Sunday, June 14, 2009

Obsolete Language

The subject of dead languages is another topic that I have trouble wrapping my simple mind around. Sanskrit is dead. Aramaic is dead. What killed them? How did they become obsolete? I guess, from reading the dictionary, that there are still traces to be found in our vocabulary, though certainly not as many as Latin. I've heard people call Latin a "dead language."

So before I bloviate further, I found a glossary of English words that have fallen out of favor and use. It seems to me that this list was deliberately populated with those that sound the most awkward. It's interesting nonetheless that English speakers, for the most part, have let them fall by the wayside. There is no apparent reason, except in the concept that language itself is an organic entity and grows, shrinks and changes like foliage. There are yearly news bytes about what new words are being added to standard dictionaries. I've yet to see a story on words being removed, yet certainly it must have happened.

Then there are the ironists who decide they will make a concerted effort to revive the daily use of a particular word. "Groovy" comes to mind. It appears also that David Foster Wallace was a proponent of this practice. I wonder if he did this purposefully or if he simply had a more vast vocabulary than anybody I've ever read.

This is, in any event, a fun list. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The End of Analog

June 12, 2009: The End of an Era. You've never been able to see it, but it's been up over your head and all around you for over 60 years. Technology that has been deemed outdated, was put to rest today. Television is still there, but rather than the ubiquitous wave, it looks something like this, or it would if you could see it:


Or something like that.

Television, is, I repeat, still there. Those that chose to replace their aerials and rabbit ears with digital converter boxes that will translate all those zeroes and ones into moving pictures, are probably watching it right now. It's what we do, isn't it?

I decided a couple weeks ago, in what was until now some sort of silent protest against something or another, not to make the conversion. It was partly because I haven't really been a frequent watcher for some years now, except for the morning news and sports that I usually view from a bar stool. The networks, last week, opted out of live broadcasts of Barack Obama in Egypt in favor of their normal morning broadcasts, which aren't exactly chockful of news to watch while drinking my Chockful o' Nuts. They weren't struggling to make themselves all that relevant in my life. That was part of my decision.

There was something beyond that though, and that is my inability to let go and accept that things... technology, fashion, and people, can be deemed outdated and archaic. A personal fear? Perhaps. It's not something that came on with a middle-aged sense of mortality though, as I slide faster into my own obsolescence. Call me the original Doubting Thomas, or maybe I was born a crabby, old man, but it just didn't seem necessary. I didn't give up my turntables when they told me that technology was obsolete. I also have an inordinate fondness for 50s fashion, old toasters, early-60s vintage Chevys and women over 40. Okay... not such an inordinate fondness on the last one.

I am, despite my best efforts to embrace the new, mired in nostalgia. I am, despite my best efforts, unable to dissuade myself from the notion that the end of analog television is a metaphor for... something.

But moving on: The Knuckleheads and I watched a wee Australian film called Bad Boy Bubby and I can't speak for them, but I loved it and I'm still processing it. Thirty-five year old Bubby has been imprisoned indoors for his entire life by his mother, who tells him that the world outside will kill him in an instant if he sets foot beyond the door. "If the poison don't getcha, then God will!" Upon her passing (I won't give that away) he is a set free, a man with a child's mind, to learn the truth(s) for himself. He is ill-prepared to deal with what ensues in a world that is simultaneously wonderful, frightening, horrible, mean, and ultimately beautiful if you are lucky. Far be it from me to be a spoiler, but I will say that we all probably go through the same thing, if not so extreme and grotesque. Nothing our parents can teach us, even the best of them, with the best of intentions, can ready us for what's out there. We all have to learn for ourselves and make our own way. They cannot protect us from the future. Fair warning though... this film is, at points, stomach turning. If shock and revulsion were all there is to it though, I wouldn't mention it. It's worth the temporary descent into the terminally toxic and ugly.

We watched this on DVD, ordered through Netflix, on the Internet. See? I'm not such a Luddite after all.

I want to impart one more thought for the week, since my blog posts are becoming more infrequent. I am often found dallying with peoples' ideas of God and the Universe and such (Doubting Thomas again). No concept of a higher being, or fate, or pre-destiny has ever left me more awestruck than single incidences of utter randomness and pure dumb luck. There is nothing that brings me to a higher state of wonder than an event that makes me shake my head and ask, what are the odds? Really! How man have you ever been hit by a meteorite? This boy has. It's a possibility I haven't ever thought of beyond what might have wiped out the dinosaurs. There is certainly evidence of catastrophic strikes at points in distant history. How many people have their own personal meteorite though? Or so I was thinking as I started this story. I found, reading further, that in 1992, a woman named Michelle Knapp from Peekskill, New York, or her car rather, took a direct hit. I graduated high school with her brother. Small world. This is a point where I could go off on a tangent about the folks that believe that some things are simply too random to be truly random. Creative design? Magical realism? I'm not a fan of either. I'm just waiting for my own personal meteorite.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

It's just gone 8 a.m.

I've been up for an hour, and have accomplished precious little beyond putting on a pot of coffee. The sun has me beat by a couple hours, but after three hours has done as little, despite a few skittish, anemic pokes through clouds that have sprawled heavily over Nanny Goat Hill, and the rest of Brooklyn, and the whole of the Northeast. Everything is sticky. Every surface, the kitchen linoleum, the counter top, the fridge door handle, the surface of the chair, and the rim of the coffee cup feels greasy and sticky. I am sticky.

This week has been a malevolent bastard, and it's not like I take it personally. That's just how some weeks go. Sometimes the weeks line up so they can each take their shot, one after another, and you run the paddle gauntlet like a fraternity hazing. Really though... take your best shots guys. The only way out is straight through, and I'll be standing at the other end, despite anything you think you can do.

There are faces on TV veiled in black crepe and horror and howling economic funeral dirges. I think it's true what they say about watching a loved one suffer through a long illness. It doesn't always prepare you for the inevitable end, and when that end comes, it can seem out of the blue.

Out on the wards we've been witnessing the wasting for months now. It's gotten worse by the week. Numbers have dwindled slowly and steadily since last autumn. Staff and resources have been cut. The distance between the bells has grown longer and longer, and the faces of the folks in charge have mirrored these distances. Then there will be the occasional rally and we'll all grin and look at each other hopefully, but ultimately the next week will be worse.

They called us in a couple days ago and gave us the first bad news. There will be cuts. It will start with the work week. Four days now with a 20% cut in salary--there isn't enough coming in to justify what we've been doing. I was prepared. I saw it coming. I'd done the math. I can't say I'm prepared financially though. Things are going to get strange very shortly.

The surprise on the faces of my comrades though, caught me off guard. Surely I don't have the best math mind in the bunch! Perhaps they've been running on faith. That's not such a bad thing I suppose, to have faith. You have to keep doing the math though. There is some anger as well, but I don't share that anger. This isn't the callous, corporate axe-job that you can see all over the news. It's not a bit of news that there could have been, in any manner, any joy in delivering. The folks in charge really have been tremendously thoughtful throughout this business. Everything has been cut to the bare bones. All other possible routes have already been taken. Even the staff that has been cut, for the most part, seemed to be working to make themselves redundant. This is just the reality, and since we all chose to remain through it, we will have to share the burden. There are good people at the helm, and it's my own fault that I've only really just come to fully understand that. I don't believe this is terminal, but unlike a good number of the others, I'm old enough to have seen it before. This is the first time though, I will admit, that recovery doesn't appear imminent.

Things are going to get strange very shortly. I have, up until now, not made many adjustments to prepare for this, and haven't seen many other people shoring up the walls either. I think people started to, and then as time wore on, it became rather like that point in The Plague, by Camus, when the need for companionship and human contact overshadowed the fear. People left their houses and hit the streets, and the cafes, and the theaters, en masse.

As for my cohorts on the wards, I am sad to say that there have been some desperate acts. They have ranged on the lesser end from self-promotion at the expense of others, to blatant back-stabbing and sabotage. The first attack on me infuriated me for a while. It came from unexpected quarters, someone I had believed always had my back. The anger dissipated after a bit though. It was an act borne of serious fear and desperation. There are a few easier targets though and that's where the desperate have now turned. I'm not angry. Simply disappointed. I had hoped for more--that we could work together and at least all go down with some sense of pride and honor. There are a few that will, and this will be a very special time for those who remain on that side. I will certainly do my best to be among them.

I can't sit here crying though. It's already worse for a lot of people.


Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama speaks in Cairo

And the major networks could have carried the most important foreign address in 30+ years live, but didn't.

I have to ask why. My only conclusion is that certain powers on both sides of the fence would rather we couldn't view it live and judge for ourselves--they both Republicans and Democrats wanted to wait until they could spoon-feed it back to us pre-spun.

I am desperately disappointed. Was there a single news story more important that they would pre-empt this historic speech (whether you love him or hate him, agree or disagree)? No. Just the regular morning crews with weather, traffic, and entertainment news. It was only 51 minutes. What else was happening that was more important?