Sunday, September 29, 2019

What Used to be 4E

As a senior in high school, I had to come up with my future occupation. The word chosen would appear under the name placed under the picture in the Year book. The word I chose then was Journalist. I’d enjoyed very much both writing for our school paper, the Lillistrator. My work there also earned me a trip to Chicago to take part in a national conference for high school journalists. As fortune had it, I fell in love for the first time with one of the girls from across the country. The romance reached its highpoint when we walked along the Loop on a sunny day and actually held hands. (Those were the days.) Furthermore, as if all this were not enough, I enjoyed writing more than any other occupation, So Journalist in the Year Book. For a while in college, indeed, I aimed for a degree in journalism; but that did not last long. And though I worked in several of the great sectors in American life, journalism was never one of them—not even peripherally.

Despite this, I’d been exposed to journalism in some classes, and what with Lillistrator in the background, I had (and continue to have) a kind of proprietary view of the profession. I think I know what journalists have to do—and have to avoid. Early on I’d heard and approved of the idea that journalism was The Fourth Estate. The First is the Clergy, the Second is the Nobility, and the Third is the Commoners. The Fourth received its name in 1787; Edmund Burke used it, and Thomas Carlyle told us so in a book titled On Heroes and Hero Worship (source). The phrase spread to many other countries in Europe and perhaps beyond. The notion of “estates” has virtually disappeared in ordinary language, but it did provide a useful way of at least initially viewing social reality. Today’s keywords, like Tech and Media and Middle Class—and places like Below the Poverty Line—lack the organic rooting that “estates” once sank into the soil.

Long ago, down at the working level, different rules applied to the News Story, the Feature, and the Editorial. The first two pertained to news reporting; the news story, above all, was intended to be straight and factual; the feature could have color and did not need to begin with a summary sentence. Opinion and advocacy were restricted to the editorial; it was not only permitted but expected that the editorial writing, including opinion columns, would take a more human view of unfolding events than the value-free camera of a news account or the artistically lively feature.

This morning, by chance, I woke at 4 am and wandered out of the bedroom to my usual armchair before the TV set. Groping in the dark I found the remote and turned on the TV, muting the sound. There was CNN, Fourth Estate, in modernese 4E. To my amazement CNN had actual news stories running—and such as one no longer sees on cable these days—unless one has access to CGTN (for those who don’t know, that’s China Global Television Network (which we watch a lot)). Here came stories from Europe, Africa, China (Hong Kong), India, Afghanistan and even the USA in which neither whistleblower, impeachment, nor Donald Trump were even mentioned. Amazing. Fascinating stuff; had quite forgotten.

Traces of 4E still remain—more in the print than in the chatter media. But even in print, the thinned out remnants have been more and more replaced by what has become just another (if still somewhat unruly) new slice of what in the Old Days we’d called Entertainment but which the New York Times is trying, very hard, to rename Style.

Reach for the wand. Off button. Push. Faint light in the grey sky. Nights getting shorter. Equinox is over.  Everything changes. All the time.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Our Colonial Heritage

In our childhood—perhaps to this day—children playing too loudly or wildly were routinely called “Hottentots” and reminded to Stop it! Stop it! It occurred to me that there might really have been Hottentots once; and in Europe Africans might have been viewed at a great distance as generally wild…

Turns out it is true. The word comes from the Dutch settlers of the southern tip of Africa, the Cape Colony. The word was initially a way of imitating the speech patterns of the Khoikhoi peoples native there. The Khoikhoi used many click consonants in their speech (clip-clop being an example in English). That wildness is associated with them is obviously due to Europe’s distance from Africa and ordinary Europeans’ general ignorance.

As the enclosed illustration shows, they were pastoralists with orderly habits, shown here preparing for one of their recurring moves (source)

Those who’ve followed my source-link above will have noted that the article referenced is titled “Hottentot (racial term)”. When I began this post, I did not know that it was. Then I recalled Prime Minister Trudeau’s problem, reported yesterday, that he had worn “blackface” in the 1990s. Was “blackface” also a “racial term”? Evidently not. Wikipedia’s article on that subject is not so designated. Racialism, of course, is a problem. But its practice and use in language is recent. Now it happens that Hottentot is based on the Boer’s difficulty in understanding the language they heard—not on the skin-color of the speakers. So the Boers used a repetitious but meaningless sound to describe the people they’d encountered.

My next topic should now be “barbarians,” but time’s run out. That word comes from the Greek and was descriptive of people who seemed to repeat themselves—bar, bar, bar. Humanity’s earliest racialism appears to have been directed at those who couldn’t speak their language.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Hobbits Put an End to Summer in Detroit…Soon

This morning’s conversation took us (prematurely, I thought), to the End of Summer. Prematurely because it seems to me that the real summer had only shown precursors of itself, not a whole deck of its cards. But, of course, as Brigitte reminded me, we were now in September! And I should have known. In my childhood we were told that months ending in ber were generally of the colder sort.

So we to the calendars went. A few informed us that, indeed, in just five days Summer would be definitely Over. The Fall Equinox comes on September 23—at least here in Detroit. Another calendar calls it Beginning of Fall. Equinox, of course, means that day and night have the same length on this day. No wonder we kept wondering why the lights had to be turned on earlier and earlier.

All this, of course, is the bad news. So what’s the Good News? It is that September 22, thus exactly the last day of summer, is Hobbit Day. Those are the small humanoids created by the mind of R.R. Tolkien—Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Now according to this Wikipedia source, there is a conflict here. According to Shire-Reckoning, the two birthdays fall between September 12 and 14. Our Gregorian calendar produces September 22—and only one day.

Good news, yes—but the usual scholarly not-so-is-so hullaballoo.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Waivering? Here is a Little Help

Yesterday came the news that the Trump Administration aims to do away with the State of California’s more stringent rules on automotive emissions. This subject arose a few weeks or months ago when the administration changed its own rules; the auto industry did not like that action; it would impose two different kinds of rules; those for most of the nation and those in one state. Regarding that word most above, please wait a moment.

News about this intended change refers to the word “waiver” or “California’s waiver.” This caused me to write this post. Two questions arise immediately. First, how come California can set its own standards for auto emissions? Second, if the California waiver will now be revoked, where is that word “waiver” coming from?

The facts are these. Automotive emission standards are set by the U.S. Clean Air Act (CAA). It was passed in 1963; for those who don’t understand dates starting with 19, 1963 was a long time ago, not quite 50 years. The word “waiver” is inside that law; more specifically it is called U.S. Code § 7543. State standards, and even more specifically it is paragraph (b).

The first paragraph (a) Prohibition begins by stating that—

No State or any political subdivision thereof shall adopt or attempt to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines subject to this part. 

There is more detail, but that quote says enough.

The relevant paragraph (b) Waiver sets out the rules under which the U.S. Government may provide a waiver to paragraph (a) Prohibition to any State if that State already has such rules and if the State determines that the State standards will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.
In other words, States may apply for a waiver if they have rules at least as stringent as the federal rules. For full details, here is my source.

It turns out that in total 13 states and the district of Columbia have all obtained waivers under the CAA. Therefore the removal of California’s waiver must after that be followed by similar actions against Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia (source).

I end with an observation unrelated to the substance above. Journalism, in our day, seems directed at people who already know more about the subject than the reporters. Since I’m rarely so knowledgeable, I have to do research. My number one slogan is: “Hands off Google.” No waiver will be granted to that rule.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Milkweeds and Monarchs

We moved to our current location (west side of Metro Detroit) from our decades-long residence on the east side around in late summer of 2014. That also turned out to be a move from a tiny but very active backyard, garden, and Swallowtail butterfly ranch to a huge yard with much grass, a pear tree, and a grand rectangle all around it of bushes and trees grand trees.

Back in the old country, to call it something memorable, anxious then to diversify our Swallowtail population by adding Monarchs, we planted a milkweed bush bought at a garden store. Pictures of that plant back in 2013 are shown here.

After settling here, we discovered milkweed growing wildly off an almost daily-taken road called Ladd. We dug up a couple and planted them in our new huge yard. They multiplied. We now have what amounts to a milkweed forest. It looks like this:

Indeed there are more plants than shown here; the largest are to the right. As these plants took hold, our new terrain became a kind of Mecca for Monarchs. Every day this summer at least one Monarch took a leisurely but intense inspection of our forest. We even raised a few—but nothing like the number of Swallowtails we used to raise; by the end of our stay, that activity had become something of a job. The reason for this difference is that Monarchs are more difficult to find (in their bug form) and to keep alive indoors as caterpillars; partly our fault: we’ve grown more forgetful and careless. Thanks to chance (is there such a thing?), we settled next door to Pat (for Patricia), who turns out herself to be a Grand Mistress of Monarch Raising. With her help we’ve managed to raise about three or four—and to release them to the Wild (read our backyard). To our delight, we’ve seen that both Swallowtails and Monarch all take off in the same direction when released, flying generally to the northwest, much as they did back in the “old country” we left behind.

What’s a blog without a mention of our closest friends and the plants they eat. Here, to be complete, I must mention that with zero effort, lots of Cotton Whites also inhabit our paradise. They live in the grass, we think; it is never too closely cut by the myself, the Mower of the Grass.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Kimbern und Teutonen

In conversation today, somehow, the Teutons entered our talk. This triggered in Brigitte’s memory the phrase “Die Kimbern und Teutonen.” She asked me if the phrase meant something to me. “Yes,” I said. “The Teutons naturally do. That great victory in the Teuton Forest in which Herman beat the Roman legions.” Brigitte said “yes, yes,” but still wanted to know about the Kimbern, a peoples I’d never heard off. Next thing I know, she is handing me my Amazon tablet by way of saying that a look-up is necessary. (We fetch, in roughly the same order, coffee, bread, peanut butter, the ears, the telephone, and the Amazon tablet before we begin our mornings. The ears, of course, are tiny devices to let us hear better.)

My look-up made it plain to me that a very cold climate began to spread in the last millennium of the BC age. It played havoc with agriculture. And by the year 120 BC, some very large Germanic tribes inhabiting what is now the Danish peninsula, began to move south. The biggest among them were the Kimbern; they were joined by Teutons and others. In Latin (and in English to this day) they are known as the Cimbri. And the Cimbrian Wars are, you might say, the first of multiple folk migrations that accompanied the Decline of the West.

By the time the Kimbern reached the Alps (around 113 BC), the Age of Global Cooling was beginning to end and a period in climate later known as the Late Roman Warming had begun. Mass movements of humanity—as of temperatures, be it up or down—seem to go together.

I wonder if in some very distant time, when this Our Time will be as ancient to the living as the “late Roman” is to us, somebody will be looking for a famous tribe called the Hispanics—and have problems knowing who they were…

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Paradoxical Detachment

Let me start with paradox. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the word comes from the Greek and is made up of para- meaning “contrary” and doxa meaning “opinion”; The OED then provides a meaning which seems to have been framed in the 1560s. It is a “statement that is seemingly self-contradictory yet not illogical or obviously untrue.”

I apply that word in adjectival form to detachment. Appropriately, I believe. When we detach, we detach from something. In an ordinary situation, we get exercised about something ridiculous in the news. Our mind is so on-and-on-and-on about it that, finally, we say: “I’ve got to get detached from this.” One of the paradoxes of detachment, for me, anyway, is that taking up my diary and then meticulously recording the irritation, in every conceivable form, sooner or later (usually after writing about three-quarters of a page), the emotional turmoil has diminished. The attachment to my description of it has caused a distance to develop. And from the distance the whole thing has lost its hold on me. And this is so even if the ultimate pain comes from a source we can rarely shake, e.g. noting that I owe a huge sum of money for something I was unaware of and, having examined the circumstances, I see that I’ll have to pay it. Detachment eventually comes when I shrug, at last, and think to myself: “It’s only money.” This though indicates that I’ve reached a point of awareness in which I’ve managed to detach even from the value of money. It won’t last, of course, but for a meaningfully sufficient moment I’ve achieved freedom.

The paradox is that genuine detachment means the embrace of nothingness. That statement is seemingly self-contradictory; but the way it feels is both logical and obviously true.” Another name for it might be religion (another paradoxical word).

I say that because, in a really meaningful way, especially in a time like our own which is utterly attached to sensory reality and its extensions into abstractions like money, a time eventually comes when the world’s madness has reached what seem like maxima; life seems to have lost all value and meaning; everything is going into the bottomless pit. At such a time, in a seemingly self-contradictory way, parts of humanity embrace belief in the unbelievable, a reality beyond the one available for examination. They form or join religions. In effect they detach from the madness all around. And, paradoxically, the continued practice of this detachment creates a reality in which, if you have social patience enough, life resumes again. And the madness then seems to have passed.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Time's Flavor

I’ve spent 64 years of my life in the 20th century. The time just ahead of mine was my mother’s and father’s. When visiting with my grandmother, on the paternal side, she whose hair went all the way to the floor when she combed it in the mornings, I was with someone who had seen the light of day in the 19th and, for many years, when she said “Today,” it was another time than mine, a time with another flavor. A very thin, very unsteady, very withered ancient old lady lived with my grandmother—her own mother. A year or two after we children met her, she passed away. She’d spent most of her years (probably more than my 64) in the 19th, the century that ushered in the two World Wars with its passing…probably unaware what she was causing. The 19th was an odd time, a kind of renaissance of something that will eventually develop fully in my own future time: another time, another season.

Time has a flavor. Of course it’s constructed of memories. And children’s are more sunny than those of octogenarians. The late 1930s therefore were more bright and shiny than the 2019s will be for me: miry jungle, too much dark. I make this note because a few days ago someone young referred back to the twentieth in tones that I recognized as being similar to mine when thinking of the 19th. Already! The 21st has barely begun—but it is already labeling the 20th as “the past.” And so it is. So it is. Never mind the monstrosities and glories that it showed a stumbling humanity on its way to Eternity. Yes; one wonders about Eternity’s flavor in one’s eighties.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Modern Extremes

Two stories featured on the WSJ front page today (lower right corner) deal with extremes. One covers very expensive Japanese whiskeys; another deals with new drugs, sold at astronomical prices, to treat rare diseases.

The Japanese whiskeys range in over-the-bar prices of $100 to $529 per shot. People aiming to display their wealth drink these and then announce the fact on social media. The expensive drugs are in support of gene therapies and range from $850,000 to $2.1 million per treatment regime. The story on drugs tells of schemes insurance companies are trying out to help employers pay for such treatments; the schemes involve collecting small sums monthly from all employees to accumulate totals that will be spent on the rare few. Such approaches, of course, leave people who are not insured under corporate health plans to their own devices.

As at the bottom, so at the top. I’ve never liked the taste of whisky; down a glass, make a face. Ugh. The effect that comes later is equally available drinking cognac or vodka. So the first group is drinking less for the effect and more for the status of being able to pay the price. But one has to announce that on Facebook, etc.

At the top another issue is involved. The general belief seems to be that life on earth, in these our bodies, is the absolute value second to none; hence millions of dollars are well worth a few months or years. Our own culture began with a much more sophisticated theory—namely that life on earth does not end with death; has that old theory really been disproved effectively? If yes, by all means labor hard to build up a few million in case your genes need therapy. If not, the answer to dire diagnosis is to shrug—and get on with making sure the will is written and the funeral paid for in advance. Wisdom seems easier. And a trip to the bar to get a $15 shot of U.S. whisky—while handing an $85 roll of bills to some homeless wretch sitting half a block away under a wall—may also be kinder.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Institutionalization and Reform

Most innovations probably arise from intuitions; the intuitions are triggered by external observations of reality or changes in society. How did calculus come to be invented at roughly the same time by Newton (b. 1643) and by Leibnitz (b. 1646); the occasion was a desire to predict mathematically points on a geometrical curve. It’s easy to predict the location of a point on a line; but when the damned thing is sloping away from you in an ark, not easy. The desire in both cases was powerful, the need to get good answers pressing. The new math worked! In due time we’ve come to formalize its procedures into calculus. And now it is institutionalized; it is taught in school. The reason why most people frown, their features signaling unease, when calculus is mentioned is because the method has become institutionalized. People taking calculus don’t have the burning need to understand curves in order, say, to understand the orbits of planets. Institutionalization makes it relatively easy to learn an art; no invention is necessary, no repetitive testing, frustration, torn up sheets, and back to the start. At the same time, if the art is a difficult one—and is taught because it’s part of some grand scheme (you want to graduate in some science eventually); it is rarely taught in answer to a burning urge.

Looking around I can at least imagine some time in the future when much of what we now experience as twenty-first century culture may have been largely lost, especially the complicated parts. Then some people in the future may meet the problem of the curve again. Those experiencing the difficulties will once more be powerfully motivated to find the math to help them. Imagine such a group when one of its members bursts into a laboring group; he’s  holding some ancient book. “It’s been done before,” he cries. “And it’s all in here. A little hard to understand, but it’s the answer.” The mood in the room can almost be felt. And it represents what I’d call Reform: the renewal of an art that began as an intuition, got institutionalized, and now will be reformed. The reform will be present because this new group will make additional innovations to the math while trying to understand that ancient text.

This subject is of value in the context of my current ponderings. Everything we live now was once an innovation; many things have become ritualized so they no longer live in us as driving needs. And institutionalization is followed by decay. Reform, however, has no doubt already begun—even if we don’t fully see it yet.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

One Forgets

During my time of rarely violated absenteeism from blogging, I’d quite forgotten how much labor goes into this activity. Now memory is itself a vast subject. One of its mysteries is that we often forget something; that “something” can be quite trivial or complex; the truth is that we often simply don’t remember... Then, some short period after, our better half (usually), says something like “I’ve got it!” and she (or he) then produces a name or an account. Our mind then immediately knows that it also know—and can meaningful make additions to the partner’s first mention. In other words, we know that we remember before we actually know. So it was with the matter of forgetting the effort that blogging constitutes. The memories were instantly back when I settled before this machine to do today’s little chore. But no chore in blogging is ever “little.”

One thought I had some time after writing the last posting was that the decay of a civilization is marked by many events indicative of decay which seem to be far and few but definitely cumulating in “slow motion”; but so do many events that ultimately signal something positive—the slow appearance of a new order of thought and feeling which in their turn set the stage for the birth of another culture somewhen in the far future, i.e., also in slow motion. “I’ll write about that tomorrow,” I said to myself while reaching for the lights-out switch.

When we are no longer accustomed to put our thoughts on paper (figuratively, these days), we forget that notions that seem self-evident to us are not so obvious at all. They need illustration and presentation backed by lucid argument. And half the time the intuition is correct but to flesh it out is labor.

Therefore, a mere note today to hint at future content. Let me simply say that the nineteenth century already showed, in many developments that surfaced then (e.g., in psychology and in religion to name two subjects) that the Age of Reason began, having reached its peak in the eighteenth, to build a new way of thought even as rationalism was just beginning to decay into what we now label materialism (to pick a single word). More anon.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Decline in Slow Motion

Back when I began this blog, in February 2009, thus more than a decade ago, I kicked things off by introducing one of the main interests in my life, cyclic history (that post is here). Now I’m urged to resume making entries to this blog by a person who cannot be denied. And what with having watched CNN and MSNBC all these months (rather than posting blog entries), I am keenly aware just how accurate my cyclic historians have been. Hence this post too will deal with cultural decline; indeed, if I wished to reflect the decline I see in the title of this post, I’d call it Decline in SloMo. That phrase is much more up-to-date with the linguistic trends. After all, as yesterday’s New York Times reported, our President is either quite unaware of the difference between there and their, or he does not give a damn. Now to explain “slow motion”…

Long ago and far away, back when I first became aware of the cyclic nature of cultures and civilizations, the world looked much more rational than it does today. I was then reading books about the societal collapse of Rome; and, looking around, etc., I wondered how it might have manifested in ordinary life. A clue was present in the very few fictional works that have survived from roughly the fourth through twelfth centuries of Europe. In those no one held forth about the Decline of Rome. The stories may have been about disorders, military or otherwise, but the landscapes were still green, the forests still dark, and the rivers just kept running on. They’re still running on today.

The facts is that every culture/civilization exists in a different time zone than ordinary human life. It often take a culture 500 years to reach adulthood and once again as long to reach senescence. If we are living eighty-some-odd years of one of those periods, developments marking growth or the decline of these gigantic and seemingly organic structures will not show, in detail, changes that, in cumulation, produce new societal patterns that, in their turn, will be called cultures. One of my gurus, the German historian, Oswald Spengler—he who argued most convincingly that cultures/civilizations are organic—used the words “culture” for the youthful and “civilization” for the adult phase of these structures. In the late stages of civilizations, absurd and often irrational events sometimes multiply so that even the half-asleep among us begin to shake their head. Such a time is with us now, are, indeed, displayed across the world. Then, looking around, some days, one can’t help but see that the old historians, who saw all this coming back in the 1930s, had glimpsed something real in the future. Events still proceed in slow motion; hence we still maintain hopes that normalcy will once again return; and return it will, eventually; but in SloMo that might take another 500 years.

With that cheerful thought, my resumption of blogging has begun this Labor Day 2019.