Tag Archives: Roger Smith

the first (perhaps) and greatest realist

 

 

I have been rereading parts of Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. I read it in its entirety once before.

Defoe has always been one of my favorite novelists. As a writer, he was a complete original and stands in a class of his own. I forget which novels of his I read. One certainly was Moll Flanders.

It began in high school when I read A Journal of the Plague Year, in a Signet paperback. It made such an impression on me. I couldn’t put it down.

Defoe is notable in there is hardly any exposition or authorial intervention. With consummate craftsmanship, he affects a plain recital of the facts as if he were merely a reporter or if he were writing a journal — he builds the narrative from minutely observed and recorded details. Consider, for example, the following passage from Chapter VII of Robinson Crusoe:

The rainy season and the dry season began now to appear regular to me, and I learned to divide them so as to provide for them accordingly; but I bought all my experience before I had it, and this I am going to relate was one of the most discouraging experiments that I made.

I have mentioned that I had saved the few ears of barley and rice, which I had so surprisingly found spring up, as I thought, of themselves, and I believe there were about thirty stalks of rice, and about twenty of barley; and now I thought it a proper time to sow it, after the rains, the sun being in its southern position, going from me. Accordingly, I dug up a piece of ground as well as I could with my wooden spade, and dividing it into two parts, I sowed my grain; but as I was sowing, it casually occurred to my thoughts that I would not sow it all at first, because I did not know when was the proper time for it, so I sowed about two-thirds of the seed, leaving about a handful of each. It was a great comfort to me afterwards that I did so, for not one grain of what I sowed this time came to anything: for the dry months following, the earth having had no rain after the seed was sown, it had no moisture to assist its growth, and never came up at all till the wet season had come again, and then it grew as if it had been but newly sown. Finding my first seed did not grow, which I easily imagined was by the drought, I sought for a moister piece of ground to make another trial in, and I dug up a piece of ground near my new bower, and sowed the rest of my seed in February, a little before the vernal equinox; and this having the rainy months of March and April to water it, sprung up very pleasantly, and yielded a very good crop; but having part of the seed left only, and not daring to sow all that I had, I had but a small quantity at last, my whole crop not amounting to above half a peck of each kind. But by this experiment I was made master of my business, and knew exactly when the proper season was to sow, and that I might expect two seed-times and two harvests every year.

While this corn was growing I made a little discovery, which was of use to me afterwards. As soon as the rains were over, and the weather began to settle, which was about the month of November, I made a visit up the country to my bower, where, though I had not been some months, yet I found all things just as I left them. The circle or double hedge that I had made was not only firm and entire, but the stakes which I had cut out of some trees that grew thereabouts were all shot out and grown with long branches, as much as a willow-tree usually shoots the first year after lopping its head. I could not tell what tree to call it that these stakes were cut from. I was surprised, and yet very well pleased, to see the young trees grow; and I pruned them, and led them up to grow as much alike as I could; and it is scarce credible how beautiful a figure they grew into in three years; so that though the hedge made a circle of about twenty-five yards in diameter, yet the trees, for such I might now call them, soon covered it, and it was a complete shade, sufficient to lodge under all the dry season. This made me resolve to cut some more stakes, and make me a hedge like this, in a semi-circle round my wall (I mean that of my first dwelling), which I did; and placing the trees or stakes in a double row, at about eight yards distance from my first fence, they grew presently, and were at first a fine cover to my habitation, and afterwards served for a defence also, as I shall observe in its order.

I found now that the seasons of the year might generally be divided, not into summer and winter, as in Europe, but into the rainy seasons and the dry seasons, which were generally thus:—The half of February, the whole of March, and the half of April—rainy, the sun being then on or near the equinox.

The half of April, the whole of May, June, and July, and the half of August—dry, the sun being then to the north of the line.

The half of August, the whole of September, and the half of October—rainy, the sun being then come back.

The half of October, the whole of November, December, and January, and the half of February—dry, the sun being then to the south of the line.

The rainy seasons sometimes held longer or shorter as the winds happened to blow, but this was the general observation I made. After I had found by experience the ill consequences of being abroad in the rain, I took care to furnish myself with provisions beforehand, that I might not be obliged to go out, and I sat within doors as much as possible during the wet months. This time I found much employment, and very suitable also to the time, for I found great occasion for many things which I had no way to furnish myself with but by hard labour and constant application; particularly I tried many ways to make myself a basket, but all the twigs I could get for the purpose proved so brittle that they would do nothing. It proved of excellent advantage to me now, that when I was a boy, I used to take great delight in standing at a basket-maker’s, in the town where my father lived, to see them make their wicker-ware; and being, as boys usually are, very officious to help, and a great observer of the manner in which they worked those things, and sometimes lending a hand, I had by these means full knowledge of the methods of it, and I wanted nothing but the materials, when it came into my mind that the twigs of that tree from whence I cut my stakes that grew might possibly be as tough as the sallows, willows, and osiers in England, and I resolved to try. Accordingly, the next day I went to my country house, as I called it, and cutting some of the smaller twigs, I found them to my purpose as much as I could desire; whereupon I came the next time prepared with a hatchet to cut down a quantity, which I soon found, for there was great plenty of them. These I set up to dry within my circle or hedge, and when they were fit for use I carried them to my cave; and here, during the next season, I employed myself in making, as well as I could, a great many baskets, both to carry earth or to carry or lay up anything, as I had occasion; and though I did not finish them very handsomely, yet I made them sufficiently serviceable for my purpose; thus, afterwards, I took care never to be without them; and as my wicker-ware decayed, I made more, especially strong, deep baskets to place my corn in, instead of sacks, when I should come to have any quantity of it.

Having mastered this difficulty, and employed a world of time about it, I bestirred myself to see, if possible, how to supply two wants. I had no vessels to hold anything that was liquid, except two runlets, which were almost full of rum, and some glass bottles—some of the common size, and others which were case bottles, square, for the holding of water, spirits, &c. I had not so much as a pot to boil anything, except a great kettle, which I saved out of the ship, and which was too big for such as I desired it—viz. to make broth, and stew a bit of meat by itself. The second thing I fain would have had was a tobacco-pipe, but it was impossible to me to make one; however, I found a contrivance for that, too, at last. I employed myself in planting my second rows of stakes or piles, and in this wicker-working all the summer or dry season, when another business took me up more time than it could be imagined I could spare.

 

It takes great skill to do this. To make the dramatic immediacy of the narrative predominate and keep the author “behind the curtains,” out of sight, so to speak.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2019

 

 

 

 

cover - A Journal of the Plague Year

gratuitous cruelty

 

 

‘after false drug test he was in solitary confinement for 120 days’

 

 

‘Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings’

 

 

El Chapo – Washington Post 2-14-2019

 

 

‘Where El Chapo Could End Up’ – NY Times 2-15-2019

 

 

 

“In a memorandum on April 16, 2003, [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld approved 24 of the recommended [interrogation] techniques [for at the American-run detention site at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba]. … An action memorandum presented to [Rumsfeld] on Nov. 27, 2002, recommends that he approve a number of interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo, including one described as ‘the use of stress positions (like standing), for a maximum of four hours.’

“Mr. Rumsfeld, who labors in his Pentagon office at a stand-up desk, added this handwritten postscript: ‘I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?’ ”

— “Files Show Rumsfeld Rejected Some Efforts to Toughen Prison Rules,” by Douglas Jehl, The New York Times, June 23, 2004
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As I was walking downtown in the City on Thursday morning last week. enjoying the quiet, early morning streets — it seems that there is always something interesting or beautiful to see — I had a feeling of elation. The sun emerged from behind clouds at approximately 9 a.m.

I was thinking what a wonderful thing (which I assume as a given) freedom (personal, one’s own) is. And how awful is must be to be deprived of it.

My mind was wandering. I thought of an article I had read in the Times that morning: “After False Drug Test, He Was in Solitary Confinement for 120 Days.”

One hundred twenty days, four months, in solitary confinement. For testing positive for drugs while incarcerated. (The test results proved to be wrong. The inmate was not using drugs. The drug-testing equipment used was defective and failed to produce accurate results.)

The stupidity and cruelty of how the prisoners in the article (others suffered similar injustices and pain as the result of the same flawed drug tests) were treated seemed so unjustified, and just plain that.

Then I thought of the so-called supermax (a term meaning highest security prison): the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (also known as the ADX), where recently convicted drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera (El Chapo) is imprisoned.

 

 

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“This place [the ADX] is not designed for humanity,” Robert Hood, a former warden, told The New York Times. (“Where El Chapo Could End Up: A Prison ‘Not Designed for Humanity’ ”).

Inmates spend 23 hours a day inside cells the size of a bathroom with little human contact and only one window three feet high and four inches wide. Every part of the prison’s 500 cells is made of poured concrete. Each cell has a bed, a concrete slab covered with a thin foam mattress, and a “combo toilet, sink and drinking water unit.” Some cells have a single slit in the door that shows a sliver of the hallway.

In an essay published on the internet, an inmate at the ADX wrote that even when prisoners are let outside their cells, the surroundings are severe. “No mountain, bush, tree or blade of grass is visible from the yard, just the sky,” he wrote. “The cages have just enough room to do aerobic exercises. Other than the opportunity to breathe fresh air and feel the sunshine on your skin, the outside cages are just cells that are open to the sky.”

Meals, mail and medicine are all delivered. “Everything the inmate needs comes and goes through the door slot,” the inmate wrote, adding that “the basic setup is for long-term solitary confinement.”

“The purpose,” the intimate wrote, “is to gradually tear a person down mentally and physically, through environmental and physical deprivation.”

“The segregation is intense; it’s a punitive environment as harsh as any place on Earth,” Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor, told the Washington Post (“El Chapo escaped two prisons in Mexico — but no one’s ever busted out of the American ‘ADX’ ,” February 14, 2019).

 

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I was also thinking about Albert Schweitzer.

In my adolescence, I read Albert Schweitzer’s Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (originally published as Aus Meinem Leben und Denken). The book made a profound impression on me. I was greatly impressed by the principle of Reverence for Life adumbrated by Schweitzer:

“[T]he man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own. He experiences that other life in his own. He accepts as good preserving life, promoting life, developing all life that is capable of development to its highest possible value. He considers as evil destroying life, injuring life, repressing life that is capable of development. [italics added] This is the absolute, fundamental principle of ethics, and it is a fundamental postulate of thought. …

The ethic of Reverence for Life is the ethic of love widened into universality. It is the ethic of Jesus, now recognized as a logical consequence of thought.

 

 

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Applying this to the case of notorious criminals such as El Chapo,* it seems to me true in principle that:

El Chapo must be locked up. He was the violent and feared leader of a criminal enterprise who had escaped from prison in the past and who would seem to be beyond redemption, should that be a matter of consideration. Along with accomplices, he habitually carried out murders, often brutal, of rivals, witnesses, and underlings who ran afoul of him.

But he should be allowed to see and embrace his wife and daughters as visitors. To be confined in something less than a virtual torture chamber. Because all prisoners are persons: human beings.

I feel that the operating principle should be: Do the minimum human harm possible. Regardless of how evil an individual is considered to be.

Gratuitous cruelty gives pleasure to those who inflict it.

I like to think (it is consistent with Jesus’s teachings) that somewhere in the afterlife there will be an accounting, a reckoning, for each individual, of one’s benevolent actions and one’s evil actions with respect to harm done to others in whatever capacity, whether it was a crime or actions supposedly not evil, but nonetheless equally so, done in an official capacity. Human suffering should be minimized.

Donald Rumsfeld’s comments encapsulate all of this. All of the above reflections of mine.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

As I observed in a previous post

 

is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/01/25/is-it-possible-or-desirable-to-hold-two-divergent-opinions-at-the-same-time-2/

 

sometimes, if not often, one can assert, or stake out, a position only to find oneself thinking otherwise almost, as it were, in the same moment.

I also read an article in last week’s New York Times about a young man convicted of murder in Pennsylvania:

The bodies of four victims were found on the farm [in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania] after an extensive search. They had been partially burned in a roaster made out of an oil drum, and had been buried in a 12-foot-deep hole. (“Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings,” The New York Times)

The man was convicted of first degree murder for the killings this week. He seems not to have shown remorse. His cousin pleaded guilty to the murders last year. “Your Honor, I want the four families to know I am so sorry,” the cousin said at his sentencing. “I hope that they find some peace in knowing that I’m just genuinely — I can’t even come to terms with what occurred. I’m sorry.”

As Leo Tolstoy observed, one’s horror at the depravity of heinous crimes seems to vary inversely with the length of time passed since the crime was committed:

A sinking man who clutches at another and drowns him; or a hungry mother exhausted by feeding her baby, who steals some food; or a man trained to discipline who on duty at the word of command kills a defenseless man–seem less guilty, that is, less free and more subject to the law of necessity, to one who knows the circumstances in which these people were placed, and more free to one who does not know that the man was himself drowning, that the mother was hungry, that the soldier was in the ranks, and so on. Similarly a man who committed a murder twenty years ago and has since lived peaceably and harmlessly in society seems less guilty and his action more due to the law of inevitability, to someone who considers his action after twenty years have elapsed than to one who examined it the day after it was committed. [italics added]

— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace; First Epilogue

Well, in this case, the brutality of the murder and depravity of the killer seemed such to me that no punishment seemed too harsh. Prosecutors initially had sought the death penalty, but the district attorney changed his mind after meeting with the families of the victims.

Philosophers have been trying to come to terms with questions pertaining to what is just since Plato. The following is a passage from a book I am currently reading:

The natural law denotes the eternal and archetypal rule of right action flowing from the will and wisdom of God and guiding men possessed with free will through their ability to reason. Whereas revelation represents a direct communication of divine decrees to a privileged portion of the human race, the natural law proclaims itself with varying degrees of clarity to all rational beings, even to those deprived of biblical truths. Most of mankind came to acknowledge and obey this providential source of all earthly law and order, not through pure ratiocination, but through the historical attempt to discover empirically the conditions of life needed for optimum happiness: “…

Throughout the series the natural law comes close to being associated with a crucial principle of human necessity behind social progress. Such a principle ultimately reflects an elemental drive within human nature for self-preservation and social interaction, both of which generate mankind’s historical pursuit of happiness and preference for a civilized habitat to satisfy that drive. This principle of human necessity provides a norm for measuring the value of actions according to their strict “utility” in fulfilling the contradictory selfish and social impulses of humanity for the protection and fellowship of a civilized community. … But at the heart of all civil development lies an unremitting trial-and-error effort to meet man’s basic physical and psychological needs within the limitations of his earthly environment. If human nature craves social fellowship and protection, it also requires the restraints of a strong sovereign power to curb its egotistical appetites and enforce order and cooperation in a world left inherently unstable by original sin. …

 

— Thomas M. Curley, “Editor’s Introduction,” A Course of Lectures on the English Law: Delivered at the University of Oxford, 1767-1773, by Sir Robert Chambers, Second Vinerian Professor of English Law; And Composed in Association with Samuel Johnson, Volume I, Edited by Thomas M. Curley (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), pp. 40-41 (summarizing the contents of Chambers ‘s lectures at Oxford. which were influenced by,  and influenced, the views of Samuel Johnson)
The book has been worth reading for reasons other than those that primarily drew me to it, and I see that while I find the law disagreeable and punishments often cruel and odious, the former is necessary.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 26, 2019

 

 

* Did Schweitzer intend for his thoughts to be applied to criminals and depraved human beings? I am sure that was not what he was thinking of. After all, serial killers don’t have “reverence for life.” Nevertheless, what I feel is that if one (in Schweitzer’s words) gives “to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own,” one by implication — or extension of Schweitzer’s principle — must not deny the humanity of others, without exception.

 

 

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SOURCES:

 

 

“El Chapo escaped two prisons in Mexico — but no one’s ever busted out of the American ‘ADX’ ,” by Deanna Paul, The Washington Post, February 14, 2019

 

“Where El Chapo Could End Up: A Prison ‘Not Designed for Humanity’,” by Alan Feuer and Alan Blinder, The New York Times, February 15, 2019

 

“Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings.” By Sandra E. Garcia, The New York Times, November 18, 2019

 

“After False Drug Test, He Was in Solitary Confinement for 120 Days: Hundreds of New York State prisoners were locked in cells, denied release or removed from programs when tests erroneously showed they had used narcotics, according to a lawsuit.” by Jan Ransom, The New York Times, November 20, 2019

good riddance to urban renewal

 

 

 

 

IMG_3427 (3).JPG

former residence of Jane Jacobs, 555 Hudson Street, New York, NY; photo by Roger W.  Smith

 

 

The following is an email of mime from today to Lizabeth Cohen, a professor of American Studies at Harvard University.

 

 

Dear Professor Cohen,

I read the review in The New York Times Book Review of your Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age. As I said to my wife, it looks like an excellent and very informative book.

I appreciate what was said about it by the reviewer: that it is an even-handed treatment of Logue.

If I may, I would like to share a few thoughts, memories, etc. with you.

I grew up in Cambridge. We lived on Mellen Street near Harvard Square. My parents moved us to the suburb of Canton on the South Shore in my adolescent years, which was in the late 1950s.

In the 1960s, I recall seeing articles in the papers about Logue all the time. As the reviewer notes that your book notes, Logue was revered and received almost unvarying praise. At that age, being the son of liberal, educated parents, I thought that slum clearance was, unquestionably, desirable.

I was an avid Red Soc fan, I regularly read the sports pages in the Boston Herald. I read many articles stating that it was high time Boston had a new park. It was regarded as not even worth or needing proof that Fenway Park was too small (mainly in terms of seating capacity), old, and shabby. The endless refrain was, when are we going to get our new stadium?

No one remembers this, and Friendly Fenway is regarded by one and all as a jewel of a ballpark. A landmark that will never be torn down.

I moved to New York City for good in my young adulthood. After some adjustment, I grew to love it. I made a good friend who was a nonconformist and lived an alternative lifestyle. He was cultured and articulate but lived very modestly in a walkup apartment with a bathroom in the hall on East Fifth Street between Avenues A and B. He helped me to appreciate Manhattan and to begin to think differently. He was prescient. He said to me, at a time when urban renewal and slum clearance were in the air: “I live in a slum and I like it.” He pointed out that PEOPLE were living in these buildings. (And could afford them.)

I am attaching a photo I took on one of my walks recently of Jane Jacobs’s former residence on Hudson Street in Manhattan. I became familiar with her writings in my adult years after moving to Manhattan. I think she is an example of someone whose plain writing and lifestyle, and lack of academic credentials, may make it likely that she gets less recognition than she deserves (which is not to say that her importance and genius are not acknowledged; and I think she was actually a genius). In my opinion, she is up there with some of the great thinkers and writers who very simply take a fresh look at prevailing opinions and wisdom, go back to square one — or “first principles” — and, in plain language, without overtheorizing — looking with their own eyes — get us to see the world anew. It’s sort of like an Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon.

How did she manage to defeat Robert Moses? At the outset, I am sure it would have been regarded as quixotic to try. If Moses had rammed an expressway through the Village and Soho, it would have ruined Manhattan — is the word rape too strong?

Jane Jacobs did not like Lincoln Center. I don’t like it either. I recall when I was in high school and Jacqueline Kennedy and others on television were providing a virtual tour of our “wonderful” new arts center, Lincoln Center. I assumed it must have been so, and who cared about the gritty (then) West Side neighborhood where Jets and Sharks did battle? I hate to go to Lincoln Center now. Aside from the concert halls, which I find dark and unwelcoming, the whole center is a horrible place to hang out in, should anyone care to. The buildings are ugly.

Usually, the plaza with its fountain is pretty much deserted, and it’s unwelcoming, as is the Center. The surrounding neighbored now has no life; there are a few rip off restaurants across the street. The few blocks behind the Center (between it and the river) are deadly, or better said, dead.

I go back to Boston occasionally. I was too young to remember Scollay Square before Government Center was built (though people often mentioned it). The Government Center complex has a Lincoln Center-like feel, and I found it very unpleasant and unenjoyable to walk or spend time in or around it.

 

 

Sincerely,

Roger W. Smith, Maspeth, Queens, NY

 

 

— posted by  Roger W. Smith

    November 17, 2019

new vocabulary III

 

 

new vocabulary – November 2019

 

 

 

My high school English teacher, Robert W. Tighe: “Look up a word three times and it’s yours.”

 

 

It’s been a year and a half since I last posted a compilation of vocabulary words I have looked up.

The above WORD DOCUMENT is a compilation of all the words I have looked up since then. They are my notes. But, obviously, the definitions were often cut and pasted by me from the internet.

I have never ceased to look up words and rarely fail to. I think these lists illustrate that a good vocabulary is built from one’s reading.

As I was looking over the list today, I was struck by how many words I have looked up over this period (it is my practice to keep a record of the words and their definitions) and how many words I had either never encountered before, or may have seen but could not define.

Every single word was encountered by me in READING.
— Roger W. Smith

   November 2019

“What have you done for others?”

 

 

“You probably know that I am [doing volunteer work]. _______ has done numerous, exceedingly generous activities to help the disadvantaged. Can you name one thing you have ACTIVELY done to help the needy? …What have your contributions to society been? … What have YOU done for others?”

 

 

— email to me from a relative, July 2018

 

 
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And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. ….

 

— Matthew 5-6 (The Sermon on the Mount)

 

 

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He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.

— William Blake, Jerusalem

 

 

 

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The full Blake passage reads:

 

Labour well the Minute Particulars: attend to the Little Ones;
And those who are in misery cannot remain so long,
If we do but our duty: labour well the teeming Earth.…
He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer;
For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars,
And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power:
The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity.

 

T. S. Eliot (who, unaccountably, found fault with this passage) wrote that “Blake was endowed with a capacity for considerable understanding of human nature.” (T. S. Eliot, “Blake”; in The Sacred Wood: Essays On Poetry And Criticism). So true. And, in my opinion, Blake never said anything more true than He who would do good to another must do it in minute particulars. These words are seared into my consciousness, and they greatly influenced my thinking.

 

 

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I do not have a preference for organized charities (or charity). Though I do not, and one should not, find fault with them a priori, or with those who volunteer or donate. They may be supported for reasons, partly, of self-interest, or to make someone look good, say, in their public profile or on a resume or college application. Note that I said they “may be.”

I prefer to do good in minute particulars. In little ways. I am always trying to. In my immediate environment. Where I live. Among friends and friends of friends or relatives. And, mostly, for people whom I encounter anonymously in the City.

There is no point in my giving particulars — it would not be true to the spirit of what is said above.

And, by the way, I fully agree with what Blake wrote – the thrust of the entire passage quoted above — developing his idea of particular versus general good more fully: “General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer; … / And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power: / The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity.”

Much of what is done by social engineers and reformers – supposedly for amelioration of conditions of the oppressed – actually is done with the most mean spirited intentions one can conceive of, and actually does harm to individuals, as I have shown in many of my posts.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2019

learning a new language

 

 

I have begun studying German.

I knew a smattering of German already.

I was motivated to take the course from my love of studying foreign languages. And to learn a language which is so important in Western culture and scholarship and in music. I have recently heard performances of outstanding vocal works with a libretto or lyrics in German by composers such as Haydn, Brahms, Hindemith, and Franz Schreker.

I am in my fifth or sixth week of an introductory German course at a language school in Manhattan. A very small class, which is great. A great teacher …. Peter, German; he lives in Manhattan now.

 

 

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As I and my fellow students were laboring over reading sentences out loud yesterday, trying to pronounce the German words, it called to mind for me what it was like learning to read in the first grade. Reading out loud (in the first grade) in small groups (“reading circles”) and laboring to sound out the words on the page, in our reader, Dick and Jane. Plus phonics instruction, so tedious, as I recall it being then.

I remember when I learned to read; from one moment to the next I moved on from slowly spelling out the words to reading fluently and my life changed forever! — comment by Elisabeth van der Meer, on my post about reading, October 21, 2019

I had a similar experience struggling to learn and sound out the Russian alphabet and to read from the printed page (in Russian) in an introductory Russian class in my sophomore year at Brandeis University.

 

 

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In a language course, especially an introductory one, the teacher is everything. I have had some outstanding language teachers, such as Miss McCauley for French (in high school) and Luciana de Ames, a Spanish instructor at Columbia University.

And Walter Stock, in a Gaelic course at the Gaelic Society of New York.

In the late 1960’s, I saw an advertisement in the Village Voice for Irish (Gaelic) courses at the Gaelic Society in Manhattan. To the question, why study such a language, one that I would never need to use, I would have answered (and would still), why not? A language is a window into a culture. And, the grammatical or linguistic aspects of different languages have always fascinated me. To study a Celtic language! The Celtic languages are related distantly to a broader hypothesized family of languages including our own.

Mr. Stock would begin by going around the class, saying, “Dia duit” (hello) to each of us. He had us involved and enthused. He was a born language teacher.

After a few weeks, Mr. Stock, to my profound disappointment, had to leave because of professional commitments. The class was taken over by an Irish woman who lacked pedagogical skills. I quit after one class with her. She began the class by telling us to open our books. Then, sitting at a desk at the front of the room, she read from exercises in the book with the class presumably following. There was no interaction or class participation. Mr. Stock, her opposite as a teacher, not only got us speaking Irish from the outset, he was knowledgeable about languages and linguistics and was always pointing out interesting linguistic features and similarities between Irish and other languages. Peter, our current German teacher, does the same thing.

I still have my two Gaelic textbooks.

 

 

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It is so hands on (foreign language instruction). It reminds me of a subject like math. You have to make sure that the class does not get lost. Everything is progressive. Step by step, incremental. Interaction in the class is important. So that students in a language course can practice and so that everyone is keeping up. Or, in a math class, say. to make sure the material was understood and pupils can do the problems.

It’s not like a history or sociology or class, say, where one can skip a lecture or two.

The teaching style of my high school mathematics teacher, Mr. Badoian, seemed at times too “authoritarian” or top down. As if he were a football coach making us run endless drills. But I see now (and Mr. Badoain was a great teacher) that there was no other way. It was a lot different than my English class.

By the way, my father was a piano teacher. It was a lifetime occupation. I wonder how all of this applies to him. Teaching a musical instrument must involve similar challenges and demands.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 3, 2019

 

 

 

Progress in Irish.jpg

 

 

 

buntus cainte.jpg

 

 

 

 

my Sorokin paper published

 

 

Сборник (‘Pitirim Sorokin and Paradigms of Global Development in the 21st Century’)

 

 

 

Another one in the works.

 

 

 

See pp. 25-30 of downloadable PDF (above).

 

 

Roger W. Smith, “Sorokin as Bilingual Stylist: His English Language Writings Examined from a Stylistic Perspective”

 

IN

 

Pitirim Sorokin i paradigmy global’nogo razvitiya XXI veka (k 130-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya)

Mezhdunarodnaya nauchnaya konferentsiya

Syktyvkar, 10−12 oktyabrya 2019 g.

Sbornik nauchnykh trudov

Syktyvkar, 2019

 

 

Pitirim Sorokin and Paradigms of Global Development of the 21st Century (on the 130th Anniversary of His Birth)

International Scientific Conference

Syktyvkar, October 10−12, 2019

Collection of Scientific Papers

Syktyvkar, Russia, 2019