Tag: understanding

Understanding in a Foreign Language


When I first came to Japan, I could not speak the language. I came to the country in a job straight out of college, teaching conversational English in a juku, or cram school, in a town outside of Osaka, and my high school French and college German were of no use to me.

The first weeks were hard, trying to learn everything. I began copying the written kana daily in both forms, hiragana and katakana, so that I could be able to read signs, menus, and labels. I hired a teacher and attended lessons weekly. I talked with new friends most nights in a local bar and picked up Osaka-ben, or slang.

I’m a Liberal


I have been following the military career of Spencer Rapone, the West Point graduate who wrote “communism will win” on the inside of his cadet cover and wore a Che Guevara t-shirt under his uniform. As I predicted in an earlier post, the Army cashiered him, albeit a year later. He said that he wanted to rise through the ranks and change the Army from within.

Why am I so interested in this guy? Well, some forty plus years ago, that was me.

Understanding Lawyer Jokes


Lawyer jokes. They are very common. They are hardly the only jokes by profession. There are jokes for every sort of musician and singer, for instance.

Q. What does a violinist use for birth control?
A. His personality.

Appreciating One Woman’s Life: Understanding Dawns Slowly


In my misspent youth, and to the dismay of my parents, I was fascinated by religions, especially all things Catholic. I was too shy to actually go into a Catholic church, but I loved seeing nuns walking about, with their long black skirts and veils. The local library had a book with photos of nuns in all the American orders with a description of their habits, and notes on their particular callings — as nurses, teachers, contemplatives. I must have checked out that book six or seven times.

When I misbehaved, my stepmother’s mother, who lived with us and didn’t like me, would threaten to send me to a Catholic school — those nuns know how to make kids toe the line. But somehow I never saw the inside of a Catholic school until I lived in San Francisco, and was asked to give a talk about Jewish holidays to an all-girls high school.

Who’s That Girl, End of the Beginning


Two weeks ago, I wrote fondly about the woman who I used to think of as my baby sister. I did not know, then, that she would provide a far more profound lesson in understanding over the next week. Staring death in the face will do that.

As I silenced my phone before the service, Sunday the 8th, I saw a text message from my brother-in-law. My youngest sister was in the hospital in extreme pain. By Monday afternoon we knew the cancer was back with a vengeance. Two years ago, we were celebrating as Youngest Sister was pronounced cancer-free of a dread strain that has taken almost all it touches. The treatment had nearly killed her, but every quarterly scan since showed no tumors.

Understanding the Alt-Right


Actually, I’m not terribly interested in understanding the alt-right as a movement; what I find fascinating is the evolution of the term itself.  There are two wildly different definitions being applied, and I believe that the left is using that confusion of terms, intentionally and with malice aforethought, to denigrate a large portion of the population as racist, right-wing oppressors.

I first heard the term during the 2016 election cycle, when I started getting a large part of my news and analysis from various YouTube channels. Although I was not aware at the time, the meaning of the term had already morphed away from the original. In those days, the term alt-right was said to refer to a loose collection of people who, while generally of the right, were not happy or satisfied with the established leadership of the Republican Party and the mainstream conservative movement. Given that public polling routinely shows about twice as many people identifying as conservative as identifying as Republican, it seemed this had the potential to be a large and broad coalition.

Why It’s So Hard to Understand What a Silent Movie Audience Saw and Felt


Last month I re-read Leonard Maltin’s Behind the Camera, interviews with five famous directors of photography, and it got me interested in re-reading Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By, a longtime favorite. Camera was published in 1970 when Maltin was only 21; Parade was published in 1968, based heavily on interviews that Brownlow did during a 1964 trip to America, when he was 26. Both men are to be commended for knowing about and seeking out some of the then-forgotten filmmakers of the silent and early sound eras, many of whom were still around and delighted to have a chance to tell their stories. Now it’s a half-century later.

Brownlow’s was the more influential, though both books were coming to attention at the historical moment when film scholarship was really taking off. Brownlow’s thesis is simply that modern people look down on silent films because they’ve never seen a good one, and never seen one properly shown. In fact, he claims they’re the height of cinema, better than sound films once you properly see and understand them. He builds a good case but oversells it some. Still, there are so many great anecdotes, interviews, and learned explanations. Chapters on the making of Ben Hur and Robin Hood would be classic articles all by themselves.

There’s a whole pre-cinema, proto-cinema world of forgotten history in the fairground and nickelodeon days, roughly 1896-1911. Brownlow gives a clear and interesting account of those pre-Hollywood days, but his real interest begins when the movies started to mean something, sometime between about 1912 and 1915, the year of The Birth of a Nation, pretty much the agreed-on beginning of film’s claim to being an art form. That window closes in 1928, though a lagging handful of silent films came out in ’29 (and of course City Lights was 1931, but Chaplin was a special case). So this vanished, maybe golden age of the silver screen lasted little more than 13 years.

Member Post


I used to frequent various critical forums on the Internet. I learned a lot by participating in these groups/Websites. (For instance, my series on Critiquing: 1 2 3 4) Two thoughts from that time I would like to share today are about reciprocity and wall-breaking. (No, this conversation has nothing to do with Trump.) Reciprocity […]

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Understanding: Who’s That Girl?


My baby sister was only waist-high to me, in the family photograph taken the summer before I went away to college. The busy summers home, working nights a couple years, did not cause much adjustment to my mental image of my youngest sister. The year I graduated, I was commissioned into the Army. Duty began immediately, as I worked for the ROTC detachment until reporting to Fort Bliss, TX, for the Officer Basic Course.

This was before the digital age, so long distance calls were expensive between states. A call from my apartment in Germany, where I served for three wonderful years, would make a dent in my junior officer pay. So, the years went by without my baby sister, 10 years my junior, changing in my mind’s eye.

It was likely while I was back stateside, for a five-month Officer Advanced Course, that I got a call one evening, or weekend, from a young woman. Her conversation was not that of a child. She had definite opinions, and could ably advance them. Suddenly that family photograph was completely out of date, as I came to realize my little sister was a young woman.

Member Post


My mother was the fifth of five children in her family. Her eldest sister was twenty-one years older than she was, and had married at about eighteen, so was out of the house before Mother was born. Aunt M. had a surviving child who was only two years younger than Mother, who grew up very […]

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Understanding: Declarations and Independence


How should we understand the 4th of July? How does it mark independence, and why did a declaration matter? The document speaks for itself on the last question, and this is worth our reflection in our own day, with talk again of regional alienation.

The 4th of July was the date in 1776 on which prominent representatives, from the 13 American colonies, put their signatures to a document proclaiming formal independence from the British Empire. However, if we paid attention to the combined holiday on June 14, Flag Day and the Army Birthday, the colonies had already been at war with the motherland for a year. Victory, recognition by the Empire, was years away and not on the 4th of July. So, on July 4, 1776, was “independence” as an aspiration, not yet realized.

Understanding Understanding


A while back on Twitter, someone asked what people wished they had known before getting married. I thought about it for a while, and decided that it was the wrong question. It’s not what I wish I had known, but what I wish I had understood. I knew what was important. I’d seen examples, both positive and negative. I could tell you what was important, but for a long time I didn’t really understand it. And it turns out there’s a big difference between knowing and understanding. (Which is also something I knew but didn’t really understand.)

I know a lot, and a lot of what I know isn’t all that useful. (Unless you’re wanting a ringer for your Trivial Pursuit team, in which case I’m your man.) But the more I know, the more I realize not only just how much I don’t know, but how much I don’t understand. Knowing some fact is the “what,” and maybe the “when” and “where” as well. Understanding is the “why” and the “how.” People like to say that you don’t really understand something until you can explain it simply. There’s some truth in that, but it only goes so far. I can repeat a simple explanation without really understanding it, and sometimes the simple explanations get in the way of true understanding. Some subjects are really complex and there just aren’t good simple explanations. (Reason #93 not to get into serious political debates on Twitter.)

Member Post


This post at Dominicana, brought to my mind two of our distinguished members: Doug Watt for his love of the Dominicana site, and anonymous for his love of science. But more generally, it also brought to mind the idea of Ricochet and all its dear members. We share ideas, we collide, and we move from ignorance […]

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