Monday, May 30, 2011

More thoughts on Memorial Day

The parades, concerts, and other activities associated with Memorial Day in the United States can be loosely grouped under what some anthropologists refer to as rites of intensification.  A typical definition of these rites is that they are "rituals intended either to bolster a natural process necessary to survival or to reaffirm the society's commitment to a particular set of values and beliefs" [my emphasis].

What are the "values and beliefs" that we reaffirm on Memorial Day?  To answer this question, we have to make a distinction between folk (or, roughly, emic) and analytic (roughly, etic) ideas.   The folk model answer must include values such as patriotism, freedom, democracy, glorification of military service, the extension of that service to all parts of the world, and, especially, the honoring of those who have lost their lives in that service.  The omnipresent symbol that represents all this is the national flag, visible through the window as I write this, flying in a warm breeze in front of both our neighbor's houses.

But there is a dark side to all this, and the dark side is our national war addiction. We are so addicted to the warm, fuzzy feelings invoked by the parades, the hot dogs and hamburgers and apple pie,  the returning military people surprising their families with an unexpected homecoming, the Skype calls between wives and husbands, and so on, that we are compelled to sacrifice our people and wealth to satisfy this addiction by the almost uninterrupted perpetration of violence in far-off places.  We are not a happy people unless we are at war.

What, you say?  How can this be?  Have a look at Wikipedia's listing of US military operations from 1775 to the present.  Or, if you don't trust Wikipedia, check out this chronicle of military interventions since 1890.

One important thing to notice on both of these listings (there are many others, just Google "us military interventions" is that it really is hard to find a stretch of time lasting more than a year or so when the US has not been engaged militarily, either domestically or internationally. If we focus on just the period between the end of WWI and the start of WWII, we find these :
1919   Honduras
1919   Yugoslavia
1920   Guatemala
1920-21   West Virginia
1922   Turkey
1922-34   China
1924-25   Honduras
1925   Panama
1932   El Salvador
1932   Washington, DC
Several of these, in particular in Guatemala, West Virginia, Honduras, and Panama, involved the use of troops against unionized workers or workers attempting to unionize.  Others involved the suppression of popular revolts against autocratic leaders.

How weak are the folk values of "freedom" and "democracy" in which we are supposedly enculturated.

Another song for Memorial Day

For Memorial Day last year, I posted Pete Seeger's "Bring them Home."  This year, I give you his "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," which he sang on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on February 25, 1968 (he had sung it on an earlier show, but CBS censors cut it).  It was aimed at the Vietnam War then, but it's still plenty relevant.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blog: Anthropologists for Justice and Peace

There is (or will be shortly) a link on the left to a relatively new blog, Anthropologists for Justice and Peace.  Here's how they describe themselves:
AJP joins the academy to building non-state and non-market solutions to social injustice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We're still here!

Looks like the Rapture didn't happen yesterday after all.  Either that, or only the heathens are left behind; come to think of it, the neighborhood was pretty quiet this morning when I took our dog for a walk.

Incidentally, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which seems pretty reliable, the word heathen, is from Anglo-Saxon hǣðen, meaning "not Christian or Jew."  The word may have originally referred to people who lived on the heath, i.e. non-farmers, wild people (the word pagan has a similar historical origin).  Old English hǣðen underwent the usual vowel changes, which is why we now pronounce it [hiːðən].

The whole "rapture" thing reminds me of a story about the late Sir Eric Gairy, former Grenadian political leader and a sort of mini-Papa Doc.  During one of his campaigns in the 50s or maybe 60s, he told people that he would prove his power by walking on the water of St. George's harbor, which is actually the partly submerged rim of an extinct (?) volcano.  On the appointed night he was rowed out to the middle of the harbor.  He stood up in the boat and started to step out onto the water, and then dramatically stopped and looked up, cupping his ear with his hand as if listening to something.  He sat back down in the boat and they rowed him to shore.  There he told the onlookers that just as he was about to walk on the water, he received a message from God who told him it wasn't the right time.

And here's the sad part: a lot of those people on shore believed him.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New link: Linguistics in the Classroom

I have added a link to a blog titled "Linguistics in the Classroom," written by Ann Evans at Montclair State University.  Ann's description of the site follows:
This blog is meant to help teachers show their students how language is constructed, how meaning is made, and what the role of language is in our lives.  It contains information and exercises to illustrate linguistic ideas and principles at the word, sentence, and paragraph level, and within language communities.  Each point and exercise is introduced simply, with examples, and is usually meant to take ten minutes or less.

This  blog is the continuation of an article published in the Spring 2011 issue of the Duke University journal Pedagogy.
Ann Evans is an Adjunct Professor of Writing at Montclair State University.  She has an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from Montclair State, and an M.A. in English from New York University.  Besides English, she speaks French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Greek.
If you are looking for exercises and linguistics-oriented explanations to share, especially with writing-troubled students, check it out.