Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Inchworm

The Guardian (UK) yesterday had a short piece on an about-to-be released collection of songs, "Kisses On the Bottom", sung by Paul McCartney. But, these are not the sorts of songs that Paul McCartney normally sings, for they are the sorts of songs that Paul's mum and dad probably listened to when young.

"I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter", "It's Only a Paper Moon", "Always", "Bye Bye Blackbird", "The Glory of Love", "My Echo, My Shadow, And Me" and "Always", are among the songs in this collection, and which Paul's mum and dad would have listened to when young.

However, there are other songs that Paul himself may have listened to when very young in the days before Rock 'n Roll - songs like "Accentuate the Positive", and "Inchworm". There are also two songs which Paul wrote in the style of the songs his mum and dad listened to - "My Valentine" and "Only Our Hearts".

Why don't you yourself now listen to all of "Kisses On the Bottom". You can do so if you click on the appropriate place at the foot of *The Guardian's piece* .

Who would have thought forty five years ago that Paul McCartney would one day sing these sorts of songs. He's no doubt singing them now, because he's in the evening of his life. Musically he has, to paraphrase TS Eliot, arrived where he started, and knows the place for the first time. He would now see that these songs are beautiful in their own way, and evoke a time so different from today.

Being, myself , only a year or so younger than Paul, I can remember when very young, in the time before Rock 'n Roll, listening on the "wireless" to Perry Como singing "Accentuate the Positive", and to Danny Kaye singing "Inchworm". In fact I can still remember Kaye singing "Inchworm" in the film "Hans Christian Andersen" when my own mum and dad took me to see it.

Although Paul gives a nice interpretation of "Inchworm", I think I still prefer Danny Kaye's.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On Writing and Spelling Better

The other day on a blog I read often, I left a comment in German. After posting it I re-read it, and noticed a rather obvious grammatical error (ein ungehuerlich Grammatikfehler). I left another comment in German to point out this error, and to rewrite the paragraph that had contained den ungehuerlich Grammatikfehler.

Another commenter, a native German-speaker, on reading my amending comment, left a comment pointing out that my amending comment had more Grammatikfehler than the Grammatikfehler I had corrected. I have no reason to doubt this commenter.

I began teaching myself German about fourteen years ago from a book called "German Made Simple". After going through all the chapters, and doing all the exercises over a few weeks, I started going to the websites of German newspapers and magazines to read in German what was going on in Germany and in the world. I have been doing this ever since.

But, the fact is that, after regularly reading the news in German for going on fourteen years, I still can't write German without the aid of Google Translate and the various other online German-language resources on the Internet. Even then, the German I produce is still filled with Grammatikfehler.

Fourteen years ago, in my naivety I thought I just had to read regularly in German, and, after a few years I would consequently be able to write elegant and faultless German. But, it would seem that one has also to learn to speak a language as well as reading it, to be able to write that language elegantly and faultlessly.

Four years ago I began on French in the same self-taught way as I had done with German. While I can now read the news in French with a reasonable degree of comprehension, I can neither write it without the aid of Google Translate and the other online French language resources, nor can I speak it.

I have long thought that native English-speakers whose written English is terrible, and their spelling terrible too, should merely read, read, read, read, and read, and always do this. But the reading should be of well-written stuff, not of trash. If you are such a native English-speaker and you do as I say, you'll soon find yourself using words you'd never before thought of. You'll also write a lot better and spell a lot better.

Of course you'll only be able to do this because you're also speaking English every day, since it's your native tongue.

What's the next language I'll begin on? Spanish I think.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wise Words From Theodore Dreiser

The novel I've recently finished reading, Theodore Dreiser's "Sister Carrie", and which I wrote about in some postings, has a long commentary on it by HL Mencken, who quotes something Dreiser once said:
For myself, I do not know what truth is, what beauty is, what love is, what hope is. I do not believe anyone absolutely and I do not doubt anyone absolutely. I think people are both evil and well-intentioned.
For myself, I couldn't have put it better.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Educated Fool

Reading the comments on another blog I often visit, I came across this:
……The news distresses me. Stupidity abounds. So does intellectual righteousness. Humility, generosity, and insight seem to be hiding in our modern world of violence and selfishness.......
I, in a comment in response, said this:
While stupidity and intellectual righteousness (foolishness) have always been around, the difference between the foolishness of then, and the foolishness of now, is that now, thanks to universal education, there is much less excuse for foolishness.

Then, most people could neither read nor write, and so didn’t know any better when they or their leaders spoke and acted foolishly. So, there was always the hope that should the time come when everyone could go to school and more people could go to the University, most of the foolishness would go away.

Now we know beyond all reasonable doubt that a fool who goes to the University and emerges with a string of academic letters after his name, will almost always emerge same fool he was before. He may be able to do the most complex mathematics, or to discourse on the most arcane and abstract of philosophies, and be admired by millions who make him rich. But he stays a fool.

Because of universal education, this is the Age of the Educated Fool. This won’t likely change.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Yet More On Sister Carrie

Today's entry continues the one dated January 14th, titled "Charles and George", that was about Theodore Dreiser's novel "Sister Carrie" which I was reading. I've now finished it.

What did I take away from it? Well, that the power equation in a marriage or like relationship can change dramatically. Hence the weaker partner becomes the stronger, and the stronger one becomes the weaker. So with Carrie and Hurstwood. In the beginning he had the power and the money. In the end she had the power and the money, thanks to her success in the theatre, and he had none of either, thanks to that he could never get another job after fleeing Chicago for New York.

Hurstwood obviously became more and more depressed the longer he was out of work. In those days (late 19th century) there was no welfare state. If you became a bum there was no-one to help you but yourself. And if you couldn't help yourself, well, that was it. Thus it was with George Hurstwood.

In its portrayal of a man going irrevocably downhill because he has no work, "Sister Carrie" is relevant today, for there is no longer full employment. There are millions of the unemployed who will never find work again because the longer you are unemployed the less likely you will find work. This will destroy your soul because if you don't work you're a non-person. Your wife will leave you, your children won't want to speak to you, and friends you see on the street will look the other way when you wave and say "hi".

While Carrie found success on the stage and earned more and more money, and eventually had a comfortable life, she didn't attain all this through hard work. Rather, she attained this because men liked the way way she looked. This shows that you don't have to work hard to get rich. You can just be lucky, like Carrie. Even if you do work hard, you won't necessarily get rich. If working hard automatically meant getting rich, most women in Africa would be millionaires.

Even though Carrie did get rich, this didn't bring her much happiness, for she had no-one to share her good fortune with. Money didn't buy her love.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Where Did The Romance Languages Come From?

Today's entry continues yesterday's in which I talked about where the English language came from. It most probably didn't come from the language of the Anglo-Saxon invaders as everyone today thinks, but was always spoken in England. So the men of England were already speaking English when the Anglo-Saxons arrived.

Not content with speaking only about the origins of English, MJ Harper in his book, "The History of Britain: The Shocking Truth About the English Language", also spoke about the origins of the Romance languages. It is accepted as fact that they came out of the Latin of the Roman invaders. If so, why don't people today in North Africa and the Levant, and the various other lands that were part of the Roman Empire, like Britain and western Germany, speak a Latin-like language too? You'd think they would, wouldn't you?

The most probable reason for the peoples of today's France, Spain, Portugal and whatnot, speaking Latin like languages, is that they always did speak them, and these were what they were already speaking when the Romans arrived.

To repeat what I said last time (and I was only regurgitating what MJ Harper had said), people just don't don't give up their own languages for the language of an invader. Why, then, should the peoples of France, Spain, Portugal and whatnot, have been any different?

Wholesale language replacement only happens when the locals are swamped in numbers by the invaders, or are wiped out by them. Since there is no evidence that this happened in Roman-occupied France, Spain, Portugal and whatnot, it is most likely that today's Romance languages were always spoken by the forefathers of today's Frenchmen, Spaniards, Portuguese and whatnot.

If you say otherwise, the burden of proof is on you.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Origins of English

"........ the longer one goes back in history the less one knows for sure......." is what I wrote in my entry of January 14th about Sir Thomas More. The notion that the less one knows the further one goes back, came out of a little book I read a couple of years ago, called, "The History of Britain: The Shocking Truth About the English Language", by MJ Harper.

This book says, in so many words, that what we learned in school about the origins of the English language is rubbish. We're told that English came out of the language of the Anglo-Saxons who invaded Britain in around 450 AD. Britons in the path of the conquering Anglo-Saxons fled west to where Wales and Cornwall are now, and took their Celtic language with them. Those Britons not fleeing, while they didn't abandon their homes, did abandon their Celtic language for the Anglo-Saxon tongue, which became the English of today.

The trouble with all this is that abandoning one's home language en-masse for the language of an invader isn't what people normally do. While they may feel the need to learn the invaders' language in order to make a living, they'll continue to speak their native tongue at home, and will ensure that their children speak it too. Hence the native tongue survives down the generations.

History over the last five-hundred years has shown this to be true. Why, then, should this dynamic have been any different when the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain?

Unless it can be shown that the Anglo-Saxons killed all the Britons in the areas they conquered, so that there were no Britons left in these areas to speak Celtic, then Celtic would have survived in England.

It is more likely that Britons in the path of the conquering Anglo-Saxons already spoke English, so that the English we speak today came out of the English that Britons in the path of the invading Anglo-Saxons spoke then.

The reason for the rubbish we all learned in school about the origins of the English language was, no doubt, because not much is known for sure about what went on in 450 AD when the Anglo-Saxons invaded, because it was so long ago.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Charles and George

I'm approaching the end of Theodore Dreiser's novel, "Sister Carrie", that I last wrote of in my entry of December 28th 2011.

As might have been expected, Charles Drouet, the travelling salesman and man-about-town, was able to persuade Carrie to live with him as a common-law wife, although people didn't use this term in 1889 for a "kept woman". "Mistress" was more like it. Being a "kept woman" isn't shocking today, but it was in the America of 1889.

For a while, Carrie was content with being "kept" because she didn't have to work, the flat was nice, and Charles gave her enough money for nice clothes and all of that. It made up for her not being in love with Charles but having to act as a wife towards him nonetheless.

When Carrie meets one of Charles's friends, George Hurstwood, who is manager of a men's club, she sees him as a superior man than Charles. George is older (in his forties), richer, suaver, and altogether more attractive to her than Charles. George, thinking Carrie attractive too, visits her at home when Charles is out of town on business. Then they have clandestine meetings when Charles comes back.

George falls madly in love with Carrie because she is so young and pretty and so different from his middle-aged and cynical wife, who he has come to hate. George asks Carrie to leave Charles and to marry him. Carrie likes this idea. Then she discovers he is married, and is shocked.

More next time...........

Thomas More: A Discussion

The blog I mentioned last time, had a recent posting about Sir Thomas More. If you, for instance, saw the film, "A Man for all Seasons" or read Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall", you'll know who Sir Thomas More was.

He lived in England a long time ago - nearly 500 years - and so lived there when King Henry the Eighth lived there too. Thomas Moore worked for Henry, serving as his Lord Chancellor, which was like a prime minister today.

Thomas was as highly educated as highly educated can be, and was England's foremost intellectual. He has come down through the ages as being selflessly good because he went to the gallows for his beliefs, in particular his belief that the Catholic church was the only church that should be allowed in England, and that Catholics in England recognise the authority of the Pope in all matters spiritual and churchly.

To ensure that the men of England didn't get false ideas, England had to be cleansed of all Protestant-written religious books, including, of course, Protestant bibles. People having such books, and the people who wrote them, were, if caught, burned alive. Thomas More, as the lord Chancellor, was responsible for seeking out and punishing these wrongdoers. He did so enthusiastically.

Things started going wrong for Thomas when Henry began getting tired of his wife, Catherine of Aragon. He wanted to divorce her and marry woman who had taken his fancy, Anne Boleyn. The Pope wouldn't allow this because Catholics couldn't get divorced. Thomas, being always the Pope's man, opposed Henry's divorce and marriage plans. He eventually paid for this with his life.

The blogger I'd mentioned at the beginning of this entry, had written her piece on Thomas Moore, under the influence of Robert Bolt's "A Man For All Seasons". She was exploring whether Thomas Moore had lived a good and meaningful life. I left the following comment:
Robert Bolt’s depiction of Thomas More would appear hagiographical. The saintly figure portrayed in “A Man For All Seasons”, has been described by others who have delved into More’s life, as a religious and masochistic fanatic and pervert, among other things.

So there we go..

Thomas More would appear to have been big on conscience. Hence you quote him saying things like, “…..In matters of Conscience, the loyal subject is more bounden to be loyal to his conscience than to any other thing…..”

However, when More, during his time as Lord Chancellor, condemned six men to be burned at the stake for heresy, did he do so with a clear conscience? It’s all very well for us today to say that burning people at the stake was simply what one did then, but anyone, even then, with any imagination or sensitivity would have known deep down that burning people alive just wasn’t cricket.

One of More’s biographers, Peter Ackroyd, wrote that More explicitly “…approved of Burning….”. In the case of a John Tewkesbury, burned for harbouring banned books, More said he “……burned as there was neuer wretche I wene better worthy….”. I don’t know about you, but I’ve taken this to mean that More thought this OK.

What was the noble principle for which More went to the gallows? No more than that Papal supremacy should resume unhindered in England. Noble principles like freedom of conscience and freedom of expression just weren’t part of it.

You said that “…..Uttering the names of Ivan Ilych and Bob Miller in the same breath with Thomas More’s seems sacrilegious……”

I dunno. If I was going to have a beer and pizza with anyone, I’d be more comfortable with Ivan IIych or Bob Miller than with Thomas More!!!
The blogger (my interlocutor) replied:
You are correct in assuming I was analyzing the character in Bolt’s book. But your comment raises good questions. For example, if I believe in the death penalty, and if on a jury that convicts a man of murder, would I not be living a real life by approving death?

Can we apply my list to different historical times? Or is it very much a modern list?

If we support the death penalty (as I do), can I not live a real life?

The pizza and beer litmus test is a good one!
I then wrote:
You said, “……If we support the death penalty.........can we not live a real life?……..”
Tolstoy said of the death penalty that because the condemned man has lots of time to think about what’s going to happen to him, and exactly when it will happen, that he has already died a thousand deaths before the time he is actually killed.
So killing someone “judicially” for something he’s done is not a case of an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, but a thousand eyes for an eye and a thousand teeth for a tooth. Is this justice?
If you say the death penalty is a good thing, you would surely agree that “judicially” killing people should be done in public as it used to, so that “justice” can actually be seen to be done.
There’s nothing like witnessing the consequences of one’s actions, or witnessing the consequences of one’s decisions, or witnessing the consequences of one’s opinions, to concentrate one’s mind.
My interlocuter wrote in turn:
I have learned over the years (and you have as well, I’m positive) that people either are or are not for the death penalty. That may sound obvious, but minds are rarely changed in this debate.........
Other commenters had entered into this discussion. The topic of Thomas More's attitude to his wife and daughters had been raised. They had entreated him to be flexible with Henry, and so save his life. I wrote:
You said, “……what men who have taken noble stands out of principle have done so at the expense of their families?……..”

I think of what I’d said in another comment – about the intellectual putting his philosophies (out of which his principles and cherished beliefs are born) above people. Thomas More was, after all, England’s most prominent intellectual.

Because the intellectual’s world is that of abstract ideas, philosophies, and principles, they are his raison d’etre. They are who he is – his ego. Hence he will die for the principles he believes in because they are more precious to him than physical life itself.

I suggest, then, that Thomas More’s martyrdom came out of his overweening ego. It was all about him. The disguises of the ego are infinite.
My interlocuter replied thus:
......I agree with you, so perhaps I should bump him down a few rungs........

I respect the position he took (at least in the play), especially in the face of Henry and the entire English system of laws. I admire people who live their beliefs. It is very difficult to do that in this wishy-washy squishy time we are living. Don’t you agree with that statement?
I then wrote:
Your question, "I admire people who live their beliefs. It is very difficult to do that in this wishy-washy squishy time we are living. Don’t you agree with that statement?"

Yes and No. It depends what the beliefs are.

You said of what I said in my last comment about Thomas More, “……I agree with you, so perhaps I should bump him down a few rungs…….”

I always get uneasy when someone agrees with me on anything, because it usually means I’ve got something wrong.

Because Thomas More lived so long ago (almost 500 years) and because the longer one goes back in history the less one knows for sure, we have relatively less to go on when evaluating a long-ago personage like Thomas More.

Hence he can be “…..the most saintly of humanists, the most human of saints…..” (historian Hugh Trevor-Roper) or “….a particularly nasty sadomasochistic pervert…..” (historian Jasper Ridley).

It seems that so little is known about Thomas More for sure, that anyone today can spin him anyway he likes, and do it plausibly. Ultimately, though, any evaluation of Thomas More, the man, says as much about the evaluator as about Thomas More.
Your having read the foregoing, dear reader, has this whetted your appetite for more of Thomas More?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bob Miller and Eric Hoffer

A blog I read often had a recent entry about Jane Smiley's novella, "Good Will". The novella is about a man called Bob Miller who got tired of the rat race and city life, with all its complexity and all its falsity.

Bob abandoned the the city for the woods, taking his wife, Liz, and son, Tommy, with him. From now on, Bob and his little family would live off the land and embrace simplicity. There would be no more things like television and no more gadgets.

Bob was no doubt influenced by Henry David Thoreau who had gone back to nature, and had written of it in his famous "Walden". Thoreau wrote:
..... I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.......
In his embrace of the simple life, Bob was an extremist. He rejected not only television and gadgets, but also money and schools. The family would grow its own food, make its own clothes and furniture, and Tommy would be home-schooled.

Liz and Tommy were left with no alternative but to accept all this, otherwise the family would break up. It was to be Bob's way or the highway. Hence he turned into a domestic tyrant.

Liz and Timmy chafed under the new family regime. Liz badly needed her organised religion, and Tommy badly needed satellite TV. But they weren't allowed them.

Eventually Tommy rebelled, and engaged in behaviour of such destructiveness that Bob had to abandon his back-to-nature project, and go back to the city to resume the lifestyle he'd lived before he went to the woods.

Having read the blog entry, I left the following comment:
An important difference between Thoreau and Bob Miller is that Thoreau lived in the woods by himself, whereas Bob lived in them with his family. But for his family (in particular his son) Bob may have continued to live in the woods for as long as he wanted.

As for Thoreau, would he have been the same domestic tyrant as Bob, had he had a family with him in the woods?

Bob seems an intellectual dogmatist. Whether his dogma is religious, political, economic or any other, the intellectual dogmatist prescribes a particular way of living. For him (and it’s almost always a him) the dogma or idea is more important than the people he has power over, whose lives must conform with, or be distorted within, the boundaries of his philosophical or dogmatic box.

You say of Bob (or is it Jane Smiley who says of Bob?) that “……he loves his wife and his son……”. But, does he really? He may well rationalise that his rejection of Liz’s need of organised religion, and of Tommy’s need of satellite TV, are for their own good. But, isn’t it truer that these needs would threaten Bob’s whole “living in the woods” project, or philosophy?

Did Bob tell Liz and Tommy that he loved them, or tell them that the hardships and sacrifices of their pristine “lifestyle” were for their own good? If so, Liz and Tommy may have felt guilt in having needs for organised religion and satellite TV. Not necessarily a bad thing, though, for do not love and guilt go together?
What I said in my comment about the intellectual dogmatist came out of my reading of the works of the San Francisco longshoreman and autodidact, Eric Hoffer, in the early 1970s. I had gone on an Eric Hoffer binge so to speak.

Among many other things, Hoffer wrote about the dangers of intellectuals getting political power. He had found that throughout history, whenever intellectuals attained power, they turned, if unchecked, the governments they were at the head of, into autocratic or totalitarian regimes. All the bloody and murderous tyrannies of history had been ruled by intellectuals.

Hoffer said that the intellectual has always, deep down, despised the common man, because the common man has no time for the abstract world of the intellect that is the raison d'etre of the intellectual.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Joyeux Noel

A recent posting on a blog I often visit, featured images of DVD covers of Christmas films over the years. One such image was of the DVD of "Joyeux Noel".

I left the following comment:
À mon avis, "Joyeux Noel" est le meilleur film de Noël, parce que ce n'est pas seulement un film de Noel, c'est un film anti-guerre aussi.

Tu sais peut-être que "Joyeux Noel" raconte de une trêve de Noël officieuse entre certains soldats britanniques et français, et certains soldats allemands - sur le jour de Noël 1914 en France pendant la première guerre mondiale.

Ils ont déposé leurs armes et ont célébré Noël ensemble. Ils ont chanté des chants de Noël, ont partagé le vin et la nourriture, et ont joué au football (soccer).

Puis ils sont retournés à leurs tranchées et ont reprende à tirer à les uns les autres.

Peux tu penser à rien de plus fou? Mais, censément, il s'est réellement passé.

Je rappelle que "Joyeux Noel" est sorti dans les theatres de cinéma en Amérique du Nord au printemps 2006 - un période de l'année bizarre pour un film de Noël. En revanche, ce n'est pas un film américain. Ce l'explique!!

Si tu n'as pas vu "Joyeux Noel", je le recommande.
I recommend "Joyeux Noel" to you too, dear reader - highly.