Monday, July 31, 2017


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What's lost when a language disappears? Consider this analogy: Language is to humans as the ocean is to the planet. Simple. No language, no people. Or, looked at another way, how strange would it be if there were just one fish in the ocean?

To those who argue that biodiversity is a tempest in a teacup, the loss of language no doubt seems entirely inconsequential. That view seems too narrow to merit any consideration. If you wore blinders that limited your range of vision to a just a few degrees either side, what would you see? More importantly, what would you not see?

Thursday, July 27, 2017


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Dawg Sez 10:

Coyotes and wolves, ravens and crows share a long history of work and play. They are ubiquitous critters found in every clime and any terrain. They populate the myths of all Native people. The name coyote comes from its Aztec name huehuecoyotl which the Spanish corrupted to coyote. Raven comes from old English hræfn and similar words in Icelandic, Dutch, and proto-German.

The Chinook called coyote talapus, the trickster. One of the many tales of talapus relates how he created Hyas Tyee Tumwater, Willamette Falls.

Monday, July 24, 2017


If this is your first visit to CwHD, a brief introduction is available. Just click on the CwHD Intro link. To return, simply click the Home link.

The words we use create the world we see. All knowledge is intricately tied to language. With the extinction of a language, no matter how insignificant that language may seem, comes an incalculable loss of knowledge.

Language lights the world of our species. Extinctions turn out those lights. And just as fauna need continuity in their habitats, so too do humans need continuity in their knowledge of the world. If enough lights are extinguished, we become isolated. Isolation, inevitably, leads to extinction.

Over 7000 languages are spoken on planet Earth. Ethnologue puts the number at 7099; and goes on to state that a third of those languages are endangered. Just 23 languages account for half the world's population. 86% of the world's population use an Asian or European language. In the next several generations half the known languages will be extinct.

Darkness will ensue.

Bob Holman, a poet, who cobbled together a film called 'Language Matters', has labeled Chinese, English, and Spanish as bully languages. These bullies, with their dominant economic position, are forcing out other tongues. These three toughs are taught in schools and mandated by government to the exclusion of local voices.


According to the National Geographics, every two weeks another language dies. In the Pacific Northwest, only ten speakers of South Haida remain. In Oklahoma, only five speakers of Zaparo exist. Uru, Vilela, Xiri, all South American languages, are at risk. In Mongolia, Eastern Siberia, and Northern Australia the lights continue to dim and flicker.

Does it really matter? We have five (some say six) senses. Hearing words is just one part of who we are. Won't homo sapiens find the means to compensate the losses? Over the next few weeks, CwHD will consider the cost of language extinction.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A.D., B.C., C.E., B.C.E.

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Dawg Sez 9:

A.D., B.C., C.E., B.C.E.

How curious that these common initials can create such confusion. A.D. stands for Anno Domini and translates to 'in the year of our Lord'. B.C. stands for 'before Christ'. C.E. simplifies to 'current (or sometimes 'common') era'. Leaving B.C.E. as the replacement for 'before the current era'.

Besides the general controversy concerning which set of initials to use, the most common error is to put A.D. after a century. The 9th century A.D. is an absurdity. Centuries and years just don't mix that way. Also, A.D. should always precede the year in question. The plaque marking the moon landing site does read: July 1969 A.D., a cosmic mistake, so perhaps use will prevail and this use will become common.

The general controversy concerns replacing the Christian designations with politically correct designations. This, when examined, is a non-starter. A fellow named Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor devised this dating system in 525 C.E., and eventually it became the Gregorian calendar which is the most widely used in the world today.

The problem begins with the curious fact that the zero did not exist in 525. With no zero point, the year 1 represents no year at all. Additionally, the date is meant to mark the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Most scholars mark that date some four years later than Dionysius' date.

Many think that replacing the Christian designations for the sake of political correctness is an overreaction. However, these abbreviations came into use in the early 17th century. They are used primarily for their inclusiveness. Greater accuracy is another reason to use the C.E./B.C.E. system. Yet another reason is simplicity.

A plethora of dating systems have existed over the centuries. Most have to do with the start and end points of a king's reign. The Japanese date their years with the name and time-frame of their emperors. If your ego was of sufficient girth, you might create your own calendar.

For example, the Dawg suggests using dog years for the common calendar. The ratio to human years is generally considered to be 7 : 1 (a 2 year old pup is really fourteen). This year then becomes (trumpets sound): the Year of the Dawg 288 C.E.

Monday, July 17, 2017

HENRY, an essay

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This essay is from Conversations With A Hypoxic Dog, the eponym for this log.


Henry Polk sat before a fire with his arms outstretched, palms offered to the tickling warmth of little tongues of flames. (Though his name might well be Harold Pollard. This is not the important thing.) The man sat on a large flat stone before a small rock-encircled pit where pieces of wood---a chest it was, smashed and pulled apart, a chest of drawers, the drawers, too, smashed and pulled apart---where pieces of wood, yellow-white, were splintered and black where lacquered--turned to ash. (The chemistry of this simple business is quite something if one were the least bit inclined to expend some effort on chemistry. Bit too daunting for most, though. Besides, the fire's the thing. What matters chemistry?) On top of this merrily crackling kindling, a wooden bust has been placed, and it, too, now fed the flames.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


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Dawg Sez 8:

Words and language have one constant: change. And why should words be different? Don't like the weather? Wait an hour. It'll change. Mark Twain said that. Maybe. People keep changing their minds about that. Anyhow, change is just the way things work in the big wide world.

Any number of words no longer mean what they once did; and many of these words have reversed their polarity and now mean the opposite of what they once did. As I have already noted, usage makes meaning. Unique once meant a singular thing. Nowadays, it often means a rarity. The word is in the process of change. Purists may gnash their teeth, but what will be will be.

Let's have a look at words gone bad.

Monday, July 10, 2017


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The four basic principles of Japanese aesthetics are: simplicity, subtlety, stillness, and restraint. Of the four, only stillness seems ambiguous. How might the absence of movement or sound apply to a written work?

Contention is the key; or rather, the absence of contention. Consider a conversation with a friend. If the dialogue becomes heated---push comes to shove---what ensues is usually a case of my stick is bigger than your stick. One pushes; the other shoves back. Repeat until blows are struck.

Writers often employ dialogue or description that is contentious. Usually, this is done to build tension in a narrative which can then be resolved---movement to stillness. Create a problem. Provide a solution.

The Japanese poem known as a waka does just that. The waka has a prescribed format: it is constructed in two sections, the first with 17 syllables, the second with 14. The first section presents a problem; the second resolves it. Haiku became the rendering of the first section on its own. Even within this short poem, a tension is created in the first lines, and then resolved.

Before embarking on the essay, consider something as commonplace as running. Deceptively simple, and fast running is especially so. There must not be any elaborate movements of the arms or legs. The upper body must be still. If the foot contends with the ground---listen as it slaps with each stride---the runner is literally braking with each footfall. Restraint is needed to keep stride length appropriate to speed---understriding is slow; overstriding is injurious. When done right: flying.

walk before you fly

The five paragraph essay, often referred to as 'classic' because its origins are found in the rhetoric of Roman orators, works in similar fashion. Dialectic, with its formula of 'thesis + antithesis = synthesis' provides a formula for this type of essay. State a subject simply, subtlely provide an argument or evidence, use restraint to restate the subject, and end with a cogent conclusion.

Some argue that the form is too restrictive and has little value. Others would have it that this essay form developes analytical skills. The ink drawing that the Japanese call sumi-e seems to argue with the former as do most of their traditional arts. Indeed, most skills, it seems to me, require a period of repetitive practice. Whether hammering a nail or running a trail, baking a cake or casting a fly, acquiring the skill begins with small steps done slowly.

The lesson, of course, is to walk before you run. Simple.

Thursday, July 6, 2017


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Dawg Sez 7

Concise and correct with a modicum of grace. That's what writing should be. Doesn't much matter whether it's a classic five paragraph essay or a two line email, the parameters should hold true.

Concise means to get the most information with the fewest words. Minimalism of a sort. Comes form the Latin word concidere meaning to cut up or cut down.

Correct means using vocabulary, grammar, and syntax with clarity and precision. No moral judgments need apply. This is not about good or bad, right or wrong. As I've suggested before, words and language are either common or uncommon. Common usage makes for 'right', and uncommon usuage makes for 'wrong'. Nobody likes a stranger.

Grace is smoothness and elegance of movement. English prose depends primarily on the arrangement of words and phrases to create well formed sentences. Meter, rhythm, and other literary devices serve a similar role for poetry.

Brings to mind (my mind, anyways .. arf arf) those three beautiful goddesses of Greek mythology: Aglaia, Thalia, and Euphrosyne, believed to personify and bestow charm, grace, and beauty. Could do worse, when you're wasting pencils, than to keep those three beauties in mind.

More 'practicin' what a peach':

a creel
damp ferns and jack pine
a creek
the rippling and nibbling
a cree a crawk
the stellar jay's din

flys and
and dry wicker creaks
reels with
the hissing and rippling
white water's fall

thigh deep
at dusk


Monday, July 3, 2017


The emphasis this week is again on practical applications of aesthetic principles. Aesthetics is usually associated with art and design, and often considered too abstract for daily use. However, even a cursory look at the following four principles of Japanese aesthetics will show them to be eminently practical.

1. Lose the clutter.

Simplicity is the key to most of what follows. Everyone knows the kiss principle. A tired cliché. Few people take this tired advice to heart. Eliminate what is not used or needed. Sell it or give it away. Keep only what you must. Have a place for it. This is called kanso in Japanese.

2. Tone it down.

Subtlety is the wink that goes with simplicity's smile. Better to suggest than to explicitly reveal. Obviously, this is the problem (one of many) with pornography, and the reason lingerie still sells. This is called Yugen, the power of suggestion.

rock garden Portland Japanese Garden (photo by Lscudder)

3. Take a breath.

Learn to be still. This is the single most difficult item on the list. Sitting quietly, doing nothing more than focusing the mind on one thing until that thing is no more. Too esoteric? Then sit and watch birds and their business. Watch the wind blow. Count waves. This is seijaku. Stillness. Tranquility.

4. Do less.

Less is more (see CwHD7). Austerity in all its definitions describes this principle. Often translated as shibumi in Japanese, the nuances of austerity have to be softened with yugen. Harshness and negativity have no place here. Simply use some restraint as your life unfolds.

One might write pages on each of these principles. Next week I'll apply this aesthetic to the classic five paragraph essay. Two weeks hence, I'll introduce Henry. Or was it Hank?

The link below is to a performance by Esperanza Spalding of Abbey Lincoln's song 'Throw It Away'. Both the performance and the song exemplify the four principles.