Post Trump-election thoughts (Wish I could say post-Trump!)

 

Ok, this is beyond the obvious armageddon thoughts, disownment of the homeland, wishes that –once again, like after the blood-on-his-hands second Bush Jr. election –“Blue America” could just separate itself.

These are just disordered thoughts before I forget them.

“Love Trumps Hate” was kind of a stupid campaign slogan. Of all the qualities Hillary was bringing to the table, who was she kidding with that pitch? So it was a little clever in an obvious, rather unclever way. All you need is love? Please. She could have chosen something tougher, more political-intention driven, like maybe fighting for the working-class at home while maintaining America’s status as a world leader abroad. This was especially inept in view of the kind of voters she needed to bring aboard.

She sunk to Trump’s reality-tv emotional level of appeals. She moved to his terrain from hers, which should have been the relevant one –of policy, leadership and governing.

Adding to her tone-deafness in the final run, parading around with and pop-culture celebs, she set herself firmly on the wrong, the Hollywood, side of the traditional “culture” divide separating dems and repubs. She undoubtedly sent fence-straddlers scurrying to their usual side with the rappers, etc., who don’t seem to represent her very finely anyway.

It”s easy in retrospect to see this as part of a misguided strategy (and what of Hillary’s campaign wasn’t cold stratagem?). Her campaign clearly decided she already had the numbers to win, as long as those numbers got out and actually voted. So she swerved to her base. Allying herself with Beyonce and Lebron felt no less inauthentic than the version of her campaign self during the 2008 democratic primaries when she was slugging back boilermakers and boasting about shooting guns as a little country girl.

That line would probably have served her much better this time round.

I also knew something was amiss when she brought the former Miss America with her for her Florida end run. I mean, a politically-disinterested someone who long ago received some unkind comments from her opponent? Are we gonna have some kind of women’s-tv commiseration fest? I remember thinking “is that all you got?” Is that supposed to lure center-leaning white men who might have a problem with Trump’s flagrant disregard for truth telling and total lack of presidential temperament and preparedness?

Easy to say in retrospect that Hillary was particularly ill suited to run in a year where voters were fed up with the system and its makers. (Though we may never know how much was that compared to straight [no pun] tribalism and bigotry.)

The polling was off. Again, hard to say how much was respondents embarrassed to admit they were voting for Trump versus pollsters underestimating the continued momentum from the FBI’s intervention. It was wishful thinking that the downward spiral had  levelled off. A couple thoughts on that  game changer: First, innuendo works –more even than recorded evidence, like in the many cases of Trump. Second, retractions are less newsworthy or influential. Hard, I guess, to unsee or unhear. Third, isn’t it strange we should even talk about momentum guiding serious decisions like these, and why should that particular “momentum” extend to down-ballot candidates totally uninvolved?

Some of us were deluding ourselves, thinking that after voting day Trump & his support would be a historical footnote, a little blip, a last gasp of old ignorance and prejudice in an otherwise uplifting trajectory of electing our first black president and then our first woman. The relevance of the Trumpist tempest shouldn’t depend on one or two percentage points though. The consequences for sure, but not what it says about who we are. And however you want to slice it, this wasn’t just a few old, angry and poor white men. In an election apparently all about demographics, he also got a majority of white men earning over fifty grand a year. That hardly strikes me as destitute.

In this (mushroom?) cloud, silver linings hardly abound. But maybe, since there’s no sign Trump cares about anything or anyone besides himself, he’ll not bother to follow through on his campaign rhetoric. Maybe he’ll shed his dipping-bullets-in-pig-blood tough guy shtick and revert to his soft playboy self now that he’s sated himself by winning –which was presumably all he ever wanted. Reagan, the last tv-movie blowhard elected president, never followed through on his tough rhetoric against the “evil empire,” never started WWIII and actually became buddies w/ Gorbachov.

If any of Trump’s upcoming legal problems lead to his impeachment, we’ll at least have the more seemingly stable and sane hands of Pence. But would we truly rather have a right-wing ideologue than an amoral narcissist? He would probably be less likely to start a nuclear war out of spite or irritation, to capriciously end decades-long treaties and alliances, but perhaps more dangerous to long-term alignment, particularly at the judicial level. Pence would likely be much more effective in ferreting out fundamentalist-conservative justices ready to attack Roe vs Wade and generally push a radical right-wing agenda. Trump, on the other hand, would probably pay less attention –and feel less bound –to any lip service he gave the religious right, maybe selecting someone who turns into a mild surprise, like David Souter.

Living abroad, this serves as a good example of the difference between being embarrassed and ashamed. I can’t be ashamed of something I didn’t do. But I sure am embarrassed. Not only because just months ago I was assuring students there was no way such a man could carry a national election, going on as I did about how radical bases are catered to during primaries but national elections get won in the center. Whoops. Hillary probably should have moved there anyway.

Oh, and about Hillary’s so-called scandals: why is no one talking about Colin Powell doing the same with his emails? And he was the only other Secretary of State to use email. No one has claimed she even did any harm. The Clinton Foundation: Yes, the couple has hobnobbed w/ big money people over the years in a way I’m a little uncomfortable with. But I haven’t heard the foundation’s money was ever used for anything other than truly philanthropic good throughout the world. So what if they used their personal influence to generate money to feed and clothe the needy. And contrast that to Trump’s illegally classified “foundation” whose money he only uses on himself.

Finally, the electoral college system bites. Californians and New Yorkers know their votes hardly matter. Shouldn’t every citizen’s vote be counted equally? Thought we’d learned from the Gore/Bush fiasco. System needs to be changed.

Plenty more to be said, but let’s do it in the comments below. Rage freely.

Site Intro

Welcome to LanguageEtc! This site deals with language & language teaching/learning, plus some random stuff.

I’ll offer resources for learners & teachers, using mostly English but with some Spanish and special attention to false friends between the two.

Comments are welcome in English or Spanish. (Sorry I ask for your email before commenting. It’s meant to keep spam down, as I was having a problem with that.)

Enjoy and thanks for visiting!

Jon

Forked Speech

Capture

Acclaimed author Javier Marías found plenty of agreement last spring with his opinion piece attacking Madrid’s educational system for offering Natural Science in English. (the column, in Spanish)  Cyberspace and real space buzzed –blazed even –with assenting voices following its publication in El País, just a week before local elections. I know this because Madrid is where I live, and my work here happens to include training teachers of Natural Science in English.

The syncophony (no, the word doesn’t exist) echoed from many respectable corners. This surprised me because the article presents its case without any evidence, or even reasoned argumentation. In fact it strays so far from the tenets of effective persuasive writing that I’m tempted to stick it in the Teaching Writing section [here] as an example of what not to do. It’s all heat no light.

It follows then that many readers came to it with already set opinions about Spain’s bilingual programs. The experiences Continue reading

False friends: Law and unrest

Crime includes shoplifting and even littering, not only murder

Artifact is not the usual word for a bomb.

Organizing a riot, scandal, etc. sounds about as undoable as controlling time, as they’re usually pretty chaotic.

Homicide is the department that investigates murder. Manslaughter (soon to be personslaughter?) is something else. And don’t even ask me to translate nocturnindad.

Chicken Flight (Gapped)

Messing with my students’ heads, [1]_________ it real or [2]_________ it is you’d [3]_________ what I do, I asked classes the following question:

Which of the 5 senses is the greatest threat/enemy to the illusion of time?

The answer, of course, is smell.

It hit me when I was walking [4]_________ Bravo Murillo one night and listening to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse 5 on the Ipod. In the (audio) book, the author seems to milk the metaphor of memory as time travel enough to warrant the category of science fiction. To be [5]________ , he does throw [6]_________ some flying saucers and aliens, though sparsely. Vonnegut, like Frank McCourt and many other writers, puts a high premium on personal experience —on memory —as fodder for fiction. It’s a good way to steer [7]_________ of the great common mound of cliché and rehash, if nothing [8]_________ .

And there is a time travel element to remembering, to be [9]________ . So it was [10]_________ of ironic that it hit me while I was mentally traveling along that particular narrative. My feet, [11]________ , were carrying me toward a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which had won [12]_________ amid several roughly equidistant competitors in a complex calculus of taste, price, healthiness (imagine the competition!) and portability (Metro eating, ideally).

The thing is, I’m walking and listening, minding my own business on a crowded Madrid street, when I must have caught a tiny [13]_________ of that KFC chicken. Instantly, [14]_________ before registering the smell, I was rocketed back to Shattuck and Virginia, in Berkeley, at the age of 8 or 9 –maybe even earlier –and to the KFC that [15]_________ to be there. Though the space/time dimension of this teleportation was keen, overriding it was another feeling. Or rather a feelings mix. All [16]_________ the same micro instant came a layering of feelings from several visits to that KFC, from many times and thus from no particular time. Continue reading

Chicken Flight

Messing with my students’ heads, keeping it real or whatever it is you’d call what I do, I asked classes the following question:

Which of the 5 senses is the greatest threat/enemy to the illusion of time?

The answer, of course, is smell.

It hit me when I was walking down Bravo Murillo one night and listening to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse 5 on the Ipod. In the (audio) book, the author seems to milk the metaphor of memory as time travel enough to warrant the category of science fiction. To be fair, he does throw in some flying saucers and aliens, though sparsely. Vonnegut, like Frank McCourt and many other writers, puts a high premimum on personal experience —on memory —as fodder for fiction. It’s a good way to steer clear of the great common mound of cliché and rehash, if nothing else.

And there is a time travel element to remembering, to be sure. So it was kind of ironic that it hit me while I was mentally traveling along that particular narrative. My feet, meanwhile, were carrying me toward a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which had won out amid several roughly equidistant competitors in a complex calculus of taste, price, healthiness (imagine the competition!) and portability (Metro eating, ideally).

The thing is, I’m walking and listening, minding my own business on a crowded Madrid street, when I must have caught a tiny whiff of that KFC chicken. Instantly, even before registering the smell, I was rocketed back to Shattuck and Virginia, in Berkeley, at the age of 8 or 9 –maybe even earlier –and to the KFC that used to be there. Though the space/time dimension of this teleportation was keen, overriding it was another feeling. Or rather a feelings mix. All in the same micro instant came a layering of feelings from several visits to that KFC, from many times and thus from no particular time. Continue reading

The Virtue of an Open Mind

Growing up in Berkeley in the 60s & 70s, a with-it young dude could hardly point to a more laudable trait than open-mindedness. It was as if all the previous generation (hip oldsters excepted) and their occasional brainwashed offspring had to do was shrug off the square traditions and prejudices that were the root of all evil, and everything would be possible: utopia, the Garden regained, the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to overstate the power of that open/closed-minded dichotomy, maybe the closest we came to a good vs. evil worldview. As a teen I lofted it up, or back, a couple of generations for consideration. My Kentucky grandmother exclaimed “Your mind is so open, sometimes I worry it’s gonna fall right out!”

I took that as a compliment, as far as I could grasp its metaphorical logic, or, if you will, get my mind around it. I later put it to my step-grandfather on the other side in some context like how good or important it was to find, perhaps at the university, equally open-minded friends. This had probably come to me as a sort of obvious litmus test. Jo, a conservative Republican whose past had led him from a Polish palatial childhood to a professional life in the biology lab, replied that as he saw it the real friends one found were not open-minded, but close-minded in the same way as you.

That sounded wrong, very even, at the time, as I took it to mean a kind of ideological partner in crime, someone sharing the same messed-up prejudices. Reflecting now though, I wonder if he wasn’t onto something.

After all, who is the most open-minded among us? Babies, certainly. But knowledge and experience gradually encroach upon that openness, and who would have it any other way?

Judgmentality gets a bad rap, while judgment is wisdom, just as we may seek to retain some child-like freshness without being childish. To what extent does glorifying open-mindedness amount to exalting intellectual immaturity, a kind of ignorance is bliss bs? To regain the garden then, but knowing what’s what.

The Virtue of an Open Mind (Gapped)

Growing up in Berkeley in the 60s & 70s, a with-it young dude could hardly point ______ a more laudable trait than open-mindedness. It was as if all the previous generation (hip oldsters excepted) and their occasional brainwashed offspring ______ to do was shrug off the square traditions and prejudices that were the ______ of all evil, and everything would be possible: utopia, the Garden regained, the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to overstate the power of that open/closed-minded dichotomy, maybe the closest we came to a good vs. evil worldview. As a teen I lofted it ______, or back, a couple of generations for consideration. My Kentucky grandmother exclaimed “Your mind is so open, sometimes I worry it’s gonna fall right out!”

I ______ that as a compliment, as far as I could grasp its metaphorical logic, or, if you will, get my mind around it. I later put it to my step-grandfather on the other side in some context like how good or important it was to find, perhaps at the university, equally open-minded friends. This had probably come to me as a sort of obvious litmus test. Jo, a conservative Republican whose past had led him from a Polish palatial childhood to a professional life in the biology lab, replied that ______ he saw it the real friends one found were not open-minded, ______ close-minded in the same way as you.

That sounded wrong, very even, ______ the time, as I took it to mean a kind of ideological partner in crime, someone sharing the same messed-up prejudices. Reflecting now though, I wonder if he wasn’t onto something.

After all, who is the most open-minded ______ us? Babies, certainly. But knowledge and experience gradually encroach ______ that openness, and who would have it any other way?

Judgmentality gets a bad rap, while judgment is wisdom, just as we may seek to retain some child-like freshness without being childish. To what ______ does glorifying open-mindedness amount ______ exalting intellectual immaturity, a kind of ignorance is bliss bs? To regain the garden then, but knowing what’s what.

Longer False Friends Intro

Learning a language is no small thing. Doing it well amounts to no less than partitioning your hard disk (coconut?) and installing a new operating system there.

This is less apparent to the beginning learner, but becomes more evident over time in what is a never-ending, never completely achieved process. I’m speaking from experience here, as someone who, after decades, has acquired a serviceable and fast Spanish (I guess this shouldn’t be countable, in English. I’ll try to get something up on countable/uncountable, maybe under concept division), if not a rich and beautiful one. I think that for people learning their first foreign language and moving into it from the frame of a firmly embedded mother tongue there is a tendency to assume the new language is essentially the same as the old one, simply with different graphic and phonetic signs following a slightly different syntax. The feeling is that all thoughts and ideas are perfectly translatable. At this stage one may well conceive of communication as the transmission of universally human propositions like this steak is too well done (though not demasiado bien hecho —we Spanish learners [I’ll try to make a note somewhere including yourself in utterances like Los profesores tenemos] have plenty of false friend problems too!), the table is downstairs or I like octopus. Indeed, this viewpoint has its psychological value, keeping the task manageable and easing the transition.

Exceptions to this framework are perceived initially as curious anomalies, bits of exotica. Like the Uno de enero song, ¡San Fermín!, or raining cats and dogs (section on proverbs and idioms coming soon), or for a German learner saying the equivalent of please when one means thanks.

This illusion breaks down as one internalizes the language more and more. An apter metaphor would be that of a dancer, say Flamenco or square, going to Africa to learn some tribal dance. Really feeling the desire to express please, I have to assume, when one feels thankful, is quite another matter.

By talking about false friends I intend to take what was already a metaphor and extend it further, so that its purview becomes anything –not only single words but grammar, culture or whatever else –that presents particular difficulties in moving from one language system to the other.

False Friends Intro

False Friends, for me, has come to mean basically anything that creates translational interference when shuttling between Spanish and English (for example), not just the standard definition of false cognates. The good news is that between these two languages there are many true friends, but of course that’s where the problems starts. What’s the Spanish expression about trust (confianza, in this case) leading to problems? (It’s actually closer to generating disgust, isn’t it?). Anyway, I’ve tried to break the false friends down by category and serve them up in bite-sized posts. Enjoy.  :)

False Friends: Oft Confused Time expressions

In the (not this) moment is a good place to be, a la carpe diem, but if you just mean now (which in English means now, not in a few minutes or a few minutes ago) you probably mean at the moment.

Soon/early (both translate as pronto): Potentially tricky concept division here. Soon is generally in reference to now, while early usually means before an understood or arranged time. I’ll get it done soon would mean that you won’t have to wait long, but you talk about being early for an appointment/date (not exactly the same thing) /class/interview, etc. If you get up early (Sorry, no single-word equivielnt for madrugar), it means compared to normal or what one would assume (not asumir) to be normal. Continue reading

False Friends: Bureaucracy (competent organisms?)

In the USA, the Internal Revenue Service is who you file your taxes (not make the declaration) with. Whether or not (those last two words are pleonastic, but I like them here) they are a competent organism depends entirely on (not of) your opinion. And it would be strange if they were called the Ranch and the official program for preparing your taxes (not the rent) were called Father.

You don’t discount things on your tax forms, but you can deduct them.

Rest is what you do after you get your taxes in. It doesn’t mean subtract.

Dreams, Pipedreams & Daydreams

or Growing up & Growing Old

Gotta love the lyrics on the Allman Bros’ classic Dreams, off their 1st album:

 Sometimes I hunger

for the dreams

I’ll never see

Who can’t relate (FF alert!) to that? And how cool a verb is hunger?

Then there’s the powerful line In Clint Eastwood’s late-era Oscar-winning Western The Unforgiven. When explaining to the young wannabe gunslinger that killing actually is a big deal, the seasoned Eastwood says something like: “When you take a man’s life, you take away all his dreams.”

Now it strikes me that there are different types of dreams, as everyone knows and as my title here suggests. Beyond the obvious awake/unconscious dichotomy, a line can be drawn between aspirational dreams and other ones. By aspirational, I mean those that we aspire to fulfill or reach —our goals, ambitions, etc. Daydreams, meanwhile, have the rap of mere free-time fillers, while pipedreams are daydreams mistaken for aspirational ones.

I’d like to see if this breakdown holds together once we break it down, however. Aspirational dreams are clearly definitional when it comes to humans. Art, technology, organized society itself can only germinate and have germinated from dream seeds. Indeed, the root of aspirational, like inspire and expire, has to do with breathing, with life itself.

But who’s to say that those other kinds of dreams are less life-sustaining? Can a person without a rich fantasy life be said to have a rich life at all? How can we discount the power of early fantasies in the later organization of one’s life, in terms of love, work and the rest? How many inventions originally spawn in the fertile clouds of daydreams? How few, or depressingly few if you prefer, of our aspirational dreams actually come to fruition as we grow old(er)? And does that lack of eventual reality (real eventuality?) make them any less life-sustaining? I’d say not, hence the power in the lines from The Unforgiven and Dreams.

Intro Ditties

Many of these ditties were originally used as dictated gapfills for my students. Some, like Dreams, turned out to be nearly impossible, even for the most advanced students. For notes on how texts like these might be used in class, please see the Intro in Gapfills. Meanwhile, I’m hoping some of these little snatches (resonant term?) will stand on their own without having to be bent into exercises and force-fed to captive audiences.