A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Monthly Archives: March 2006

Once upon a time–back in the early 80’s–I taught English as a Second Language. A number of my students were Bahá’ís from Iran. I remember one student in particular who wasn’t doing very well, and whom I had to ask to come to my office to discuss her academic situation. It turned out that she was very motivated to correct any problems she was having, because if she failed and lost her student visa, she would have to return to Iran, and face the ongoing persecution of Bahá’í believers by the Shia-controlled government. Flunk her, and she’d go home to Iran, to die.

I havent’ thought much about the Bahá’í community in Iran since then. But I rread this morning, in Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent of the London Times, that the persecution has continued, 25 years on. The Iranian government is collecting the name of every Bahá’í in Iran; this is not a good sign, because Bahá’ís don’t have the right to practice their religion in Iran.

The map above is from bahaiblog.net.

Ser-Venn-Ity prayer

Venn diagram of things I can change and things I must change

Based on something Samantha Cook wrote. Update: Samantha Cook linked to my drawing!

Remaining Christian Peacemaker Team members freed

Family story

Brother Steve just called, and we talked about Scrabble, and my post about playing sorbetto. He reminded me that my Great Uncle Kennard and my Grandma used to play Scrabble every day until they got into an argument over whether “obit” was a legitimate play. They never played again.

According to the online Scrabble dictionary, “obit” is just fine. Grandma was right.

I don't want to get adjusted

Iris DeMent: (via long sought home with mp3).

And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world
I’ve got a home so much better
And I’m gonna go there sooner or later
And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world

Hier stehe ich nicht; ich kann nicht anders

From Lewis Smedes, quoted by the Real Live Preacher:

Dear God, I am unsure of what is right because there are people I respect on both sides of this issue. But I cannot stand against my friends and remain emotionally healthy. It will kill me to stand against them. I cannot do it. Forgive me for my weakness, my fear, my unwillingness to take chances, and for all the times when I have been wrong and believed the wrong things. I pray that you bless whatever goodness you find in me. You know my heart and my desire.

The Internet, 1972

“Here is an instance of the Arpanet, as it was recently configured,” says Bob Kahn of BBN.

image of Arpanet with about 20 nodes

From The Heralds of Resource Sharing, a 1972 documentary on the creation of Arpanet.


The word of the day is subreption.

I asked the following question on the Linguist List:

Words like ‘to dial’ and ‘key’ and ‘album’ take on a shifted meaning as the underlying technology changes. Wordnet, for example, still defines ‘to dial’ as something like ‘to enter a telephone number using a dial.’ Of course, most dialing now occurs via push-buttons. Similarly, keys are now often made of a plastic card (or are completely virtual), and an ‘album’ can be a CD.

Is there a term of art for this kind of semantic shift?

Robin Barr responded with:

I’ve seen the term ‘subreption’ used for this type of change. The classic examples are ‘pen’ and ‘book’ — the items themselves have undergone cultural or technological changes, but the core meaning is still the same. I suppose you could also call this a special case of metaphorical transfer: the referent changes but the function or use stays the same.

Subreption is also used in Catholic canon law to mean the act of omitting evidence that should be presented, and thus surreptitiously making a case. It’s also used in Kant’s discussion of logical fallacies pertaining to metaphysics.

Along the way: A fun article on words like slob and dunce: A cultural-linguistic study of English sound-symbolic pejorative lexemes beginning in sl- and du-.

Stinky buts

We had parent-teacher conferences today. This is almost always a discouraging time.

Jane’s teacher showed us a “persuasive essay” she wrote for her social studies class. The students were to take a stand of whether the US government should spy on people to prevent terrorism. Jane’s first sentence went something like this:

The US government should spy on people to prevent terrorism, but they should do so in a way the protects the privacy rights of citizens.

The teacher explained there was a problem with this stand. She was suppose to take a stand one way or the other. I tell my students they shouldn’t use words like ‘but.’ Watch out for those ‘stinky buts,’ I tell them.

Why are you teaching them to think of things in strictly black and white terms, I asked. Why aren’t you allowing her to make a slightly nuanced stand?

They’re supposed to take one side or the other. If they use words like ‘but,’ they’re not taking a stand. So I couldn’t give her full credit.

I was pretty mad at this point. No wonder people are having a hard time talking about difficult issues. They’re taught to “take a stand” and only list reasons that support their own side. Sounds like lockstep Republicanism and knee-jerk Democratism. After simmering down and talking about some other subjects, I returned to the persuasive essay. I apologized for getting a little hot under the color.

Well, I’d like them to be a little more nuanced myself, she said. But they have to write these essays for the MEAP.

I should note that the MEAP is the Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam–most Michigan schools essentially give up any pretense of providing an academic education, and pretty much teach to the test, or getting students to “beat the MEAP.” It’s not surprising, since funding depends a lot on MEAP scores. Jane’s school is a little better than most because it’s a magnet school for the arts, and MEAP prostitution hasn’t invaded the arts quite so much.

The graders of the MEAP tests, continued Jane’s teacher, are basically pulled off the street. If they see a “but” in the introductory sentence, they’ll mark the essay down. In high school, they’re allowed to present the other side.

Something stinks, but it isn’t the ‘stinky buts.’

Lover of the Lord

Earlier this month, the annual Pauline Creel Birthday singing was held in Wayne , Michigan (in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area). “Miss Pauline” comes from one of the “singing families” in the Sacred Harp tradition–that is, one of the extended families in the South that kept (and continue to keep) Sacred Harp music alive. Many of her family come up north for her birthday singing–I think I heard that some 30 people came for her 91st birthday. It was a joy to sing with them.

I was especially struck by Teddy Creel, who led “Lover of the Lord” (mp3), with its strongly Christian, non-PC lyrics:

Lovers of pleasure more than God,
For you He suffered pain;
For you the Savior spilt His blood,
And shall He bleed in vain?

Oh, you must be a lover of the Lord,
Or you can’t go to heaven when you die.

He led it with such sincerity and honesty that I wanted to thank him afterwards. Although I am glad that Sacred Harp music attracts all kinds of people from many faith (and non-faith) traditions, I feel a special kind of kinship with people who take the words at face value. I haven’t done the research, but I suspect this tune is led more often, proportionally, in the South than in the “diaspora.” Anyway, I attempted several times to approach him, but he was naturally spending time catching up with fellow family members and other long-time singers, and the opportunity never arose.

Teddy Creel died on Monday, just six days shy of his 50th birthday. As a sincere and deep Lover of the Lord, he is, I am confident, ready to enjoy the pleasures of the heavenly vision, shouting and singing with the elders:

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Revelation 4:11, KJV).