On Language and Its Uses

Like it or not, “ain’t” is a word. Etymologists treat it as a word; historically it’s the contraction of “am not.” It functions as a word in speech. Yes, you’re unlikely to find “ain’t” in written English, but you will find it in spoken English, but that doesn’t make it any less of a word.

Fundamentally, one must ask, What is a word? A word is basically a communicative symbol. If using “ain’t” makes one understood, expresses one’s thoughts to others, then it has achieved its purpose as a word. “Ain’t” might not be the most precise, most proper word, but if its use helps to put ones thoughts across to others then it has all the attributes of being a word.

In some parts of the United States, “y’all” is a very proper word. Hell, I use “y’all,” because it conveys a very precise meaning. The development of English left the second person plural without a pronoun; “y’all” fills that grammatical “hole.” Living in Pennsylvania I sometimes get odd looks when I speak and out comes “y’all” because it’s not “proper” English, and I would never write “y’all” in a sentence. But it has its time and its place, and it conveys its own meaning, a precise meaning.

That’s what all language is about, the desire to be understood by others. The use of words facilitates that, using symbols to describe in shorthand abstract concepts. Many of the language “rules” that are cited were designed in the 1800s as a way to enforce class distinctions; those using the “rules” would mark themselves as part of the aristocracy/upper class, while those who consistently “broke the rules” would, by their language use, show themselves to be part of the lower classes. That debate continues to today; the issue of ebonics a decade ago has its roots in the marking of class distinctions based upon word and grammar usage.

On George Harrison

My favorite Beatle depends as much upon what day of the week it is as it does upon my mood for that day. Some days my Beatles-sense revolves wholly around John, other days Paul, sometimes George, sometimes Ringo. I have a favorite Beatle to the same extent that I have a favorite Doctor; I like and appreciate each on their own terms. John could no more write “Something” as George could write “Yesterday.” Different songs, different styles, different states of mind.

I don’t know that I can write much on George Harrison. The words just don’t seem to be there. Even knowing that he was ill doesn’t make the loss any easier. The local Classic Hits radio station did a “Beatles A-Z” day today; I’ve had George’s first and last solo albums in the CD player.

For information on George’s illness.
For information on George’s final album.

The Beatles now number two. I’m tempted to watch A Hard Day’s Night, just to remember them all as they once were.

On the Enterprise Premiere and Unanswered Questions

Watching Enterprise‘s premiere “Broken Bow” I kept asking myself, “Why do the Vulcans want humanity bottled up? Why do the Vulcans think humanity should keep to their own solar system?” Then in an Instant Messenger chat last evening with several friends, all Trek fans of varying ages and degrees, the same question came up several times. But no answers were put forward.

An idea kept playing at the back of my head. I kept thinking of David Brin’s Uplift novels, where the various civilizations of the galaxy are all brought up to the stars by a patron elder race, all except for humanity which made it to the stars on its own. Races were “uplifted” when they were judged to be ready.

Perhaps that was the Vulcans’ reason. Humanity wasn’t ready to be “uplifted” to the stars.

Consider Star Trek: First Contact. Look at it from the Vulcan perspective. We have a race achieving warp flight. The threshold for first contact has been reached. But what kind of civilization do the Vulcans find? A civilization that’s just bombed itself back into the stone age, quite frankly. Could this really be a civilization that has the power to reach the stars in its grasp? Is this civilization mature enough to use the power they now have?

I can honestly envision the Vulcan Space Command questioning the decisions of the commander that made contact with Cochrane in 2063. By the Vulcans’ standards, was humanity ready for first contact? Yet there wasn’t a logical reason to not make first contact; humanity had fulfilled the requirement of achieving FTL flight.

I don’t think the Vulcan attitude toward humanity is necessarily humanity’s fault. I think it’s something more basic–Vulcans aren’t a very imaginative species. Vulcans have a definite view of how the universe is and should be, and humanity doesn’t fit that view. The Vulcans probably thought that any race making a warp flight would have a unified planet and a high level of technology. Unfortunately, it’s an accident of history that humanity wasn’t at that point in 2063.

By the Vulcans’ standards, then, humanity wasn’t ready for space. Wasn’t ready to venture out into the stars. And I wonder at what point the Vulcans awoke to the reality of the situation. To judge by Sarek’s rejection of Spock’s career, the Vulcans still had a long way to go a century after Archer and his Enterprise.

Shrub, Part II

John S. Drew wrote:

I finally realized who Bush reminded me of as he gives speeches after watching this last one – a high school debate team member. He’s nervous, full of ticks and his accent comes on strong as it does for most people when they are nervous or angry.

As someone who has spent a lot of time working with high school debaters–judging rounds, critiquing speeches, coaching kids–I can say honestly that equating George W. Bush with a high school debater gives him a lot of credit. He certainly makes a number of high school debaters I’ve known look good.

Some high school debaters fit that nervous view–the vaguely nerdy guy who can’t say three coherent words without stammering or loud enough for even Superman and his Super-Hearing to catch. Most, however, fit a different profile–knowledgeable kids who can think quickly on their feet and talk faster than the MicroMachines pitchman and loud enough that a nursing home patient could lose her hearing aid and still be able to follow to speech.

Also, debaters tend to be liberal in thought and outlook. Or at least, left-of-center. Can’t say that for George W. Bush, either. Though I should qualify this; college debaters tend to be more liberal, high school debaters don’t have any clear political leanings, and where they do they tend to follow whatever political bent their coaches impose on their argumentation. On the other hand, during the Russia topic two (or was it three?) years ago the affirmative case I wrote for the Virginia HS tournament for my kids to run was very, very right-of-center (bomb Kosovo and launch a NATO ground war in the Balkans to empower the Russian nationalists and topple the ineffective Yeltsin regime, with effects being a better US presence in Europe and a humbled Russia looking to consolidate within its frontiers) when I consider myself to be fairly left-of-center on most things.

Wow, that last paragraph reads about a clear as mud, looking at it. Hum.

Bush might look like a high school debater, but he doesn’t play the part. If I were judging him from the back of the room, I’d be inclined to judge him harshly. Not that there’s anything wrong with his message; it’s that he lacks the presence or skills to convey it effectively at times. It’s easy to feel bad for the guy when he talks; he’s too disarming a speaker, trying hard to be just another guy, never knowing when or how to reach for a higher plateau.

Still. Thursday’s speech appears to be the breakthrough for him. He’s found the way up, he’s reached the plateau. He’s taken charge. Not only did he say what needed to be said, he said it in the manner in which it needed to be said.

Onward and upward!

Captain's Table II?

After a couple days’ thought….

It was suggested that a Rachel Garrett novel would work best within the framework of a Captain’s Table II series.

I wonder if such a series would even be viable .

The Captains’ names I’ve seen bandied about–April, Keller, Shelby, Kira, Gold, Garrett, Harriman, another dozen easily –strike me as being, by and large, “second tier” or “niche.”

Kira, at this point, wouldn’t be considered “second tier,” but look at the other choices. Characters who appeared once in several cases.

Series weren’t built around April. Series weren’t built around Harriman. Series weren’t built around Garrett. These are niche characters, characters that appeared on stage once then departed for realms unknown.

This isn’t to say that a Captain’s Table II absolutely cannot be done. I think a Shelby novel would be interesting and could rectify some of the damage her character has taken in New Frontier due to lack of characterization; Shelby could be just as defined by this hypothetical novel as Calhoun was defined by Once Burned. I would welcome a Garrett novel regardless of whether it was part of a Captain’s Table series or not.

I just question whether the concept of a Captain’s Table II would be viable. Would people buy Star Trek novels with characters on the cover that they might never have seen? Admittedly, there would be a curiosity factor in buying an April novel; people might wonder just why Gene Roddenberry in a retro Starfleet uniform was on the cover of a Star Trek novel.

I wonder if such a series would generate the sales necessary to support it. My guess is that it might not.

More Thoughts on This Week

Keith DeCandido wrote in response to someone else whose name I forget:

Not to defend the guy, but he’s sort of right. In 1941, Hawaii wasn’t really “American soil.” They were a U.S. territory, yes, but not a state.

It was still part of the United States. The fact that it wasn’t a state yet is totally irrelevant. If it wasn’t part of the U.S., the attack really wouldn’t have been that big a deal, now would it?

So yes, it was U.S. soil by any rational definition of the term.

Far be it for me to disagree with Keith, but the argument can be made that Hawaii was not considered “United States soil” in 1941.

Hell, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was predicated upon their belief that Hawaii was not “United States soil” and that the United States would not view the Pearl Harbor attack as an attack upon Americans. (No, I can’t figure out the logic to this, either, but it’s what the Imperial Navy leadership believed, all save Yamamoto.)

The Japanese were far more concerned with how the United States would interpret their simultaneous invasion of the Philippines, whether that would be viewed as an attack upon American interests.

It’s all academic, of course. The United States did interpret the attack upon Hawaii as an attack upon the United States itself. The Japanese gambled with fate and lost. Badly.

I’m willing to entertain the possibility that Jerry Falwell misspoke. Perhaps he simply forgot Pearl Harbor. Perhaps he was speaking of the Continental United States.

What I can’t allow for is Falwell’s assertion that Americans like myself–liberal in thought and secular in belief–are as much to blame in Tuesday’s events as those who commandeered the airplanes. Falwell displays the symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease often, but I can’t use that to excuse him this time.

The Week's Events

Thoughts on the past week’s events.

Tuesday morning I drove out to King of Prussia; it’s the largest shopping mall on the east coast (so they claim, anyway). Electronics Boutique has a store there, the second largest store in sales volume in the entire company, and we’re opening a second store in the mall. A truck arrived with stock around eight o’clock, and by eight-thirty we had the truck unloaded. A little past nine, someone’s cell phone rang, and then we got the news–a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Later, another phone call, another crash. Smoke rising from the Pentagon. The Towers fell. We didn’t have televisions handy. Instead, we crowded around the few cell phones, eager for information.

It wasn’t until I got home that I saw what had happened. King of Prussia closed at two, and they threw us out. Driving home there was nothing on the radio but news–frantic reports, news conferences, a direct feed from MSNBC, an anchor refering to images on a screen that didn’t come across on the radio. It wasn’t until three-thirty that I could actually see what had happened, and like millions of others, I sat down and just watched.

A strange sense of unreality settled in. I was watching CBS, and Dan Rather would cut back and forth from tape of the morning’s events to a shot of the smoke billowing from downtown Manhattan. Strange thoughts developed. I found myself asking, “Why didn’t Superman catch that plane?” at one point. I knew then that I couldn’t watch anymore.

It’s interesting watching people since. Some move in a daze. Some wear their patriotism on their sleeves. People aren’t quite here.

On the President's Speech

I used to be a high school debate coach, and part of that required me to judge high school debates, and I’ve heard good speeches and I’ve heard bad speeches. On a scale of 30, I’d probably have given Dubya’s speech to the nation tonight a 20.

The message itself was fine. Worded well. As a written text, it would have passed muster. It’s the way Dubya came across, however, that left much to be desired. He looked insincere. He blinked far too often, far too quickly. He was fidgety. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. Quite simply, he looked uncomfortable.

Bush II isn’t the public speaker Ronald Reagan was. He sure as hell isn’t the public speaker Bill Clinton was. I don’t know if Bush realizes the deficiencies he has in the area of speaking. If he doesn’t, someone should really tell him. He needs to come across clearly, efficiently. Above all, he needs to come across strong. He didn’t do that in his speech, either by the words he spoke or the manner in which he spoke them.

It’s my belief that anyone can rise to any given occasion. Perhaps Bush can rise to his. For the sake of our country, for the sake of leaders, friends and enemies around the world, I hope Bush can.