered, or at least “occupied”—a word NOT in the (non-democratic) ancient world’s vocabulary.

Today Persia (Iran) and the adjoining Arab nations are rich in oil but very poor in people. Partly because their society has only a timid connection between merit and success—because of corruption and entitlement. A Canadian in the British army reports, in his recent memoirs, of being on manoeuvres with Arab soldiers. He looked over at an Arab mortar crew: The arabs didn’t even know how to aim their weapon properly… This makes sense: How could it possibly be otherwise? Armed forces are always embedded in the surrounding civil society.

I grew up poor and working class. Many years ago, back when I still thought university students knew a lot, and dreamed of being one myself, I stood outside the door of a classroom in the physical education building. I lost my innocence about white collar students when I heard a professor asking her class, like a mother talking to her simple children, “Why do you think the Spartan girls were encouraged to run to school?” Sparta, of course, fielded the best warriors of all the Greek city-states, being organized as the only "warrior-state" in Greece. She asked again. As I recall, with no answers forthcoming, at last she had to spell it out for her students: The women were to be strong, to raise strong warriors… Again the concept of the army reflecting the surrounding society.

So why, today, do certain Arabs and Muslims believe a girl should not even attend school? To me, one of the reasons is obvious: Surely so she won’t learn to think, and therefore won’t set an example in thinking for her children. So she won’t raise boys and girls who will question the king or dictator or ayatollah. 

From 1983, during the first decade of suicide bombers, is Memoir From the Women’s Prison (translated by Marilyn Booth) by Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian Muslim medical doctor and writer. She was politically imprisoned. On page 124, a guard is talking with a prisoner:

“I don’t know anything,” she said in a loud voice. “Not even how to read and write.”
“Why do you cover your face with a veil?” he asked.
“Because God commanded me to do so in his Noble Book.”
“How did you find that out? Have you read God’s book?”
She was silent for a moment. “I don’t read, but I heard it on the radio over at the neighbours….and I heard the Shaykh say that God has commanded all women to cover their faces.” 
On the cover of her book, old white haired Saadawi poses with an uncovered head.

To an Arab or Pakistani Muslim extremist it makes sense: Better to shoot an uppity fifteen year old schoolgirl in the head, like they did poor Malala, than to risk someday having a Greek-style entire generation of housewives who could think over new ideas and, say, ponder head coverings. The lands of Islam are fine already, say the gunmen, especially if we can return to older, purer Islam, so there’s no need to for Islamic people to take any chances of maybe, eventually, getting the separation of church and state, let alone (spits on the ground) democracy!

As I type this, dear reader, I feel a tad foolish, pointing out the obvious. But it’s not obvious to our Muslim teenagers who claim that Islam is under attack worldwide, or who would run off to join the Arab bombers and be-headers in their dark caliphate. And I won’t forget those university students needing to be mothered: Things aren’t obvious to them, either.

Our pioneer ancestors would take a day off from farming to raise a neigbor’s barn, or erect a community school. As our ancestors in Africa might say: It takes a village to raise a child, a society to raise a school. 

Schools: Not off in a bubble, not magically hopeless. We built them. We staff them. Surely we can open their windows to the light. 

Needless to say, no matter how many schools we have in our sad sorry world, there will always, for every time and space, be extremists. When my dad was much younger than I am now, he fought an army in which were embedded Hitler Youth. Because his army was “first in, first out,” Dad didn’t have to stick around for the occupation of Germany. But if he had, he could have told the Germans: “Whatever schools you choose to have, will mean the citizens you deserve.”

Sean Crawford
North of Utah

“I am starting to think. Thank you.” A student
Considering my opening quote from Ayama, on producing good human beings, and then seeking for proof that schooling could be effective, I found a standing-ovation Ted Talk by a man from Microsoft. 

Without using the word citizen, he represents the ideal of responsibility beyond oneself. He cofounded a postsecondary school that effectively trains the leaders (that is, the nation’s educated) to look beyond themselves, to feel less entitled and more responsible. (Link)

Footnote: For schools today, for a criticism of the newest new math, espoused by people who don't know why there was an older "new math," see my essay archived March 2014.

Literary Musings: I have been thinking of the young adult science fiction novels from the 1950’s of Robert Heinlein. 
In one, a beggar suddenly surprises his son by showing that he can juggle. The son, who as a member of the beggar class will never need algebra, gets tutored in math by his father, and discovers that algebra is worthwhile for it’s own sake.

In another, a mid-west high school boy takes extra classes to get into engineering school, including taking Latin. (Which comes in handy when he meets a time traveling legionary) In another, an old asteroid belt prospector complains to two brothers about uneducated kids these days: “Quote a bit of Latin at them, and they look at you like you’re funny in the head.”

I think Heinlein and his generation must have been raised to be aware of the ancient Greeks believing in well-rounded schools, and well rounded citizens.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Father and An Empty Frame

Definitions: of frame and reframe:
So normally I frame my job or relationship as being in a certain way.
Then one day I leave or break up; maybe I get dumped, maybe I am angry at qualities Y and Z
I reframe, realizing that my ex was Y and Z all along.

We are the world, and it is too late
to pretend we are children at dusk watching fireflies.
We must frame, then, more firmly the idea of good.
By Robert Penn Warren

Hello Reader,
Got mourning?

I felt a playful tapping on my head and when I turned around it was my dad, who doesn’t live in my city. This was during a party in the RGO Treehouse. Ignoring everyone else in the room we conversed. He said he had been away, but was now passing through town and stopped in to see me. I said, “That would be nice to believe,” but I knew: I was trying to come up with a plausible excuse for his being away… 
in some kind of dream state… 
This because I knew he was still away, in heaven. 

And then I found myself lying on my side fully clothed. I had been physically tired, and needed a nap. I had been emotionally tired too, like missing my dad, because a woman I had made an appointment with two weeks in advance, to have a friendly visit with, right after a certain shared activity, had kind of changed her mind. And no, this was not from being busy. And so I had to re-frame things, and now I miss our relationship. Cue Bonnie Rait song, you know the one I mean. (link is below)

At my Friday free fall writing group is a powerful writer who just cannot believe any positive feedback, about her work being good, from the rest of us. And when my father was alive, in his last decade, I could scarcely believe him saying good things about me—even though he kept doing so—not after years of contortions by him, to stand on his head, even, rather than believe anything good about me. Or is this wrong—was my judgment of his opinions contaminated by other bizarre family members, especially my mother? Was I just too low in self esteem, too hurt into blindness? 

I can’t ask for a “perception check” from any of my siblings, even though there’s five of them, plus me. No, because earlier this month I re-framed my closer sibling as having been, all along… without my being willing to see—until now— … not impolite, not rude, but downright cruel. Which means then, to me, no credibility. Other siblings, I guess, are also non-credible. So now I can’t ask anyone.

Well. The best way to have a credible friend is to become a credible friend, so that’s the hope-land I am now heading towards, making my legs move, one small step after another.

May you too have hope, on this empty mournful day. Here’s Bonnie, with Bruce Hornsby on piano. (link)

Sean Crawford
In the year of our Lord