February
12th 2012
Sunday round-up: snow fun at all!

Posted under: American history, childhood, class, Gender, jobs, local news, students, unhappy endings, wankers

I’m not in fact skiing today with the rest of the famille Historiann, as I have too much work to catch up on.  Here are a few ideas and miscellaneous items to keep you warm on this cold and snowy weekend:

  • Today in slactivism:  Reader and commenter Susan passed this along–all you have to do is click on the slide show to enable a donation to help the education of girls in Pakistan.
  • Speaking of education:  how about some support for the education of girls and boys in the United States?  When I read stories like this b!tching about the low 4-year graduation rates at universities in my state, and at the same time the high rate of remediation our high school graduates require, why doesn’t anyone point out that hack politicians and businessmen have made war on K-16+ education for years, attacking public education at all levels in particular as wasteful and ideologically suspect, and in general doing their best to withdraw public sympathy and taxpayer support for any kind of education?  At the same time, they’ve also conspired to pass laws that offer incentives to corporations for taking their money and their jobs offshore to chase the cheapest labor around the planet.   Now, all of a sudden, they’ve seized on the idea that College for Everyone is the way to save the U.S. economy–because the factory and manufacturing jobs are gone and because construction is in the toilet, everyone needs to be a knowledge worker now.  So whose responsibility is it to turn everyone into knowledge workers?  The K-16+ teachers and proffies, of course, who need to be tested, monitored, and surveilled at every turn to prove that what they’re doing works.  They also must take on the burden of saving the U.S. economy without any more resources, because as “we” all know, “you can’t just throw money at the problem!”  No, money solves all manner of business problems, but it can never, ever be used to solve problems with education.
  • This is the moral equivalent of firebombing the Fire Department, complaining that their response time in putting out the fire was unacceptably slow, and using that as evidence to de-fund and finally privatize the whole operation.  Dr. Crazy had a great rant about this last week–check it out if you missed it.
  • On money as a problem-solver:  this argument about “throwing money at the problem” has never made sense to me.  Money sure played a big part in solving my problem of not having a college education.  Money sure was useful in solving my shelter problem when I used it to rent various apartments and then to buy houses with it.  Money was really Johnny-on-the-spot when I needed a new furnace, a new kitchen, or a new car.  Money is really useful in solving mundane problems too, like cold, hunger, and thirst, and putting gasoline in my car.  Maybe some would say that I just “threw money” at those problems–but I think most Americans understand the value of money in making a comfortable and productive life for oneself.  The wise use of money makes it a very powerful problem-solving tool–but somehow we in the U.S. have collectively come to believe that it will never solve the problems in our K-16+ education system. 
  • I keep hearing in the news that Whitney Houston “passed away” yesterday.  Since when did this tacky euphemism for death (or its even dumber cousin, “passed,”) become respectable in contemporary news coverage?  Ugh.  Double ugh when it’s used to describe the death of someone so relatively young but drawn to trouble.  (This is a usage that’s unfortunately become more popular in the past 15 years or so–using the term “passed away” to paper over the violent death of a young person.  But I don’t like “passed away” or “passed” in any usage whatsoever–it seems to spring from a misguided attempt to avoid saying the words “death” or “died,” and a conviction that it’s somehow impolite to state the obvious in plain language.)

16 Comments »

16 Responses to “Sunday round-up: snow fun at all!”

  1. koshembos on 12 Feb 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    The Talmud says: “your town poor come first.” Even before the Pakistanis. When you solve your problems, you are prepared to solve problems afflicting others.

    Throwing money at the rich helps a lot and a lot. Everyone else just wastes money. Since almost all our politicians are intensely concerned with the welfare of the rich, they must fight education, my pension fund (typically called Social Security), my self paid health care (Medicare), disability support, civil right, abortion and everything else they can put their hands on.

  2. Indyanna on 12 Feb 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    I think the new model is not to *throw* money at “problems” when you can rely on the good old ground game: hand it off at close range to pre-qualified problem “solvers” in the great American vendocracy: the consultants, the “data-driven,” model-building producers of “Learning Management Systems” that can be recycled from year to year and exchanged for other ones (depending on whose brother-in-law is on what board), the voucher-charter crowd. And it’s not called “money” anymore, either. Think of it more in terms of a soothing stream of digitally-enabled annualized revenue instruments. Vendors eat ‘em like candy.

    “Passed” always makes me shudder; as if the subject in question accidentally stepped in front of an invisible particle beam, or on a gauze-covered rabbit hole, and just whooshed off into another reality before they could even emit an “eep!” and maybe be saved by grabbing onto their belt.

  3. Dame Eleanor Hull on 12 Feb 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    “Passed” to me implies passing as someone of a different race, different biological sex, or similar identity category. I have no idea what is wrong with “died.”

  4. Clio Bluestocking on 12 Feb 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    “Passed away” makes me think of the dead parrot skit from Monty Python. “He’s passed on!” (No disrespect intended to Whitney Houston.)

  5. Comrade PhysioProf on 12 Feb 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    I don’t like “passed away” or “passed” in any usage whatsoever–it seems to spring from a misguided attempt to avoid saying the words “death” or “died,” and a conviction that it’s somehow impolite to state the obvious in plain language.

    Hear, hear!

  6. Charlie on 12 Feb 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    I am so with you on “passed away.” It totally infuriates me when people talk about death in cloaked, superstitious, and phony-baloney ways. Something about it just awakens my inner Holden Caulfield who cannot stand empty sentiment.

  7. Susan on 12 Feb 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    I am with you on passed, though “passed”, as opposed to “passed away” is very much a usage i associate with my friends rsised in the Black church. And when I hear it from them, I know they know about death, but saying someone has passed turns the focus to the idea that they are going somewhere,

    It’s only when it is other people –the not rich– that throwing money at problems doesn’t work. After all, elite school tuitions, according to the NYT, are pushing $50,000 a year, and those schools have huge endowments. Rich folks must think they are getting something for their money.

  8. Tom on 13 Feb 2012 at 6:05 am #

    I hate to say it, Historiann, but 1100 years ago, it was commonplace in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to say “In this year, so-and-so ‘forth-ferde’” : i.e., ‘journeyed forth’. One might even translate quite precisely as ‘passed forth’ or ‘passed away.’ It’s an extremely old (and apparently useful) euphemism.

  9. Historiann on 13 Feb 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Interesting, Tom–I wondered if you might not have an opinion on this!

    I’ve heard the expression used by African American, Latin@, and white people recently. To pick up on Susan’s point about the phrase expressing a particular Christian sensibility, from what I’ve seen and heard it may be more religiously-bound than racially or ethnically-bound. I certainly accept that my preference for “died” is probably linked to my secular world-view. (I don’t think there’s anywhere to which to “pass,” which is probably why the expression has never made sense to me.)

    I still think that Strunk and White would urge “died” over “forth-ferde” and “passed away” alike.

  10. Indyanna on 13 Feb 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Strunk would, anyway; White was mid-20th century enough that he might have given you a reluctant pass on “passed.” Get Thee The Little Book, I always say. Journeyed forth has a kind of willful robustness to it, to me, anyway, whereas “passed” sort of connotes that somebody just misjudged the width of a narrow ledge on the Bright Angel Trail and tumbled forth into eternity.

  11. truffula on 13 Feb 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    As a regular reader of the newspaper Obituary section*, I can report that far more families use the phrase “passed away” than go on to suggest that their loved one “passed on” to something or somewhere else (Christian or otherwise). In my opinion, this is about gentleness and far be it from me to critique how others manage their grief. This of course has nothing to do with news reporting.

    Myself, I plan to pass on into humus. Or fishes. Whatever is legal and has a small carbon footprint.

    * It is also the only section I read regularly. Obits are interesting and somebody should take note of the many lives lived, it might as well be me.

  12. Tenured Radical on 13 Feb 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    Re. Whitney: it seems likely that intoxicants were involved in her death, and my feeling is that people are trying to deflect attention from that.

  13. Perpetua on 14 Feb 2012 at 6:26 am #

    I think “passed on” would bother me less if it didn’t take place in an overall culture of grief sanitization. As many people who are recently bereaved account, society barely allows a couple of weeks of sorrow and then it’s “What? You’re still upset about that?” (Actually thing that was actually said to me, many years ago.) (The only exception might be the loss of a child, in which case people would probably avoid you like the plague.) We don’t have funerals anymore we have “life celebrations”. Man, do I dislike that. When my great-aunt died, she refused even a memorial service. I respect her wishes, of course, but it also made me angry. People need to *mourn*. Laughter and good memories of course not incompatible with grief – far from it – but the American cult of happiness can hamper people’s ability to express and experience grief and loss. The bereaved frequently feel abandoned, isolated, silenced.

  14. Historiann on 14 Feb 2012 at 8:28 am #

    I first read truffula’s comment as “Myself, I plan to pass on into hummus.” HAHA! I like the green burial plans I’ve read about it, mostly because I’m cheap, but also because a winding sheet does better for the earth than embalming, encasing in a huge coffin, and then putting the lot into a cement vault.

    I agree with Perpetua: grief sanitization is where it’s at. I’m sorry someone told you to get over your bereavement in such a crass fashion. Perhaps some are just terrified of their own powerful emotions, and so distance themselves from their own grief in this manner.

    I think people sometimes make the mistake of seeing funerals or “life celebrations” as something for the dead rather than for the living. I really don’t care what anyone does or doesn’t do after my death–my family and friends will just have to do what makes sense for them. I’ll be beyond caring at that point, of course.

  15. N G on 14 Feb 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Happy Valentine’s Day! Good day up here. The government is reducing post secondary student tuition by 30% this year to encourage more people to obtain higher ed.

    http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/eng/

    Enjoy the day!

  16. Adjunctorium on 19 Feb 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    I like “croaked over,” myself. “Passing away” is something you do quietly in your bed, at the end of a long life, preferably ushered along through a morphine-induced haze. Whitney Houston did not pass anything; she croaked over. We might even argue that she croaked herself over, but that wouldn’t be very respectful. I suppose.

    Well said about our doughty leaders’ influence on the state of education as we see it today. Here in the Wild West, they continue the campaign: In addition to resurrecting a bill to allow concealed weapons in the classroom (deservedly vetoed at the end of the last session), one legislator has introduced a bill to ban the use of naughty words on the classroom (which naughty words remains undecided, but offend and you will be fired), and another proposes that no college, university or K-12 instructor shall be permitted to make a politically slanted or opinionated statement in the classroom.

    I’m starting to study for my real estate license this spring.