Monday, October 27, 2008

The Ghost of Susan B. Anthony Exacts Her Revenge

So Mrs. Chaka and I decided to take advantage of early voting tonight. The polling place was open until 7:00 pm, so we had to eat dinner quickly in order to make it there in time. This derailed my plan to cook chicken this evening; instead, we had leftover soup from the freezer. I sighed and said to Mrs. Chaka, "If only one of us could go vote for the other. Matter of fact, it weren't for that pesky nineteenth amendment, I could go vote for both of us, and you could have dinner made for me when I get back."

This was a joke, you see. I don't actually believe the argument made by those old opponents of women's suffrage that the man votes on behalf of his entire household (even though my beloved Chesterton looked askance at women's suffrage). Unlike some of my fellow evangelical Christians, I make no defense of patriarchy, partly because I can see no good reason why defenders of patriarchy (or male headship/leadership) should be troubled by women being denied the vote. (Not that I've heard a real live person argue that they should be denied the vote. Of course, you can always find someone who believes anything on the internet. Sigh.) I have on my desk right now a picture of my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Simon Klein, campaigning for women's suffrage in Chicago in 1915. I do most of the cooking. When we have children, I'm willing to be the one who stays home with the kids.

So it was a joke, you see. But the Ghost of Susan B. Anthony heard me mock the hard-fought victory of the suffragettes. She heard me wish that one vote could suffice for a household, and decided to teach me a lesson.

When we arrived at the polling place, the clerks could not find my registration. They found Mrs. Chaka's easily enough, but not mine. I felt that old familiar feeling settle on me; that combination of anger, disbelief, and frustration at Illinois finding new ways to suck. I was becoming Illinoyed. My name was misspelled in their database, you see. Moreover, I was listed as an inactive voter because they had sent me mail, and the mail had been returned. Possibly because my name was misspelled on it. The clerk gave me a number to call in the morning. He made no promises about their ability to sort it out before election day.

Did I mention that I discovered the misspelling when I voted in the primary back in February? And that I asked the election commission to correct it back in February?

But as much as I'd love to blame this god- and sense-forsaken state for disenfranchising me, I know who is really responsible. The Ghost of Susan B. Anthony watched with uncharacteristically undignified amusement as Mrs. Chaka cast her vote on behalf of our household.

Now the question is, what do I have to do to appease her spirit? I'd burn a bra, but I don't think she'd approve. (And says that feminists never actually did that.) What do you think I should do?

Saturday, October 25, 2008


The last couple sermons at my church have been about worship. Last week, the pastor was describing some common worshipful experiences that we don't tend to think of as worship. For example, the football fan leaps out of his chair with elation; he turns to his friend and yells, "Did you see that catch?" He doesn't think of it this way, but he's worshiping.

I understood the point, but not being all that much of a football fan, I sent my mind out looking for something comparable in my life. As I was half-listening to the pastor, a sentence suddenly drew my attention back: "Worshipers are ravers."

I almost laughed out loud; one of my coworkers (I won't say which) has been labeled a raver. What he mainly raves about are books. The image suddenly struck me of Yahweh's worshippers writing blurbs for him. Ridiculously outlandish blurbs, in the vein of "If funny were measured in people, David Sedaris would be China."

So how would you blurb God? Here's my contribution:

"Yahweh's book is the one reason for the illiterate to learn how to read. It's what made the whole rigmarole of inventing the alphabet worth the trouble. In fact, it's still making new alphabets worth the trouble." - Chaka McNaka, professional raver

Friday, October 17, 2008

You all love poetry, don't you?

Lingamish (the internet moniker of an SIL translator named David Ker) does some pretty cool poems called Cyber Psalms. This one is particularly good. Though not as good as the one where he thanked God for George Bush. I still don't know what to think about that one; he seems to be in earnest, and there's something very authentic, very psalm-like about it. But he has to know that he's not allowed to talk like that, doesn't he?

I can only imagine the reaction from some of my Anabaptist-influenced internet acquaintances. Not to mention the Chavist ones.

I love you all, and I'm not trying to goad anyone. (Well, maybe a little.) What do you make of Cyber Psalms 37 and/or 51?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Proud Return of Victory Gardens and Meatless Mondays

This article is spectacular (HT: Jon). I mean spec-tac-ular. There are too many gems and interesting items to point out, but I have no time at the moment. Go read it yourself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Coming Clean

Many moons ago, Adam asked us to own up to our man crushes. For a long time, I couldn't think of one. But seeing Anatoly Liberman's handsome face at the top of my blog a few times made me realize that I was hiding from my true feelings. So there you have it. Liberman is my man crush.

So here are some Liberman stories:

On the first day of class (History of English Words), he challenged us to identify his country of origin, saying that no one was ever able to place his accent. On the surface, his speech seemed pure British RP. After listening to him carefully for the class session, however, I noticed two occasional "foreign-sounding" elements: a very pure monophthong o and a pronunciation of English w as v. That led me to guess a that his mother tongue was a Slavic language. You'll have to take my word for it, though, since I didn't venture a guess to his face.

He later told us that he is Russian, but when strangers ask about his nationality, he likes to tell them that he's Basque or Faroese. I had no idea that people lived on the Faroe Islands at the time, but I was proud I knew about them a few years later, when I met Neils.

He once parodied the argumentation of Chomskyan linguistics: "Such-and-such is true of every language in the world. Take English, for example." Cut me to the quick, that one. My program required 3 years of a foreign language; but that just exposed me to more Chomsky-deprogramming from Francisco Ocampo.

One day, Frank offered him some candy from his lunch. Liberman replied, "No thank you. I never eat sweets."

I can't remember the exact point, but the biggest laugh he got in class was when he started talking about the sound symbolic value of the phonemes in "fo' shizzle ma' nizzle."

On the other hand, the class nearly mutinied when he made an offhand statement about sign systems such as ASL not being languages in the complete sense. He seemed slightly taken aback by the vehemence with which the students disagreed. No doubt he suspected that political correctness at least formed part of the background of our insistence. I understand the concern, but based on my (limited) exposure to ASL, I stand by the arguments I made that day. I don't know if Liberman has been convinced, though.

His favorite movie is Animal House.

Outside of class, he expressed his distate for the College of Liberal Arts' focus on Race, Class, and Gender. "It's precisely what the Soviet educational system was fixated on." And he would know. I'd love to read his autobiography. Or at least an intellectual memoir.

One last quote: "Perhaps you like to listen to Country Music. Or, perhaps you are politically liberal, so you listen to music that sounds exactly the same but is called Folk Music."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

One of those essayists who are always worth reading, no matter what they're saying

Professor Anatoly Liberman takes up the issue of they/their/them as a singular gender-neutral pronoun on the Oxford University Press blog. He does not approve. Unlike most web commentaries on the usage, Liberman's essay goes into detail on its history. As usual, it's an interesting read. I have to thank Liberman for introducing me to a new proverb: "It's wasted labor to shut up a neighbor." Also for the wonderful Victorian understatement, "give a deliberate twist to verity."

I admit to being confused, however, by the distinction he makes between singular antecedents like "everybody," "person," and "someone," which can be referenced with "they," and antecedents like "tenant." What is the natural class that defines these boundaries? I think I can hear the difference, but I've learned not to trust my ear. What words qualify as the "similar examples" that Liberman challenges us to find pre-1965?

On another score, I have doubts about Liberman's claim that "They for a singular subject was introduced by those who wanted to rid English of sexism." When I read examples like "If a tenant has an eviction on their record, it does not mean they were a bad tenant," I recognize them as something I might hear or say in my hometown. My hometown is pretty far away from the state headquarters of antisexism in The Cities, as we call Minneapolis-St. Paul. I find it counterintuitive that the conservative folk in outstate Minnesota are taking grammar lessons from militant feminism. Some other gender-neutral devices like "he or she" or simply "she" are purely academic antisexism, but using "they" as a singular pronoun seems merely colloquial. It may not be everyone's idea of beautiful speech, but neither are sentences like "I seen him coming towards me." But that's the way some of us talk.

I would be curious to know what Liberman would identify as the criteria for preferred usage. I am open to the argument that truth and beauty should be among them. Truth, for example, would require that dictionaries not distort the history of usage. Beauty might require that they/their only be used for a singular antecedent when it can do so without calling attention to itself. I freely admit that "The traveler has nowhere to lay their head" sounds uglier to me than "A person cannot help their birth."

Parting shot: as I've said before on this blog, using "she" as the generic singular pronoun no longer bothers me. The first few times I read it, it "distorted the meaning of the passage" for me, but interestingly, it doesn't anymore. It's actually my favored solution, because it doesn't delve into the less-than-beautiful grammatical constructions that Liberman points out. Once one creates a new semantic association (she can = generic), it's smooth sailing. One could say that the distortion here is on the reader's end.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Into the aether

This is old news by now, but Google has made their index from 2001 available for searches. I was excited about this, but after playing around with it for awhile, I thought, I'd really like to look at older stuff. Pages from '97, '96. The pioneer days.

That led me to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. When I signed up for my first email account, it probably looked like this. I signed up so I could email the cute girl I met on a college visit to Houghton. I ended up going elsewhere. She ended up going to Princeton. So yeah, she was probably out of my league, but so is my wife. So there.

I wonder if I could go further back. Back to the first time I ventured out on the internet, in junior high, so around '95 or '96. I was researching Henry David Thoreau for a Minnesota History Day project that I never completed. I found the entire text of Civil Disobedience--for free! I sent the whole thing to the printer. My heart beat faster as I mentally urged the printer to hurry; soon the librarian would be back to kick me off before I spent too much money. Unfortunately, I don't remember what website I found the text on. It probably looked something like this (which happens to be the first Father Brown story, worth a read).

(Ok, I just wandered into a tangent to my tangent. This page is just called "Oxymorons". But the first several examples aren't oxymorons, they're tautologies. And eventually the page slides into a bunch of quotes from Samuel Goldwyn. To be fair, a few of these are oxymorons. But they're mostly malapropisms. A question for you to answer in the comments: This page of "Oxymorons" is of more value than what percentage of blogs?)

You can read about the background of the Internet Archive here. Interesting stuff for those who understand it. I think I understand about 80% of it, which means I probably really understand 40%.