Sunday, July 28, 2013


MetaRules or rules about rules

1. Rules are generalizations - even this one.

2. Rules often contradict each other but not this one and the previous one.

3. Some of the rules from NCIS are just crazy. The most reasonable one, always carry a knife, is very often illegal and people do get arrested for it. "Never say you are sorry, because it is a sign of weakness"  is so dumb, that it is even dumb for tv.


1. The wedding is mostly for the bride. Everyone else is a guest and that includes the groom, who is a special guest, sometimes third only to the mother of the bride.

2. The groom should evoke great interest in the preparations and day even if he has little. His apparent happiness will go a long way towards making it a great day for her. The existence of a Friends' episode parodying this has made no impact on this behavior.

3. Some poor families need to fight before a wedding, for a subset to the degree they will never get past it. It can be over something as trivial as shoes, table arrangements or colors. Don't try and fix it. You can't.

4. Have a store of traditional questions and statements ready for when the bride and groom come over to your table. If the people just before you ask where they are going on their honeymoon, you want to have something mindless to say that is at least a little different. In a pinch use the word "beautiful" or "awesome":

                "You look beautiful."

                "Everything is beautiful."

                "What a beautiful ceremony."  

                "Awesome au d'oeuvres."
Better, try to be the first at your table to talk when they come. Of course, they aren't going to remember or care what you say anyway.

5. Wedding gifts are no longer really personal gifts. It is a socially required behavior where the happy couple tells you what you must buy them off a registry they selected and you publicly declare you've done it. And we do it because it is what they and everyone else wants us to do, because it actually is easier than thinking, and because that's life.  Money, of course, works too. I prefer that myself.

6. Toasters should not be roasters. Brides are not famous for their senses of humor, nor their parents, and even a normally happy go lucky groom, might want it to be the one day his buddies didn't give it to him. There are exceptions, but many of them are in movies.

7. If it is the rare "no gifts please" wedding, check to see if other people are giving gifts anyway so you don't feel like a cheap bastard. Probably they are.

8. Do not make yourself sick eating au d'oeuvres. It is really easy to do. Okay, maybe this rule is just for me.

9. If you are bored, remember that filming with your phone always makes you look like you have something going on and that you are fully participating. Try not to actually use your phone the way you normally do though - calls, texts, etc. It may be one the few places where it is still unnacceptable.

10. When any doubt about applying any rule, rule no. 1 is no. 1 for a reason.

Rules for parenting

1. You can dedicate up to 75% of your life to your children. Keep at least 25% for yourself. And don't feel guilty about taking more. You have to go a long way to be neglectful. The idea that it is "all" for the children has actually been terrible for the children.

2. Kids gain confidence when they see their parents are confident, in charge and enjoy their life. Your misery and fear is highly contagious.

3. Still - even still - you should not let your child scream or cry in a restaurant. Take them out right away.  The same goes for libraries and most stores. There are exceptions when a place is kid friendly and the rest of us have to accept it. That's up to the place - not the parent.

4. Sure, sometimes you can let your kid win. But do not let your kid always win or even most of the time. You will make losing even more onerous than it is for them when it happens in real life. I'm not saying destroy them at wrestling, but as cute as you think that they think they can beat daddy, it's better for them if they have something to try for.

5. Your kid is better off when you let them do what they can when they are ready. Don't keep them babies because it makes you feel good. I hear a mother say she wants to keep a baby in his crib or diapers as long as she can and I cringe.  Parents who are always cooking and cleaning for their teenagers will find they are doing it for their 20 and even 30 somethings. And they shouldn't be.

6. There is no limit to what you can spoil your kid when it comes to purchasing equipment or materials for sports, music or education - so long as you can afford it. We are not all Rockefellers. But better to splurge with that than toys.

7. Kids can make choices when they are old enough. When they are young they do not have the experience to know what they like. So, when you want to take them to the park or zoo or beach, just take them - don't ask them.

8. Kids are capable very young to learn how to share, how not to fight or steal, how to take turns, how to be quiet, how not to destroy things. You are not earning points with them or anyone else if you think they are too young when none of the other kids are that dumb.

9. Kids feel good about themselves when they are good at something. When your kid finds their thing, they will know it, even if it is not what you wanted. And they will probably want to do it a lot.

10. Kids should have pets, learn to respect them, handle them without hurting them and know not to be afraid of them without good reason. But don't take on more than you and they can handle.

11. Read, read, read to them.

Rules for young men and women (not that I necessarily followed them)

1. Excessive drinking and pretty much any drugs can destroy your life. Period. I can't even be bothered arguing about it anymore. If you need help stopping, get help.

2. Go to school as long as you can. Take courses that will enable you to have a career of some kind. That may sound obvious, but many people just don't do it.  

3. On the other hand, If you have a dream and want to follow it, go ahead, but understand that the phrase "starving artist" is there for a reason.  Don't let anyone tell you not to follow your dreams. Just understand the risks, the likelihood of success and be prepared for rejection and failure. There's nothing wrong with it and it can't happen if you don't try. But, if you can, college at the same time or first, if possible.

4. You do not have to live where your parents live. At some point, one or more of your ancestors picked up and left. You can too. Any time after high school is fine.

5. Work as hard as you can stand for as long as you can to learn your career. This is the time when you have the energy, the stamina, the learning capabilities and other people will be sympathetic and desire to work with you. There will be plenty of time for recreation too no matter how hard you work.

6. Don't settle for a guy or girl because you want to have someone. There is nothing wrong with dating a number of people while you don't have a commitment. This seems so obvious to me, but again, I know so many people who don't do it.

7. There are two major breaks in most people's lives where they change the most. The first is getting out of high school. But more so is during your first year of full time work, when you will change the most and probably also find out more about yourself than any time in your life. If you are behaving a certain way because you think someone(s) expects it of you, and want to change, either get past them or make new friend or move away from your family. Too many unhappy people trying to live someone else's life.

8. Family members are often going to be the ones you can count on the most, take care of you when you are vanquished or old and put up with your odd behavior. Just as often they are the ones who will try to make you the most miserable and destroy you. Think on this as an extreme example. We know hundreds of people and come into contact with thousands of acquaintances and strangers. Yet a 1988 study found that 16% of all murders were by family. When you think how few people there are in your family compared to strangers you meet, that is a staggering number. 2004 FBI stats had it up to almost 23%! I just picked two random years but Yikes! The percentage of women murderers also go up substantially when family is involved.  

9. Mark Twain probably never said or wrote, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do," but it is great advice anyway.

 10. Learn this now.  Most people, and that includes your friends, family and co-workers will judge you most (I didn't say only) on how much money you have or make. Even people without money do that. It is very imbedded in our culture and perhaps in our species. That may be good or bad, depending on how much money you have. You can accept it or not.

Special rules for (nice) young women with respect to dating

1. You are not a slut because you have slept with more than one person in your life, or even a lot more. But, other people may feel you are based on their own hang ups or jealousy and because that's our culture. Life isn't fair that men aren't looked at the same way, but that's our culture too. Don't believe the tabloids that it is different now than it used to be. You are not Demi Moore.  I've seen too many young women distraught over whether other people think they are a slut or not. You do what you want to do, but, leaving aside health and safety reasons as obvious, it is best  . . .

2. . . .not to advertise your sex life, particularly the wild parts. Other women will judge you on it (almost always adversely) and guys will dislike you for it if they are not personally on the receiving end. Don't brag about sexual adventures. You are going to get older and when you want to have kids, you aren't going to want your friends to remember or your husband to know that you once were with two guys at once or made out with another girl at a club (even drunk, both times). I know, you think, I won't care, but you probably will. Private is better.

3. If a guy is attracted to you and you kiss him or bring him home, in some cases just smile at him, he will think you want to sleep with him. That doesn't mean he is a rapist, but it is why we have a human species. But, seriously, know someone a while before you are alone with him. It is easy to act nice and some people's aggressiveness skyrockets when they drink.

4. Of course, don't let anyone touch you that you don't want touching you, but, also don't think a guy is a creep just because he tries (until you say "no" or he is just obnoxious about it). The reason guys have to learn "'no' means 'no'" is because of rule 3 and also because you do confuse us. And, of course, some guys are just jerks (and, occasionally, rapists). The best you can, try to say what you mean to us when it comes to sex. Better for you.

5. Repeat to yourself endlessly - "He cannot read my mind. If I want him to know or do something, I have to tell him DIRECTLY!"

6. The only thing you owe someone on a date is to try to have a good time yourself, not to impress him or make him have a good time.  If you can really focus on that, you will not feel so anxious.

7. If a guy is jealous and shows any temper about it, move on. If he is at all violent about it, run, and yes, call the police if necessary, as many times as necessary.  If you haven't blocked a harasser from your internet accounts and changed your phone number, you might like the drama. I've seen that many times.  

8. If you start dating a guy, never tell him you slept with anyone else (even a boyfriend at the time or an old boyfriend) after you met him, never tell him anyone was better than him at any type of sex (even kissing) and never tell him you ever slept with anyone faster than you slept with him, because this guy might be the one and he won't forget it.  I'm not saying you should lie. I'm saying don't tell him. Trust me on this. Men are complicated too.

9. Men produce testosterone their whole lives. Don't necessarily think because someone is a lot older they aren't going to look at you the same way a young man will. That doesn't make them rapists and it may be creepy, but that's the way it is.

10. No naked or topless pictures. None. You might as well publish them yourself if you send them to a guy.

11. It is fine to date someone from work, and work rules that require you not to, unless they are really related to security, are ridiculous. But, understand that it is often a bad idea simply because you end up spending a lot of time with someone you may loathe once you break up. Some people can handle it. A lot can't.

12. The current texting before dating rule current among young women is so absurd, it is among the dumbest things ever invented. You CANNOT get to know someone through texting or emailing. You must talk with and spend time with them.

Rules about honesty

1. Tell the truth as much as possible. Try to avoid compulsion though. You can just say nothing.

2. Honesty is the best policy, but it is not the only policy. There are some good reasons to lie, but once you exhaust white lies and lying to save your life, you have exhausted most of them.

3. There is a definite link between how much you lie about your shortcomings and failures and how much shame you will feel.

4. In many cases, being able to tell the truth about a compulsion is the same as being able to control the compulsion. I think it is the best therapy. I can't tell you how many people I've met who are ashamed of some aspect of their life that people will just not care that much about if they know.

5. Tell white lies to spare feelings and don't feel guilty about it. It took me a while to get there.

6. It is true that sometimes you have to tell a little lie to avoid a great injustice. But, this has to be used very sparingly as it is also an easy excuse. And, you probably will get caught.

7. Ironically, most people want you to lie to them most of the time, preferring getting their way, affirmation or feeling good about themselves to knowing the truth.  It doesn't mean you have to lie, but they would prefer it. Fortunately, we learn what these things are very young.

8. Often telling someone the truth when everyone else is lying to them, is exactly what they need. That doesn't mean they will appreciate it, but many do.

9. Lying is a tactic. Fear is the number one motivation behind it. I know you are thinking greed or feelings of inferiority, but they are symptoms of fear.

10. Sometimes it is said that remaining silent is the same as telling a lie. I disagree a little. Only when another person has a reasonable expectation that you have a duty to tell them the truth and that is not always easy to figure out.

11. People decide whether you are lying or not based on their own interests, not logic or experience. Get used to it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Oaks, rocks, stumps and stocks - from Ba'al to Tolkien

Every once in a while I do a post on or concerning my beloved ancient Greece* or my equally beloved Tolkien**.

*(1/18/11, A Melian reasons to read Thucydides; 9/23/10, The Great Myths; 8/27/10, Greece - Ancient homeland of the gyro; 6/20/09, The Death of the West; 9/21/07, For language lovers only)

** (2/21/10, Would you just finish it already, JRRT - A trip through the Master's letters while he was writing LOTR (seemingly forever); 5/14/09, Fulfilling Edith Hamilton's prophecy: J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings; 4/10/08, The Greatest Epics Ever Made (in my humble opinion) and, 7/17/07, Will the real Tom Bombadil please stand up. Who or what is Tom Bombadil)
This week, in my meanderings among some old languages, I struck on something that allows me to talk about both ancient Greece and Tolkien!, and my heart is racing like a Leprechaun who stumbles over an unprotected bowl of magically delicious Lucky Charms. Basically, it was just piecing together two chains of research, but I am not sure that it has been done before and that is always exciting.

It's also arguable that I am stretching to reach my point, but if so, no more than many professional linguists and other scholars I read do to reach theirs. They may be largely right about a number of things while guessing (sometimes wildly) about much on the outer reaches.  That's why their work is usually (should be) laden with words indicating they are speculating.

I am certainly not a linguist or philologist, though I love languages, particularly some dead ones. Admittedly, I barely understand the rudiments of their peculiar notations and methodology. I do know the difference between voiced and unvoiced and what sibilants and fricatives are, but to tell you the truth, I cannot maintain very much interest in it. But, I wade through enough sentences like - "The dissimilatory loss of the labialization in the environment of u . . . , common to all Greek dialects, is illustrated qoukoro - gwoulolos 'cowherd' ˂ *gwouqwolos, and kunaja = gunaia. . . " (from The Greek Language, an classic modern work on ancient Greek I partially understand; but, that's okay, because the classicist who recommended it feels the same way). There are times when the mist lifts and there is some clarity for me but other times I think it is not much different than arguments about where Rama lived or if the palace they uncovered near Jerusalem a few years ago was really King David's.

What I do immensely enjoy is finding connections between ancient and modern languages the way some people enjoy karaoke or ice fishing. It doesn't matter much that I could be wrong, of course, just as the linguists must be frequently wrong, but other than the powerful appeal to authority, who will say whether I am or not?

So much for the preface. Let me start with The Lord of the Rings, bounce over to Homer, wander around the middle east and then bring it back home to Tolkien like Louis Armstrong belting out "Hello, Dolly."

Tolkien scholarship and serious criticism is still growing as there are a number of professors who recognize his achievements were hardly limited to just writing a great story.  Tom Shippey who taught at Oxford at the end of Tolkien's time there and followed him in a Chair at Leeds University, seems to have no professional jealousy and has written several books celebrating and studying his predecessor's works.  I was reading his The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. TOLKIEN Created a New Mythology  a few years back in which there is a chapter entitled When All our Fathers Worshipped Stocks and Stones. It centers on a scene near the end of The Return of the King in which the ent ("giant" in Old English) Treebeard, the eldest living creature in Middle-Earth and half tree, says good-bye to the Elf Lords, Celeborn and Galadriel (by far the more important of the two).  Treebeard says, '"It is long, long since we met by stock or by stone. . . " 

Shippey goes on to explain "'by stock or by stone' is certainly a deliberate echo of the fourteenth-century poem Pearl, written by the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,* and probably the most powerful of all medieval elegies."

*Of which poem Tolkien's translation may still be the most famous, though that might be due to his more popular writings. He and his friend, E.V. Gordon (whose name I have seen spelled three ways) also came out with a scholarly edition in 1925, still relied on. Gordon, who died in the 1930s, also came out with a translation of Pearl to which edition Tolkien contributed. Tolkien's translations of these poems came out in 1975 when he was already famous for LOTR and The Hobbit. His translations of other works are still being released by his son, Christopher, now himself quite an elderly man.

Pearl  may be a powerful elegy but it is beyond my powers to read much of it as it deals with a father grieving the death of his daughter who in a dream meets her across a river he cannot cross (guess what that symbolizes). Call me a sissy, but I do not think I could read it without feeling more grief  than I am comfortable with, though my own daughter is alive and healthy. I can't even listen to that Eric Clapton song about his dead son, though I loved it before I realized what it was. I just avoid things like that.  

Where was I? Oh, In Middle (not Old) English, the Pearl poet has the father speak the following in words: "We meten so selden by stok other ston. . . " Or, in modern English - We meet so seldom by stock or stone (Gordon translation). Ironically, Tolkien, who later used the stock and stone alliteration for Treebeard, actually also translated the poem's line without it using not only the less poetic, but less accurate "We meet on our roads by chance so rare.") That is more interpretation than translation and often happens when translators want to avoid repeating others' work.

When All our Fathers Worshipped Stocks and Stones is a long meandering chapter (45 pages in my soft cover edition), and Professor Shippey has many points to address that do not concern me here.  But, he returns to this phrase "by stock and by stone" at the end of it, acknowledging Wordsworth's echoing of Pearl in his Lucy: "With rocks, and stones, and trees!" Shippey remarks, "He should have written 'stocks', not 'rocks'. But he preferred the alliteration on r (and the tautology)."

I initially thought how strange that Professor Shippey, a leading authority on English literature, should have gotten this wrong and Wordsworth, who he derides as "a linguistic critic of the most ignorant type" got it right. But, Shippey seemed to me, at least for a long time, to interpret "stocks" incorrectly, as is easy to do. It rhymes with, but does not mean "rocks." But, I will come back to this later.  Shippey also addresses John Milton's own homage in a sonnet with "When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones. . . ," which he used for the chapter title.

All I really care about addressing here is that "stock and stone" was a phrase in English used as early as the 14th century by the author of Pearl, by Milton in the 17th, and a derivative by Wordsworth in the 19th and perhaps last by Tolkien in the 20th (and perhaps really, really last by Shippey in discussing it in the 21st). What I want to address, and I think scholars might have missed, is that it probably goes back a lot further than that.

In fact, I am not sure that Tolkien,Wordsworth and Milton were necessarily paying homage to Pearl in using the phrase, because there are other sources. Tolkien, who translated it, most likely was, given his work on the poem. I am not sure about Wordworth but I'm even less sure that Milton was not just using a phrase he knew from life and his own reading. His time was  not so far removed from that of Pearl as the others and he may have actually have known and used the phrase "stocks and stones" (just as we know the phrase "that's the breaks," or a million others, but not necessarily from any particular source). 

From evidence I see, and I'll get to below, it is more than likely that this phrase goes back to the roots of the English language and well before that. In fact, it seems to me it arose before there was an English or German, even before ancient Greek, and though evidence will peter out in the depths of time (another example of a common phrase with which I am not paying homage to any author), but perhaps back thousands of years earlier to  the Proto Indo-European language speakers or near descendants. Follow. . . .

I don't know exactly when I read Shippey's book, but I think it was initially a hardcover from the library in 2003 or 2004. For me, "by stock and stone" was just a pleasant alliteration that stuck in my head for a few years upon reading his book. Though I had read the scene in LOTR way back in the early 80s, the phrase did not stick in my head then, if I had especially noticed it at all. I wasn't that interested in languages then, at least in the way I am now. The scene, however did stick in my head, as it represented to me what I think it did for Tolkien -- the dying of a mythologically rich and agrarian way of life and the advent of a more urban and technological one.

Jump ahead to this past week when I am looking at some lines from The Iliad in which Hektor is thinking about whether to fight Achilles or not (you probably know, but if you don't know, it doesn't end up well for him) which has been interpreted in the translation I use most, Prof. Murray's in the Loeb's Collection, this way: "In no wise may I now from oak-tree or from rock hold dalliance with him . . . ."  Professor Murray's translation is a little awkward in modern English, but it sounds much better than my own (below) as an English sentence. But, I can tell you he is not getting the words "may I" from the text, as the verb "to be" in Homer is in the third person present indicative ("he/she/it is"). "May I" would require the 1st person subjunctive and it is just not there in the Greek text. That the professor made this change is not an anomaly. Translators of ancient works who would like people to actually read their work take these liberties with their translations to give a better idea what they think the classic author meant and to make it more readable for us, and they don't explain the additions or subtractions.
My own translation is a little different because, not intending to publish, I prefer my Homer as literal as it can be made while still being understandable to us. I have: "By no means is it [possible] from oak tree or from stone to chat with him. . . ."  I know this just barely sounds like an English sentence, and, in fact, I have to add at least one word myself here - [possible] - which isn't in the text either, to make it more of an English sentence.

There are good reasons the phrase Homer (presuming, as always, there was such a person) wrote or sang doesn't translate neatly into English. Homeric Greek is a language which is a hybrid of Greek dialects. Likely no one spoke it like that outside of Epic poetry, though they could recognize it and were not unlikely familiar with the different dialects, which were not particularly diverse. It is a poem in which meter is more important than complete sentences. Also, ancient (and modern) Greek doesn't have the same emphasis on some types of words we find very helpful, like pronouns and prepositions, and are often just built into their own words. The words change (inflexion) as their context changes. We do this a little with verbs but not with nouns except to make plurals. But, those comments apply to much of Homeric Greek (some of it does actually translate smoothly into English, especially if you ignore word order). In this case, "from oak (tree) and from stone (or rock)" is also an expression and not meant to be taken literally.  

I am not guessing that it was an expression. I know it is in so far as we can know anything. Professor Murray himself notes as follows in a footnote: "This phrase . . . recurs a number of times in Greek literature, and appears to be a quotation from an old folk-tale dealing with the origin of mankind from trees or stones."

But it was precisely as an expression - from oak or from stone (I'm going to use oak and stone rather than tree and rock for obvious reasons hereafter) that it fired a synapse in my brain.  I knew where I had seen something like it before and went straight to my second hand soft-cover copy of Shippey to re-read the chapter about "stocks and stones." I can't say I had anything more than an intuition when I started, but it ripened quickly into something else.  

Having read Shippey I had a suspicion he had missed something and also that "stock or stone" could be related to the ancient Greek "oak and stone" even if they no longer meant the same thing.  I went online and directly looked up the Greek phrase concerning oak trees and stones and like words. I was immediately rewarded by a paper by a Harvard philologist, A. S. W. Forte, from the Center on Hellenic Studies on the exact phrase entitled Speech from Tree and Rock: Recovery of a Bronze Age Metaphor. Without boring you to Homeric tears here's generally what I learned from him:

- The phrase in ancient Greek is attested to not only in The Iliad, but also in The Odyssey, in Hesiod (the other great poet from the pre-classical Greek Epic poetry era) and even Plato. That is the hat trick, if there ever was one in ancient literature.

- The phrase includes the idea of speech coming from oak and rock and is a metaphor for thunder and lightning, but representing divine speech (oracular or prophetic) and generative (origins of man) power. That conclusion is based on evidence to long to go into here. It seemed plausible to me.

- There is also similar phraseology and symbolism dating back to 13th century B.C. Ugaritic Ba'al cycle found at Ras Shamra (modern day northern Syria - the city was once known as Ugarit, the discovery of which is one of the greatest in 20th century archaeology but which there is also not room to go into here) and also a picture on a seal from the 18th century, also from northern Syria, which strongly resembles a pictogram of the same phrase. I should mention here that it is commonly accepted that Ba'al has many characteristics in common with the Greek Zeus, including being the thunderer and there is almost certainly a transference of myth from one to the other because of the proximity of the area known as the Levant to the Mediterranean. Zeus' special tree was, in fact, the oak.

- Forte sees "a clear inherited ideological system that persists from the Bronze-Age through Homer and Hesiod."

- He further speculates that particularly the visual evidence from Northern Syria suggests that the origins of this phrase, "speech from tree and/or rock," may be lurking in cultic practice of the early 3rd millennium BCE (I do not see how he can, on the evidence, bring it back further than early 2nd millennium, but this is the point where I feel he becomes way too speculative).

- He acknowledges that there is no way to tell what access writers/poets like Homer, Hesiod or Plato had to the earlier metaphoric meaning of the phrase or precisely what it meant at any given time. He uses English examples of "by hook or by crook," "to make ends meet" and "the proof is in the pudding" to explain that we can't be sure what they meant to any one at any given time. But, he adds, what he is certain of is that the phrase lasted basically intact for 1500 years (circa 18th c., B.C., through roughly 400 B.C., in Plato, which is more like 1400 years, but who's counting?)

I'm going to suggest that the life of this phrase lasted much, much longer, in fact, right up until Tolkien in the 1940s and even arguably to Shippey in 2003, though the meaning has been mostly changed through time and language except in one startling modern example.

But, if you are careful readers, you are going to say, hold on, hold on -- why are you suggesting that Ugaritic/Greek expression concerning an oak tree and stone is like the English language stock and stone? Aren't they only vaguely similar, but different, things?

Actually, no. They are virtually the same thing, and this is not speculative at all. If you remember, Shippey stated that Wordsworth (that supposedly ignorant literary critic) should have written "With stocks, and stones, and trees!" instead of "With rocks, and stones, and trees!" meaning that he thought "stocks" was the proper substitute for "rocks," in order to emulate Pearl. In Shippey's whole chapter there is nothing to suggest anything but that he believes this. I have to say I was a little surprised that he appeared not to have known that the correct meaning of "stoc" or "stock" is  "a stock, stem, trunk, block, stick" as given in A Compendious Anglo-Saxon and English Dictionary which I would be stunned if Shippey did not own, given his job. You could also look in the Oxford English Dictionary and probably most any other comprehensive dictionaries or online ones that you choose. Basically stock means stump, and certainly not rocks. So, Wordsworth was right. His use of both "rocks" and "stones" was merely poetic (like my attempt in the title to this post) and in the same phrase he had as well "trees" - close enough to a tree stump. And, in the same vein, the author of Pearl meant "by tree stump and stone." In any event, I later realized, reading the quotes from his chapter again, that Shippey understood perfectly well - of course he did.

Properly translated, the difference between the Old and Middle English "by stock and stone" and the ancient use of "of tree and of stone" dating as far back as the early second millennium B.C. is virtually obliterated.

It would be more exciting if the stumps meant were oaks, but that is not clear. In Homer, we know.  Drus means oak tree and can also represent a tree in general. What about in Britain? We do know from Pliny believed that Drus is likely the stem of Druid, the Celtic priesthood, adding the Greek suffix -id(es) to get Druid. But, whether that is correct or not, it is still not clear what kind of trees the author of Pearl or Milton, Wordsworth and Tolkien were referring to or whether there is any meaning similar in their phrase to that found in the ancient Greek or Ugaritic. I would not expect there would be given the time and geographic span that exists. It is remarkable enough that the phrase is still being used, even if only by poets.

In Pearl the expression doesn't appear to be about a generative myth, thunder and lightning or prophecy. Maybe not, but there is no doubt that it still possesses some relationship to the phantasmagorical world, as the father has woken in a fantasy setting set upon the border of heaven. It is a religious poem which also concerns, at least tangentially, prophecy, though referring to Christ. I find no reference in the poems to oak trees specifically.

Milton's Poem, On the Late Massacre in Piedmont, which treats the expression as a reference to an archaic time "when all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones" seems quite likely to bear some relationship to Druid priests worshipping Oak Trees and stones. This matches the little we know about Druids, who are associated with not only oak trees, but stones - such as at Stonehenge, particularly in Milton's time (though, there is no real evidence that they had anything to do with it). Milton was not a stranger to the notion of druid priests and I have found he has mentioned them in at least one poem.

From another blogspot blog, Logismoi, essentially an Orthodox Christian commentary, but extremely rich in language discussion, I find yet another stock and stone reference, this one from a 13th century Snorri Sturluson saga, Heimskringla, which has St. Olaf preach that the gold and ornaments should be given to wives and daughters and never again hung upon stocks (trees) and stones. Snorri seems not to use it as a metaphor there at all, but rather in a straightforward fashion. The blog author (a deacon and Christian school teacher named Aaron Taylor) ponders whether the phrase goes back to Proto-Germanic poetic tradition, but does not seem aware of the even deeper Indo-European roots.

But, as far as English goes, Logismoi is a treasure trove for "stock" references. In a follow up post on 8/14/2009, assisted by some knowledgeable commenters, he notes uses in Chaucer from Troilus and Chryseyde ("by stokkes and by stones), from a 13th century Brut (Brutus) by Lazamon ("Mid Stocken & mid stanen. . ." - "With stockes and with stones. . .") and from an OED reference, to Reson and Sensuallyte by a John Lydgate in 1407 ("As deffe as stok or ston." "As deaf as stock or stone"). As with his other post, none of it concerns other than English references.

But, I've saved the best for last. It was hard for me to believe, once I saw the connection, that Tolkien's giant Tree-man, Treebeard, did not also mean tree stump when he used the word "stock" to the departing Elves. But, I am now sure, for reasons you will see below, we can know that this is precisely what Tolkien meant.

In fact, not only did he use the phrase to mean the same thing as Homer and others before and after him did, but, oddly, the clearest connection to the metaphoric meaning of the phrase as used in ancient Greece and northern Syria (according to Forte) and modern times is found in this very scene with Treebeard saying good-bye to the elves.

Thanks to Logismoi, I can be sure that Tolkien, unlike Shippey, knew precisely what "stock" meant when he used it in LOTR, for a very knowledgeable commenter pointed out that in Tolkien/Gorden's 1925 edition of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the word "stubbe" is given as "stock, stump" and in Tolkien's Middle English Vocabulary (1922), he gives "stok(ke)" itself as "stem, tree-trunk." Of course, few people loved trees and languages like Tolkien, so it is no surprise he would know. In any event, all doubt as to his meaning is erased.

I can't say that I know that Treebeard would have meant an oak tree stump by using the word "stock" though. The Encyclopedia of Arda, a fairly standard online Tolkien reference site states that oaks are "[o]ne of the commonest trees in Middle-earth, found throughout its forests," but I do not know if that is so and don't remember any specific reference to oaks myself in Tolkien's Middle-Earth save for a very important one - the chief of the dwarves who accompanied Bilbo was named Thorin Oakenshield (it was figurative, as he once used an oak branch as a shield). Hence, we can at least know that oak trees existed in Tolkien's literary world (meant by him to be old Europe).  

But, there are also much more clearer metaphorical elements found in this scene which precisely relate to those found in Forte's paper. First, in Middle-Earth, Treebeard is an ent, that is, a tree-man. Ents were conscious and could actually speak, bringing us directly back to the Ugaritic and Greek mythic metaphoric meaning of trees speaking. We should also remember that the entire Tolkien creation is based upon an initial (Bible inspired) creation myth and generative myths about all of Middle-Earth's  man-like creatures (the Elves and Treebeard being first to be animated among them) found in his Silmarillion. The meeting of the elves and Treebeard for the last time in Middle-Earth is a very meaningful and poignant one and precisely why Tolkien has it happen. The idea of prophecy also plays a small role in this parting scene as Galadriel, perhaps the most oracular character in Tolkien's entire corpus, actually prophesizes in this very scene when she predicts that they will all meet again when the lands under the wave rise.

Thus, remarkably, and if coincidental, even more remarkably, all the elements of the phrases' likely meaning as posited by Forte are found here in the very scene in which Tolkien uses the phrase excepting that of thunder and lightning. It seems too detailed to be fortuitous. Thus, I believe, when Treebeard used in he pretty much meant exactly what Homer and the even earlier Syrians meant.

I cannot be sure that Tolkien, who studied Greek and Latin when young, was thinking about the meaning of the phrase in Greek (of which, he noted in a letter late in life, he forgotten much) when he wrote the scene or that he was even conscious of a connection. I have generally found precious little reference to the ancient Greek language in Tolkien's world (two names associated with the wizards appear to be based upon ancient Greek but I'll save those for another day). But I do not need to mount evidence that the Indo-European origins of English from multiple entry points - German, French, Latin, and Greek is more than sufficient to suggest that someone so deeply learned in language, literature and culture as Tolkien (and I should add here for anyone who doesn't know that he was a renowned philologist, linguist and literary expert long before he was a famous writer) would at least unconsciously absorb such connections and meanings better than most; maybe virtually anyone else. You would think this would be as far as I could take it.

But it's not. I find one piece of evidence in Tolkien that is rather startling. It is a comparison of the phrase in Tolkien and Homer that makes me wonder whether he was in fact doing more homage to The Iliad than Pearl. Here is how Tolkien has Treebeard speak followed by how Homer has Hektor speak:
Treebeard     [preposition][noun - tree stump][conjunction][repeat preposition][noun - stone]

Hektor          [preposition][noun - (oak) tree ][conjunction][repeat preposition][noun - stone]
Tolkien and Homer both do this (there are slight differences - they use different prepositions and Homer uses a negative conjunction). The author of Pearl, Milton, Wordsworth and the others I cite above do not use this formula. Coincidence? I doubt it. Homer we know was composing according to a meter and this phrase worked. Tolkien also was extremely sensitive to meter and rhythm, but it was never the same meter as Homer used. Why then the same rhythm used her as in Homer? Why the same parts of speech in the same order. Nor is this type of analysis outside of the normal bounds of linguistic analysis. In fact, Forte makes much the same type of comparison between Homer and Hesiod, who were much closer together in time and shared a writing heritage. So, yes, if it is a coincidence, it is an astonishing one.

Let me wrap this up, as promised, like Louis Armstrong belting out Hello, Dolly. You can argue that there are lots of loose ends here and no doubt. But I suggest that the connection I make here between "stock and stone" in Tolkien and "oak and stone" in Homer is far less than much other etymology I have read by the most credentialed of linguists (in fact, it is less attenuated than many scientific theories like evolution). I rely on Forte's connection of Indo-European language references to this phrase (tree and stone, stump and rock, stock and stone, whatever) in both ancient Greek and back to 18th century B.C. northern Syria and though he does not concentrate much upon it, the connection of Zeus (in some aspects of him related to Ba'al) with oak trees. He brings it through Plato in the early fourth century, B.C., thus for some 1400 years.  We can see frequent use of the phrase "stock and stone" in middle and even modern English and know that "stoc" or "stock" actually means tree stump such thus stock and stone is essentially the same phrase as the "tree and rock" expression used by Homer and Hesiod and it seems a thousand years or more before them 18th century, B.C. in Syria. You can of course also argue that a tree stump is too far from a tree. I would say not. Words very often over time come to have a more or less general meaning. Just as an example, words for hand (in Greek - Cheir-) can mean arm.  
It would have seemed that the English version of the phrase was often/generally used literally or descriptively and not metaphorically with regard to thunder and lightning, prophecy and generative myths manner in which Forte suggests the ancients used it. But, again, remarkably, in Tolkien, we see virtually all the ancient metaphorical elements in place. More, I think he borrowed as much or more from Homer than Pearl in using the phrase. He's dead, so I can't ask him about it.

Like Forte, I can't say clearly this commonality is as a result of the phrase spreading from Greece (maybe through Latin or other language) to medieval England or whether it was a Proto-Indo-European phrase that descended through Proto-Germanic or other channels to Old English/Anglo-Saxon. That would take a lot more research and takes me far outside of my language boundaries. I came to the game late in life and I'm just not going to learn German (though once I tinkered with it) and its predecessors unless I'm alive in 2045 when they begin downloading brains into new bodies, in which case, I may have the time.

Of course, whether the combination phrase extends even further to the very beginnings of the Proto-Indo-European language as Forte suggest we have no real evidence because they had no written language. More pictographic evidence would be more likely, but probably less certain than written. It might seem likely to him and I don't intuitively disagree (after all, one would think that for a pre-historical people, things like rocks and tree stumps would have some importance). But, there is evidence and there is speculation, and this would be crossing the line for me.

But 3900 years is enough to ring my language bells. Hello, Dolly!

Sunday, July 14, 2013


7/14/13 a.m.

Inspired by the Zimmerman case I was writing a piece on hope and technology, when, ironically, my computer died in mid-stroke. I write this brief oops post on a borrowed one and will finish my intended piece in days or a week.

My post will not be done before the verdict, as the acquittal has come in yesterday. I am happy, relieved for him, sad that there is talk of a civil rights action and, of course, there will be a civil suit with a lot lower standard of proof for the plaintiffs.

In short, this is my opinion:

There was no evidence of malice or that Zimmerman was looking for a fight at all.  There is no evidence of racism on Zimmerman's part. There was some evidence of racism on Martin's part (though I did not find his friend, who testified to it, the least bit credible and think she might have been trying to help her dead friend/boyfriend and blundered). 

There is evidence that he was a dedicated watch captain and a good neighbor, that he followed the law (his gun was licensed), that the development over which he assisted the neighborhood and police had been subject to much crime, and yes, overwhelmingly or all by young black men.

That the district attorney and police did not see good reason to prosecute, that it he was eventually prosecuted to assuage the accusations of Al Sharpton (and, yes, against him I am biased) and others.

He likely told the truth for the most part. I reserve that he may have exaggerated some of the conversation between the two of them (I have trouble believing Martin said "You are going to die tonight" and am not so sure that Martin went for his gun).

The attorneys behaved with dignity as did the judge, although I think she should have thrown out the murder charge (there was just no evidence supporting malice) and I thought, while doing their job within the bounds we seem okay with (not really me), the prosecution exaggerated a bit and tried to convict him on the flimsiest of facts.

The jury listened and should be proud of their decision.

Some people, whites and blacks, will continue to see this as some sort of white privilege/whitewash. Violence has been minimal, but I think that is because though some believe guilt was proved, it is hard to justify that an acquittal was not called for.

Had my daughter been Martin, I would have expected her to hightail it home even if confronted by Zimmerman as he is accused, or to start screaming, defending herself if physically attacked. If my daughter had been Zimmerman, I would expect her to know better how to defend herself and to carry Mace and a nightstick as well as a gun.

Did Zimmerman have any other options? I don't know for sure. I think though that there was no ground for conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

There is still plenty of racism in this country, but it is a drop compared to what it was a half century ago when I was growing up, and reverse racism against the majority has not only overtaken it, but has the force of law behind it (the rationale being, with some justification, that it was so slanted for so long in the other direction that it needed to be done just to get things to a level playing field); it is time we stop judging by race at all in the law (here I agree with Justice Thomas more than any of the other Supreme Court Justices).
For now, I am going to the beach where even, and I'm happy about this, my cell doesn't work.

7/15/13 p.m.

Returning to this because I have been really bothered by what I am hearing and seeing in public and in private conversations.

I spoke yesterday with a very rational guy I know about ten years. He is fairly moderate on a number of issues but I have always thought left on race - by that I mean he seemed to easily see racism where I saw none. We discussed the Zimmerman case and he was offended by the No Retreat defense (Stand Your Ground) - a defense that was waived at the beginning of the case - because Zimmerman had nowhere to retreat - his back was on the ground - and because it would have clouded other issues. His source of course was the media.

Over and over again on television and the radio I am hearing about No Retreat, illegal gun (it was legal), no justice (what would have been justice? - if Z did not have a gun and was beaten to death?) This morning I heard a Fox host, Eric Bolling (how he managed to morph his career as a commodities trader who had a business show about on CNBC, then Fox, to a political commentator on the Fox show prime time show The Five, is hard to understand). He is hardly a favorite of mine, but his opponent, Eliot Spitzer, I revile as a politician (and not because of his scandal but because he is cutthroat), even if he is trying to be soft-spoken and radiate warmth now, is much less of one. Spitzer took positions that were not only wrong, but dangerous - he stated that even if the legal conclusion was correct - self defense is a valid defense - justice had not been done because a child was killed.

First of all - child? In Florida, it was legal for him to have sex (with someone under 24) since he was 16. At the same time as this phenomena of justice, Kiera Wilmot, age 16, a good kid according to her principal - is BEING TRIED AS AN ADULT BECAUSE HER UNASSIGNED SCIENCE PROJECT BLEW UP! She thought it would make smoke.  I kid you not. Martin was big enough to break Z's nose and pummel him. The evidence of that is fairly overwhelming - other than the embarrassment of the prosecutors and Martin's family claiming that it was he who was crying for help.

People are acting as if Martin was a baby or a little boy, not the kid who was suspended from school, who asked a friend if he had a gun he could get, whose mother through him out of the house  and referred to himself as a gangsta (these are from Martin's own texts [.]). They are acting as if and saying that he was innocent - that is, not committing a crime by attacking Z. Maybe I am repeating myself, but then I say again - even if there were any proof whatsoever that Z was racially profiling, Martin can't attack him.

Does it matter to these people that prosecution witness, the lead detective, stated that he believed Z? Does it matter to them that Florida was not going to prosecute for lack of evidence and was politically forced to get an outside prosecutor solely for the purposes of bringing charges against him? That the federal government actually our spent money sending advisors to the protesters so that Z would be arrested?

I say again, my vast and diverse audience (Don is a Martian) that this is yet one more example of the perils of partisanship, this idiotic, symbiotic, fratricidal, co-dependant psychosis we pretend is just politics. And, just when I thought of all the dumb things that liberals and conservatives believe, that the conservative argument that marriage is the one word in the English language (or any language) that cannot change, was possibly the dumbest argument anyone could come up with, liberals are out in force arguing that Z, who suffered through the worst year of his life and has to live with the fact that if nothing else, had he been able to defend himself, most of this probably would not have happened (other than possibly Martin being arrested for breaking his nose), should be tried on federal civil rights grounds. For what? Are neighborhood watch not allowed to call in the police if the person they are suspicious of is black?  Are they not allowed to answer the question asked by the dispatcher - what color is he? 

I can't think what this is about but people arguing that a supposed white man (though some would say he was not white, or at least bi-racial - I don't know what he considers himself) may not shoot and kill a black man in self defense without justice requiring that the white man at least go to jail. And that's crazy.

And no, I wouldn't care if Z was from Kenya and Martin from Iceland. It would be the same. Color should have nothing to do with this.

Martin's lawyer had it right when he said to the jury - even if you think maybe Z acted in self defense, you must acquit. That's the law, not just in Florida, but everywhere.  I wouldn't argue so vociferously if I had not watched much of the trial and so much commentary, and if the media was bothering to be even remotely fair, in general.


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Political update for July, 2013

A presidential paradox

As I start this post, the New York Times is reporting on President Obama's visit to South Africa where he has visited Robbens Island, a prison where South African President Mandela was kept for the majority of his over a quarter century in prison. I'm sure it is a moving experience. A friend of mine went there with his family recently and they found it so, being especially pleased that it was staffed by former inmates.

Nelson Mandela's story, is, of course, one of the great one's of this past century. President Obama notes in the prison visitor's book that he is “humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield” and that the world "is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.” Well said.

But, it is perhaps ironic that while he celebrates one of the most renowned of political prisoners in the 20th century, his administration is relentlessly pursuing a whistleblower or spy named Edward Snowden, who, depending on your take, has stolen away with NSA secrets. Many support him, feeling that he has revealed something of great importance for us in order to preserve liberty and privacy, and should be left alone. He isn't the first, of course. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is in an Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Private Manning is on trial and long before either of them, Daniel Ellsberg, a RAND Corporation employee, was able to smuggle the Pentagon Papers to the press, first published by the New York Times in 1971. Mostly thanks to the buffoonery of the Nixon administration in prosecutorial malfeasance, Ellsberg's prosecution was dismissed and he is a both celebrated and vilified, but more of the former and less of the latter. 
In pursuing all of these men, the government naturally invokes national security interests. It has to be remembered that whatever national security threats Assange, Manning or Ellsberg may have represented, little could be presented to support any of it other than vague allegations. But, Mandela was actually a national security threat to South Africa, and deliberately so. His cause may have been just - today it is difficult to find anyone who will speak poorly of him, publicly anyway, but his group worked in collaboration with communists to bomb government agencies and cause maximum distress. We would call him a terrorist were we the subject of their attacks - even one such attack. It is hardly surprising that he was put away for life by a government dedicated to keep the status quo of apartheid.

I have not made up my mind about Mr. Snowden. I merely raise this comparison to ask how is it that a president can so easily navigate the paradox of writing lyrically about someone who resorted to violence to overthrow a legitimate government even for a just cause, and at the same time try to prosecute someone who has not resorted to any violence, but merely shed light on a secret plan to keep tabs on Americans, even if for national security interests. If you need help with this, you probably have not read a lot of politics. Do not expect this to give President Obama any pause to consider. Where national security issues are raised, it is rare that a President could see even potential hypocrisy, or if he did, that he would not compartmentalize and err on the side of security anyway. They are going to protect government secrets (even if they have themselves ordered leaks) because the question will always arise - where does it end if we let this one go?
And, of course, he is hardly alone. I have already read Pat Buchanan's defense of Mr. Snowden and criticism of Obama for pursuing him.  Yet, Buchanan has always been one of the staunchest voices calling the ultimate whistleblower known as "deep throat," the former FBI acting chief, Mark Felt, a traitor, though the large majority of Americans consider him a hero. I have no doubt that he can clearly see how both are possible through some fact or another, though many others would see only that Felt was a substantial factor in the fall of Buchanan's political benefactor and boss, Richard Nixon.

Perhaps "politics" can best be illustrated by Abraham Lincoln's famous words that called an argument against him "but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse.”
Supreme Court paradox

Three cases have come down from the Supreme Court in recent days. One involves the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) called Shelby County v. Holder and the other two involve gay or same sex marriage - U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. I have written extensively already on Windsor and Hollingsworth (3/31/13), so I will not spend much time on their details or analysis.

As with almost all controversial Supreme Court cases, they will be praised by those who are pleased and assailed by those disappointed in the results. Both groups will often misrepresent them. I find that this is very much the case with Shelby County. This week I read an article by Linda Greenhouse, the former New York Times writer who covered the Supreme Court, who is now semi-retired, but spends a lot of time writing about these cases for The Times anyway. I found her piece - as I find so many - entirely political and biased. I made the following comment:

"In essence, what I get from this (and other articles by Ms. Greenhouse), is that judges or their opinions are good/bad based on whether they favor liberal or conservative causes. In her first paragraph, Roberts is a 'conservative chief justice,' the 'right wing media turned on . . . venomously' because of his Obamacare decision. To the contrary, Justice Ginsburg isn't labeled a liberal, but one of her dissents gets termed 'devastating.' There is no mention of a 'left wing' media or their venom. Later she points that at Roberts' confirmation hearing he said he would have an open mind on the VRA. This plainly implies that if he did not uphold the VRA, he did not have an open mind. She must know, but does not point out, that his opinion acknowledged that racism still existed, that the VRA was the reason unfair state voting practices were curtailed in targeted states and even that congress could yet fashion a similar law based on new evidence. How is that opinion even showing antipathy to the legislature as she also suggests?

It doesn't have to be political. I happen to agree with Shelby, but also with Hollingsworth and Windsor. Does that mean I used my heart on the first and my head on the latter two? I just wish that The Times would rise above what Fox and MSNBC do and have opinion pieces with some semblance of intellectual honesty rather than political tracts 'hiding in plain sight.'"

I put hiding in plain sight in quotes because that was a phrase she used in her article. Another commenter replied to me, pointing out that everyone knows that congress isn't going to do that - make a new coverage standard. You can reply to a reply on some sites, but not on at least some of The Times' articles. But, if I could have replied, I would have written back something like - "But that is how representative government works. Neither you nor I nor Obama nor Boehner, or anyone else gets to choose what the law will be, but it is made in accordance with the process set out in the Constitution to protect all of us from tyranny. What do you want the courts to do -- make constitutional determinations based on what congress might or might not do (or what you personally want them to do)? How could they ever possibly know when even congress doesn't know?  How could they do so and still be an independent judiciary?"

The paradox I put in the title to this section involves a juxtaposition of the VRA case with the gay marriage cases. As is often the case with me, it involves the almost involuntarily reflexive hypocrisy of the right and left. How is it that liberals think it is okay for the federal government to tell states that previously showed bigotry in their voting laws what voting laws they can now change some 40-50 years later, even though registration and voting patterns between blacks and whites are now virtually the same, but do not think it's all right for the federal government to tell states who can marry or not? Reverse question for conservatives? How come they think it is okay for the federal government to tell states who can marry or not and not okay for the federal government to tell states that previously showed bigotry in their voting laws what voting laws they can change? I actually have an answer. It is because both ideologies want whatever control over their fellow citizens they can get consistent with their beliefs, and their positions on federalism are cover for getting what they want.   

 Zimmerman and Trial by Age and Color and Politics

I include this commentary on the case in my political round up because the prosecution and coverage and attention has been political.

I have spent a little time watching the Zimmerman case on television, following the all day trial coverage with just an hour or so of summary and debate by commentators on CNN's Headline News station a couple of nights so far and this morning. The coverage, in my view, is close to clownish - often comprised of panels of so-called experts, some so biased that debates frequently get loud enough and so full of interruptions that last night one of the hosts threatened to turn off microphones if everyone didn't shut up.  I include the panelists who favor Zimmerman, though so far I tend to agree with their conclusions. Of course, it's not every commentator either, just some. But it seems like the squeaky wheels, as usual, get the grease.
Not that I necessarily believe the panelists are sincere anyway. Not too long ago I overheard an attorney on her cell phone in court tell a friend or co-worker that she was scheduled to be on FoxNews that night to join a panel on abortion, but she hadn't been told what position she would take. What? As cynical as I am, I was still stunned by the phoniness of what appears to be the erasure of one the last line between cable news and professional wrestling.

I don't know what happened the night when Zimmerman shot Martin. None of us were there and, of course, one of the parties is silenced forever. But, the evidence that the prosecution has adduced so far seems to me to be so full of holes that it is hard to believe it is even favorable to their own side. One of the detectives they called said he believed Zimmerman had been truthful in a description of what happened. The young woman who was on the phone with the deceased teenager testified to what is so far the only indication of racism - and that by the deceased - who called Zimmerman a "creepy-assed cracker," and then denied that she thought this was a racist statement. She also confirmed Zimmerman's story that Martin confronted Zimmerman rather than vise versa. She has already gone on social media to criticize and curse at those who doubt her - making this trial more like a reality show than can possibly be good for the system. Another witness called by the prosecution says that he is Zimmerman's best friend and it seems testified for his friend even though subpoenaed and called by the prosecution. These seem to me to be natural conclusions watching what I could of the clips. At the same time it appears to me that most of the panelists and the host on the HLN shows I've watched do not seem to see it the way I did. From my viewpoint, some of them are basing their analysis on the supposed color of the participants or their disparate ages.

The good news is, I have seen commentators on other stations, even CNN, whose analyses seem much more serious and less emotional. But, these analyses tend to favor the defendants and it can be argued that this is why they seem more rational to me. Not that it matters what any of us think - only the jurors really matter.

Anyone who is old enough to remember the O.J. Simpson murder trial also remembers the color bias that attached to those viewing that case.  The country seemed divided up into color camps, more whites in general believing that Simpson was guilty (Gallup, 1995, 70%) and far fewer blacks in general believed in it (same poll, 12%). I certainly did think he was guilty, but not necessarily on the merits of the evidence before the jury. The prosecution team was terrible, in my opinion, and the police not any better. They probably did not meet the standard of proof necessary to convict.  Having watched most of the trial, I also thought the defendant's attorneys' (the so-called "dream team") efforts very poor (excepting the Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, the defense attorneys who focused on dna). I personally thought there was a good chance O.J. would be acquitted, though I wasn't sure, given how much emotion there was about it. I will throw a good for you to Don who comments here sometimes; he was certain O.J. would be acquitted and was right. In my anecdotal experience discussing the case with blacks and whites, they were convinced that their own conclusions were based on the facts, while the other side's opinion was based on color.  It is not in the nature of bias that any of us can recognize our own. At least, it is rare.

Of course, this is my blog and I can do any stupid thing I like. So, I will try and identify my own biases, which I recognized while watching the Zimmerman case. They just aren't racial.  Before you cringe, I recognize how foolish this is. Were I ever to have the misfortune to be accused of murder or other heinous crime, no doubt they will be waved about like a bloody flag (not leased that I had already supposedly conceived of being accused of murder).  I'm going to count on never getting charged and do it anyway. My reason is this - I tend to agree with Justice Sotomayor's famous "Wise Latina" speech. Everyone is biased in some way. It is part of being human. We are fairer when we recognize that we have these biases and try to account for and combat them in coming to a decision.

So, let me start with my first bias. I am, at least to some small degree, more pro-defendant than pro-prosecution. I think it is a natural reaction of mine to want to defend people. Don't get me wrong, I was sickened when O.J. was found not guilty and want all murderers, rapists, monsters, burglars, muggers, robbers, con men, and so on to get convicted. But, I deplore some of what passes for acceptable tactics by some prosecutors. Among these tactics are overcharging (making charges against the defendant more serious than what seems possible he/she will found guilty of, hoping the jury will compromise with the desired lower charge - which I think they have done in Zimmerman), threatening witnesses with prosecution and perjury charges if they do not testify as the prosecutor wishes (this was used extensively during the Judge Starr's pursuit of President Clinton, but was considered a standard technique) and trying to relate completely circumstantial and irrelevant facts to show the "bad" character or supposed tendencies of the defendant. In the Zimmerman case, the prosecution appears to be setting up the inference that because Zimmerman had some interest in law enforcement . . . perhaps he is a murderer? That because his gun had a "normal" pull on the trigger . . . perhaps he is guilty? I don't just find this sort of evidence convincing at all. I find it reprehensible to try. But judges tend to let this kind of stuff in, at least in big cases.

By the way, this bias of mine does not extend to your run of the mill assistant prosecutors, who I usually find to be quite decent people, not looking to hurt anyone unfairly. High publicity cases tend to bring the worst out in people. And don't think I trust defense attorneys either, but they are charged with doing everything they can to defend their clients, where the district attorney has ethical duties to the community which require him to be fairer.

The bias I see among the population (from the lofty heights of this blog I can actually see all) with respect to color seems to me a little different than in the past. I do not see only people dividing on color lines consistent with their own skin tones, but some, I think even more people, dividing on color lines depending on their politics. The defendant is Hispanic, Peruvian to be specific, and according to some reports is at least partially black through one grandparent on his mother's side. But it seems to me that, the victim being black and the alleged assailant being portrayed as white, many white people are rallying to the prosecution's side against the perceived white man. My impression is that a lot of this is more political than racial. Those more conservative seem less likely to sympathize with the victim and more likely with Zimmerman, those more liberal seem the reverse. The somewhat disparate skin color may be the reason the media is interested but I don't think it is why everyone is taking sides here. It just seems like it.

Certainly there may be a fair conclusion at some point that Zimmerman used race in profiling Martin. All I have heard so far is that when asked to report Martin's color he responded. Whether profiling is appropriate or not is a discussion for another day. I have heard arguments on both sides and have not completely made up my mind on it yet. I think it may depend on nuances.  Let us presume for the moment he did profile. There is no doubt that he also profiled him based on age to some degree (he didn't realize just how young he was, but obviously could tell he was young).  And I think people will conclude as I have, that, in a perfect world, Zimmerman should have followed the advice over his radio not to pursue Martin himself or to get out of his car. He was neighborhood watch, not a police officer and no person was in danger who needed rescuing. But, he got out. That is as far as I am willing to take that opinion. It is not relevant to the case, in my opinion.

What puzzles me is this -- many people, and I include media figures as well as friends and acquaintances of mine, seem ready to conclude that if Zimmerman profiled Martin, he should be found guilty of some crime - perhaps even murder. That baffles and frightens me. I have even heard panelists argue that even if it is concluded that the aggression and violence that occurred was instituted by Martin and that he attacked Zimmerman, had him pinned on the ground, was beating him and went for the gun - the entire incident is still Zimmerman's fault and he should be convicted. I was struck last night by one panelist who related her own story of being a teenage girl who was terrified of a man who kept driving by her. If, she said, he had approached her, she would have feared for her life and tried to kill him however she could. She repeated this several times with great emphasis. Her point was, that even if this is what Martin did, he was justified in trying to kill Zimmerman. Not only does this strike me as absurd, but, worse, when the host asked her if that also applied to Zimmerman - if he feared for his life, right or wrong, wasn't he justified in shooting Martin - she, nor at least one other panelist, seemed to think so.

But, I have personally spoken to people myself who seem to agree with her. I do not know what the women on the jury, and they are almost all women, think.  I am not going to fall into the trap of assuming they think like me.

It is enough to say at this point that I will be very disappointed if the jury seems to make their determination by the skin color or age of the Martin and perhaps the perceived "whiteness" and circumstantial evidence against Zimmerman. The facts -- again, from my viewpoint - seem to favor the defendant.

My second bias is probably age related. Like Zimmerman, I would find a young male, black or not, wearing a hoody, looking closely at houses (taking Z's word for it here) to be reason to be concerned.
None of these two biases - preferring prosecutors to play fair and disliking it when they are coercive or overreach, or being a little suspicious of hooded young men (I wear sweatshirt hoods all the time, by the way, but am not suspicious of myself or men my age who do so) would for a second make me want to acquit someone if I thought they were guilty and I could in a second, in appropriate circumstances, find a defense attorney less decent than a prosecutor and a hooded young man more honest than someone looking more like me (I am also, by the way, biased against very well dressed people).  I'd like to think I could easily get past these minor biases, though, no doubt, knowledge of this blog itself would probably bar me from sitting on a criminal case as a juror. That's what happens when you admit bias. What biases I have that I cannot see myself, obviously, I cannot say.

Murder is of course a very emotional thing - d'uh - and because I do not believe we are very capable of putting the desire to punish someone out of our minds in making a decisions on guilt or innocence, I am therefore against the death penalty in most cases (not so much when there is overwhelming proof of guilt). This case is probably a very good example why.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .