Valerie Yules Letters

January 7, 2014

NEW URL

Filed under: Political reforms, spelling, Waste — Tags: , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 4:39 am

All my webpages that formerly had URLs including VICNET have changed their URL.

They now are called http://www.valerieyule.com.au and then their subhead,
eg http://www.valerieyule.com.au/spelling.htm

Tell me if u hav eny dificulty.

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August 12, 2013

Australian elections

Blurb: Yes, indeed Australians have preferential voting, but how does it work out in the Polls before the election, and choices on the ballot papers?

Voters’ Choice in Elections

Elections that in practice give a choice between only two parties, leave hundreds of parties without a chance

Australia has preferential voting, which should mean that all parties and individuals standing have a chance of winning votes. Yet the Polls that keep up polling them before the election, offer a narrow choice, that has the effect of convincing most people that there are only two parties, coalition and ALP, that they can vote for without wasting their vote

So many parties are contesting this election! The Senate ballot paper alone with 53 people standing could be wallpaper for every voter’s home. Yet no party has any chance except the two that figure always on the Polls as being the parties that must be preferred.

This constant feature of the regular polling has many bad consequences.

Britain once had two parties which contested power between them – Conservative and Liberal. But when Labor entered the arena it eventually became one of the two leading parties in the early 1920s, ousting the Liberal Party, which became the third party. By that time, the Conservative and Liberal parties were so close in policies and appeal, that the Labour Party brought in something new and allowed new people to vote for it.

That cannot happen in Australia, even when the Coalition and Labor parties tend to be funded by most of the same people and corporations. Parties like the Australian Democrats (which effectively committed suicide) and now the Greens, can get up to 15% of the vote in some electorates, but no more.

People are convinced by the format of the Polls that only the Coalition and the ALP have a chance. There is widespread ignorance of how preferential voting works, and many believe that if they do not vote for either of these, their vote is wasted.

The ballot paper confirms this belief. Voting above and below the line confuses them. Voting above the line only shoes in the Coalition or ALP, and their blanket policies. Voting below the line requires the voter to put a figure in every box and there are too many boxes to be able or willing to fill in properly.

Many of the parties and individuals on the Senate paper are really shadow parties that will help to push in one of the two major parties. Nobody knows what all of them mean, or their policies.

Our electoral system is a farce at present. It requires cleaning up, so that ordinary people can tell what the choices are and how to vote for what they really want.

There is no chance of us repeating what Britain did in the 1920s, changing the top parties as society and economic conditions require. Three effective parties meant that the party gaining power took heed of all the country’s needs including those represented by the other two.

Australia is different.

Samples were taken of the Radio National News on 5 August 2013. ABC Federal Election News contained mention of the Greens or Green program ONCE in ten broadcasts that all mentioned the two main parties. This mention was citing a Greens leader saying that if you wanted to save the Tarkine, the possum (or was it the potaroo?) and the Barrier Reef you would vote Greens. And that was all the News said about their platform! Nothing about their economic, social, political or other conservation policies!

The leading letter to the Age on June 7, p 16, by Chris Pettifer said that a Greens vote will only guarantee an Abbott government. This is not true as preferential voting will give the vote to a failing first preference on to the second preference. Yet many believe like Chris Pettifer, not understanding preferential voting, and the media does not help them with the facts.

The results are serious. In Australia today, the climate is widely recognized as the great ‘moral issue’ but we do not have the leading parties that give us a chance to really act. Neither wish to take the steps that are needed. They need the push that a really plain election ballot paper vote would give the public a chance to vote for policies as well as parties. They need the facts of preferential voting made clear in the polls they are given. And the media must give the public the chance to know what all the parties mean, their policies, and their alignments to the major parties.

The Electoral council remains uncommunicative on these issues.

In theory our election policies are democratic, but when it comes to how they operate, they give the ordinary voters little chance to find out how they can really tell whatever party wins what are the policies they would really support.

May 4, 2013

Setting New Statesman competitions

I set NS Competition questions mostly but not only in 2005. They were meant to arouse thought, but I stopped setting them because instead competitors only tried to be clever.
I set New Statesman Competition questions mostly but not only in 2005. They were meant to arouse thought, but I stopped setting them because instead competitors only tried to be clever.

Some questions sent in and mostly published included:
1. Much modern comedy is about being horrible to other people. Is it possible to be funny about being nice (random acts of kindness, etc) without the punchline being that it doesn’t work or has horrid unintended consequences or it’s not nice after all?

2. Biblical prophets despaired that supernatural visitations could ever change anything for the good, and so it has generally seemed. Describe a supernatural visitation that could achieve something useful today.

3. List ten items that a museum would keep hidden away as sacred totems of modern British society.

4. As fast as globalism opens the world and the internet to everyone, forces try to privatize everything or keep it secret – from water and knowledge to museum artifacts and government activities. Here is the struggle in the next Harry Potter book. Outline the story-line.

5.The New Statesman decides to get its various acts together, and make sure that one thing happens each year that can ‘make the world a better place’, rather than being a pot-pourri heavily into schadenfreudia and dystopics. What feasible concern would you urge NS to take up and push for 2005? Give reasons.

6. A famous poet rewrites some of her/his famous lines in light of modern knowledge. It might be Byron for example, finding that man’s ruinous control does not stop at the sea-shore, or Blake’s Tyger facing extinction.

7. The custom of beginning sessions of Parliament with dedication by Christian prayer has been condemned as biassed. Replace it with a secular reminder of members’ awesome global responsibilities in these critical times, of high liturgical quality and memorability, and not one platititude.

8.In 200 words, list ten ideas for inventions that could save the world from the catastrophes that loom ahead.

9. A non-profit DVD has been invented for self-help in learning to read. Write the report of an educational institution recommending that it not be trialed, or similar report by any organization against trialing a humane invention that might affect its interests.

9. It is discovered that since children learn more out of school than in school, however – schools are needed by society as baby-sitters. Selected children are therefore allowed out on probation into the work-force for two-week periods as assistants, after which they do projects and catch up on schoolwork from their computers and books. Disruptive children may be frequently selected. A longitudinal study includes a control group. Since the children are learning that life is a tricky business means, the school does not have to bother about legal liabilities or insurance.

10.The case that human beings are not Freudian plumbing systems puts paid to the public faith in ‘outlets’ for aggressive impulses and the value of continual excitation and stimulation.Instead, concepts of ‘fizzling’ emotions and redirecting impulses into sublimation actions. Rather than tensing up with worry beads and desktop gimmicks and throwing plates, send ideas for a new theory of therapy

11. A recent legal case was so complex that the lawyer spoke for five hours. At least two hours of this case must have involved Little Bo Peep. 200 words from the defence lawyers’ lengthy oration in any current or recent business legal case, that brings in Little Bo Peep in a way that can guarantee another two hours talkling.

11. Do a take-off of the New Statesman at the time of Kingsley Martin or now. Hopefully winners will include examples of both.

12. A future archaeologist interprets a modern urban midden

13. Write on the theology of the astrology in modern magazines.

14. Designer babies. Design a human with characteristics that already exist (ie feasible) that might best survive the environmental challenges ahead.

15. This crowded world. A new children’s game for a playground with 800 children in it.

16. The blurb for a fantasy novel with a quest, in which all the characters have names like Emma and Robert, they seek things like dish-washers, and a royal commission is – well, a Royal Commission.

17. ‘The Borrowers’ is a famous children’s novel by Nora . . . An exerpt from a further sequel in which a family of borrowers (Glitches?) live in a computer – and characteristically have taken over English vocabulary for themselves, as with mouse, ram, scroll, etc, – and how they take their entertainment at the back of the screen instead of in front.

18. ISAGIATT – It seemed a good idea at the time. Future-looking at unexpected consequences from say, translocation, designer babies, universal literacy, memory pills, ageless beauty, honest politicians, thought-reading or other dreams science might make true.

19. An art critic writes about Modern Art as the elaborate colorful graffiti that wayward geniuses spray on walls and fences.

20 An exerpt from the Ancient Mariner on the Last Albatross, Blake on the Last Tiger, Kipling on the Last Elephant, or Charlotte’s Web in a factory farm.

21. From a Just-So story explaining something like Climate Change.

22. A happy ending for any notable tragic play or novel – say, Hamlet.

23 Can you design principles for a reform for English spelling that is more way out than the extremes of those that are commonly proposed?

24 Translate some great passage of literature into modern English vocabulary of say, the hoodie or barmy-army type.

February 15, 2013

A Peace Museum

http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas.peacemu.htm

 

The Peace Museum

Many countries have War Museums, but war does not stay in museums.

Peace Museums could glorify Peace.

   How?  Displays of civilisations, and Before and After  Displays of Lost Treasures, built up over hundreds of years and destroyed in brutal minutes. A child, nine months in the making and the short time of its little life, and the minute that destroys it.  Smiling countrysides and beautiful cities – and the desolate wastelands made of them The suffering of survivors. War is harder on the living than the dead. The other creatures that die when men fight.

What it is like in countries that do not know war.  That do not pay for  armies, and military research.  The many causes of war – and how they could   be removed.

See the delights of constructing, and creating. Little toddlers love to smash  towers that others set up – when they grow rightly, the greater pleasure can be to build towers ever more wonderful, but stopping before the pride that brought down Babel.  Nine-year-old boys love to scuffle, and join a mischievous gang, and revel in tales of blood – but as they becomes men, they can put away these sorts of childish things.

The Peace Museum would show how human energy can turn away from aggression, and if there is a Freudian Death instinct how even this might be turned to prevent killing and grief.

The stories and histories which live to warn us.  Gulliver’s little people, who fought over which end of an egg to cut first   An honour roll of real life Peace-makers, who made ‘Peace with Prosperity’ and not just a staving-off, and not those who ‘made a desert, and they call it peace,’ as Tacitus said of his Romans.  Stories from this honor roll would be studied in schools –  but not killed by exams.

The Black Lists of arms manufacturers and traders and similar war criminals, kept up to date.   Inventories of what poor countries pay for the arms that destroy them, and how they paid for them.

Music is playing in the Museum forecourts – “Where have all the flowers gone?“,  and the music that Beethoven composed as he was deafened by the siege of Vienna, and the laments that have arisen at so many times, in so many languages.

Peace blockbuilder films and documentaries go all over the world  to arouse appetites for Peace, with ‘Irene’ awards  more beautiful than Oscars.

Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.  The people of Athens knew this saying. Their story too, would be in the Peace Museum, in hopes that we can stop our own madnesses.

One of the most mad of our ideas is that we would find peace and goodness boring.  Real peace and real goodness are not neutral and boring – they are at the opposite extreme to war and evil, and far more satisfying.

 

Write a Script for a Peace Block-builder Film

 

A Fijian full of dignity said on television that civil war in Fiji was possible; he said, it was probable, and his face was impassive.  He did not scream and howl, that those fair islands could be swept unnecessarily with ruin and suffering, and with modern weapons, might be made deserts.

When I was small, the Preacher would say, “I have set before you life and death, light and darkness; therefore choose life.”  The answer seemed obvious to a little child  – everyone would choose life.  Then when I was eight, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, and I was shocked to find that in real life, not just in adventure stories, people would deliberately choose darkness.

The choice of darkness has spread so far.  When as an adult I worked (played) with children, we had a set of little toytown buildings, which in recent years included a blackened ruin.  Young children often chose the ruin first for their play, saying it was ‘more interesting’.  A salesman of these toytowns told me that they included the ruins because they were so popular.  Young teenagers will choose smoking or drugs or self-mutilation, taking the risks willingly.  And what is there that adults will not do, to destroy the world around them.

The Holocaust Museums around the world could contain many mansions, for Jews, gipsies, Armenians, American Indians, Cathars, Caribs, thousands of extinct peoples, and now every day more rooms are added as more innocents are slaughtered on the grounds of ethnicity for the sake of the space they take up. It is as if Death, hand in hand with injustice and crowding beyond resources, has sown dragon’s teeth broadcast over the world.

Many many countries have War Museums, but war does not stay in museums.

The Peace Museums that could be built would glorify Peace, and show how fair and fragile she is, and how much more beautiful and interesting than black destruction and red explosions and the ruins that they leave, silent except for vermin.

The Peace Museums would not be like the War Museums that show the business of war.  Instead, there would be displays of civilisations, Before and After.  There is a book  Lost Treasures of Europe.   There would be displays about so many lost treasures over the millennia,  destroyed for a brief brutal delight.   We would see a cathedral as it was hundreds of years in the building, and the ten minutes that smashed it, and the loss afterwards.  We would see a child, as it is nine amazing months in the making and the short time of its little life, and the minute that destroys it, and the grieving after it.    We would see smiling countrysides and beautiful cities and the desolate wastelands that have been made of them – and the remorse after, if any are left to feel remorse.   We would see the other creatures that  also die as we fight each other.  We would see how people suffered who survived.  War is harder on the living than the dead.

We would see what it is like in countries that do not know war. And how their disputes are resolved and how much peace depends upon justice.  What happens in countries that do not have to pay for standing armies, and what could happen if other countries could be saved from realistic fears that make military defence appear essential.   The Peace Museum would include examinations of the causes of war – and how they could have been and still could be removed.

We would see the delights of construction, and slow creation – and how children learn this delight.  It is the little toddlers’ pleasure first to smash he towers that others set up – but as they grow, in the normal way of things, the greater pleasure is in building towers ever more wonderful, short of the hubris that brought down Babel.  It is the nine-year-old boy’s delight to scuffle, and join a mischievous gang, and revel in tales of blood – but as he becomes a man, he can put away these childish things.  The Peace Museum would show how human energy can turn to other things than aggression, and if there is, as Freud came to think, a Death instinct, an urge of Thanatos, how even this might be turned to prevent killing.

There would be the stories and histories which live to warn us.  The little people that Gulliver met, who fought over which end of an egg to cut first – and how Gulliver could see how to stop that war.  An honour roll of real life Peace-makers, who made ‘Peace with Prosperity’ and not just a staving-off, and not those who ‘made a desert, and they call it peace,’ as Tacitus said of his Romans.   And the stories from this honor roll would be studied in schools, but not killed by exams.

There would be the Black Lists of arms manufacturers and traders and similar war criminals, kept up to date.   Inventories of what poor countries paid for the armaments that destroyed them, and how they paid for them.

 

There would be Peace blockbuilder films and documentaries, that would go all over the world to raise imagination about what can be done in place of strife, and to arouse appetites for Peace.  The ‘Irene’ awards would be more beautiful than Oscars.

There are 250 bible passages about peace.  How many, even among fundamentalists, know more than about a dozen?

In a Scots warning about the Last Judgement, the sinners cry, “Lord, Lord, we didna ken!  We did not know!” And the Lord replies, “Ye ken the noo.”  This too would be written up over the gate, together with, “All hope take with you, you who leave this place.”  The Peace Museum would be a chance to take up hope and resolution.

Imagination is the ability to consider what may be possible, in the real world, not only in fantasy.  On the TV screen, ruin, destruction and suffering are entertainment for voyeurs.  Through the living eye of imagination, we try to feel what these really would be like for our own selves,  and imagining further, imagine peace and pursue it.

January 24, 2013

Fantasy solutions to major problems

Magic solutions

 

During the day we can seek practical solutions to the insoluble problems of our day.

At night, we can dream of Magic solutions.

Here are some favorites:

 

The Nasty Tastes – the second alcoholic drink in a day tastes awful

The Personal Car – you put it on like a garment; it is no bigger.  Then off you go.

The Speeded up Food-Chain – strait from the rocks and lichen, to appetising food, (and thence,  to compost for the soil)

The Libido Sublimed. A breeze blew over the world, and human sexual desires were changed to desire for affection.  At that breath were solved most of the problems of humankind, and much of its literature.

The Neural Attitude Card – to see with other people’s thinking

The Stuck Oil – Suddenly all the oil in the earth becomes stuck and gushes no longer

The Escalated Photosynthesis – we could do it ourselves, at the risk of turning green

The Palestinian Canyon – between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Its river is navigable, and fresh water.

The Retrospective Videos –  find out what has really happened in history

The Self-Exploding Weapons –  pull the trigger and you blow up yourself

The Gun Catastrophe that ends the American Dream of a Gun for every Good Guy –  a man with an assault rifle or two manages to shoot most of the platform speakers and a good many of the audience at the National Rifle Association general meeting

 

January 19, 2013

 

The  Politics of
Spelling
‘Simplified spelling brought about sunspots, the San Francisco earthcquake and the recent business depression, which we never would have had if spelling had been left all alone.’
Mark Twain, speech to Associated Press in support of reform, Sept 18. 1906.
            The live issue of the politics of literacy  includes questions of the social and political purposes of  universal literacy, its feasibility, and its cost/benefits.
            The politics of spelling is not considered in English speaking countries.  Yet reform of the writing system has been one of the first concerns of almost every modern national revolution – from the French to the Russian and  Chinese; and of almost every revolutionary modernisation or nationalist surge –  as in Turkey, Korea, Israel, Indonesia and Malaysia, Norway, and Finland.     Reconstruction after wars has spurred modernisations in countries such as the Netherlands, Greece, and Japan, and other countries that have improved their writing systems this century include Spain and Portugal in co-operation with their Latin American collaterals,  Germany, Taiwan, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the Phillipines,  Niugini (wantok,) Sweden, Thailand, Vietnam, Dutch South Africa (Afrikaans), Greenland, and recently France again.1  Hundreds of new writing systems have also been invented this century for previously unwritten languages, aiming at efficiency with the benefit of experience. It is ironic that most of their linguistic inventors have been American or British. 2
            English is now the only major language in that has had no update of its writing system within the last hundred years, and it can only be compared with some Arabic and Indian scripts  for the obduracy and arguments with which moves for improvement are rejected.              What is going on?
             Ignorance about English spelling is almost universal – quite apart from inability to spell it.   New initiatives in Australian education remain restricted as long as Australians  are unaware that spelling is not only a key for reading and writing, but an indicator of how the whole society ticks.   We must understand how the past can suffocate or enlighten the future.
            The nature of the writing system is related to the values, power relations, and tensions within a society.  It has major social and economic consequences.   The development of Western capitalism, science and ways of thinking would have been impossible without the accessible alphabetic script and linear number systems. Literacy also involves internalising the social values of the literate community. Spelling is one way to restrict to an elite the initiation into the heritage and the living world of print.
             A difficult script helps to preserve power in a static society when only a few can master it.    Old China had a sense of heavenly self-sufficiency and an economic base in peasant agriculture.  For thousands of  years the Chinese script carried on a traditional Chinese civilisation that was antagonistic to  change and did not care for trade.   It was a matter of conscious pride that the difficult writing system was, like the virtues, a life-time’s work to acquire.   The key to government office was skill in the mastery of Chinese literacy, demonstrated in strenuous annual competitions.    In Korea the medieval  mandarins openly recognised their vested interest in the difficult Chinese-origin writing system.   A benevolent Emperor had sponsored the design of a new Korean syllabo-alphabet, hangul, hoping that his ‘Great Letters’ would make it possible for the common people to read and write.  And this was the explicit reason that the mandarins gave for banning it as soon as he was dead.   Only the court-ladies, barred from masculine education,  maintained hangul  for their own private use –  and it was Korean nationalism, the growth of commerce, and the needs of Westerners,  that brought this remarkable script  back four hundred years later.3
             Trading nations from the Phoenicians and the Rus onwards, have preferred, and needed, some form of alphabetic or syllabic writing for their business operations.4   In the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome, the male citizens were expected to be literate, as part of their citizenship, and both the Greek and Roman writing systems were simple and regular enough for boys to be taught by literate slaves, although the masses, the  hoi polloi and slaves, were in general unlettered.   The Roman Empire was held together and organised by the written word, which was deliberately plain enough for the armies and civil administrations to operate in their extending territories.  When Pax Romana collapsed, literacy was continued by the clerics scattered over that Empire, still in Latin –  but lacking public literacy,  the spoken forms quickly became unstable, and became the Romance languages and dog-Latins.
                         In many cultures, such as ancient Egypt and some medieval societies, the writing system has been so holy and complex that it could only be learnt and read by the priestly caste and scholars, who supported and were supported by  an illiterate aristocracy.   An early  and continuing purpose for writing systems has been the transmission of  religious knowledge –   often the more mysterious the script the better, for the status of the guardians of the spiritual mysteries. Sacred scriptures are often written in scripts that are regarded as sacred as their message.  The namehieroglyphics significantly means sacred writing.   Magic and the writing system were also linked in Northern Europe, as seen in how we still have  double meanings for the words  spell and rune (the name of  Norse writing).   Language and orthography may be carefully preserved as an essential manifestation of the sanctity of a religion – holiness made tangible and visible.   So,  antique Arabic script is retained untouched for the Qur’an, and ancient Hebrew for the Jewish Scriptures, similar to the importance of Latin in Catholic history, and the language of the King James Bible for English Protestants.    Older Boers felt it was profanation when the Holy Dutch Bible was translated into the vernacular Afrikaans spelling that they actually used themselves.  There is a deep psychological connection  between a sign and what it signifies.  The roman script for Catholic Croats and cyrillic for Orthodox Serbs is a continuing visible symbol to divide members of the same ethnicity.  Indeed, writing systems can be similar to organized religions in their function and significance in society, to the degree that when all else in a society is changing, a spelling system- the letter, as it were –  is still clung to when the spirit has gone.
 The politics of English spelling
             King Alfred, like Charlemagne, sought to unify his multilingual tribes by encouraging literacy in the dominant vernacular language.  He called for written English to be so simple and close to speech, that anyone could learn to read. However, spelling problems had already set in, and history went on to make them worse.
             Originally,  Anglo-Saxon characters matched Anglo-Saxon speech, but the Latin alphabet reintroduced with Christianity in the 6th century had no letters for several English consonants, such as th, sh, ch,wh, zh, ng, and only  five letters for the twenty English vowel sounds.   The resulting expedients still trouble English spelling. 5
             After the Norman conquest of 1066, with Norman-French and Latin the official languages,  the ‘English’ language was left to the illiterate Saxon underdogs.  One good result was that, without the stabilisation of writing, many complex inflexions of early English rubbed away.   English returned as a written form partly through Saxon upward mobility,  as conqueror and conquered merged, and partly through the Black Death, according to John of Trevisa, writing in 1385 –  since it killed off most of the teachers  still able to teach the nearly obsolete Norman-French language.
             With the inventions of printing and cheap paper, literacy was no longer confined to the clerical classes.   Floodgates were opened for popular reading and writing.  The prime motivation for literacy in Northern Europe was to read the newly accessible Word of God – and Martin Luther reformed German spelling as well as religion, to increase its accessibility.  Medieval manuscript copying by hand had been erratic in maintaining spelling conformity, and introduced many anomalies, but printing now stabilised the spelling system.  However, one consequence was that English spelling did not follow the continuing Great Vowel Shift in the spoken language,  but still represents many old vowels  and dropped sounds such as final <e> inflexions.
            Personal handwriting tended to spelling economy, as surviving records show, but public print did not, because the solution to the problem of standardisation was etymology.  Some degree of spelling uniformity was now needed – but what standard was reliable?  There were thriving dialects and ‘vulgar’ vernaculars, and the whole English language had an immense flowering from the 15th to the 18th century , with the Renaissance, and the discovery of New Worlds of geography and the mind.
     Faced with all this lively, chaotic and continually changing English language, scholars and printers decided to turn to the derivation of words  to supply the needed prestigious standard for a national spelling.   Early voices asking for a speech-based spelling were unheard.  Since so much new and old vocabulary was of classical origin, the ‘etymological principle’  allowed more consensus on spelling. But it meant that English spelling in writing did not truly represent the spoken language – and derivations could also be mistaken.
            By the late 18th century, nouveau riche commercial classes were  seeking to join the landed aristocracy socially.  They admired but lacked the nobility’s perceived advantages of birth and supposedly civilising education.  Snobbery prevailed – both to keep them out, and to make them want to get in.  Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son 1737-57  gave classic contemporary advice on how to be seen to be a gentleman. Surface behaviors, such as manners and spelling, performed like password and screening tests for social acceptance.
            A correct and complex orthography that required considerable education, intelligence or persistence to acquire, and where solecisms could be immediately detected,  was an excellent screening device.  The aspiring middle classes  possessed persistence and intelligence as well as high motivation to be socially accepted.  They too, therefore, valued the acquisition of correct spelling, as a sign showing they were fit for ‘good  society’
            The high-status field of scholarship also emphasised  knowledge and correctness in spelling.   A scholar was a ‘Man of Letters’.   Mastery of the letters was his first achievement.   This respect for the alphabet is still seen in the university degree of D. Litt.    Doctor of Letters is the accolade for the highest scholarship in the land, even above divine Philosophy (Ph.D).
            Eighteenth-century gentlemen and scholars also valued the complexity and elaboration of English orthography for its own sake.  The 19th century sociologist Thorstein Veblen 6 has described English spelling as a notorious example of his concept of  ‘Conspicuous Consumption’, which characterises  upper classes throughout history, who show off their status in public  by displays of extravagance, from sumptuous garb to prestige cars.  In the eighteenth century   ‘Age of Manners’, ‘conspicuous consumption’ included    baroque garments and rituals of behaviour, and love of ornament.   The Englishman of education and leisure took personal pleasure in elegance and correctness in manners, however tedious.   The French, German and Russian courts were more frightful in rituals and dress, but the English had their spelling.   And-  as often happens after a golden age of high culture –  after the  Renaissance, the Age of Reason and the Revival of Learning, the inheritors, lacking their genius and excitement, tended to turn to pedantry and to value form over content. 7
            In the 19th century the value of correct spelling became still more strongly entrenched. In Victorian times Victorian values  of respectability, discipline, conformity and hard work called for perfect adherence to spelling conventions  The middle classes were firmly in power, with a creed of meritocratic social promotion. Correct spelling was regarded as an infallible indicator of merit.  Spelling proficiency was supposed to have provided a kind of minimum qualification for entry into the middle class.  Looked at the other way, however, it meant that a difficult spelling system acts as a classbarrier. It ensures that a certain proportion of the population remains illiterate and can never aspire to more than menial jobs. .
             The Industrial Revolution required a literate management and skilled tradesmen who were also demonstrably diligent, intelligent and highly motivated to achieve.   Businesses needed intelligent and enterprising employees, as well as a laboring class who need only read instructions.
 A complex and difficult spelling was an admirable screening device for employment too.
             The Victorian moral majority with its high moral and even missionary aspirations for education sought to remove poverty by encouraging ‘self-improvement’ so that everyone would move up the ladder through literacy and learning.    They believed that anyone who tried hard enough could learn to read and spell.  It would be pandering to indolence to make spelling easier   Learning spelling itself was of value as a moral discipline.   ‘Slipshod spelling arose from slipshod thinking, which arose from slipshod moral ideals’.
            When the struggle for manhood suffrage succeeded,  the perceived need to then‘educate our masters’ resulted in the 1870  Education Act, enshrining the promise of universal literacy.  Learning  spelling could now take a third or more of the primary school curriculum.  The Spelling Bee  became a uniquely Anglo-American  form of entertainment and torture for old and  young.     It was a sign of educational heroism to master difficult spelling, and relatively few thought that the spelling need not be difficult in the first place.
              The 19th century Victorian arguments for preserving English spelling unchanged were in terms of Victorian values –
 Etymology (the Heritage of Civilisation),
Practical Impossibility to change (Pragmatism),
 Aesthetics (Beauty ),  and
Discipline (Virtue).
            However, the nineteenth century was an age of great reforms as well as of great iniquities to attack.  Many eminent Victorians sought to reform English spelling, impelled by  other Victorian values –  for rationality, and for belief in the perfectability of ‘man’ as well as of his spelling.
             Optimistic spelling reform campaigns attracted both support and ridicule for a hundred years.  At times reform appeared distinctly possible.  Noah Webster was a spelling reformer before his lexicography was revised by  commercial considerations.   U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s authorisation of 300 re-spellings lasted from August to December 1906 before Congress forced him to rescind.  Their combined legacy was a few dozen ‘American’ spellings –  the original reasons for separate British and American editions of books.    In Britain, in 1923 proposals of the  Simplified Spelling Society were backed by a petition signed by 15,000 people ‘prominent in public life and affairs’, supported by four major teacher unions and including  800  University scholars, 125 Members of Parliament, 22 bishops, and 49 publishers.  The proposals were rejected single-handed by the President of the Board of Education, and in 1933, again a single bureaucrat refused to consider renewed proposals. 8
            After the destruction of the second World War, the social catalyst of reconstruction included changes in the writing systems of many  countries.  And in Britain,  with Parliamentary and press debate from August 1945 onward, a Simplified Spelling Bill to permit moderate reforms  reached the Third Reading in the Commons successfully, but, for political reasons, it was withdrawn on the promise of a Ministry of Education investigation into the best system.9   The outcome was the Initial Teaching Alphabet experiment –  but it meant that the political moment passed to galvanise public support for spelling change.  Spelling improvement has been excluded from the prescripts of later U.K. Reports on literacy (Bullock, 1975) and language (Kingman, 1989)   In Australia Dr Everingham was a short-term Federal Minister of Helth, a Victorian teacher’s union journal used the Australian Harry Lindgren’s contribution to spelling reform proposals (‘spell the short sound /e/ with <e> as in bet), and a teachers’ union national conference in the 1970s passed a short-lived resolution recommending its use in schools.
             Most of the working classes possibly never benefited from compulsory literacy more than was sufficient to read instructions, tabloids and small-printed ‘penny dreadfuls’.  Many remained illiterate or nearly so – the struggle in spelling being more than sufficient for defeat in reading.   Today the middle classes’ disciplined dedication to the arduous task of learning to read may  be falling away, and the spirit of the culture is not less dedicated to learning.   Whether Anglo-American literacy problems are perennial, improving, or deteriorating,  social factors, including the fascination and immediacy of electronic media, contribute to reducing motivation for literacy.    The ‘educated public’ may now be less fully literate – as appears notably in changes in circulation and layouts of  ‘quality’ periodicals – print larger, articles shorter, errors more numerous, pictures and paper glossier.  Copy editors and computer spelling checkers arenow  essential for a high proportion of authors.  That is, now that personal spelling efficiency is not a necessary passport at the Top, social inequity in literacy  is confirmed by lack of electronic access. Learned journals have transferred their ‘immediate screening device’of correct spelling to screening by compliance with the minutiae of individual house styles and how to set out the references.
             Current Anglo-American attitudes to spelling are apathetic –  interested in neither Victorian perfectionism nor technological restructuring –  perhaps (?)  related to fading Anglo-American enterprise leadership and initiating spirit.  Japanese and Chinese now apply the same disciplined industry to acquire their difficult (though recently much improved) orthographies  as that spurring 19th century Anglo-Americans to master their spelling books- while also using phonic-based initial spellings as introductions for learners.    Korea,  Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam move rapidly into advanced 20th century despite great initial handicaps,  but plus the advantages of their improved writing systems.
            Official attempts to arouse enthusiasm for literacy among the unlettered Australian populace in International Literacy Year 1990 often emphasised relaxed, even passive, short-term satisfactions, dropping the old arguments of‘knowledge is power’, ‘heritage of print’ and ‘it’s good for learning discipline’.   The theme words for beginning readers in the government-funded A.B.C. Literacy Tape for ILY were:
‘I  dream  a lot.  I  dream  about  people  and  about  reading.
I  think  it  would  be  great  to  read,  you  know,  to  read  something,  a  book or  even  about  something  that  was  in  th e newspaper. ’
This is the conscientisation approach of Paulo Freire,10  but turned   dilettante.   Such words contrast with the political conscientisation of literacy in revolutionary Latin America and the stirring, if illusionary, first words of the Bolshevik Russian reader of 1917-1921 :
We are not slaves. Slaves we are not!
            Spelling and social class.   Spelling reform has been promoted by  educated idealists, generally in professions  giving them expertise and experience in spelling or public affairs.  However, educationalists within the’ establishment’ have tended to respect the status quo that they teach, although with notable exceptions dating from Bullokar (1580) and Mulcaster (1582) .
               Curiously, unlike overseas radicals and revolutionaries,  British and American Leftist political movements have ignored English spelling as a source of oppression of the masses.  Yet ‘any spelling that takes several years to master perforce plays into whatever class struggle exists’  (Gregersen)11   and socially disadvantaged learners have been shown to benefit from simple, clearly structured literacy teaching  – which would be more feasible with a consistent spelling system.
             Anglo-American political indifference may be due to the anti-intellectualism of both moderate and hard left sections of their labor movements and among the working classes generally.    Unions campaign for more expenditure on education and for the Right to Read (e.g. Victoria in the 1970s)  but at the same time Learning is not perceived as the ladder to advancement and key to the millennium, as it is still in many other countries.  On the contrary, schooling is often suspected as the capitalist enemy’s means of training ‘factory fodder’.  The education system itself has  been called a pernicious form of screening designed to ensure  masses will fail and fill the lower jobs,.  Far from the middle-class perspective that literacy offers a fair chance for upward mobility, large sections of  the poor have regarded it as an imposition on them by a middle-class serving its own interests.  This belief has not been without some justification 12.
            Nevertheless, a social group seeking an identity distinct from its perceived exploiters could assert that emphasis in its writing  – as in Australian aboriginal’sKoori  Kolej and their musical, Bran Nue Day.  These are spellings of defiance, and conceivably the germ of a demotic koori  script.  Kooris,  less bound to white traditions of writing,  already have their own examples of phonemic spelling for their own aboriginal languages –  written down usually by whites.
    Writing systems have political functions.   Governments  may recognise but not admit a dilemma.   A semi-literate or even illiterate society may be gullible and governable because it is dependant upon authority  for its information.  But a literate society,  efficient, instructable and a source of managers and expertise, may also  be dangerously independent-minded and unruly through its access to books.  Books, far more than broadcast media, can give everyone the liberty to ‘know, to utter and to understand’ (Milton, Areopagitica).  Power goes with access to print.
Spelling change and information technology.   When machines demand, tradition will not hold out for long.   At first it had seemed that the early computers might require a simplified English spelling,  to make possible speech/printcomputer transliteration.  However they have an non-human capacity for one-trial learning of input data, and are currently a force to stabilise spelling, as  spelling checkers.    Nevertheless,  developments in cybernetics and computer science may alter the intellectual climate and hence attitudes to spelling. 14.   Even one-word-one-symbol may prove to have greater potential than is now apparent.             Computers offer research techniques and modelling for how spelling could be improved, enhancing the practical potential for both research and implementation of spelling change.
            Simple algorithms can implement spelling change in anything that is printed or reprinted, allowing inexpensive transition in publishing.   Research can show how humans adapt to change – in a century of constant changes.
                         Philosophies of reading and spelling are dated by their relation to prevailing cultures.  In a social climate in which readers must be able to read every word accurately and understand the writer’s intentions without distortion, spelling will  be expected to be strictly orthodox.  In a different climate, permissiveness can led easily into uncaring.  Current reading theory emphasises guessing, and advises against decoding from the letters in words.   For those who seek a visible sign of stability, orthodox spelling remains as probably the last traditional value in a society in which the more spiritual values have been forsaken and the less tangible idols have toppled.
‘Spelling is pride. Spelling is social acceptance.
Spelling is discipline. Spelling isn’t an isolate’
                                                                                                                     (Partridge, 1984).
            But  spelling is also information technology – a tool for the communication of information, subject to human engineering principles like any other tool.   It cannot be expected to be the embodiment of an unchanging culture, subject to preservation orders –  or identified with the language itself that after all, it is only a means to represent – or saddled with the purposes of a dictionary.
Australians today are vociferously keen to remove all symbolism that proclaims their colonial dependance on another country. They could well start their new republic off with an updated International English spelling, compatible with the present, but more suited to the needs of the global community that uses English.   By  shedding the worst features of  English spelling, such as its clutter,  they would dispose of genuinely tyrannical remnants of an English history  that they have already thrown out of Australian schools.  Spelling is not an isolate.
2. select bibliography FOR POLITICS OF SPELLING BOOK CHAPTERS 1995.
This includes some publications for further reading on English spelling, its politics, and international writing systems,  that were not included in chapter end-notes.
Bailey, R. W. & Görlach (Eds.), English as a world language, Cambridge, C.U.P., 1984.
Coulmas, Florian. The writing systems of the world. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.
Brown, Bob. A typology, list & bibliography of English spelling reforms. London:Simplified Spelling Society, 1991. (lst edition, incomplete.)
Chao, Y. R. Language and symbolic systems. London: C.U.P., 1968.
Chu-Chang, Mae & Rodriguez, Victor (Eds.) Asian and Pacific American perspectives in bilingual education: comparative research.  NY: Teachers College Press., 1983.
Fishman, Joshua (Ed.). Advances in the creation and revision of writing systems. The Hague: Mouton,1977.
Fishman, J. A., R. L. Cooper & A. W. Conrad (Eds.). The spread of English: the sociology of English as an additional language.  Rowley, Mass: Newbury House, 1977.
Follick, Mont. The case for spelling reform. London: Pitman & Sons, 1956. (Includes a little-known account of spelling reform in U.K. 1900-1953.)
Freire, Paulo. Literacy, reading, the word and the world.  South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey, 1987.
Johnson, Samuel.  Preface to A dictionary of the English language in which the words are deduced from their originals.  London. Knapton. 1755.
Kavanagh, J. F. & Venezky, R. L. (Eds.). Orthography, reading and dyslexia.Baltimore: University Park Press. 1980.
McArthur, Tom (Ed.). The Oxford companion to the English language.  Oxford, O.U.P. 1993. Pitman, James & St. John, John. Alphabets and reading.  London: Pitman, 1969.
Scragg, D. G. A history of English spelling.  Manchester University Press, 1974.
Stevenson, H. W., Stigler, J. W., Lucker, G. W., Lee, S-Y, Hsu, Ch-Ch, & Kitamara, S. ‘Reading disabilities: the case of Chinese, Japanese and English’. Child Development, vol 53, 1164-1181, 1982, with a follow-up by Stevenson on ‘Orthography and reading disabilities’ in Journal of Reading Disabilities, vol 17, 296-301, 1984.
Taylor, I. & Taylor, M. The psychology of reading.   NY: Academic Press. 1983. (One of the few non-specialist books to take an international perspective.)
Tzeng, O. J. L. & Singer, H. (Eds.) Perception of print: reading research in experimental psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 1981.
Wagner, D. (Ed.) The future of literacy in a changing world.  Oxford: Pergamon, 1987.
Yule, Valerie. ‘The design of spelling to match needs and abilities’, Harvard Educational Review, vol. 65, no.3, 278-297, 1986.
Yule, Valerie.  Orthography and reading; spelling and society.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Monash University, 1991

Politics of spelling

 

The  Politics of
Spelling
‘Simplified spelling brought about sunspots, the San Francisco earthcquake and the recent business depression, which we never would have had if spelling had been left all alone.’
Mark Twain, speech to Associated Press in support of reform, Sept 18. 1906.
            The live issue of the politics of literacy  includes questions of the social and political purposes of  universal literacy, its feasibility, and its cost/benefits.
            The politics of spelling is not considered in English speaking countries.  Yet reform of the writing system has been one of the first concerns of almost every modern national revolution – from the French to the Russian and  Chinese; and of almost every revolutionary modernisation or nationalist surge –  as in Turkey, Korea, Israel, Indonesia and Malaysia, Norway, and Finland.     Reconstruction after wars has spurred modernisations in countries such as the Netherlands, Greece, and Japan, and other countries that have improved their writing systems this century include Spain and Portugal in co-operation with their Latin American collaterals,  Germany, Taiwan, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the Phillipines,  Niugini (wantok,) Sweden, Thailand, Vietnam, Dutch South Africa (Afrikaans), Greenland, and recently France again.1  Hundreds of new writing systems have also been invented this century for previously unwritten languages, aiming at efficiency with the benefit of experience. It is ironic that most of their linguistic inventors have been American or British. 2
            English is now the only major language in that has had no update of its writing system within the last hundred years, and it can only be compared with some Arabic and Indian scripts  for the obduracy and arguments with which moves for improvement are rejected.              What is going on?
             Ignorance about English spelling is almost universal – quite apart from inability to spell it.   New initiatives in Australian education remain restricted as long as Australians  are unaware that spelling is not only a key for reading and writing, but an indicator of how the whole society ticks.   We must understand how the past can suffocate or enlighten the future.
            The nature of the writing system is related to the values, power relations, and tensions within a society.  It has major social and economic consequences.   The development of Western capitalism, science and ways of thinking would have been impossible without the accessible alphabetic script and linear number systems. Literacy also involves internalising the social values of the literate community. Spelling is one way to restrict to an elite the initiation into the heritage and the living world of print.
             A difficult script helps to preserve power in a static society when only a few can master it.    Old China had a sense of heavenly self-sufficiency and an economic base in peasant agriculture.  For thousands of  years the Chinese script carried on a traditional Chinese civilisation that was antagonistic to  change and did not care for trade.   It was a matter of conscious pride that the difficult writing system was, like the virtues, a life-time’s work to acquire.   The key to government office was skill in the mastery of Chinese literacy, demonstrated in strenuous annual competitions.    In Korea the medieval  mandarins openly recognised their vested interest in the difficult Chinese-origin writing system.   A benevolent Emperor had sponsored the design of a new Korean syllabo-alphabet, hangul, hoping that his ‘Great Letters’ would make it possible for the common people to read and write.  And this was the explicit reason that the mandarins gave for banning it as soon as he was dead.   Only the court-ladies, barred from masculine education,  maintained hangul  for their own private use –  and it was Korean nationalism, the growth of commerce, and the needs of Westerners,  that brought this remarkable script  back four hundred years later.3
             Trading nations from the Phoenicians and the Rus onwards, have preferred, and needed, some form of alphabetic or syllabic writing for their business operations.4   In the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome, the male citizens were expected to be literate, as part of their citizenship, and both the Greek and Roman writing systems were simple and regular enough for boys to be taught by literate slaves, although the masses, the  hoi polloi and slaves, were in general unlettered.   The Roman Empire was held together and organised by the written word, which was deliberately plain enough for the armies and civil administrations to operate in their extending territories.  When Pax Romana collapsed, literacy was continued by the clerics scattered over that Empire, still in Latin –  but lacking public literacy,  the spoken forms quickly became unstable, and became the Romance languages and dog-Latins.
                         In many cultures, such as ancient Egypt and some medieval societies, the writing system has been so holy and complex that it could only be learnt and read by the priestly caste and scholars, who supported and were supported by  an illiterate aristocracy.   An early  and continuing purpose for writing systems has been the transmission of  religious knowledge –   often the more mysterious the script the better, for the status of the guardians of the spiritual mysteries. Sacred scriptures are often written in scripts that are regarded as sacred as their message.  The namehieroglyphics significantly means sacred writing.   Magic and the writing system were also linked in Northern Europe, as seen in how we still have  double meanings for the words  spell and rune (the name of  Norse writing).   Language and orthography may be carefully preserved as an essential manifestation of the sanctity of a religion – holiness made tangible and visible.   So,  antique Arabic script is retained untouched for the Qur’an, and ancient Hebrew for the Jewish Scriptures, similar to the importance of Latin in Catholic history, and the language of the King James Bible for English Protestants.    Older Boers felt it was profanation when the Holy Dutch Bible was translated into the vernacular Afrikaans spelling that they actually used themselves.  There is a deep psychological connection  between a sign and what it signifies.  The roman script for Catholic Croats and cyrillic for Orthodox Serbs is a continuing visible symbol to divide members of the same ethnicity.  Indeed, writing systems can be similar to organized religions in their function and significance in society, to the degree that when all else in a society is changing, a spelling system- the letter, as it were –  is still clung to when the spirit has gone.
 The politics of English spelling
             King Alfred, like Charlemagne, sought to unify his multilingual tribes by encouraging literacy in the dominant vernacular language.  He called for written English to be so simple and close to speech, that anyone could learn to read. However, spelling problems had already set in, and history went on to make them worse.
             Originally,  Anglo-Saxon characters matched Anglo-Saxon speech, but the Latin alphabet reintroduced with Christianity in the 6th century had no letters for several English consonants, such as th, sh, ch,wh, zh, ng, and only  five letters for the twenty English vowel sounds.   The resulting expedients still trouble English spelling. 5
             After the Norman conquest of 1066, with Norman-French and Latin the official languages,  the ‘English’ language was left to the illiterate Saxon underdogs.  One good result was that, without the stabilisation of writing, many complex inflexions of early English rubbed away.   English returned as a written form partly through Saxon upward mobility,  as conqueror and conquered merged, and partly through the Black Death, according to John of Trevisa, writing in 1385 –  since it killed off most of the teachers  still able to teach the nearly obsolete Norman-French language.
             With the inventions of printing and cheap paper, literacy was no longer confined to the clerical classes.   Floodgates were opened for popular reading and writing.  The prime motivation for literacy in Northern Europe was to read the newly accessible Word of God – and Martin Luther reformed German spelling as well as religion, to increase its accessibility.  Medieval manuscript copying by hand had been erratic in maintaining spelling conformity, and introduced many anomalies, but printing now stabilised the spelling system.  However, one consequence was that English spelling did not follow the continuing Great Vowel Shift in the spoken language,  but still represents many old vowels  and dropped sounds such as final <e> inflexions.
            Personal handwriting tended to spelling economy, as surviving records show, but public print did not, because the solution to the problem of standardisation was etymology.  Some degree of spelling uniformity was now needed – but what standard was reliable?  There were thriving dialects and ‘vulgar’ vernaculars, and the whole English language had an immense flowering from the 15th to the 18th century , with the Renaissance, and the discovery of New Worlds of geography and the mind.
     Faced with all this lively, chaotic and continually changing English language, scholars and printers decided to turn to the derivation of words  to supply the needed prestigious standard for a national spelling.   Early voices asking for a speech-based spelling were unheard.  Since so much new and old vocabulary was of classical origin, the ‘etymological principle’  allowed more consensus on spelling. But it meant that English spelling in writing did not truly represent the spoken language – and derivations could also be mistaken.
            By the late 18th century, nouveau riche commercial classes were  seeking to join the landed aristocracy socially.  They admired but lacked the nobility’s perceived advantages of birth and supposedly civilising education.  Snobbery prevailed – both to keep them out, and to make them want to get in.  Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son 1737-57  gave classic contemporary advice on how to be seen to be a gentleman. Surface behaviors, such as manners and spelling, performed like password and screening tests for social acceptance.
            A correct and complex orthography that required considerable education, intelligence or persistence to acquire, and where solecisms could be immediately detected,  was an excellent screening device.  The aspiring middle classes  possessed persistence and intelligence as well as high motivation to be socially accepted.  They too, therefore, valued the acquisition of correct spelling, as a sign showing they were fit for ‘good  society’
            The high-status field of scholarship also emphasised  knowledge and correctness in spelling.   A scholar was a ‘Man of Letters’.   Mastery of the letters was his first achievement.   This respect for the alphabet is still seen in the university degree of D. Litt.    Doctor of Letters is the accolade for the highest scholarship in the land, even above divine Philosophy (Ph.D).
            Eighteenth-century gentlemen and scholars also valued the complexity and elaboration of English orthography for its own sake.  The 19th century sociologist Thorstein Veblen 6 has described English spelling as a notorious example of his concept of  ‘Conspicuous Consumption’, which characterises  upper classes throughout history, who show off their status in public  by displays of extravagance, from sumptuous garb to prestige cars.  In the eighteenth century   ‘Age of Manners’, ‘conspicuous consumption’ included    baroque garments and rituals of behaviour, and love of ornament.   The Englishman of education and leisure took personal pleasure in elegance and correctness in manners, however tedious.   The French, German and Russian courts were more frightful in rituals and dress, but the English had their spelling.   And-  as often happens after a golden age of high culture –  after the  Renaissance, the Age of Reason and the Revival of Learning, the inheritors, lacking their genius and excitement, tended to turn to pedantry and to value form over content. 7
            In the 19th century the value of correct spelling became still more strongly entrenched. In Victorian times Victorian values  of respectability, discipline, conformity and hard work called for perfect adherence to spelling conventions  The middle classes were firmly in power, with a creed of meritocratic social promotion. Correct spelling was regarded as an infallible indicator of merit.  Spelling proficiency was supposed to have provided a kind of minimum qualification for entry into the middle class.  Looked at the other way, however, it meant that a difficult spelling system acts as a classbarrier. It ensures that a certain proportion of the population remains illiterate and can never aspire to more than menial jobs. .
             The Industrial Revolution required a literate management and skilled tradesmen who were also demonstrably diligent, intelligent and highly motivated to achieve.   Businesses needed intelligent and enterprising employees, as well as a laboring class who need only read instructions.
 A complex and difficult spelling was an admirable screening device for employment too.
             The Victorian moral majority with its high moral and even missionary aspirations for education sought to remove poverty by encouraging ‘self-improvement’ so that everyone would move up the ladder through literacy and learning.    They believed that anyone who tried hard enough could learn to read and spell.  It would be pandering to indolence to make spelling easier   Learning spelling itself was of value as a moral discipline.   ‘Slipshod spelling arose from slipshod thinking, which arose from slipshod moral ideals’.
            When the struggle for manhood suffrage succeeded,  the perceived need to then‘educate our masters’ resulted in the 1870  Education Act, enshrining the promise of universal literacy.  Learning  spelling could now take a third or more of the primary school curriculum.  The Spelling Bee  became a uniquely Anglo-American  form of entertainment and torture for old and  young.     It was a sign of educational heroism to master difficult spelling, and relatively few thought that the spelling need not be difficult in the first place.
              The 19th century Victorian arguments for preserving English spelling unchanged were in terms of Victorian values –
 Etymology (the Heritage of Civilisation),
Practical Impossibility to change (Pragmatism),
 Aesthetics (Beauty ),  and
Discipline (Virtue).
            However, the nineteenth century was an age of great reforms as well as of great iniquities to attack.  Many eminent Victorians sought to reform English spelling, impelled by  other Victorian values –  for rationality, and for belief in the perfectability of ‘man’ as well as of his spelling.
             Optimistic spelling reform campaigns attracted both support and ridicule for a hundred years.  At times reform appeared distinctly possible.  Noah Webster was a spelling reformer before his lexicography was revised by  commercial considerations.   U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s authorisation of 300 re-spellings lasted from August to December 1906 before Congress forced him to rescind.  Their combined legacy was a few dozen ‘American’ spellings –  the original reasons for separate British and American editions of books.    In Britain, in 1923 proposals of the  Simplified Spelling Society were backed by a petition signed by 15,000 people ‘prominent in public life and affairs’, supported by four major teacher unions and including  800  University scholars, 125 Members of Parliament, 22 bishops, and 49 publishers.  The proposals were rejected single-handed by the President of the Board of Education, and in 1933, again a single bureaucrat refused to consider renewed proposals. 8
            After the destruction of the second World War, the social catalyst of reconstruction included changes in the writing systems of many  countries.  And in Britain,  with Parliamentary and press debate from August 1945 onward, a Simplified Spelling Bill to permit moderate reforms  reached the Third Reading in the Commons successfully, but, for political reasons, it was withdrawn on the promise of a Ministry of Education investigation into the best system.9   The outcome was the Initial Teaching Alphabet experiment –  but it meant that the political moment passed to galvanise public support for spelling change.  Spelling improvement has been excluded from the prescripts of later U.K. Reports on literacy (Bullock, 1975) and language (Kingman, 1989)   In Australia Dr Everingham was a short-term Federal Minister of Helth, a Victorian teacher’s union journal used the Australian Harry Lindgren’s contribution to spelling reform proposals (‘spell the short sound /e/ with <e> as in bet), and a teachers’ union national conference in the 1970s passed a short-lived resolution recommending its use in schools.
             Most of the working classes possibly never benefited from compulsory literacy more than was sufficient to read instructions, tabloids and small-printed ‘penny dreadfuls’.  Many remained illiterate or nearly so – the struggle in spelling being more than sufficient for defeat in reading.   Today the middle classes’ disciplined dedication to the arduous task of learning to read may  be falling away, and the spirit of the culture is not less dedicated to learning.   Whether Anglo-American literacy problems are perennial, improving, or deteriorating,  social factors, including the fascination and immediacy of electronic media, contribute to reducing motivation for literacy.    The ‘educated public’ may now be less fully literate – as appears notably in changes in circulation and layouts of  ‘quality’ periodicals – print larger, articles shorter, errors more numerous, pictures and paper glossier.  Copy editors and computer spelling checkers arenow  essential for a high proportion of authors.  That is, now that personal spelling efficiency is not a necessary passport at the Top, social inequity in literacy  is confirmed by lack of electronic access. Learned journals have transferred their ‘immediate screening device’of correct spelling to screening by compliance with the minutiae of individual house styles and how to set out the references.
             Current Anglo-American attitudes to spelling are apathetic –  interested in neither Victorian perfectionism nor technological restructuring –  perhaps (?)  related to fading Anglo-American enterprise leadership and initiating spirit.  Japanese and Chinese now apply the same disciplined industry to acquire their difficult (though recently much improved) orthographies  as that spurring 19th century Anglo-Americans to master their spelling books- while also using phonic-based initial spellings as introductions for learners.    Korea,  Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam move rapidly into advanced 20th century despite great initial handicaps,  but plus the advantages of their improved writing systems.
            Official attempts to arouse enthusiasm for literacy among the unlettered Australian populace in International Literacy Year 1990 often emphasised relaxed, even passive, short-term satisfactions, dropping the old arguments of‘knowledge is power’, ‘heritage of print’ and ‘it’s good for learning discipline’.   The theme words for beginning readers in the government-funded A.B.C. Literacy Tape for ILY were:
‘I  dream  a lot.  I  dream  about  people  and  about  reading.
I  think  it  would  be  great  to  read,  you  know,  to  read  something,  a  book or  even  about  something  that  was  in  th e newspaper. ’
This is the conscientisation approach of Paulo Freire,10  but turned   dilettante.   Such words contrast with the political conscientisation of literacy in revolutionary Latin America and the stirring, if illusionary, first words of the Bolshevik Russian reader of 1917-1921 :
We are not slaves. Slaves we are not!
            Spelling and social class.   Spelling reform has been promoted by  educated idealists, generally in professions  giving them expertise and experience in spelling or public affairs.  However, educationalists within the’ establishment’ have tended to respect the status quo that they teach, although with notable exceptions dating from Bullokar (1580) and Mulcaster (1582) .
               Curiously, unlike overseas radicals and revolutionaries,  British and American Leftist political movements have ignored English spelling as a source of oppression of the masses.  Yet ‘any spelling that takes several years to master perforce plays into whatever class struggle exists’  (Gregersen)11   and socially disadvantaged learners have been shown to benefit from simple, clearly structured literacy teaching  – which would be more feasible with a consistent spelling system.
             Anglo-American political indifference may be due to the anti-intellectualism of both moderate and hard left sections of their labor movements and among the working classes generally.    Unions campaign for more expenditure on education and for the Right to Read (e.g. Victoria in the 1970s)  but at the same time Learning is not perceived as the ladder to advancement and key to the millennium, as it is still in many other countries.  On the contrary, schooling is often suspected as the capitalist enemy’s means of training ‘factory fodder’.  The education system itself has  been called a pernicious form of screening designed to ensure  masses will fail and fill the lower jobs,.  Far from the middle-class perspective that literacy offers a fair chance for upward mobility, large sections of  the poor have regarded it as an imposition on them by a middle-class serving its own interests.  This belief has not been without some justification 12.
            Nevertheless, a social group seeking an identity distinct from its perceived exploiters could assert that emphasis in its writing  – as in Australian aboriginal’sKoori  Kolej and their musical, Bran Nue Day.  These are spellings of defiance, and conceivably the germ of a demotic koori  script.  Kooris,  less bound to white traditions of writing,  already have their own examples of phonemic spelling for their own aboriginal languages –  written down usually by whites.
    Writing systems have political functions.   Governments  may recognise but not admit a dilemma.   A semi-literate or even illiterate society may be gullible and governable because it is dependant upon authority  for its information.  But a literate society,  efficient, instructable and a source of managers and expertise, may also  be dangerously independent-minded and unruly through its access to books.  Books, far more than broadcast media, can give everyone the liberty to ‘know, to utter and to understand’ (Milton, Areopagitica).  Power goes with access to print.
Spelling change and information technology.   When machines demand, tradition will not hold out for long.   At first it had seemed that the early computers might require a simplified English spelling,  to make possible speech/printcomputer transliteration.  However they have an non-human capacity for one-trial learning of input data, and are currently a force to stabilise spelling, as  spelling checkers.    Nevertheless,  developments in cybernetics and computer science may alter the intellectual climate and hence attitudes to spelling. 14.   Even one-word-one-symbol may prove to have greater potential than is now apparent.             Computers offer research techniques and modelling for how spelling could be improved, enhancing the practical potential for both research and implementation of spelling change.
            Simple algorithms can implement spelling change in anything that is printed or reprinted, allowing inexpensive transition in publishing.   Research can show how humans adapt to change – in a century of constant changes.
                         Philosophies of reading and spelling are dated by their relation to prevailing cultures.  In a social climate in which readers must be able to read every word accurately and understand the writer’s intentions without distortion, spelling will  be expected to be strictly orthodox.  In a different climate, permissiveness can led easily into uncaring.  Current reading theory emphasises guessing, and advises against decoding from the letters in words.   For those who seek a visible sign of stability, orthodox spelling remains as probably the last traditional value in a society in which the more spiritual values have been forsaken and the less tangible idols have toppled.
‘Spelling is pride. Spelling is social acceptance.
Spelling is discipline. Spelling isn’t an isolate’
                                                                                                                     (Partridge, 1984).
            But  spelling is also information technology – a tool for the communication of information, subject to human engineering principles like any other tool.   It cannot be expected to be the embodiment of an unchanging culture, subject to preservation orders –  or identified with the language itself that after all, it is only a means to represent – or saddled with the purposes of a dictionary.
Australians today are vociferously keen to remove all symbolism that proclaims their colonial dependance on another country. They could well start their new republic off with an updated International English spelling, compatible with the present, but more suited to the needs of the global community that uses English.   By  shedding the worst features of  English spelling, such as its clutter,  they would dispose of genuinely tyrannical remnants of an English history  that they have already thrown out of Australian schools.  Spelling is not an isolate.
2. select bibliography FOR POLITICS OF SPELLING BOOK CHAPTERS 1995.
This includes some publications for further reading on English spelling, its politics, and international writing systems,  that were not included in chapter end-notes.
Bailey, R. W. & Görlach (Eds.), English as a world language, Cambridge, C.U.P., 1984.
Coulmas, Florian. The writing systems of the world. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.
Brown, Bob. A typology, list & bibliography of English spelling reforms. London:Simplified Spelling Society, 1991. (lst edition, incomplete.)
Chao, Y. R. Language and symbolic systems. London: C.U.P., 1968.
Chu-Chang, Mae & Rodriguez, Victor (Eds.) Asian and Pacific American perspectives in bilingual education: comparative research.  NY: Teachers College Press., 1983.
Fishman, Joshua (Ed.). Advances in the creation and revision of writing systems. The Hague: Mouton,1977.
Fishman, J. A., R. L. Cooper & A. W. Conrad (Eds.). The spread of English: the sociology of English as an additional language.  Rowley, Mass: Newbury House, 1977.
Follick, Mont. The case for spelling reform. London: Pitman & Sons, 1956. (Includes a little-known account of spelling reform in U.K. 1900-1953.)
Freire, Paulo. Literacy, reading, the word and the world.  South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey, 1987.
Johnson, Samuel.  Preface to A dictionary of the English language in which the words are deduced from their originals.  London. Knapton. 1755.
Kavanagh, J. F. & Venezky, R. L. (Eds.). Orthography, reading and dyslexia.Baltimore: University Park Press. 1980.
McArthur, Tom (Ed.). The Oxford companion to the English language.  Oxford, O.U.P. 1993. Pitman, James & St. John, John. Alphabets and reading.  London: Pitman, 1969.
Scragg, D. G. A history of English spelling.  Manchester University Press, 1974.
Stevenson, H. W., Stigler, J. W., Lucker, G. W., Lee, S-Y, Hsu, Ch-Ch, & Kitamara, S. ‘Reading disabilities: the case of Chinese, Japanese and English’. Child Development, vol 53, 1164-1181, 1982, with a follow-up by Stevenson on ‘Orthography and reading disabilities’ in Journal of Reading Disabilities, vol 17, 296-301, 1984.
Taylor, I. & Taylor, M. The psychology of reading.   NY: Academic Press. 1983. (One of the few non-specialist books to take an international perspective.)
Tzeng, O. J. L. & Singer, H. (Eds.) Perception of print: reading research in experimental psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 1981.
Wagner, D. (Ed.) The future of literacy in a changing world.  Oxford: Pergamon, 1987.
Yule, Valerie. ‘The design of spelling to match needs and abilities’, Harvard Educational Review, vol. 65, no.3, 278-297, 1986.
Yule, Valerie.  Orthography and reading; spelling and society.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Monash University, 1991

August 24, 2012

Olympic heroes foretell national changes

Filed under: Pleasures, Political reforms, sport — Tags: , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 5:39 am

National heroes at the Olympics

 

A fascinating study is of the portraits of the athletes at the Olympics. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/2012/countries

Here we have the sporting elites of the world. The mix of races even within nations foretells the future. The standards of beauty are becoming held in common.

 

Here is what I found, although I cannot guarantee absolute accuracy in my counting.

Most athletes are not beautiful.

Most countries had at least one outstandingly good-looking athlete, regardless of race.

Most countries had athletes of different races. Among the single-race countries were Scandinavian and Japanese.

Most races had a variety of facial types, and few had ‘typical’ racial features.  Only 4 out of 38 Israeli athletes looked typically Jewish.

128 German athletes out of 395 looked Aryan, and among these were Dutch and Scandinavian names. German athletes included black and Asian.

120 French athletes out of 335 did not look as if they spoke French.  French athletes were mostly Caucasian, but many were African and some SE Asian.

Almost all British athletes looked British with English names, but some English names were Caribbean Africans, and there were 15 ‘Macs’ and many other Scots-, Irish- and Welsh-named athletes. As well as black Africans,the British contingent included Asians (but few Indians or Pakistanis or Arabs) Greek, Italian, Polish, Dutch . . .etc.

Chinese athletes all  had Chinese names and dark hair.  Most looked Chinese but some did not.  Only a few had slanty-eyes.

About a quarter of American athletes were African-American, but few were Latino or Asian.

Australia is one of the most multi-ethnic countries, but only 76 of the 410 athletes had non-British surnames, mostly European, but the athletes included Black, Pacific Islander, Chinese, SE Asian, Middle Eastern – including some Muslim-sounding names. About as many Macs as the British contingent. None of the Australians were obviously aboriginal, but it was difficult to tell from the photos if some were part-aboriginal.

 

 

70 nations won medals out of 205 nations competing!

March 10, 2012

Articles on political and social issues

 

The future of fire in Australia
Environment – 28/02/2012 – 14 comments
Rapid obsolescence as a form of waste
Economics – 3/02/2012 – 6 comments
The effects of violent video games
Media – 19/01/2012 – 7 comments
The curse of the McMansion
Economics – 24/11/2011 – 7 comments
Free trade and fair trade
September 2011 Feature – 19/09/2011 – 11 comments
Bias on ABC Radio National
Media – 6/09/2011 – 38 comments
Climate change at Radio National
Media – 12/08/2011 – 39 comments
Ageing populations need not be disastrous for Western governments
Society – 27/07/2011 – 29 comments
Our age of paradoxes
Society – 31/05/2011 – 5 comments
The Arabian Nights and Muslim beliefs and practices
Religion & Spirituality – 4/05/2011
How puny are you?
Environment – 8/04/2011 – 19 comments
Unnecessary costs of the elderly
Society – 31/03/2011 – 13 comments
Australian consumers, and our floods and cyclones
Economics – 9/02/2011
Challenges and responses to disasters
Nation Building – 19/01/2011 – 1 comment
Spare that tree: the arithmetic of supply and demand
Environment – 23/12/2010 – 5 comments
Nothing over a million dollars
Society – 14/12/2010 – 37 comments
The cost of elections
Domestic Politics – 12/10/2010 – 5 comments
Don’t waste the Murray River!
Environment – 1/07/2010 – 3 comments
Ballyhoo and balloons: political elections
Domestic Politics – 23/02/2010 – 3 comments
We’ve never had it so good
Society – 9/02/2010 – 7 comments
What a difference a lot of humans make
Society – 21/01/2010 – 6 comments
Combatting prejudice: African Australian refugee youth
Society – 19/08/2009 – 6 comments
The Internet at home – a member of the family
August 2009 Feature – 5/08/2009
A stitch in time …
Society – 25/06/2009 – 9 comments
Damage control – a greater problem than climate change
Environment – 14/05/2009 – 34 comments
Carbon trading has problems
Environment – 5/03/2009 – 7 comments
Housing for our changing climates
Environment – 23/02/2009 – 17 comments
ABC TV for children
Media – 22/12/2008 – 4 comments
Rupert Murdoch on education for the disadvantaged
Education – 4/12/2008 – 1 comment
Manufacturing, jobs and low technology
Science & Technology – 9/10/2008 – 12 comments
Language and literacy
Education – 8/09/2008 – 2 comments
Could the Olympic Games become fair sport?
Sport – 27/08/2008 – 7 comments
An audit for educational disadvantage
Education – 15/08/2008 – 9 comments
Cardinal Pell’s babies – quantity or quality
Society – 31/07/2008 – 18 comments
Marriages for the modern world
Society – 16/07/2008 – 7 comments
Who owns your sewage?
Environment – 3/07/2008 – 8 comments
The case for an Australian-made small second car
Environment – 5/06/2008 – 29 comments
Rubbishing on about plastic bags
Environment – 30/04/2008 – 12 comments
An ambit claim for the Ruddfest 2020
March 2008 Feature – 11/03/2008 – 2 comments
Revolutionary change in education
February 2008 Feature – 20/02/2008 – 10 comments
Cutting waste – saving the planet without destroying economies
Environment – 7/02/2008 – 19 comments
Australian citizenship and human rights
Law & Liberties – 17/01/2008 – 12 comments
Population is not a front page issue
Environment – 17/12/2007 – 43 comments
Improving politicians’ behaviour
Domestic Politics – 5/12/2007 – 11 comments
The big election myth – is the economy strong?
Economics – 24/10/2007 – 62 comments
Compensation as a right?
Health – 8/10/2007 – 10 comments

October 24, 2011

Peace poems

Filed under: Political reforms — Tags: , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 5:03 am

peace poems 1948 – 2011

 for whom the bells ring 

It would ring the bells of heaven

that have not rung for years

If nations lost their powers

and people came to theirs

And everyone together

Rose up with fearful prayers

for wild and blinkered war-men

and maddened Bulls and Bears

and wretched bogey newsmen

and the mad, marching hares.

 

written on a journey in Britain

 

After a meeting describing the bunkers for important people built in the Grampians, Scotland  – but none for the rest of the people.

Batten down this earth and its trees

before the hurricane

Cover the farms and the forests,

net over the streams,

Butterflies and insects,

shield – how? from this flame.

But none of these

is in a bunkering scheme.

 

Bury the books deep,

make cellars for your heritage.

Is there a deepfreeze

you can bank grandchildren in?

 

Dustcovers for democracy –

a military entourage

will come to take the scenery,

when the war begins.

 

(And must all countries bear that wrath?

And must this landscape die?

What flesh can barricade their path,

What blood unspilled can cry?)

 

Beyond the screens of lies and smoke I see

One Fate still spins a spider thread –

that it need not be.

 

 

facing the mirror

 

Humankind that cannot bear

very much reality

is unaware of our duality

with enemies we share

the evil that we see

only in the foe we know

the mirror to our greed

the glass to our fear, the seeds that we sow.

We cannot see it near and close

but over there, we know.

And name the evil  in our foe.

 

Beyond Tigers

Napalm, napalm burning bright

In the forests of the night

How can mortal hand or eye

Dare frame this fearful way to die?

 

What the factory, what the frame,

In what enterprise thy name?

What the profits that were sought,

Named in the company’s report?

 

What workman dare to take his part

To pour that poison in your heart?

By whom the formula complete?

Whose the carrier, whose the fleet?

 

On what distant mouths or eyes

Burns this outrage from the skies?

Whose the hands that dare desire

To touch that key and drop that fire?

 

Stars throw down their lightning spears

to quench those deserts with new tears.

Now does He smile when this He sees,

That what He made,

should now make these?

 

The Vietnam War

(Tune” All that I’ve got is a troubled mind’)

Dress me in khaki

wave from the shore

I’m leaving you fellows

I’m sent to the war.

 

Don’t promise me glory

That meaning’s unsure

It’s kept for the dead when

They’re sent to the war.

 

Don’t promise me freedom

There’s none any more.

It’s not for a fellow

That’s sent to the war.

 

Don’t promise me love

It’s not worth a straw

There’s none of it lasts when

We’re sent to the war.

 

Don’t promise me Country,

Peace, Justice or Law,

You’ve sent them upriver

And me to the war.

 

Just bundle all up

that you’ve valued before,

It won’t need a label

Just send to the war.

 

Tomorrow it’s your turn

You’ll cry and implore,

Then remember all us folk

You sent to the war.

 

Devil and Us

 

Devil and us is having a fight –

Glory hallelujah!

Devil is wrong and we are right-

Glory hallelujah!

Right don’t know which way to turn-

Glory hallelujah!

Got to fight on the Devil’s term-

Glory hallelujah

!If the right should want to win-

Glory hallelujah!

Got to fight gainst sin with sin-

Glory hallelujah!

Fighting the devil you can’t stay true- Glory hallelujah!

Got to get your own hands dirty too- Glory hallelujah!

Devil’s feeling mighty gay-

Glory hallelujah!

Devil’s winning either way-

to hell with hallelujah!

 

countdown

(following a UK news-item about reduced budgets for missiles)

 

Five little Tridents for a nuclear war.

One dropped from the estimates

and then there were four.

 

Four little Tridents launched into the sea

One wasn’t fail-safe,

and then there were three.

 

Three little Tridents sailing in the blue,

One had an accident,

and then there were two.

 

Two little Tridents hiding from the sun,

One failed its logistics,

and then there was one.

 

One little Trident sitting like a bunny

A satellite had know-how, and

Pop goes all our money.

 

Moral:

If you put £7.5 billion into four baskets,

don’t expect chickens.

 

Playworld

 

Children play and shout

“Bang Bang you’re dead!”

Behind the fence

“O God,” his mother said.

 

Adults play and shout

Their TV blood is red

Its drama news tonight,

“O God” a mother said.

 

Generals play and shout.

Move missiles up ahead.

Bomb what? Those towns below.

“O God,” five million said.

 

Devils play and shout

Their dice has rolled ahead

and blows apart.

“O world,” God said.

 

Star Wars Star Peace

 

At the last moment the missiles

Saw the trees in the field

And the wild things that run

In the woods and the streams,

From the ricks and the barns,

The town roofs and the weather vanes,

Faces on people in the streets,

And history that had lain

Six thousand years.

 

They were poised, hung above this

It was a theatre, a war theatre.

The scenario of the sky

was black around it.

Within the sky shone, white,

Those stars already dead.

 

Hobbes Leviathan

 

See the dragon clanking towards the abyss.

The children cheer,

For their nursery stories

Are full of dragons.

Its scales are of gold, of bronze,

And of plutonium.

Its eyes are blind. It has breath that kills.

Each joint is articulated to move with

And to move its whole social carcase.

It has a belly like a sex-shop,

It has a voice like a howling mob.

In its stomach

Are three million undigested unemployed.

Scattered behind like memorials

Lie its stone eggs.

Britannia holds her Trident and laughs.

A horrified voice calls,

“St. George of Merrie England!”

 

For a dead demonstrator – Nance Walsh SOS

protest marcher in  the Vietnam war

She walked among the good and bad

in tidy coat and shoes

a placard in her tired hand

which never made the news.

She asked the cause and not the use

to join the patient queues.

 

There was not any scarlet splash

although heart’s blood is red,

No barricades, no headline clash,

No body-count of dead,

No photos framed, life-stories sold,

No panegyric said.

 

When liberty still has a price

to all this may be said,

some pay it with a traitor’s flags,

some with their blood’s red.

A housewife paid a quiet way;

She walked, and is dead.

Envoi

Friends, you will break your hearts to build.

Its easier to smash,

to kill the evil with the good,

bring all down in the crash.

 

Sodom you may condemn,

without its ten just men.

This land, with its good and bad,  made Nan.

 

 

Peace Will

 

The bird is in the egg,

while the bomb is in the shell,

the child is in the womb,

the souls are in hell.

Fresh blows the breeze over  new ruins.

Flowers with the weeds

are in the seeds in the cracks

that brought down these empires.

 

Take away the syringe from the brain,

gun from the head,

horror from the eye of the children,

soot without the fire,

pitch without the road,

offer no god’s flesh

when the communion is dead.

 

Tell the young children

the bomb is in the egg,

the bird is explosive,

that the infant is monstrous,

the man born raging.

that cities lie vacant,

winds carry the plague.

In the cracks waits a hope,

waiting for a movement of will.

 

Turning from that screen,

from the images, from the wall,

let your small hands, as the tendrils,

reach for the sun.

Listen within you,

there’s silence, there’s music,

Look now.    Life’s done.  and again begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

matriotism – love of all my countries

 

This is the land I was born in, grey-leafed and grand,

These are my sunny skies over the red sand,

and the canyons dropping down from the strewn plain.

I love this land where the dust swirls in the rain.

 

This is the land that I lived in, hills with green leas,

among islands interlaced with the deep seas,

I would live and die for my country of summer trees.

 

This is the land I have come from, with spice in the street,

and singing with drums where the rivers meet,

my pulse beats with them, and the rhythms sway

to a northern marsh where only the reed pipes play.

 

These are the great cities that gave the earth light,

These are the lands that are my birth-right,

This is my earth, and yours, it is rich it is dear.

 

What bomb may yet fall on you, what spreading death I fear.

 

jerusalem australia

 

And shall those feet in future time

Walk on our crowded city street,

And shall the holy lamb of God

Stand where our intersections meet?

And can the countenance divine

Shine forth upon our private hells?

And can Jerusalem be built

Among these bright atomic shells?

 

Bring me my jets of burning gold,

Bring me the lasers of desire,

Bring swords of words, and dreams, unfold!

Bring me the rocketry of fire.

I will not cease the constant fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my  hand,

Till children see Jerusalem

Still building in this Promised Land

 

 

Postcessional

 

God of our fathers in the past

Lord of their far-flung battle-line

Beneath whose awful hand we lost

Dominion over palm and pine –

Those warnings that we heeded not,

Have we forgot, have we forgot?

 

Far-called our bombers melt away,

On towns and jungles falls the fire,

Lo, all our wealth of yesterday

Is burnt with Troy and sunk at Tyre.

Lord God of ghosts that squander yet,

God of the lost, lest we forget.

 

For heathen heart that puts her trust

In missile tube and atom shard,

All craven dust that poisons dust

And guarding ruins what they guard,

For murdering boast and deadly word,

Not mercy as we give mercy, Lord.

 

Earth cannot pay our awful price,

Captains and commissars depart,

Alone a long-past sacrifice

calls still for our contrite heart.

Lord God of hosts, remind us yet,

God of the lost, lest we forget.

Valerie Yule, 1948 onward

hichcliffe 7 VY Blog

peace poems

 

 

for whom the bells ring

 

            It would ring the bells of heaven

that have not rung for years

If nations lost their powers

and people came to theirs

And everyone together

Rose up with fearful prayers

for wild and blinkered war-men

and maddened Bulls and Bears

and wretched bogey newsmen

and the mad, marching hares.

 

written on a journey in Britain

 

After a meeting describing the bunkers for important people built in the Grampians, Scotland  – but none for the rest of the people.

Batten down this earth and its trees

before the hurricane

Cover the farms and the forests,

net over the streams,

Butterflies and insects,

shield – how? from this flame.

But none of these

is in a bunkering scheme.

 

Bury the books deep,

make cellars for your heritage.

Is there a deepfreeze

you can bank grandchildren in?

 

Dustcovers for democracy –

a military entourage

will come to take the scenery,

when the war begins.

 

(And must all countries bear that wrath?

And must this landscape die?

What flesh can barricade their path,

What blood unspilled can cry?)

 

Beyond the screens of lies and smoke I see

One Fate still spins a spider thread –

that it need not be.

 

 

facing the mirror

 

Humankind that cannot bear

very much reality

is unaware of our duality

with enemies we share

the evil that we see

only in the foe we know

the mirror to our greed

the glass to our fear, the seeds that we sow.

We cannot see it near and close

but over there, we know.

And name the evil  in our foe.

 

Beyond Tigers

Napalm, napalm burning bright

In the forests of the night

How can mortal hand or eye

Dare frame this fearful way to die?

 

What the factory, what the frame,

In what enterprise thy name?

What the profits that were sought,

Named in the company’s report?

 

What workman dare to take his part

To pour that poison in your heart?

By whom the formula complete?

Whose the carrier, whose the fleet?

 

On what distant mouths or eyes

Burns this outrage from the skies?

Whose the hands that dare desire

To touch that key and drop that fire?

 

Stars throw down their lightning spears

to quench those deserts with new tears.

Now does He smile when this He sees,

That what He made,

should now make these?

 

The Vietnam War

(Tune” All that I’ve got is a troubled mind’)

Dress me in khaki

wave from the shore

I’m leaving you fellows

I’m sent to the war.

 

Don’t promise me glory

That meaning’s unsure

It’s kept for the dead when

They’re sent to the war.

 

Don’t promise me freedom

There’s none any more.

It’s not for a fellow

That’s sent to the war.

 

Don’t promise me love

It’s not worth a straw

There’s none of it lasts when

We’re sent to the war.

 

Don’t promise me Country,

Peace, Justice or Law,

You’ve sent them upriver

And me to the war.

 

Just bundle all up

that you’ve valued before,

It won’t need a label

Just send to the war.

 

Tomorrow it’s your turn

You’ll cry and implore,

Then remember all us folk

You sent to the war.

 

Devil and Us

 

Devil and us is having a fight –

Glory hallelujah!

Devil is wrong and we are right-

Glory hallelujah!

Right don’t know which way to turn-

Glory hallelujah!

Got to fight on the Devil’s term-

Glory hallelujah

!If the right should want to win-

Glory hallelujah!

Got to fight gainst sin with sin-

Glory hallelujah!

Fighting the devil you can’t stay true- Glory hallelujah!

Got to get your own hands dirty too- Glory hallelujah!

Devil’s feeling mighty gay-

Glory hallelujah!

Devil’s winning either way-

to hell with hallelujah!

 

countdown

(following a UK news-item about reduced budgets for missiles)

 

Five little Tridents for a nuclear war.

One dropped from the estimates

and then there were four.

 

Four little Tridents launched into the sea

One wasn’t fail-safe,

and then there were three.

 

Three little Tridents sailing in the blue,

One had an accident,

and then there were two.

 

Two little Tridents hiding from the sun,

One failed its logistics,

and then there was one.

 

One little Trident sitting like a bunny

A satellite had know-how, and

Pop goes all our money.

 

Moral:

If you put £7.5 billion into four baskets,

don’t expect chickens.

 

Playworld

 

Children play and shout

“Bang Bang you’re dead!”

Behind the fence

“O God,” his mother said.

 

Adults play and shout

Their TV blood is red

Its drama news tonight,

“O God” a mother said.

 

Generals play and shout.

Move missiles up ahead.

Bomb what? Those towns below.

“O God,” five million said.

 

Devils play and shout

Their dice has rolled ahead

and blows apart.

“O world,” God said.

 

Star Wars Star Peace

 

At the last moment the missiles

Saw the trees in the field

And the wild things that run

In the woods and the streams,

From the ricks and the barns,

The town roofs and the weather vanes,

Faces on people in the streets,

And history that had lain

Six thousand years.

 

They were poised, hung above this

It was a theatre, a war theatre.

The scenario of the sky

was black around it.

Within the sky shone, white,

Those stars already dead.

 

Hobbes Leviathan

 

See the dragon clanking towards the abyss.

The children cheer,

For their nursery stories

Are full of dragons.

Its scales are of gold, of bronze,

And of plutonium.

Its eyes are blind. It has breath that kills.

Each joint is articulated to move with

And to move its whole social carcase.

It has a belly like a sex-shop,

It has a voice like a howling mob.

In its stomach

Are three million undigested unemployed.

Scattered behind like memorials

Lie its stone eggs.

Britannia holds her Trident and laughs.

A horrified voice calls,

“St. George of Merrie England!”

 

For a dead demonstrator – Nance Walsh SOS

protest marcher in  the Vietnam war

She walked among the good and bad

in tidy coat and shoes

a placard in her tired hand

which never made the news.

She asked the cause and not the use

to join the patient queues.

 

There was not any scarlet splash

although heart’s blood is red,

No barricades, no headline clash,

No body-count of dead,

No photos framed, life-stories sold,

No panegyric said.

 

When liberty still has a price

to all this may be said,

some pay it with a traitor’s flags,

some with their blood’s red.

A housewife paid a quiet way;

She walked, and is dead.

Envoi

Friends, you will break your hearts to build.

Its easier to smash,

to kill the evil with the good,

bring all down in the crash.

 

Sodom you may condemn,

without its ten just men.

This land, with its good and bad,  made Nan.

 

 

Peace Will

 

The bird is in the egg,

while the bomb is in the shell,

the child is in the womb,

the souls are in hell.

Fresh blows the breeze over  new ruins.

Flowers with the weeds

are in the seeds in the cracks

that brought down these empires.

 

Take away the syringe from the brain,

gun from the head,

horror from the eye of the children,

soot without the fire,

pitch without the road,

offer no god’s flesh

when the communion is dead.

 

Tell the young children

the bomb is in the egg,

the bird is explosive,

that the infant is monstrous,

the man born raging.

that cities lie vacant,

winds carry the plague.

In the cracks waits a hope,

waiting for a movement of will.

 

Turning from that screen,

from the images, from the wall,

let your small hands, as the tendrils,

reach for the sun.

Listen within you,

there’s silence, there’s music,

Look now.    Life’s done.  and again begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

matriotism – love of all my countries

 

This is the land I was born in, grey-leafed and grand,

These are my sunny skies over the red sand,

and the canyons dropping down from the strewn plain.

I love this land where the dust swirls in the rain.

 

This is the land that I lived in, hills with green leas,

among islands interlaced with the deep seas,

I would live and die for my country of summer trees.

 

This is the land I have come from, with spice in the street,

and singing with drums where the rivers meet,

my pulse beats with them, and the rhythms sway

to a northern marsh where only the reed pipes play.

 

These are the great cities that gave the earth light,

These are the lands that are my birth-right,

This is my earth, and yours, it is rich it is dear.

 

What bomb may yet fall on you, what spreading death I fear.

 

jerusalem australia

 

And shall those feet in future time

Walk on our crowded city street,

And shall the holy lamb of God

Stand where our intersections meet?

And can the countenance divine

Shine forth upon our private hells?

And can Jerusalem be built

Among these bright atomic shells?

 

Bring me my jets of burning gold,

Bring me the lasers of desire,

Bring swords of words, and dreams, unfold!

Bring me the rocketry of fire.

I will not cease the constant fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my  hand,

Till children see Jerusalem

Still building in this Promised Land

 

 

Postcessional

 

God of our fathers in the past

Lord of their far-flung battle-line

Beneath whose awful hand we lost

Dominion over palm and pine –

Those warnings that we heeded not,

Have we forgot, have we forgot?

 

Far-called our bombers melt away,

On towns and jungles falls the fire,

Lo, all our wealth of yesterday

Is burnt with Troy and sunk at Tyre.

Lord God of ghosts that squander yet,

God of the lost, lest we forget.

 

For heathen heart that puts her trust

In missile tube and atom shard,

All craven dust that poisons dust

And guarding ruins what they guard,

For murdering boast and deadly word,

Not mercy as we give mercy, Lord.

 

Earth cannot pay our awful price,

Captains and commissars depart,

Alone a long-past sacrifice

calls still for our contrite heart.

Lord God of hosts, remind us yet,

God of the lost, lest we forget.


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