New posting has been sporadic at best for some time. Rather than leave the pages static for long periods, I plan to bring to the front older non-time sensitive articles that are either interesting in themselves, generated a lively discussion or both.
Here is one about dying languages. The comment section (do read the thread) in the original post is closed. If you wish to express an opinion on the subject, please do so here.
A very nice interview with poet, author and artist Sukrita Paul Kumar in Muse India. I am publishing the full interview by GSP Rao below.
Dr Sukrita Paul Kumar, scholar, critic and poet of great sensitivity, has done significant work in diversified areas like women’s studies, literary translations, and cultural diversity and literary traditions of India. She has published important tomes in these areas apart from books of her poetry.She has been recipient of several national and international grants and fellowships and has lectured at Cambridge University, SOAS (London University) and several Canadian and American Universities on Indian literature. As a writer with wide exposure to traditions of both Hindi and Urdu literatures, she has interacted with leading writers of the sub-continent. As Director of a UNESCO project on “The Culture of Peace”, she edited a volume of Urdu short stories from India and Pakistan,Mapping Memories. She teaches in a Delhi University college. Her detailed profile can be viewed by clicking on her name at top left corner of this page.
She serves as the Contributing Editor of Muse India for Hindi and Urdu literatures. Here, GSP Rao, Managing Editor, engages her in a discussion on her work and motivations.
GSP : You teach, write poetry in English, are a scholar participating in several international seminars, have written and edited important tomes on Indian and South Asian literature, and were on the jury of several literary awards. You are also an artist who has had a solo exhibition of paintings. Is there a synergy in all these activities? Which of these roles is the closest to your heart?
>Sukrita: I am very conscious of the flow of time and unless I dive into it - swim in its stream - I feel like an outsider to life and suffer a strange sense of alienation. Perhaps that is what motivates me to remain engaged in the “here and now” constantly. I feel driven to go into deeper waters, always looking for something. In writing poetry or painting, there is the creative excitement of perhaps approaching something unknown, also of taking a journey within...An adventure which may not actually have any destination! The process itself seems to matter. My research and seminars etc are more outward and external but there too I try to remain close to my inner voice that gets tuned to the voices of other writers I may be studying. You mention my being on the jury for literary awards. I must say here, I do not enjoy sitting on judgement on writers and their writings and often I go against myself in accepting such assignments!
GSP : You seem to be deeply involved with life around you and derive inspiration from it for your creative work. What have literature and poetry meant in your life and how have they influenced you?
Sukrita: Literature and poetry are not separate from life… so, it’s difficult to say what they have “meant” to me. I write, teach, read literature and may be breathe it too. In fact, I have been brought up on literature! Writing a poem brings me into contact with my deepest self and I revel in that… this is what keeps me alert to poems lying all around … as much in the sunset or the full moon, as in the eye of the urchin on the road or the dog barking in the middle of the night.
As for teaching literature and sharing the joy of studying a poem together with my students and discovering its varied meanings, it is a collective and creative experience… How else would the same poem taught to a different set of students yield a fresh set of meanings? The classroom is a vibrant and dynamic workshop.
GSP : You have wide exposure to literary traditions of both Urdu and Hindi. They have similar linguistic sources and have gained significantly from cross-cultural currents. What are the abiding appeals of these two languages?
Sukrita : Hindi and Urdu have been a source of great strength to each other through centuries. Unfortunately, the language politics of the subcontinent have led to separation, nay a divorce, between them. Not only were they in complete unison at one point of time (it was difficult to decipher any dividing line between them) they remained interchangeable even while having two different scripts. The dialogue between the two languages churned a synergy and at the same time, each language strove to evolve its own identity through an inspired and sophisticated literary expression. Indeed, there has been a sharing of space as well as culture between them that nourished a healthy syncretism in the literary tradition of Hindi as well as Urdu. The politics of Partition and the well-known British strategy of “divide and rule” played an unfortunate role in communalising language identities. We must remember Gandhiji here who wished to have Hindustani, not Hindi or Urdu, as the official language of Independent India.
But, with Partition, despite the ousting of Urdu officially, can we say that we are done with it? Couched in people’s memory, Urdu poetry passes on from one generation to another and the role of Bollywood remains strong in keeping the language alive with us, within us…
GSP : Yes, Urdu ghazals and shero-shayari are particularly popular here and it is perceived as a language ideally suited for poetry. Both Hindi and Urdu literatures have long traditions and are very rich. To what extent have the important works of these literatures been translated into English and other foreign languages for them to be recognised in world literature?
Sukrita: I’m afraid, even though a lot of Hindi and Urdu literature may be found in English translation and some in other foreign languages too, there hasn’t been any significant impact of these literatures on world literature. To my mind, this is because we have not paid much attention to the quality of translations. Many times the power of the original creative writing in Urdu and Hindi does not get carried adequately into English… not in the same way as it happens in the case of say, Latin American or Russian literature. We have a long way to go in this regard.
GSP : Quality translations have been a big problem, not only in Hindi and Urdu, but all vernacular literatures. National institutions, universities and publishing industry don’t seem to be doing enough. Translations of important works should be commissioned and good translators paid well … any comment on that?
Sukrita: Mere commissioning of translations will not serve the purpose. There must be a close follow up in reviewing the process, have good editors for the translated texts and concerted efforts must be made at developing a culture of reviewing, studying and reading the translated texts. Some time ago I was invited to a couple of meetings of “Translation Mission” being set up by the government at the national level. I hope the project is on and that literary translation gets its rightful focus in a country that needs meaningful bridges amidst a plethora of languages, each abundantly rich with its own long literary tradition.
Compare the following, a few examples of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, the book of texts used in Mass. The revisions are meant to be more faithful to the liturgical Latin that was used for centuries by the Catholic Church, until recently. The first one represents the language in use currently and the second italicized text is the newer "improved" version.
Nicene creed : Profession of faith
Jesus Christ is..."one in Being with the Father"
Jesus Christ is..."consubstantial with the Father"
Confiteor: The confession of sin at the beginning of the Mass
"I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my deeds, in what I have done and what I have failed to do."
"I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."
People's prayer: Before communion
"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you."
"Lord, I am not that you should enter my roof."
Second eucharistic prayer: Priest's part
"Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ."
"Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like dewfall, so tht they may become for us the Body and Blood or our Lord, Jesus Christ.
There is more in this article in the New York Times (hope the firewall doesn't trip you up!) An excerpt:
Throughout much of the English-speaking world, the Roman Catholic Church is preparing its priests and parishes for the most significant changes to the Mass in the more than 40 years since the church permitted English in place of the Latin.
The changes are included in a new English-language translation of the Roman Missal, a translation produced after almost 30 years of labor, intrigue and infighting. The new missal, the book of texts and prayers used in the Mass, is intended to be closer to the liturgical Latin that was used for centuries than the current version. The church officials promoting it say it will bring an elevated reverence and authenticity to the Mass. Many Catholics who prefer a more traditional liturgy are eagerly anticipating the change.
But after getting a glimpse of the texts in recent months, thousands of priests in the United States, Ireland and Australia have publicly objected that the translation is awkward, archaic and inaccessible. Although most are resigned to adopting the new missal, some have mounted campaigns to prevent it from being introduced.
“What we are asking of the bishops is to scrap this text,” said the Rev. Sean McDonagh, a leader of an Irish group, the Association of Catholic Priests, which represents 450 priests — about 1 out of 10 — in that country. “I know people are not going to use it. I wouldn’t use it, because everything I know in terms of theology and anthropology and linguistics, it breaches every one of those.” ...
“The first time I saw some of the texts, I was shocked,” said the Rev. Richard Hilgartner, who as executive director of the American bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship is overseeing the introduction of the new missal in the United States.
“But the more time I’ve spent with it, the more comfortable I became with it,” he said. “The new translation tries to be more faithful to the Scriptures, and a little more poetic and evocative in terms of imagery and metaphor.”
One of the most noticeable changes is in the Nicene Creed, the statement of faith that Catholics learn to recite as children. Currently, Catholics say that Jesus is “one in being with the Father,” but in the future they will say that Jesus is “consubstantial with the Father.” This is one of several changes that include unfamiliar vocabulary.
Father Hilgartner said, “We know that people aren’t going to understand it initially, and we’ll have to talk about it. I’ve said to priests, we will welcome and crave opportunities for people to come up and ask us about God. It’s a catechetical opportunity.”
Aside from the internal debate over semantics, archaic expressions and literary flair within the Catholic Church, I have a broader question regarding religious communication in general. Religious texts are meant to be at least in part, words from God(s) and short of every person of faith hearing the divine message with his/her own ears, it must be imparted vicariously through the language of man. Doesn't it then make more sense to facilitate that communication as simply as possible without the average Jane or Joe tripping over esoteric linguistic hurdles? This tendency to hark back to the "original" language is not peculiar to Rome. Non-Arab Muslims all over the world recite the Holy Quran in Arabic without comprehending a word; Hindu prayers chanted in Sanskrit during auspicious occasions wash over the heads of most adherents. Hebrew was essentially a liturgical language until the state of Israel recast it in its role as the lingua franca of a newly created Jewish state. In the case of Christianity, Latin was not even the tongue that Jesus or his apostles used to spread their philosophy. So, why this universal fondness for religious conversations and expressions of piety in ancient or foreign tongues? As long as the message is true and reasonably well constructed to evoke spirituality and a connection to the divine, shouldn't a language that the devotee understands best, serve as the most effective vehicle and constitute the true "Vox Clara?"Or is making religious dialogue linguistically obscure another way of keeping the seat of power firmly in the grasp of a privileged few?
This much hyped and watched TV event seems to be the next logical step to ponder following Sujatha's recent post on language and grammar which soon morphed into language and thought in the comments section. So, IBM's Watson beat out the humans. But what was it thinking and in what language? What is the significance of coming up with the right moves and answers when an entity doesn't really understand what is being asked? Along with the NYT story linked above, see also this article which explains why despite the whopping defeat handed the men by the machine, language and information processing are not the same thing.
All of this is to say that while Ken and Brad lost the battle, Team Carbon is still winning the language war against Team Silicon. The "war" metaphor, incidentally, had been playing out for weeks, stoked by IBM and Jeopardy! to build public interest in the tournament. The press gladly played along, supplying headlines like the one in the Science Times from Tuesday, "A Fight to Win the Future: Computers vs. Humans." IBM knew from the Kasparov vs. Deep Blue days that we're all suckers for the "man vs. machine" trope, going back to John Henry's mythical race against the steam-powered hammer. It certainly makes for a better storyline than, say, "Check out the latest incremental innovations that Natural Language Processing researchers are making in the field of question-answering!"
Take this, you English-mangling, bumbling writers blending in your regional dialects, oddities of phrase and grammar in your writing. A pontificating pundit from The Hindu ('India's National Newspaper') laments the death of good English in Indian writing, and herself commits more than a few cardinal sins in the process.
Mention of Jewish mothers on a recent post reminded me of a story so titled :
They say that four Jewish mothers got together in heaven. As they couldn't leave well enough alone, the conversation was all about their sons. - I can't complain, said the first. My son, to this day, brings me only happiness. A saint! And on Earth, because of him, everyone just talks of charity, virtue and goodwill. - And your son is ... ? asked the second. - Jesus Christ! said the first. And, leaning forward, in a confidential tone, gesturing about her, The boss of all this! - Isn't that his father? - Welll - let's say it's in the family. - Now, joy - it's my son who brings me joy, said the second mother. Ach, how proud I am of him. On Earth, because of him, everyone only speaks of justice, social change and the solidarity amongst men. - What's his name? - Karl. Karl Marx. - Mmmm, said the others, pursing their lips. - The shnuga, sighed the mother of Marx, recalling the name she called her baby. - And my son? said the third mother. The professor! This would surely make any mother happy. Inteeelligent! A brain! On Earth, because of him, everyone talks of the Universe, relativity, black holes ... - Who is he? - Albie. - Albie? - Einstein! - Aaah! The fourth mother had nothing to say, and the other three drew around her. - I don't want to say anything because you'll grow envious of me, she said. - Speak! - What a son! - Who is he? - A doctor. - And what is it that he did? - Because of him, on Earth, everyone only talks of mothers. And the mother of Freud started smiling, leaving the other three in admiration of her. - That's my boy!
The first time I ever read Tagore was when I received a slim volume of his translated "Gitanjali" at the age of 12. I would read one or two little poems daily, mull it over briefly and get back to the busy life of a schoolgirl. The well-known "Where the mind is without fear" was already known to me, a staple in the Indian school syllabus as a prime example of the beloved Gurudeb's works.
That was a time when I was obsessed with the music, life,times of Meerabai, which I found more enchanting and romantic than abstract musings on a nameless Lord, rivers, storm clouds, moonlight, songs, flutes etc., that dominated what I read in the Gitanjali. The music was a prime factor; I could hear recordings of the Meera Bhajans and made every effort to figure out the meaning of even obscure words. It might have meant more to me, had renditions of Rabindra Sangeet, like this one been accessible.
In 'Serious Men', his first novel, Manu Joseph has brought together a small group of well realized characters and set them at each others throats in the age old context of class warfare, Indian style. The conflict is set in motion through the machinations of the protagonist, Ayyan, who is motivated by an unrelenting hatred of privileged people, all of whom he sees as Brahmins. He is Karna pitted once more against the Pandavas, and this time he means to win. Ayyan, the Dalit, is a modern day picaro, all hate and no humor, with a plan to sabotage windmills rather than tilt at them. Even an Iago, perhaps.
The Hindu, one of the oldest and most respected newspapers in India, has given its Best Indian Fiction Award of 2010 to 'Serious Men'. From this first notice I became envious and wanted to know more about the book and its author. I came across a glowing review , and heard from the author himself in a Huffington Post interview. What was not to like? A respected journalist-editor; an intriguing story; a theme of guaranteed appeal; original characters whom readers can love or hate with no in-betweens; Bollywood potential - nay, Hollywood potential. Aspiring authors would kill for such a winning conflux of graces. And yet ...
By the end of day one of my read I was beside myself. The book offended my sensibilities and I took a hi-lighter to mark its infelicities. Buckets of bile bubbled in my innards. My friend showed up for dinner. I raged at the book. She grew apprehensive. I read out to her all the snippets I had marked. My voice grew hoarse. She bid me stop, "Narayan, you're going to have a conniptionfit!" In another hour I returned to a semblance of normalcy. "Can you not overlook all this and just read the book for its story?" she said. Apparently all the touts of 'Serious Men' had done just that. The short answer to my friend's question was, "No, I can't". Neither can the Leatherstocking Tales be read this way any more; to bring some sanity to my rage and simplify matters, I invoked Mark Twain's critique of James Fenimore Cooper's novels of colonial America.
Here is Mark Twain enumerating eighteen rules that Cooper violated; they require :
1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. 2. That the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale and shall help to develop it. 3. That the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. 4. That the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. 5. That when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. 6. That when the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. 7. That when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. 8. That crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale. 9. That the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. 10. That the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. 11. That the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. In addition to these large rules there are some little ones. These require that the author shall: 12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it. 13. Use the right word, not its second cousin. 14. Eschew surplusage. 15. Not omit necessary details. 16. Avoid slovenliness of form. 18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.
Most of these are coldly and persistently violated in 'Serious Men' as I demonstrate in the appendix.
Thinking to simplify my assessment, I sat up all night seeking ways to categorize Joseph's literary offences. I hope I have succeeded in my choices in the spirit of Twain. The evidence is appended to this article for interested readers. Twain asserts that Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in 'Deerslayer,' and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record. Much as I am tempted, I promise not to make such exaggerated claims.
So why the bile, you ask? Right off the bat I'll admit that bad reviews can be the sour-grapes of would-be writers, and I am not immune to the fantasy of being a published fictioneer. It is The Way of the World : the envy of Nature's oafs by Fortune's fools (or is it the other way around?). Touché! Setting this aside, I ask : why the award? why the tributes? why the glowing reviews? Here's a sampling : == elegantly describes - novelist of serious talent - fine literary art == Joseph’s writing has an unmistakable assurance and intelligence, and he steers almost completely clear of the contrivances of plot, infelicities of style, stereotypical narrative arcs, and oddly ingratiating manner found in so many contemporary Indian novels in English. == If there is one novel you must buy this year, whether or not you have the slightest interest in South Asia, make it this one. == The assurance, wit, and compelling storytelling make this a debut to treasure, and the book will take its place amongst the great comic novels that through the comedy shine a light on their times. The unanimity, in this instance at least, suggests a mutual admiration society of literary shills - writers, journalists, editors, publishers, book-sellers, and paid reviewers - Pied Pipers to a trusting Indian readership - collectively, an army of lemmings.
Outside this conclave of vested interests stands a lone dissenter. Commenting on an obscure blog, the anonymous Annie complains of "a bitter aftertaste", and, "Oparna, Oja, Lavanya - the basest that women can be made out to be; the male gaze of the writer all through the novel. I also wonder how a journo has grabbed the best fiction award instituted by a journo-house." Brava, Annie!
From the author himself we have another clue : "Joseph joked that a high-profile prize in the UK might alter the way the book is perceived at home. 'In India, the novel is being received very well. As long as it doesn't win the Booker ...' he said." My, my! Could these be sour-grape varietals from a rival vineyard? Indians now have a champion to front them as they take pot-shots at the last three compatriots who won the Booker prize. All have been marginalized already to degrees - Roy for her activism, Desai for her narrative, and Adiga for the sin of inauthenticity - as if good language and a respect for idiom, idioma y idiotismo, did not matter.
In standing up to all this I must again shelter behind Mark Twain. Speaking as a reader with no Eng. Lit. credentials - a Dalit of the book world - it seems to me that it was far from right for the Brahmins of the publishing business to deliver opinions on Joseph's novel without having read some of it. It would have been much more decorous to keep silent and let persons talk who have read 'Serious Men'.
Far from being a great novel, 'Serious Men', despite its vaunted merits, is junk writing in the tradition of Bulwer-Lytton and high-school prose. The Hindu has bought itself a pig in a poke. Silk purses and sow's ears come to mind, as does gato por liebre. Caveat Emptor!
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> [Sample the Appendix for a few chuckles] >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
A few days ago, I asked my co-bloggers to comment on an excerpt in the Guardian from Globish, a book by Robert McCrum whose blurb reads:
How English erased its roots to become the global tongue of the 21st century.
'Throw away your dictionaries!' is the battle cry as a simplified global hybrid of English conquers cultures and continents. In this extract from his new book, Globish, Robert McCrum tells the story of a linguistic phenomenon – and its links to big money.
This particular portion of the Guardian piece dealing with Indian English caught author Narayan's attention:
The India of Hobson-Jobson has also found a new global audience. A film such as Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding is typical of the world's new English culture. The Indian bridegroom has a job in Houston. The wedding guests jet in from Melbourne and Dubai and speak in a mishmash of English and Hindi. Writing in the Sunday Times, Dominic Rushe noted that Bollywood English is "hard to reproduce in print, but feels something like this: "Yudhamanyus ca vikranta uttanaujas ca viryanavan: he lives life in the fast lane." Every English-speaking visitor to India watches with fascination the facility with which contemporary Indians switch from Hindi or Gujarati into English, and then back into a mother tongue. In 2009, the film Slumdog Millionaire took this a stage further. Simon Beaufoy's script, a potpourri of languages, adapted from an Indian novel, was shot in Mumbai, with a British and Indian cast, by Scottish director Danny Boyle, but launched worldwide with an eye on Hollywood's Oscars, where it eventually cleaned up.
India illustrates the interplay of British colonialism and a booming multinational economy. Take, for instance, the 2006 Man Booker prize. First, the result was broadcast on the BBC World Service from Delhi to Vancouver. The winner was The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, an Indian-born writer who had attended writing classes in New York. So far removed from any English experience, though steeped in its literary tradition, was The Inheritance of Loss that, finally, the British critic John Sutherland was moved to describe Desai's work as "a globalised novel for a globalised world". The writer herself is emblematic of the world's new culture: educated in Britain and America, she wrote her novel in her mother Anita Desai's house in the foothills of the Himalayas, and boasts on her website of feeling "no alienation or dislocation" in her transmigration between three continents.
The Inheritance of Loss is the literary representation of a contemporary experience. Desai says that her book "tries to capture what it means to live between east and west, and what it means to be an immigrant"; it also explores "what happens when a western element is introduced to a country that is not of the west". She also asks: "How does the imbalance between these two worlds change a person's thinking and feeling? How do these changes manifest themselves in a personal sphere over time?" Or, she might have added, in a linguistic and cultural sphere.
Narayan found very little that was enlightening or even particularly clever in McCrum's observations. His response:
An interesting article in the Slate about the propensity of people to distort the spirit of foreign words. The word in question is Kabuki. I had to note with mild amusement that the author uses the word "pundit" several times in the article which in English, has a somewhat scornful connotation - that of a pompous know-it-all.
Pundit (or Pandit) comes from Sanskrit and in most Indian languages it denotes an admirably learned person. A few decades ago, scholars in India were bestowed with this honorific formally or by universal public consent. The first prime minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru for example, was commonly referred to as Pandit Nehru by the public and in the media. There is nothing derogatory or dismissive in the usage. It is therefore somewhat ironic that author Jon Lackman, while taking to task others for being out of step with Kabuki, repeatedly misused pundit, another foreign word which too does not mean what pundits think it does.
Another famous saying from outer space turns out to be not quite what we think it was. "Houston, we have a problem," is a catchall phrase for SNAFUs that happen even outside of Houston but that is not exactly what the Apollo 13 astronauts actually said when they heard a bang aboard the spaceship. In this case, we know what the original words were without having to resort to an audio analysis decades later.
Moments after Apollo 13 crew members heard a sharp bang, the phrase that Space City can't seem to shake entered the atmosphere: “Houston, we've had a problem.”
Forty years ago today, a loud bang and vibration transformed a smooth flight to the moon into one of NASA's most successful failures. We remember the sentence that captured that catastrophe as “Houston, we have a problem,” but the correct version uses the past tense.
Presumably, some people knew and even used the phrase in the years after the Apollo 13 crew members miraculously — and heroically — made their way back to Earth.
But it was Ron Howard's 1995 film, Apollo 13, that cemented the misquoted version in our minds.
“The movie simplified the sentence for dramatic purposes,” says Charles Dove, director of Rice Cinema and a film lecturer at Rice University. “Most of the big 20th century phrases come from film.”
Indeed, “Houston, we have a problem” is No. 50 on the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movie quotes, behind other catch phrases we like even better: “Here's looking at you, kid” (No. 5); “Go ahead, make my day” (No. 6); and “You talking to me?” (No. 10).
Mother of all chichés
In real-life, the space scene went something like this: Jack Swigert — played by Kevin Bacon in the movie — saw a warning light that accompanied the sharp bang and said, “Houston, we've had a problem here.” When Houston base asked for clarification, Jim Lovell — played by Tom Hanks in the movie — repeated, “Houston, we've had a problem.” [emphasis mine]
Not much of a poetic outpouring, I have to say. But I wonder how long it took him to play around with the words until he had them lined up as a 224 word palindromic poem. Check it out. I did... for about four lines and sure enough, all the duckies are in a row. (thanks to Narayan for the pointer)
"Dammit I'm Mad"
Dammit I’m mad.
Evil is a deed as I live.
God, am I reviled? I rise, my bed on a sun, I melt.
Everybody knows that a noun is the name of a person, place, or thing. It's one of those undeniable facts of daily life, a fact we seldom question until we meet up with a case that doesn't quite fit the way we're used to viewing things.
That's exactly what happened to a student in Ohio when his English teacher decided to play the noun game. To the teacher, the noun game seemed a fun way to take the drudgery out of grammar. To the student it forced a metaphysical crisis. To me it shows what happens when cultures clash and children get lost in the tyranny of school. That's a lot to get from a grammar game.
Anyway, here's how you play. Every student gets a set of cards with nouns written on them. At the front of the classroom are three buckets, labeled "person," "place," and "thing." The students take turns sorting their cards into the appropriate buckets. "Book" goes in the thing bucket. "city" goes in the place bucket. "Gandhi" goes in the person bucket.
Ganesh had a card with "horse" on it. Ganesh isn't his real name, by the way. It's actually my cousin's name, so I'm going to use it here.
You might guess from his name that Ganesh is South Asian. In India, where he had been in school before coming to Ohio, Ganesh was taught that a noun named a person, place, thing, or animal. If he played the noun game in India he'd have four buckets and there would be no problem deciding what to do with "horse." But in Ohio Ganesh had only three buckets, and it wasn't clear to him which one he should put "horse" in.
In India, Ganesh's religion taught him that all forms of life are continuous, interrelated parts of the universal plan. So when he surveyed the three buckets it never occurred to him that a horse, a living creature, could be a thing. He knew that horses weren't people, but they had more in common with people than with places or things. Forced to choose, Ganesh put the horse card in the person bucket.
Blapp! Wrong! You lose. The teacher shook her head, and Ganesh sat down, mortified, with a C for his efforts. This was a game where you got a grade, and a C for a child from a South Asian family of overachievers is a disgrace. So his parents went to talk to the teacher.
I have a hard time referring to animals (birds and mammals especially) as "it."
Quite coincidentally, right on the heels of our recent discussion on language and thought, Sukrita Paul Kumar sent me the following essay in which she muses over the issue of color. Color also came up tangentially in the comments section of the language post. Sukrita's is a literary approach - no Sapir-Whorf there. Her thoughts also touch upon this discussion here. (Sukrita has used Indian / British spelling. Hence colour)
COLOUR AS NATURE?
Sukrita Paul Kumar
When Orhan Pamuk spoke on the making of his novel My Name is Red , someone asked him if the use of colour red in the title was symbolic. His reply is what I want to start this piece with. He said “I use colour as texture, not as symbolism”. And I wondered, is it at all possible to disassociate one’s self from the culturally, and even politically, defined symbolic ramifications of different colours as we may use them in writing, painting or during the course of everyday living. Some of Pamuk’s other novels such as The White Castle, The Black Book and Other Colours too, forefront some colour or the other in the title as is evidenced. It is a sure feat of creativity to be able to shake off cultural labels from the colours, to perceive them phenomenologically and present them with pristine innocence. Mind you, not naiveté .
In fact how refreshing it would be if innocence could be recreated, if one could go centuries back in history, cleanse our brains, eliminate genetic memory and regain our ability to see colours in the freshness of their own texture without any baggage of cultural prejudice and meaning. Or any historical symbolism, infested with political tension and psychological oppression. The human mind today is enslaved by orientations of a society that is certainly not colour-blind in its perception of the white, the black , the yellow or the brown people, perpetually fanning issues of racism ironically, even through endless articulation of its denouncement.
Nor are we able to disengage ourselves from the religious symbolism of colours. In fact in our part of the world, ‘saffronization’ of education is a term thrown up by recent history, when a major political party in power was perceived to be attempting to give a specific ideological colour to school text books in history and philosophy. The colour saffron today languishes in a very insular political prison house rather than blossoming in the fields out there.
The question to ask is, can an individual triumph in releasing colour from the oppression of cultural identity, when we do not today live as much by nature as by nurture. How have some colours been nurtured in the context of the colour of skin? I am reminded here of an example of a white couple who adopted a black son precisely to free themselves of racial prejudice. They did not realize the existential cultural dilemma they put this child into. Years later, despite his loving parents, he recorded how he passed through intense moments of alienation and anguish repeatedly because as a black child and then as an adolescent, he received not-so-subtle messages from all around that convinced him that he was different, unacceptable and inferior. His black skin endowed upon him identity ascriptions different from his own identity-claims as a child grown up in a white household. He had to actually undergo therapy to overcome his dilemma.
The blacks are compelled to remain together to empower each other with energy to combat an all-pervasive racism, nurtured over times immemorial. We know then why there aren’t any white ghettos. Identity politics have laid out the superiority of the white in the hierarchy of power. Culture actually becomes an accident of birth if identity is so dependent on the colour of the skin or the race one is born into. When recorded history or visible history constantly reinforces the myth of the superiority of a particular race, poets such as Derek Walcott lament :
Where are your monuments,
your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs
In that gray vault. The sea. The sea
Has locked them up.¡¨
From “The Sea is History”
Thousands of gray vaults will have to be retrieved from the sea and then opened to excavate the history of “the wretched of the earth”, for the wretched to turn the tables. Remember what James Baldwin said “I left America because I doubted my ability to survive the fury of the colour there”.
When the Viaduct de Millau opened in the south of France in 2004, this tallest bridge in the world won worldwide accolades. German newspapers described how it "floated above the clouds" with "elegance and lightness" and "breathtaking" beauty. In France, papers praised the "immense" "concrete giant." Was it mere coincidence that the Germans saw beauty where the French saw heft and power? Lera Boroditsky thinks not.
A psychologist at Stanford University, she has long been intrigued by an age-old question whose modern form dates to 1956, when linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf asked whether the language we speak shapes the way we think and see the world. If so, then language is not merely a means of expressing thought, but a constraint on it, too. Although philosophers, anthropologists, and others have weighed in, with most concluding that language does not shape thought in any significant way, the field has been notable for a distressing lack of empiricism—as in testable hypotheses and actual data.
That's where Boroditsky comes in. In a series of clever experiments guided by pointed questions, she is amassing evidence that, yes, language shapes thought. The effect is powerful enough, she says, that "the private mental lives of speakers of different languages may differ dramatically," not only when they are thinking in order to speak, "but in all manner of cognitive tasks," including basic sensory perception. "Even a small fluke of grammar"—the gender of nouns—"can have an effect on how people think about things in the world," she says.
As in that bridge. In German, the noun for bridge, Brücke, is feminine. In French, pont is masculine. German speakers saw prototypically female features; French speakers, masculine ones. Similarly, Germans describe keys (Schlüssel) with words such as hard, heavy, jagged, and metal, while to Spaniards keys (llaves) are golden, intricate, little, and lovely. Guess which language construes key as masculine and which as feminine? Grammatical gender also shapes how we construe abstractions. In 85 percent of artistic depictions of death and victory, for instance, the idea is represented by a man if the noun is masculine and a woman if it is feminine, says Boroditsky. Germans tend to paint death as male, and Russians tend to paint it as female.
Being fluent in three languages (speak, read, write, think, quarrel), I can attest to the truth of this. Indeed, objects and ideas do often take on different forms and nuances in our minds depending on the language we assign to them. But can language shape our bodies? Some silly people seem to think so, without quite explaining how!
Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama's pick for the Supreme Court has been characterized by right wing rabblerousers as a racist and a militant femme. She has caught a lot of flak, particularly for one statement she made in a 2001 speech at the University of Berkeley entitled, ‘A Latina Judge’s Voice,’ during which she elaborated upon her experience on the bench as a woman of Hispanic background. Her critics have interpreted the statement as racist and biased against white males (some of them are backtracking now).
Reader Narayan Acharya, who has contributed several interesting opinion pieces here, speculates that Sotomayor was not making a political statement at all when she brought up her race, gender and life experience. The much reviled, awkwardly worded sentence was the result of thinking in Spanish and speaking in English. The grammatical differences of the two languages may have crossed wires in her brain, according to Narayan. Specifically, Sotomayor was tripped up by the "subjunctive!"
What Sotomayor said was :
"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness o f her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life."
This is a daunting sentence to analyze. By now we know all the negative meanings and implications that have been imputed to the speaker by those with an axe to grind. But is there something more subtle going on in the rendering of the sentence? I think so, although I find it difficult to clearly identify it. Simply parsing the sentence is futile because mere structure is not what I’m after – deconstruction is needed. Let me strip it to its skeleton anyway :
“I would hope that X would U than Y who hasn’t V” where X is ‘a wise Latina woman’, U is the verbal phrase ‘reach a better conclusion’, Y is ‘a white male’, and V the verbal phrase ‘lived that life’.
One cannot quarrel with the sentence except to quibble that a strict grammarian of a generation or two ago would take issue with the opening verbal phrase saying that ‘I should hope that’ is the only admissible form. I recall being shown a typescript of a primer that claimed that ‘should’ also signals the subjunctive mood, but have not been able to confirm the validity of this claim from other sources. Fowler states that the pairing of ‘I’ and ‘would’ is an “invasion from the other side of the Atlantic”, and that ‘should’ is the correct word to use with the verbs like ‘like’, ‘prefer’, ‘care’, ‘be glad’, ‘be inclined’ etc.
The crux of the matter, I believe, is that Sotomayor is bilingual, and though she may be a native English speaker, her mother tongue is Spanish. We can agree that she is also a native Spanish speaker without debating which came first. Undoubtedly she learnt both languages at an early age when speech is established through imitation rather than formal learning. At that age one learns to speak correctly memetically, without knowing the whys and wherefores. I maintain that Sotomayor must have learnt the use of subjunctive verb forms well before she knew why they were needed.
I do not recall being taught about the subjunctive in English and didn’t know of its significance until I embarked on a course in Spanish. Since then I have discovered that, except perhaps for the uneducated, Spanish speakers use the correct verb forms when the subjunctive mood is called for. English speakers, even the best educated, are sloppy in this respect, using the indicative where the subjunctive is called for, arguing that the meaning is understood anyway by the context.
From “A Dictionary of Modern English Usage”, H.W.Fowler,1965
“Subjunctive … a verb-form different from that of the indicative mood in order to ‘denote an action or a state as conceived (and not as a fact), and [expressing] a wish, command, exhortation, or a contingent, hypothetical, or prospective event’ – OED. About the subjunctive, so delimited, the important general facts are : (1) that it is moribund except in a few easily specified uses; (2) that, owing to the capricious influence of the much analysed classical moods upon the less studied native, it probably never would have been possible to draw upon a satisfactory table of the English subjunctive uses; (3) that assuredly no one will ever find it either possible or worth while to do so, now that the subject is dying; and (4) that subjunctives met with today, outside the few truly living uses, are either deliberate revivals, especially by poets, for legitimate enough archaic effect, or antiquated survivals giving a pretentious flavour to their context, or new arrivals possible only in an age to which the grammar of the subjunctive is not natural but artificial.”
From “The American Language”, H.L.Mencken
1936 ed : “…virtually extinct in the vulgar tongue”
1948 ed : “On higher levels, of course, the subjunctive shows more life, and there is ground for questioning the conclusion of Bradley, Krapp, Vizetelly, Fowler and other authorities that it is on its way out.”
From “Modern Spanish Grammar – A Practical Guide”, J.Kattán-Ibarra & C.J.Pountain, 1997.
“Sometimes the subjunctive is automatically required by another element in the sentence such as a verb or a conjunction. Sometimes there is a choice between subjunctive and indicative, in which case there is always a difference in meaning between the two. The subjunctive is not ‘avoided’ in Spanish, and is not in any way old-fashioned or unusual.”
The English language is about to reach the 1million word mark. At least, by one person's reckoning - that of Paul Payack, a "word watcher" (of the Wordubon Society?) from Austin, Texas. Payack thinks he knows the precise time that the millionth word will enter the English language lexicon - 10:22 am (GMT) on Wednesday, June 10, 2009. He has a count-down clock ticking towards that moment on his website. While Payack seems all set to welcome the landmark linguistic event, other language mavens sniff at his presumptive prediction. They call his count spurious and claim that there is no way anyone can accurately account for the exact number of words in a language.
An ancient script that's defied generations of archaeologists has yielded some of its secrets to artificially intelligent computers.
Computational analysis of symbols used 4,000 years ago by a long-lost Indus Valley civilization suggests they represent a spoken language. Some frustrated linguists thought the symbols were merely pretty pictures.
"The underlying grammatical structure seems similar to what's found in many languages," said University of Washington computer scientist Rajesh Rao.
The Indus script, used between 2,600 and 1,900 B.C. in what is now eastern Pakistan and northwest India, belonged to a civilization as sophisticated as its Mesopotamian and Egyptian contemporaries. However, it left fewer linguistic remains. Archaeologists have uncovered about 1,500 unique inscriptions from fragments of pottery, tablets and seals. The longest inscription is just 27 signs long.
In 1877, British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham hypothesized that the Indus script was a forerunner of modern-day Brahmic scripts, used from Central to Southeast Asia. Other researchers disagreed. Fueled by scores of competing and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to decipher the script, that contentious state of affairs has persisted to the present.
Opponents of gay marriage generally have relied on two authorities, the Bible and the dictionary—the divine word and the defined word. A 2006 friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of anti-gay-marriage organizations in a Maryland marriage case cited no fewer than seven dictionaries to make its point. And when the Iowa Supreme Court legalized gay marriage last week, it ignored the state's plea to abide by a dictionary definition that limited marriage to "the legal union of a man and a woman."
Butin their latest editions, the dictionaries have begun to switch sides—though until recently, no one seemed to have much noticed. The American Heritage Dictionary, Black's Law Dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, and Webster's have all added same-sex unions to their definitions of marriage.* The right-wing Web site WorldNetDaily broke the news in March about Webster's, reporting that the dictionary had "resolved the argument" over gay marriage by applying the ancient term "to same-sex duos."
How, exactly, has the wording in the dictionaries changed? American Heritage went first, adding this to its definition of marriage in 2000: "A union between two persons having the customary but usually not the legal force of marriage: a same-sex marriage." In 2003, Webster's included in its definition "the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage." In 2004, in its eighth edition, Black's added "same-sex marriage" to its marriage entry, recognizing that "same-sex couples have successfully challenged the laws against same-sex marriage" in a number of states. Even more interesting, 2008's Webster's Contemporary School and Office Dictionary says nothing gendered about marriage at all. The entry simply states that marriage is "the state of being united to another person as a contractual relationship according to law or custom." And the king of them all, the Oxford English Dictionary, since 2000 has included in the definition of marriage the phrase "long-term relationships between partners of the same sex."*
There may be many a slip between the cup and the lip. But do you know that the drinking cup is etymologically a close cousin of the skull? I did but that knowledge is tucked away in a distant enough corner of the brain that it doesn't color the way I look at my tea cup.
I am an avid tea drinker. I like "real" tea - the slightly acrid and soothing liquor made with tea leaves, both black and green. I drink the former with milk and the latter without. Not for me the new age concoctions contaminated with orange, lemon, pomegranate, elderberry, wild flowers and other unnecessary flavors although I do occasionally enjoy jasmine, ginger, chamomile, mint, Indian chai masala or a few strands of saffron in my brew. But mostly, I like to partake of the undiluted version of the beverage. There is no special tea ceremony in our home. The kettle is put to boil whenever the craving strikes for a hot refreshing cuppa.
I grew up around copious tea drinkers. Tea was served all year round at breakfast, at afternoon teatime and when guests came. Though not particularly tempted as a child to drink the beverage of the adults, I was nevertheless fascinated by the paraphernelia of the tea tray. My mother owned three sets of tea service made of fine English bone china. They were part of her bridal trousseau - gifts from her father. One was an elegant and sedate cream color set with green and gold edging. Another, a dainty design of pink roses on pristine white. The third, my childhood favorite, consisted of a very round teapot surrounded by globular tea cups of impossibly thin and exquisitely translucent beige china festooned with tiny red, deep blue and gold birds, flowers and berries. Although I did not start drinking tea regularly until I entered college, the sight of the steaming amber-gold liquid being poured from one of the gorgeous teapots into a waiting cup was an aesthetic experience even my childish eyes could appreciate.
Perhaps it says something about my austere mother's indifference to material possessions that those beautiful pieces, an anomaly in our otherwise un-ostentatious Bengali kitchen, were not stowed away in a cupboard for special occasions but put to daily use by the family as well as guests who regularly dropped by for a cup of tea. It is therefore not surprising that most of the tea cups and pots from the collection were gone by the time I began drinking tea in my late teen years. Isolated pieces of the beautiful china remained - a few cups and saucers, a mate-less creamer from one set and an unmatched sugar bowl from another. The teapots were all gone - chipped, cracked or broken due to years of use and careless handling. We then drank tea from non-descript ceramic cups and tea pots. No one bothered to go out and shop for good china. When I earned my first pay check, I bought my mother a set of eight cups and saucers (no teapot, creamer or sugar bowl) made of locally produced bone china. They were not half as elegant as my mother's old collection but she accepted the replacements with whole hearted enthusiasm.
As a person who loves tea and tea sets, I do own some nice tea cups and mugs. But sadly, my kitchen pantry is currently devoid of a good china / clay teapot. I have owned a few ceramic and clay ones since I set up independent house keeping after marriage. They were all traditionally attractive, affordable and eminently serviceable fat bellied pots. They are now gone and I currently own a few glass, stainless steel and pewter ones. My "formal" dinner set did not come with a teapot. By the time I went back and searched in a catalog of Mikasa's line of accessories, the design had been discontinued. I never got around to buying a suitable tea pot to go with the set. Perhaps this nostalgic blather will act as an impetus to begin a new search.
My sudden outpourings about tea, teapots and cups was set in motion by an excellent article, Fragments of Bone and Clay by Aditya Dev Sood, a new writer at 3 Quarks Daily. Among other observations about the culture of tea drinking, Aditya goes into deep musings over bone china and the the drinking cup.
The form of a teacup awaits and anticipates its human users with intimacy, affording a second finger leverage, varieties of opposition for the thumb, and of course, that slippery kiss. But it has still more intimate links with the human body: the word ‘cup’ has Indo-European roots, being linked to cupola, as in dome, as well as the Latin cephalus and the Sanskrit kapala, both cognate words for skull. The kapalika-s, of course, are members of that now nearly extinct sect of Saivism, who carry around a human skull, from which they both eat and drink. I believe it is a false calumny that their skull belongs to someone they have killed, but rather that their purpose is, like Hamlet, to be in proximity and awareness of death, the better to feel their own quickness and capacity for live action. How much does it matter whether one’s cup be found whole in nature or be crafted by human hands? Whether it be a human relic or a fine puree of mammalian bones? The important thing is that a cup can serve as a means for dialogue, for silent communion, for mutuality and shared sustenance.
John McCain never tires of reminding us that he is a "maverick," a dissenter "who marches to hisown drum," he said in his acceptance speech. We know the common dictionary meaning of the word that referred originally to wayward cattle and later to a public figure with an independent mind. The owner of the maverick cattle herd who gave us the word in its current form was Sam Maverick, a South Carolinian turned Texan. Maverick fought in the Texas Revolution, spent time in a Mexican prison, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, served as a state legislator and the mayor of San Antonio.
Columnist Rick Casey writes in the Houston Chronicle that there were other Mavericksbefore and after Sam, the lousy Texas cattleman and some of them too were mavericks.
After a shaky start, the Republican National Convention picked up tempo by midweek. The party reached its high point on Wednesday, the 3rd of September, when John McCain's running mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska brought the house down with her acceptance speech. McCain wrapped up the convention the next day with a patriotic story and a promise to "change" Washington during his own address. Those of us who watched the convention coverage on TV, saw the razzle dazzle and choreography of the orchestrated events. Now it is being reported that the GOP stagecraft wasn't exactly flawless. For example:
Like any political gala designed to tug at the heartstrings of voters, the Republican convention was awash in symbolism and iconography, most of them easily understood. But for reasons that remained unclear for half a day, McCain delivered his acceptance speech before a giant image of Walter Reed Middle Schoolin North Hollywood. Neither the audience in the hall nor TV viewers recognized the building or its particular significance in relation to the speech. The McCain campaign cannot explain why this particular school was used as the back drop on McCain's big night. Although the campaign won't admit it, it is now widely believed that the image that was intended to be there for patriotic symbolism was that of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. and not the school. The inept stage crew got the props mixed up and the principal of Walter Reed School is now unhappy that her school's photo was appropriated by the RNC without permission.
When anti-war protesters interrupted McCain who peppered his speech with references to patriotism, honor and national security, he placated the audience thus:
"My friends, my dear friends ... please, please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static," McCain said. "I'm going to talk about it some more, but Americans want us to stop yelling at each other."
What McCain must have known but didn't say, is that the protesters, who were "escorted" out by security guards were not mere "ground noise and static". They were Iraq War veteranswho have hounded McCain at other public events because of his support of the war but not of those who are fighting it.
Sarah Palin delighted the audience at the convention with many homilies about her down-home, common sense, non-elitist approach to governing. One punch line that got thunderous applause was when Palin decried the unnecessary perks of the governor's office. "That luxury jet was over the top ..... I put it on eBay," she declared. But being the consummate stand-up comic that she has proved to be, Palin knew exactly where to end her narrative to elicit the loudest cheer. It turns out that she did "put" the plane on eBay but she did not "sell" it. The plane was later sold to a private buyer for $300,000 less than the asking price. Yet Sen McCain later told audiences during campaign stops that his running mate had sold the plane on the Internet for a profit.
McCain spoke at length about fighting corruption, reducing the size of the government, defeating terrorists, cutting taxes and of honor and pride. He spoke more briefly about the economy, energy independence and education. On health care, he had only this to say:
My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance. His [Obama] plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor.
Perhaps McCain had so little to say on this issue because he doesn't really believe that health care is a problem for most Americans. John Goodman, a health care adviser to the McCain campaign has claimed that there are no "uninsured Americans" because everyone has access to the hospital emergency room. (McCain's campaign has now disassociated itself from Goodman)
Senator McCain has admitted that he doesn't understand economic issues very well. It is therefore not a surprise that he did not address the challenges facing the US economy in his speech. The day after the GOP convention ended, the US Department of Labor released a report showing that the US unemployment rate rose in the month of August to 6.1%, the highest in five years. Perhaps it is time for the McCain campaign to hire an economic adviser like Goodman who can redefine joblessness and declare, "There are no unemployed Americans; there are only persons of leisure with access to eBay where they can sell at a profit all the accumulated junk in their basement and make a living."
Post Convention Updates:
The Invisible Sarah: The upcoming Sunday talk shows will be bristling with the presidential candidates answering questions of reporters and making their case to the public. One candidate who will not speak to the mediais Sarah Palin. The McCain campaign says that she will speak "directly to the American people."
Pray Away The Gay: The church attended by Sarah Palin has planned a conference to promote the conversion of homosexuals to heterosexuals through the power of prayer. The "Love Won Out" conference is scheduled for the 13th of September in Anchorage, Alaska.
Should we? Perhaps. The game plan of the Democrats has to be radically overhauled. This is no longer going to be a campaign only about "issues" or the State of the Union. It is also about cultural divisiveness and pushing voters into their "zone of discomfort" many of whom are now likely to cast the November ballot in an emotional, not cerebral way.
Dean, in his comment, beat me to George Lakoff'sarticle (link: Narayan Acharya) explaining precisely this aspect of public oratory - whether the speaker focuses on external realities or emotional symbolisms. Republicans have bamboozled the public time and again by pushing cultural and social hot buttons even when they are running on an abysmal record of external realities and managed to win. Democrats, who pride themselves on caring for bread and butter issues have failed even when reality dictates that they should win handily. Bread and butter for some inexplicable reason always lose to mom and apple pie. Sarah Palin, predictably did just that - spoke about all the things that make America "great" but she did it in a way that I wasn't expecting. She smiled, she looked disarming and was even quite funny in a middle schoolish way. That was a vast improvement over Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee who tried the same thing earlier but came off sounding lame, vicious and hokey respectively.
Palin said many things last night. She paid homage to family, country, hard working "ordinary" people, common sense and of course, John McCain. She railed against the media, congress, Washington insiders and other "elites." She did not once mention Bush-Cheney, Afghanistan, education, health care or the economy. But what she conveyed most effectively to her audience was that Barack and Michelle Obama are not one of "us." She managed to exoticize and alienate them sufficiently to sow a seed of doubt in some minds and irrigate those who had already planted it. It was done masterfully. Hillary couldn't do it with her barely repressed anger and McCain can't do it because he is a lousy speaker. Palin took on Obama's record and without overtly ridiculing it, managed to thoroughly trash it. The "othering" of Obama was Palin's designated task and she exceeded the expectation in what some are calling a "Steel Magnolia" style. Ma Palin managed to imply that her five precious kids (and yours too) may not be entirely safe if Obama becomes president.
Even some otherwise intrepid souls are a bit shaken. My husband, who was lying on the sofa before Palin began was about to doze off. He sat bolt upright about ten minutes into the speech and was very concerned by the time she had finished. John Dickerson of Slate is worried. Even Brian Leiter admits that she was effective (and deceptive). Strangely enough, though I am quite easily unnerved by right wing shenanigans, I was not very nervous. I will wait for the media to their job - dig deep into her record and interview those who know her well. I will also wait for Palin to face the media without a prepared script. Instead, I am seething. Once again, I see an attempt at hood-winking, Swift Boating and race baiting by the ruthless ignoramuses. Once again, I fear they might succeed (do I then have to continue blogging for four more years?). Hard to imagine, but McCain-Palin may turn out to be even more ugly than Bush-Cheney. I have to hope that Chicago politics have taught Obama to take body blows and push back.
One last note on last night's gathering of the sharks who came to feed on "red meat." Every featured speaker, including Palin, mentioned that he / she has "always been proud of America." This was a blatantly orchestrated move to belittle Michelle Obama. I really wish that the Obamas will have the gumption and the guts to ask these splendid patriots if they were also "proud" when lynching, Jim Crow and other criminal indignities were being inflicted upon certain Americans who don't quite look like them.