Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Story of English

I remember seeing, a long time ago, a PBS documentary on the English language called "The Story of English", narrated by Robert MacNeil of the MacNeil-Lerher report. It was utterly fascinating to me, especially the parts about Anglo-Saxon, the root of English brought to England by the people from the northwestern part of present-day Germany and Holland who invaded in the centuries after the Romans left. Especially cool was the part about Frisian, still spoken in northwestern Holland, which even today is similar enough to English that recognizeable English sentences can be written in it.

Since then, I've read Bill Bryson's "The Mother Tongue" and dug into the old English roots of Tolkien's work through Professor Tom Shippey's books "The Road to Middle Earth" and "Tolkien, the Greatest Author of the 20th Century". It reamains a fascinating topic to me.

I didn't every expect to see the documentary again. It is damn near 20 years old now, and I have not seen it in the documentary sections of the DVD stores. On a whim, I recently did a search for the series on Amazon, and it was available! Still on VHS, and costing nearly a hundred bucks, but I bought it anyway and it's just as good as I remember. I'd forgotten the interesting sections on the influence of Cockney and the "Guid Scots Tongue" (and if you know me, you know why the Scottish stuff is interesting to me ;)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Partisanship is a Good Thing!

It occurs to me that, if it weren't for partisan politics, I would probably not be interested.

When I was growing up in the 70's, and just starting to become politically and socially aware, the general consensus among my peers was that politicians were all the same. Never mind the very obvious differences between the politically effective but amoral Nixon and the smart and genteel Jimmy Carter[1] (who was less polically effective). Vietnam had made the US government "the enemy". I and my peers had a strong feeling of malaise, that we really couldn't make a difference and that it wasn't worth getting involved with the "evil" government in any case. The Reagan era and Iran-Contra did little to dispel those feelings for me.

Then an interesting thing happened; Clinton was elected[2]. And everything changed; the extreme right mobilized and found that they had teeth, and went after Clinton (who, you must admit, was probably not the most liberal democratic president we've ever had) with amazing and, to my mind, way over-the-top attacks. It seemed as though interfering with Clinton and his presidency was the most important thing in the world, for no other reason that because he was a popular democrat (and the calls from the right for liberals to stop interfering with the Bush presidency seem really ironic).

Personally, this galvanized me, and continues to do so. Moderate Republicans, who might be interested in doing their jobs, rather than just attempting to gain and hold onto power, are swept aside and attacked (Jeffords, McCain, Hegel, etc.) by the controllers of their own party. They are so damned awful, in fact, that they keep me involved in politics where in normal circumstances I'd be off gazing into my own navel and watching those pretty girls go by.

Thank you Messrs. Gingrich, Frist, Hatch, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Lott, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity, etc., for keeping me interested! ;)

[1] Nowadays poor R.M. Nixon is dead, but Jimmy Carter continues to try to make a difference in the world through his Carter Center (and I am a contributor).

[2] Why is it that democratic presidents have to be Southerners these days? It doesn't seem fair; Northern voters will vote for whoever is competent and has "The Right Stuff", but Southerners won't seem to vote for non-Southerners.