Recent highlights

Pulling books off the shelf at random, the Reading Ladder offers some highlights of why these books are in the ladder. Starting with the most recent reading, we will look at the most provocative and informative passages.
Marijuana – a recent addition. “Once mental health professionals (I was one) decide that a set of symptoms form a disorder, the label has implications of its own” Think about legislators who have only two mental conditions in mind: sane and crazy. Once a set of behaviors is dubbed a mental disorder, anyone presenting with those behaviors will most likely receive a diagnosis. Now imagine someone wanting to purchase a gun. I am all for the number of guns being reduced, but there are lots of legitimate reasons for someone to want a gun. They would be restricted. How long ago was it that homosexuality was labeled a disorder? p. 44

Caste  – also recent. “Endogamy, by closing off legal family connection (my marriage with my wife was illegal in our state when we started dating), blocks the chance for empathy or a sense of shared destiny between the castes. It makes it less likely that someone in the dominant caste will have a personal stake in the happiness fulfillment, or well-being of anyone deemed beneath them or personally identify with them or their plight.” When America (White) saw the incident on Edmund Pettus Bridge, what triggered the response leading to the Civil Rights Bill was that it made US, Americans, look bad.  She did not say that but I did. Roosevelt suppressed lynch mobs because the Japanese were killing us in the propaganda war to win over the dark-skinned people of Asia. p. 109

The Bell – Every page offers up a hot mess. This poor man, trying to present his prejudices as science. “Why does this gap persist, like the gap in total family income, while the gaps in educational attainment, occupations, and wages did not? The search for an answer takes us successively further from the things that IQ can explain into ethnic differences with less well understood roots.” My note there was, “I can’t wait.” Murray is so clueless his naivete would be cute if it weren’t embedded in so much viciousness. When he controls for IQ, i.e. ranks the people in the data by IQ, he finds that Black success falls little or not at all beneath Whites’. He does not understand that if a Black person can perform “well” on an IQ test, he/she clearly has a handle on the dominant culture’s ways of thinking and can therefore navigate the educational shoals that trip up so many. Writing the book 20 years into affirmative action, he does not consider it in this passage as contributing to Blacks making it into schools and employment bringing the up to the level of Whites. The Black poverty rate and total family income remain well below Whites’ due to the larger structures built into the society that Murray is oblivious to. Odd for such an intelligent and scholarly man. p. 327

Branch – yesterday I challenged my daughter’s portrayal of King’s movement as a smooth-running totality headed straight toward justice. We see Robert Moses in King’s office calmly confirming King’s account of reports he had received about Moses getting arrested in a demonstration and being identified with the SCLC. Moses’ calm threw King, usually the quiet listener, off his game and he had to go on the offensive a bit. He did not yet know Moses well. The issue, as usual in that time, was a chain of organizations involving Eleanor Roosevelt, that were targeted by Senator Eastland for investigation as Communist fronts or at least infiltrated by Communists. Moses’ bookish, New York City Black life-style made members of the civil rights movement, a mainly Black and very Christian group of competing organizations, suspicious. No easy route to freedom. p. 328

Icon – another new book, a major work on Russian culture. This morning I read that cosmopolitan Novgorod was eclipsed by the power of Muscovy, Moscow. Moscow was aggressive, hierarchical, militaristic, authoritarian. Novgorod reached out to the West, “rationalistic and republican.” This 15th century disaster for Russia – the Renaissance, Reformation, and consequently the Enlightenment all passed Russia by – squelched the light of reason  and freedom. Many blame the Mongols but whatever did it, Russia has never recovered and continues to bask in tyranny. p. 46

Weiss – nasal sounds, rhotic (r) sounds and sibilants (s sounds) seem to affect their environments. They do things like raise or lower vowels. Think of my pronunciation of the a of mash, trash, cash, rash, smash, etc.; my a becomes a diphthong, as if ‘maeesh’. I never noticed it until students brought it to my attention. Elsewhere, even before other sibilants, my a is more standard. So when I say “bash the bat”, the two a’s are different. That comes, I am sure, from my family’s Appalachian dialect. p. 149

Seed – Unexpectedly, Fischer jumps from dissenters in New England to Cavaliers in the Chesapeake. That gets me to where I wanted to be, the South. So I am not sure what he would have covered had he completed his next volume, one on the South, but this satisfies my desire to see how Southern culture developed. I notice two things, only several pages into this section: he seems to admire the Cavaliers and the slave appear only as property, not as people. Match this up with Berliner and you can see there is plenty of documentation on the lives of both free Blacks and slaves in that region. starting 207

Haas – at the opening of his section on Africa, Haas settles into a distortion, actually contradicted at the same site: he writes as if the colonial powers reached into the interior early on (“soon after”) when in reality they did not until the end of the 19th century, which he notes later. This looms large in the Western understanding of Africa because anything of importance that happened there can be laid at the feet of Europeans with Africans as bit players. The impression is what Herskovits attacked in his Myth of the Negro Past, viz. that Black Africans have no history and only the activities of Europeans count there. That understanding expands into an acceptance of Western nations and corporations acting with impunity on the inert body of African nations which are often characterized as weak and ill-formed (cf. Bill Maher’s sense of basket-cases, Trump’s shit-hole countries, and Burnham’s cannibalistic tribes and slave-holding nomads). “Africa”

Morality – the Classical cultures saw gender (sex) on a sliding scale, not absolute either-or. p. 141

Soul – Meacham quotes Roosevelt and others on him, making me want to read a biography of this truly great man. Great Scott! What a contrast. The lessons he can teach us. Pause before you leap – then leap! Infrastructure projects brought jobs as will our own infrastructure projects, incl. the Green New Deal. The government spending money, the conservative’s nightmare…. unless it’s on weapons and the conservative’s brother-in-law is a defense contractor. Ch. 5

Nov. 24, Thanksgiving. New book I won’t give a code to because I’ll finish it soon: Hatemonger by Jean Guerrero on Steven Miller. A high school companion said Miller told her, when she confronted him about lying on a talk show about an incident, that, “It doesn’t matter what the truth is, but ho it makes people feel.” p.67

Lyons – A linear structure made up of constituents is called a string. One type of string is called a concatenation which means the constituent elements are strung together IN A PARTICULAR ORDER. That is only one kind of combination. What Lyons is setting up is Chomskyan grammar which was new at the time he wrote this book. p.209-10 NOTE NEXT ITEM

Kofi – the combination of elements in a string can be seen in music in what is termed additive = the linear accretion of unequal units in a formal sequence. This is important to me because earlier musicologists, including a professor I had at UCLA, divided rhythms of various traditions as divisive (Western Europe), additive (African), and another term for Russian folk music which increases and decreases tempo as a structural component. p. 257 He makes the further comment that additive structure carries a strong narrative quality while a divisive structure invites to dance. I really need to understand additive and divisive better.

Floyd – refers to the heterogeneous sound ideal in Black music. Elsewhere I have commented on my recent discovery of this term and the description of the phenomenon which so marked the singing in the Black church. p. 132

Blowout – George Mitchell, the “father of modern fracking,” is quoted as saying of the regulating of fracking, “These damn cowboys will wreck the world in order to get an extra one per cent” of profit. “You got to sit on ’em.” A less diplomatic way of calling for regulations. It reminded me of Adam Smith saying that capitalism needs regulation.  p.156

Warmth – a good description of how the FBI in the 40s slow-walked investigations into civil rights abuses. p. 153

Flash – a description of how the Fon and Yoruba religions fused to some extent in Haitian vodun made me want to go back to reading the lyrics of Vodun songs in Kweyol. p.179

Ergativity – for some reason I forgot to put this book on this list. I just finished the article on how children acquire ergativity in Hindi and the summary noted that contextual knowledge allows the learner to know what the argument is that is missing, as missing arguments are common in Hindi. That reminded me of Spanish and how its subject pronouns are mostly elided and only context in third person references can tell you what or who is the subject.





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