Thursday, February 16, 2017

Two on the Aisle




I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to keep up my regimen of cocktail recipes. My endocrine system is sending me distant messages about my longevity, and we all know that isn't an argument any of us is going to win, ultimately. 

In the meantime, here are two more lovely variations from the stainless steel counter, concocted by yours truly, for no other reason than the delight of invention. 

Bartenders who are interested may experiment with different combinations, which may in time become famous, or signature recipes. At some point, I'd like to be able to publish a collection of my own original cocktail mixes. 

The majority of cocktail books seem determined either to make a claim to be the most reliable source of classic recipes, or of the sexiest new inventions. Tastes may be strong, or subtly variable. There's always room for innovation. 



A lot of new cocktail recipes depend on exotic flavors. But the way a cocktail is structured generally hasn't changed over the last century. You begin with a distillate, or perhaps a wine (or even a beer), and you add other ingredients in various proportion to augment the essential flavor of the "goods." It's perfectly possible to drink any liquor straight, which lots of drinkers do. And there's enough variation among brands and types that you could confine yourself to sampling unmixed liquors forever, if that were your choice. There are confirmed drinkers of Scotch, Bourbon, Rum, Gin and Vodka, and Vodka producers have begun to produce pre-flavored versions, so no mixing is required; in my view, this makes vodka seem like a poor sister to the other liquors, since its own flavor may be considered too weak by itself, though there are people who delight in the subtle shades of flavor of different vodkas. But life's too short to drink every version of anything. Professional tasters must find it difficult sometimes to extend their discrimination beyond a certain point. Of course, some people have a much greater sensitivity to flavor or smells than others. Animals (dogs for instance) have a smell sensitivity which is hundreds or thousands of times more sensitive than people's. Probably there are people who could distinguish between all the different kinds of liquors there are in the world, if they chose. But most of us can't, and certainly wouldn't need or want to. 

The spirit of adventure and experimentation is a very good thing. It's how discoveries are made. Discoveries may be accidents, or they may be deliberately conducted trials. Whenever I contemplate a new mix, I try to think of combinations I've never heard about. It's possible that I'm actually duplicating a recipe that someone, somewhere has already tried. And occasionally I'll accidentally "create" a recipe that, unbeknownst to me, has been labeled a classic decades ago. That's either a confirmation of your good intuition, or a proof of the "inevitability" of that happy congruence. 

Of course, I mix from published recipes all the time. The old standards are standards for a reason. The Rusty Nail has hung around because it's a wonderful flavor, not because someone thinks it's good to keep repeating old methods or favorites. 

But I'm not a professional bartender, and I would never want to be one. The idea of having to mix the same drinks, from a menu, or from customers' preferences, is abhorrent to me. Who wants to mix for others, especially when you can't really share the experience yourself. Good service is good, but the pleasure in that case has nothing to do with the goods. And bartenders who never experiment in an attempt to make new discoveries are just putting in their time, or lack imagination. 

In any case, I've never seen these recipes anywhere else, so I'll assume for the time being that they're completely new and original.         
     
2 parts Boodles gin
1 part St. Germaine liqueur
1/2 part Kirsch
1/2 part fresh lime juice

1 part manhattan rye
1 part dry vermouth
3/4 part peach liqueur
1/2 part fresh lemon

Both are mixed by proportion for single drinks served over ice. Our favorite accompaniment is freshly roasted pistachio nuts in the split shell. You break the shell with your fingers and pop the green nut in your mouth. And then another, and another . . . . They're just dry enough not to interfere with your tastebuds. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Northern Exposure - A New Cocktail



I've noted before how under-rated aquavit is as a mixing spirit. 

You hardly ever see it mentioned in books of mixology, and I guess I understand why: It has an oddly bitter initial flavor (caraway), which becomes less noticeable the more you drink it. I have the same sensation when I drink Greek retsina wines. There's an initial reaction to the unconventional undertow, then you get used to it, and actually begin to enjoy it. 


Norway - Land of my Forefathers

For "white goods" gin can get a little monotonous. It's also on the sweet side, as is white rum. Vodka seems to me to possess such a weak flavor by itself, that putting other flavors with it makes its taste disappear. For me, vodka is a spirit to drink solo, without any adulterating distractions. Its subtlety makes it a connoisseur's delight, but as a mixer, I find it almost an anonymous spirit. 

Chocolate and mint are natural cousins, as any candy fiend will testify. Put these together with the odd basis of aquavit, and a dash of lime to dry it out a little, and you have an intriguing combination.  


2 parts aquavit
2 parts white vermouth
2/3 part creme de cacao
1/2 part creme de menthe
tablespoon fresh lime juice

Makes two portions. Shaken and served up in frosted cocktail glasses. 

Northern Exposure was a television series [1990-1995] which was set in Alaska. Hollywood has paid very little attention to Alaska and Canada over the decades, so it seemed a little goofy and unconventional to have a sit-com set up near the Arctic Circle. But the cast managed to bring it off without a hitch. It became the vehicle that propelled Barry Corbin, Janine Turner, and Rob Morrow to stardom. Turner was probably the sexiest "thinking man's" actress to appear in the 1990's. 



Janine Turner


Friday, January 27, 2017

DURATION Poems 1978-2015


I've always been interested in books, and when I took Harry Duncan's typography class at the University of Iowa in 1970, I became interested in how books were made, and especially in how the construction of a book, and the presentation of its text, was an expression of the meaning of the medium. Duncan used to say a book is "like a wine glass, with the content the wine."

As with any craft, the spectrum of taste of printers and binders ranges all the way from slavish devotion to tradition, to eccentric experimentation. Duncan's own work tended to be a mixture between the two, but his emphasis was to attend, thoughtfully, to every aspect of the process and the product, leaving as little to chance as possible. 

Harry and I didn't get along well at all. I tended to be in a hurry, while he liked to slow you down. My settings in the press bed were slipshod, because it seemed less important to me to have a perfect layout than a pleasing image. And of course he believed that taking short-cuts would lead to problems, and he was correct. Still, in a single semester course, I managed, in just a few hours in the print lab, to turn out four impressive signatures of a book on very unforgiving thick Japanese paper. 

After I left Iowa in the Fall of 1972, I pursued book publishing, but I didn't follow up on my interest in printing as such. It wasn't until some years later that I thought about letterpress printing and publishing. And by the time I did, in 2005, moveable type had been rendered somewhat obsolete by the new polymer printing process, which involves making a plastic template from a digital image off a computer file--which greatly simplifies the process of creating a matrix of letters or designs for use in a traditional mechanical press. Anything you can put on a computer screen can be translated into a print face.    




There are printers and book binders and designers who see bookmaking, and the things that can be done inside the craft, as more important than content; that is, more important than the ultimate meaning or message of the words or images they (the books) contain. A lot of "fine printing" tends to focus on secondary literature, or reprinting of established texts. Since publishing and moveable type printing split up in the 20th Century, the connection between the material text and the artist or artisan has been severed. In other words, writers nowadays seldom think carefully, or intimately, about the relation between their words or images, and their final form--which has traditionally fallen to "publishers" who control which texts are chosen, and how those texts are presented. 




The idea that an intermediary--a publisher, say--or an agent--or an editor--should interpose himself between an author and his text is certainly not a new relationship. It's so much a commonplace in our time, that people hardly comprehend another way of thinking about publication. But the new computer age has opened up vistas of communication (and "publication") that did not exist before. It's now possible to "publish" a text online. And given the new printing technologies of the digital age, it's possible to make a perfectly suitable paperback book in a matter of hours, if you have the tools and the money. This has pushed the publishing industry further into irrelevance, for while it costs much less to turn out a trade edition of any kind of text than it used to, it's also cheapened and degraded the relationship between the artist/author and his audience. 
  



The other side of this argument, of course, is that individual authors and artists aren't to be "trusted" as arbiters of their own media. And they're discouraged from thinking about that relationship. Most serious authors today are so far divorced from what they think of as the cliché of popular bookmaking, that they hardly give it a second thought. What matters is being represented by a publisher, and having their work distributed and read by more readers. Readers, after all, are who buy the books. Books are commodities, and like much of our materialist culture, have become throwaways--disposable when used once or twice, and dumped into landfills, or pulped for recycling. 



Once a book has been bought, and read, its immediate physical existence--its justification--falls into jeopardy. But can a book only be important for the attraction of its construction, the beauty of its binding and choice of typeface--if its content is not also somehow memorable or useful? Is any writer's or artist's interest in the possibilities of determining the quality and characteristics of their finished work a bonafide aspect of the writing impulse?

Is it possible to restore the artist/writer to a position of control and desire with respect to his text? Is there something wrong with a writer who wishes to make his books not just the receptacles of data, but the very realization of the meaning of his vision? In the larger sense, all print media have tended traditionally to be a collaboration, between those who express through language and image, and those who realize that content through the design of the material text. 

Fine printing is certainly a dying art, but there's no reason to think that writers in the future may not set aside the whole apparatus of "publishers" and distributors and salespeople, and simply set about making their own books, if they are given the opportunity. 

For the vast majority of writers--or illustrators--getting work published usually involves an ambitious campaign of self-promotion, knocking on the doors to the "official culture"--a process which may take years, even for those with considerable talent. Being "ignored" or rejected is the hallmark of most creative composition. Writers who crave an audience, particularly a larger audience, may be seduced into compromising their inspiration by reducing their efforts to popular or trendy formulae. 

Anyone who submits to the reigning bastions of taste and commercial publication, probably deserves to be "disciplined" by prevailing modes of form or subject. It's a capitulation that many regard as a higher ethical standard, than that implied by the confident assertion of an individual vision.    
   



It's also just as likely that the vanity of self-publication will reveal how necessary or convenient the third-party publication process can be. One of the cardinal aspects of media theory is that there is no such thing as an unbiased assertion, that all communication (as in news, particularly, though in all artistic expression as well) is in fact presented from a point of view, or from the assumption of a point of view. It's not always self-evident, but if you scratch and dig a little, even the most accommodating party will, eventually, reveal a piety or a preference that colors what they are saying or doing.  

My disdain at this point in my life for commercial publishers and editors isn't resentment or bad blood, just disinterest. I can no longer imagine someone having the audacity to tell me what I should be writing, or how I should revise or change or reconsider what I am writing, in the interests of other priorities. 

We know that it's possible to write poetry and fiction without having any kind of audience. Emily Dickinson wrote her poems in private, without having the slightest concern or interest in "publication." She didn't need an audience. Writing--for her--wasn't a collaboration or dependency that fed off of the expectation or apprehension of consequence. And there are some--like me--who believe that that independence of mind allowed her to focus on her materials and subject-matter in ways she couldn't otherwise. In other words, her "isolation" allowed her to make her poems without the interposition, or interference of others, or the big Other.




Many writers will say, when pressed, that they actually write for a single person, or group of persons, not the great mass of anonymous potential readers who represent the "public"--whatever that means. In my case, I've seldom if ever thought that writing was a form of intimate or personal address. I write as a pastime, for my own amusement, as a form of personal experiment and play. That's how I first came to dabble in writing, and that's how I still think of it, half a century later. I don't see my "development" as a writer as a process of interaction with an audience. Whenever people have told me about something they've read of mine, it's never given me much positive or negative "feed-back" because they usually understand it differently than I do, or misconstrue something of the intention. In other words, what they think is irrelevant to my own aesthetic mien. 

So nowadays, I enjoy publishing my own poems in books that I plan and design all by myself. If you've never considered "making a book" out of your own writing or artwork, it may seem odd or indulgent. Paper and glue and thread and cloth are pretty dull things to most people. But the history of "literature" is also the history of how things got recorded. In the 20th Century, it became possible to communicate electronically--via amplification, telephone, radio, video, and eventually internet. But the material fact of a book still survives, though perhaps less certainly. 

I like interactive digital communication. This blog is one aspect of that sort of media. But fixing or reposing words in physical print is still, today, as much about our interaction with the material text as it ever was. Electronic memory or "storage" is an ephemeral realm, dependent upon the custodians of data banks. For my part, I don't trust those folks to preserve anything I've written "online" longer than it suits their financial interest(s). "Technology" isn't a kind god; she's a jealous creature whose priorities aren't ours.

My latest experiment in self-publication is a collection of "poems" I've written, off and on, over the last 35 years or so. I stopped writing for about 25 years, while I labored in bureaucracy to make a living. When that ended, in retirement, I came back to writing. The book isn't in any sense an account of those lost years. It's the record of my reawakening to the pleasure of writing. 

If you don't enjoy writing, you probably shouldn't be doing it. I can still remember how difficult and unpleasant just writing a letter seemed when I was a boy of five or six. It took a while for me to discover the relationship between myself and the printed page, but once I did, I was hooked.

Each copy of Duration: Poems 1978-2015 cost me almost $200 in materials and labor, to produce (print and bind). You could call it a "labor of love" though what love has to do with it, I don't know. It's just something I enjoy doing. If someone "gets something" out of the text, that's fine with me. If they don't, that's fine too. As I've said, what people think of it is of little real importance to me. That's not why I write and publish. 


Monday, January 9, 2017

Fellow-Travelers On the Road [Part Two]


[Continued]

Watten: "Adams was an ideal photographer to represent the university's view of itself. As a world-renowned Modernist . . . he brought together in his work modern technology and sublime grandeur . . . . As anchor of this sublimity, the Campanile takes a prominent place in his iconography. The symbolic order it represents is distributed everywhere in Adams's system of representation; the archive reveals his repeated efforts to foreground and frame it as a controlling icon. This . . . in turn, offers a paradigm for Adams's construction of relations of equivalence between the elements of the discourse of the university, beginning with the literal construction of the campus . . . ." 

In the first place, Adams could not by any stretch of logic be described as a "Modernist." His work began in the tradition of, and continued to embody, throughout his career, the pictorial landscape values of the 19th Century. He never questioned the analytical or aesthetic implications of that program. Indeed, his first portfolio--Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras--includes so-called "soft focus" images which had been popular at the turn of the century. In his eyes, natural wonders--symbolic signposts of a secular pantheistic tapestry, designating parks as jewels in the crown--became the means to project the preservationist's agenda into the popular realm. Adams never questioned the basic claim of photography as the means of the presentation of actual reality. He rejected any manipulation or alteration of the image which did not enhance the original conception as seen with the naked eye. Adams is wholly pre-Modernist in his sensibility and in his work.    

Secondly, Sather Tower (aka: the Campanile), which was constructed in 1914, as a part of campus architect John Galen Howard's Beaux Arts Master Plan, was specifically and deliberately designed to occupy the central visual key to the university, visible from everywhere. Based on European models--the Venice tower comes immediately to mind--it stands as a monument to the aesthetic mode of the time of its conception, and as an image of the optimism and progressive spirit of American liberal education. To suggest that Adams sought--either consciously, or unconsciously--to emphasize it as an over-mastering iconic symbol of repression and a decadent corruption of the administration, is sheer nonsense. What fool would think that deliberately excluding images of the tower would somehow have been a more politically correct choice? And for that matter, the tower's original purpose wasn't as an icon of power. Anyone choosing to view it that way, particularly in hindsight, is engaging in an egregiously cheap form of gratuitous bias. 

But why not?

Turning his attention to the faculty portraits--"in each of these rigid and codified poses, the inventor himself (always male) is an empty, nearly anonymous cipher, while the given invention . . . offers a promise of fulfillment. . . . The transformative potential of the most sublime orders known to man is disclosed--as with the Berkeley research that participated in the development of nuclear weapons at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory . . . as seen in Adams' images of the first diminutive cyclotron . . . This sublime potential . . . a threat of total annihilation in the name of science and rationality . . . by means of logics of equivalence . . . throughout the system." 

All this analytical presumption seems beside the point. In choosing to include the university's scientific facilities as a pertinent sphere of its research mission, Adams was certainly not attempting to portray the administration's underlying power structure, as Watten states. It would be just as false for Adams to have pretended that scientific research wasn't important, by not portraying it at all, as it would have been to show a photo, for instance, of an atomic detonation. Documentary photography can swing both ways, depending upon your point of view. In any case, it wasn't Adams' mission to present a philosophical criticism of the university on its centennial, as Watten seems to demand.

Watten goes on to include the usual suspects--" . . . not only is gender rigidly ordered . . . Other outsides of the system include minorities, as scarce as quark particles in the cloud chamber of Adams' oeuvre . . . Asian Americans . . African Americans . . . and Hispanics . . . [and] Native American[s] . . . ." Again, given the context of the historical moment, it's hard to imagine what Adams ought to have done, in retrospect, given the obvious mandate of his commission. If, for instance, he had been queued to the motions of "diversity" so prevalent in our own time, he might, instead of taking a photograph of Department of English Chairman James Hart, have chosen to photograph Josephine Miles, another professor in the same department, whose wheelchair condition could, signally killing two birds with one stone, have qualified for both gender and disability as the politically correct "coded" references of which Watten could, fifty years later, approve. But then, Adams wasn't a photographer in the mold of W. Eugene Smith (Minamata) or Paul Strand or Dorothea Lange; he wasn't hired to portray the university in a critical light, a fact which Watten seems unable to grasp. 

"As a visual endorsement of Enlightenment rationality, it is doubly remarkable that this document was created, after the Free Speech Movement . . . Adams is hard pressed to account for the historical moment . . . It occurred during the 1966 Charter Day ceremony . . . [in which] a well-organized student group provided the students with picket signs [against the war in Vietnam] . . . " which are clearly evident in Adams' photos of the crowd. Ironically, Watten sees hypocrisy in the photo, which Adams included, as if the decision to include it, involved a compromised failure, and was evidence of the ambiguity of the project. But if Adams had chosen not to include it, then we would not even have had it to consider in the first place. Indeed, if Adams had chosen to exclude it, might that not have been evidence of the very corruption Watten insists the photo signifies in the first place? Finally, though the archive itself is exhaustive, no attempt is made in Watten's criticism to distinguish between the vast archive file, and the images that were actually published in the book. 

Watten's attempt to associate his undergraduate self--and later his associates in the Language School activities in subsequent decades--with the era of student dissent at Berkeley in the 1960's--is an amusing maneuver. Watten himself was never an active protestor, and in fact was a science major during that period. In a discussion we had during the 1970's, he was adamant in insisting that participation in political demonstrations and activities was a futile and pointless choice. During the 1960's, I had had friends in the student radical movement. When I went to work for the U.S. Government, I discovered that the FBI had developed a fat file on my movements and activities during the 1960's. When I reported this to Watten, he was angered and frightened, worried that his association with me might have compromised his own non-participatory, officially a-political stance. His first concern was for his own reputation, and his image. "You keep my name out of that shit!"  

There is nothing in the writing of the Language School participants to suggest that its "poetics" should be seen as a politically correct program. From Watten's point of view, it makes sense for him to regard himself, in retrospect, as an early messenger of Left political points of view. It's a way of polishing his legacy reputation, and that of his associates, to accord with current politically correct attitudes. Their poems are relatively free of political referents, primarily because they eschew the kind of timely dialectics which require clear stands, that fade and date with time--names and places and events that determine real outcomes. 

Watten can put down Ansel Adams--that's just shooting fish in a barrel--because it provides an historically convenient symbolic document for his argument. Indeed, I myself have put Adams down for aesthetic reasons, which have little or anything to do with his politics, which Watten deliberately ignores in favor of easy, and clearly unjustified character assassination. Fiat Lux is, on the whole, a quotidian archive almost completely denatured of political content, primarily because Adams himself wasn't a critic of the university, but it's also worth pointing out the context of the commission itself, which had nothing whatever to do with the student protest movement, or with Watten's preferred point of view, fifty years later. 

If Watten's goal is to privilege "transparent rationality" in institutions of higher learning, he might begin by engaging with current politically correct activities and attitudes on present-day American campuses, where freedom of thought and expression seem as much in jeopardy today, as at any time in the last century. In the 1930's, "fellow traveler" was a derogatory term used to criticize those who shared political beliefs with identified radicals. Today, there's a whole generation of American academics--of whom Watten is one--who flirt with socialism (in its various guises) but who never risk anything that might jeopardize their tenures and pensions. It's a kind of dishonesty that sees harmless (fake) association as a convenient cheap badge of honor. It's just chicken-shit behavior. 

But why not? 






Fellow-Travelers On the Road [Part One]


Why not.

Barrett Watten's new book Questions of Poetics. Language Writing and Consequences has just appeared from University of Iowa Press [Iowa City: 2016]. Its overall intention, by my reading, is to reaffirm and consolidate the legacy of the soi-disant "Language Poetry School" and its members, in an ongoing campaign for its literary valorization. 

In the course of this long-winded account, Watten takes on Ansel Adams' Fiat Lux: The University of California portfolio [New York: McGraw-Hill Books, 1967]--  





--a commercial project the famous photographer undertook near the end of his career. The project, which was begun just months after the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 1964-65, provides Watten with a proximal contextual marker, seeing Adams, and the Fiat Lux project, as a conscious instrument (and symptom) of the monolithic power structure of the post-war American UC system, against which the subsequent resistant student protests, and later aesthetic movements (i.e., the Language Poetry movement) are posed. 

Watten has strayed a little outside his comfortable area of expertise. But why not? Adams is an easy target. 

As a serious large format photographer, I know a good deal more about the contexts and meaning of Adams' life and work than Watten does, and I find his analysis wanting in several respects. 

Since his death, Adams has been an easy target of photography's critics, and for obvious reasons. Originally, he had wanted to be a professional classical pianist, but gave this up in favor of photography in his twenties. His early associations were with Yosemite Valley, where he lived and worked for several years, which led directly to his involvement in the landscape preservation movement (Sierra Club). His aesthetic inspirations are all to be found in his appreciation of wildness, of nature's grandeur and persuasive beauty, and his fame rests primarily on his nature images, which portray natural wonders in an heroic style, unencumbered with abstract theory or problematic distractions. Unlike Stieglitz, or Strand, or Edward Weston--who sought deeper levels of revelation in their work--Adams saw photography primarily as a craft. Indeed, his researches into the chemistry and technology of image-making, which include the Zone System of light measurement (which he pioneered), enabled him to focus on the precision and clarity of imaging (see F64). Though his reputation in retrospect came be be seen as primarily preservationist and naturist, he took commercial work of all kinds in his career. Adams's politics were centered around the preservationist aesthetic, both as a key figure in the Sierra Club, and as a promoter of (photographic) visions of the unspoiled American West. Indeed, if anything, Adams' stance against conservative figures such as President Reagan, specifically on environmental issues, would place him well left of center on the political spectrum. Later critics have seen in Adams' "superficial" celebration of landscape values a hypocrisy about the ultimate realities of modern industrial exploitation of the ecosphere, as if he ought to have understood that the real work lay in exposing pollution and the ugliness of chaotic human development, a task which has fallen to later generations of serious photographers.

Though it is true that his images do not embody the ironies and problems of modern urban and suburban developments, of factories and clear-cuts and cesspools and smokestacks, no one worked harder for preservation values than Adams.    

But why not? Who cares if we bring Adams down another notch or two on the aesthetic scale?

Adams would have seen the University of California Fiat Lux commission as an opportunity to celebrate the optimistic spirit of public education and scientific research, not as the expression of a repressive, capitalistic, militaristic power structure. Adams would see buildings and trees and plazas in the same way he would see mountains and lakes and landscapes. What would you expect him to have done--use the commission to pillory the university system as the evil monolith of Yankee Imperialism?  

The Fiat Lux commission is described by the UC System's permanent art collections: "Besides his personal work as a nature photographer--his art--Ansel Adams took commercial assignments in order to support himself. Among these was a commission from the University of California to produce a book celebrating its centennial in 1968. The subject was the nine campuses that then comprised the UC system--and the book's title was UC's motto, Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light)." The full archive of images can be viewed online here. "The project also enlarges our sense of Adams' career by showing us not only the talent he had for genres other than nature photography, such as portraiture, but also the ways in which he adapted his landscape aesthetic to the subject of the UC's campuses and agricultural stations."   

Watten: "These photographs provide a record of the university's image of itself as it was before the cultural changes begun by the FSM ['Free Speech Movement'] , and as such they stand as a record of what the student movement saw itself as opposing, even as it assumed many of its values. They give, as well, accurate evidence of the historical constructedness of purported universals: the sedimentary thickness of all claims to the transparency of knowledge represented by the university." As evidence for this "sedimentary thickness" Watten emphasizes Adams' foregrounding of the Campanile as the towering symbolic representation of the oppressive atmosphere of the university administration and the opaque "universal knowledge" it purports to represent. Hedging his bet ("even as it [the student movement(s)] assumed many of its [the University's] values"), there is a pertinent irony in the meaning of those very values. So why not? Can't we have it both ways?  

End Part I

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Correct Grammar Matters


RESOLVED IN 2017

Not to use any of the following conversational phrases or  constructions in speech:


. . . any time soon . . .

meaningless phrase that signifies no duration whatever

. . . in regards to . . .

wrong usage - should be regard  

That said . . . 

pointless overused transitional phrase which has virtually no meaning

. . . which I said that . . .

improper use of the relative pronoun 

. . . too big (of) a . . . 

unnecessary preposition

. . . be it . . . 

crude misuse of the participle  

I feel (like) . . . 

you don't feel like, you feel that

**********************************

Want to be stupid? Ungrammatical? 

No?

Then pay attention to what you say. Bad language is like a virus, which spreads as fast as the common cold, infecting each person who carelessly allows it to enter his/her speech. 

It takes some vigilance. You have to want to avoid bad habits. You have to believe in accuracy and clarity as goals of communication.

Good speech matters. 

You could look it up.  

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Trump's New Transparency - Politics in the Age of Trivial Spin






As a child of the 1950's (I was born in 1947, near the beginning of the baby boom), the predominant "social media" device was the telephone. People then would stay in touch by phoning, or writing letters, or perhaps sending telegrams (what an old conduit that now seems!) to each other. Early "walkie-talkies" or (later) CB radios enabled people to talk without land-line hookups, but those weren't things most people used, or had access to. In my generation, the telephone became a focus of interaction among teenagers, who weren't always allowed to meet or associate in person, so were relegated to connecting via the family 'phone. I was a somewhat atypical teenager, and didn't begin having phone conversations with friends until the last year of high school. Long, avid telephone conversations were something that girls mostly did, though they were the crucial conduit for boys who wanted to engage with, or seduce, specific members of the opposite sex. I was born without charm, and I had almost no appetite for small talk, so regarding the telephone as an essential, indispensable tool of my life never really occurred to me. When I finally did begin to communicate with other kids, it was usually to discuss ideas, not to compare notes about the social milieu. In that respect, as in other ways, I was a nonconformist, and I would then have rejected the idea that my curiosity, or my desire to be in contact with others of my own generation, was a priority. I rejected all notions of "teenage" behavior, because that would have been an admission that my significance as a person existed within a kind of limbo, neither excusable and "cute" as in childhood, nor burdened with the necessities and responsibilities of full adult-hood. Being dismissed as "teenaged" behavior meant that your actions, your ideas, your feelings, were somehow irrelevant--and that seemed entirely objectionable as a status. 

With the coming of the computer revolution, and the advent of the cell-phone era, we've entered successive plateaus of interactivity which have transformed our culture, especially the so-called "youth culture" (the old "teenage" culture). When I was an adolescent, boys and girls might be preoccupied with talking to each other on the phone, sometimes for hours at a time. This was regarded, at worst, as a kind of bad habit. How much trouble could you get into by talking on a telephone? It might be a waste of time, or an unjustified expense of a high(er) phone bill, but mostly it was a diversion from chores, homework, exercise, or just living in unconnected reality. 




 


Every generation regards technological progress with some degree of apprehension, even alarm. It's often a knee-jerk reaction to simple change, as if just preserving the status quo were an inherently desirable goal. When personal computers first hit the scene, I was dead-set against our buying one, since I suspected that our son would immediately become infected by the attraction of computer games--a fear that was eventually confirmed. In the end, though, I was the one who would in due course be most dependent upon the new gadget, while the younger generation were moving on from computers to hand-held and cell-phones. 

I was a late comer to blogging, coming in just at the tail end of "list-serve" and "chat-groups" period, but once I got a taste for it, I crashed the new party, posting and commenting with abandon. Clearly, kids talking on the phone the way they did in the 1950's isn't equivalent to people talking on their cell phones today. What is the difference, and what can we tell about that difference? 

Today, no matter where you go, or what you are doing, you are surrounded by people monkeying with their cell/hand-held computers. Whether it's business, or pleasure, or sheer bored diversion, people are constantly calling and receiving calls and browsing hyperspace.  

During the early days of blogging, much of the contact consisted of postings, brief essays, commentary, and e.mail. E.mail basically eliminated the need for most telephone exchanges, as well as snail-mail. Both cell phone use, and the new "social media" online sites, are both expansions of e.mail and telephonic exchange, as well as a new kind of group interactive forum. 

What I like about blogging is the freedom to write at length, to develop thought, to conduct real discussions with others. While blogging fed the desire for serious interaction, it may have seemed slow and lugubrious, especially to younger people. The makers of computer devices saw that the new horizon was portability and convenience, freeing people from their land-locked computer units, as well as the old land-line phones. They saw that exploiting the urge to conduct quick, low-density content messages could open up vistas of commerce--hence Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the now notorious online forums. 

This has had the effect of seducing people away from more demanding (and unlimited) media, namely blogging and e.mail, to progressively quicker and briefer levels of exchange. It's inconvenient to type more than a few words in a social media stream, especially since one can't address a keyboard with all your fingers in play. I've seen people who've mastered the "thumb" technique, and can type words almost as fast as I can on a traditional keyboard. Is touch typing a thing of the past? Will traditional QWERTY keyboards someday become obsolete? 

What's the next plateau of communication going to look like? We can now call people, send recorded messages, instant e.mails, and group posts on forums. Will the next generation begin to conduct communications with robots? 

My primary gripe against all this low content exchange is that it encourages people to think primarily in abbreviation, as if the only thoughts or opinions that mattered were those that could be summarized in 50 words or less. Our new President elect Donald Trump is a child of our age, who uses Twitter to make statements and comment on the affairs of the day. One senses a connection between the triviality of his grasp of current affairs, and the media limitations that have grown up around us. We've created a generation of people who think that all the world's problems and issues can be addressed peremptorily, with little research. Also, that understanding the meaning and significance of complex matters doesn't require careful, considered research and consideration; that we can form coherent thought and make progress solving involved disputes and difficult situations, simply by making momentary pronouncements. 

We're being told that the new President-elect is a new kind of politician, one who lunges and lurches from distraction to preoccupation, unpredictably and irrationally, blurting out sudden statements and "tweets" impulsively, without thinking before-hand what the consequences might be. 

We've come to think that social media--which allows people to cohere briefly around a certain point of view--has a political meaning and impact that far outweighs its actual meaningful content. Just because a high office-holder can issue a momentary verbal salvo into hyperspace, doesn't suggest that his views are any more informed or considered than anyone else's. 

It used to be that holders of high political office had superior access to information, that their offices were clearing-houses of data and exchange that enabled them to form policy and position the rest of us couldn't. In the case of Trump, it's as if he no longer thinks he needs to consider the background or history of a problem, that an impulsive reaction has as much legitimacy as decisions tempered by advice and research. It's not just that Trump seems unable to understand the world--he actually seems to think it doesn't matter, that action--even on the national and international level--can be conducted by amateurs, that power itself somehow legitimates bold, impulsive decision-making, uninformed by facts or information.  

This is an entirely new stage in the development of political life. It's as if democratic office-holders now feel they have the freedom once relegated to dictatorship--that of acting without ordinary curbs and checks, like a child moving little lead soldiers on a battlefield board-table. It's unsettling to think that our new President may feel he can decide to go to war one morning by simply announcing his decision on Twitter, leaving his beleaguered subordinates to "work out the details" by lunchtime. 

Most astonishing of all, it may be that people now accept that as a given means of action and communication, that American Presidents can conduct business in full view of the world, without prior restraints or inhibitions. A sort of wizard of tweet tinkering with the future of the planet as if it were a board game.