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Since I Never Get the Last Word

Wednesday, April 12, 2006
One of Us Talks Funny

I listened to a learned man confess that he has attempted to attend performances of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and has always departed early because he cannot understand the language. He asserted that listening to the play, he has no idea what the play is about but he speculated that if he took the time to read it then perhaps he might. How foolish of the man and yet he has a doctorate in linguistics.

He was speaking on how languages change over time, phonetically, grammatically, and semantically, and there has been such a change since Shakespeare’s language that most of us do not realize we are missing much of what the Bard wrote As examples, he gave:

From Romeo and Juliet: “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” I cannot begin to count the number of comedy sketches I have seen in my life based on this line. I enjoyed every one of them on the false assumption that I knew what was going on. There is no comma after ‘though.’ Why is that? Because Juliet is not asking for Romeo’s location; he’s standing near to her. She’s asking why he must be Romeo, a member of Romeo’s family and not some person. She goes on to say then she could be someone other than a Capulet. What she’s asking is “why must you be who you are?” And that changes everything I thought I knew about Romeo and Juliet but, then, it has been damn near half a century since I read the play. My dictionary confirms this interpretation; it lists the definition of wherefore as “why.”

Another example, Polonius to his son: “Take every man’s censure,” 50 years and more I thought he was saying to tolerate criticism, take it for what it’s worth. It turns out this is another example of semantic drift. My dictionary points out the etymology of censure rests on the Latin verb censere which means ‘to assess.” Polonius is telling his son to assess every man but to reserve whatever conclusions he reaches to himself.

Were we to sit and attempt to chat with Mr. Shakespeare, could we communicate? Probably only with extreme care

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-04-12 08:14:43

Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The Irish Bull

Again, indebted to Willard Espy for the education, this morning I am enthralled with the concept of the Irish bull. Me own Grandfahther could have annunciated any of these and therewith achieved immorality but, alas, he did not, and so, like me, he would have had to plagiarize himself.

“Your honor, I was sober enough to know that I was drunk.”

“May you never live to see your wife a widow.”

“He lay at death’s door and the doctor pulled him through.”

“Half the lies people tell about me aren’t true.”

“Such is the corruption of the age that little children, too young to walk or talk, are running through the streets cursing their Maker.”

“Talk about thin! Well, you’re thin and I’m thin but he is as thin as both of us put together.”

“The money involved comes within a few pennies of being a vast and astronomical sum.”

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-04-11 08:44:23

Saturday, April 8, 2006
Dating Scene - 2050

According to at least one source, in the year 2000, less than 1% of the population of developing countries was above 80 years of age. There were approximately 2 women for every man in this age group. The figures for the developed countries in that same year indicated about 4% of the population was over 80 with the number including 3 women for every man in the age group. The United Nations population projections show that in the year 2050, in the developed countries, 10% of the population will be over 80 years of age and 6.5% will be female. That means there will be more than four women for every male over 80. It is comforting to know that when Ihave passed 100 years of age, there will be sufficient women about to interest and comfort me.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-04-08 09:53:03

Thursday, April 6, 2006
Prescient Critique

Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. In that he was echoing, if not agreeing with, Plato. In The Republic, Plato develops some strong criticism of democratic government:

In a democracy, leaders will seek popularity rather than try to be statesmen.

In a democracy, elected representatives will pander to the wishes of the people.

In a democracy, leaders will focus on short term goals at the expense of longer term societal needs; what happens in the distant future will not affect the next election.

In a democracy, leaders will find it easier to give things to the people rather than ask for sacrifice.

In a democracy, debate will become superficial focusing more on image and less on substantive argument.

In a democracy, image will tend to dominate elections.

In a democracy, people will be awash in images so that they will place more emphasis on emotions and less emphasis on reason.

In a democracy, people will be easy prey for image manipulators, i.e., public relations representatives, lobbyists, media consultants, spin doctors. You can fool all of the poeple some of the time and some of the poeple all of the time and that's generally good enough.

In a democracy, people will tend to eat poorly, concentrating on the appearance and taste of food rather on nutritional value.

Twenty-five hundred years before television and the man nailed it. It’s a wonder that we maintain it at all.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-04-06 10:57:59

Tuesday, April 4, 2006
2d Best Strategies

Most of the time a person can live with a simple moral stratagem such as The Golden Rule. In fact, my current teacher, Robert H. Kane, performs a credible linguistic feat in his course, The Quest for Meaning, to demonstrate how such a stratagem can be developed without recourse to any religious text whatsoever. As he points out, though; such a stratagem cannot be applied in all cases.

For example, suppose a teacher discovers a student has been the victim of abuse. On the one hand, the teacher should pay no attention as, perhaps, this is an internal family discipline matter and not subject to outside influences. On the other hand, the child may indeed be a victim of a malicious adult. No matter what the teacher does, act or ignore, he makes an ethical choice. In the former case, he respects the values of the responsible adult; in the latter, he respects the values of the child. He cannot avoid making a choice. On what basis should he make the choice?

The Golden Rule doesn’t help. It may seem obvious that the Golden Rule requires the teacher to come to the aid of the child but, upon reflection, this isn’t so. Applying the maxim to the adult in the situation requires the teacher to not butt in. Since this leaves the situation unresolved, something more must be brought to bear on the problem.

Before deciding what the something more might be, I look at a different situation. The Lady Who Shares Her Life With Me occasionally needs me to help around the house even though she realizes I am retired and beyond all work. Suppose she wants to me clean out the garage which is woefully overdue for such activity but I want to play golf on Saturday, how does the Golden Rule help? If I do unto her as I wish she would do unto me, then I would clean the garage. If she does unto me as I would do unto her, I would play golf. Who has the moral responsibility to do unto first?

Once again, we need something more than the Golden Rule to helps us out here. Enter Kane’s 2d Best Strategy; we negotiate. In this fashion, neither of us gets precisely what we wanted but neither of us is required to forfeit our wishes and desires either. Extending this concept to a society at large, in a democratic society, if negotiation doesn’t work, folk can vote on the issue. It doesn’t satisfy either side but it provides a working resolution to the conflict till something better comes along.

Back to the teacher’s dilemma. Is Kane’s 2d Best Strategy viable? On what basis could the teacher call the parent and the child together to negotiate more reasonable treatment for the child? Though it sounds good, the practical application, particularly considering our litigious society, for the teacher to assume responsibility for resolving the conflict has a low probability for success. It may, in fact, make the situation more dangerous for the child. The current solution is for teacher to report his suspicions to the ‘proper authorities,’ the state agency for child protection. These folk have the power to protect the child.

There is something emotionally unsatisfying for the teacher in this solution. Smacks of Pilate washing his hands. If this were Fox TV, that teacher would get involved, confront the parents, demand justice for the child. He’d be savagely beaten, near death, and only dimly aware that the police, investigating the cause of his hospitalization, had referred the matter to Child Protective Services, anyway. But the teacher would have the satisfaction of knowing he had acted.

Wait a minute, that’s wrong. On Fox TV, the teacher would be a black belt ninja. When he confronts the parents, they would attack him and he’d beat the crap out of them. He’d tell them if they ever touched the child again, he’ll do it again and then he’d walk away with clear conscious with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah playing in the background. Of course, he’d never see the child or the parents again and pity the poor child who is to blame for this humiliation to its parents. Fox TV won’t cover that part of the story.

The question ought to remain on what basis did the teacher take this action? Was it a practical application of a second best solution? Or was it hubris?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-04-04 09:38:19

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