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Devo and Kent State


The Kent State shootings - May 4, 1970 04

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the National Guard murders of 4 students at Kent State University in Ohio who were protesting Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. Horrible events spawn new cultural phenomena. In this case, Devo. Jerry Casale was among the protestors that day and explains its impact upon him and his philosophy of the world:

VR: Going back to your early days. You were present at the Kent State shootings in 1970. How did that day affect you?

JC: Whatever I would say, would probably not all touch upon the significance or gravity of the situation at this point of time? It may sound trite or glib. All I can tell you is that it completely and utterly changed my life. I was white hippie boy and than I saw exit wounds from M1 rifles out of the backs of two people I knew. Two of the four people who were killed, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause, were my friends. We were all running our asses off from these motherf&*$#ers. It was total utter bullshit. Live ammunition and gasmasks – none of us knew, none of us could have imagined. They shot into a crowd that was running. I sopped being a hippie and I started to develop the idea of devolution. I got real, real pissed off.

VR: Does Neil young’s “Ohio” strike close to your heart?

JC: Of course. It was strange that the first person that we met, as Devo emerged, was Neil Young. He asked us to be in his movie, Human Highway. It was so strange – San Francisco in 1977. Talk about life being karmic, small and cyclical – it’s absolutely true. In fact I just a got a call from a person organizing a 30th Anniversary thing. Noam Chomsky will be there and I may go talk there if I can get away. I still remember it so crystal clear like a dream you will never forget…….. or a nightmare. I still remember every moment. It kind of went in slow motion like a car accident.

VR: You said that the Kent State shooting sort of served as a catalyst for your theory of Devolution, which spawned Devo.

JC: Absolutely. Until then I was a hippie. I thought that the world is essentially good. If people were evil, there was justice and that the law mattered. All of those silly naïve things. I saw the depths of the horrors and lies and the evil. In the paper that evening, the Akron Beacon Journal, said that students were running around armed and that officers had been hurt. So deputy sheriffs went out and deputized citizens. They drove around with shotguns and there was martial law for ten days. 7 PM curfew. It was open season the students. We lived in fear. Helicopters surrounding the city with hourly rotating runs out to the West Side and back downtown. All first amendment rights are suspended at the instance when the governor gives the order. All of the class action suits by the parents of the slain students were all dismissed out of court because once the governor announced martial law, they had no right to assemble.

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  • howard

    Fascinating, but we should never discuss the killings at Kent State without also noting the Jackson State killings a week later in comparable circumstances.

    • Kathleen

      Thank you for mentioning that. I myself was college age at that time and I remember my dad making a comment after Kent State and Jackson State that it seemed government declared war on college students. Side note to Kent State – my dad’s cousin headed the food service at a college in a small Ohio town. When the students at his college staged a protest march he provided meals to them on the route and received threatening phone calls for townspeople.

      • PhoenixRising

        My mother, who was 28 and married to a professional guitar player who had sandals AND a beard down his chest, lived near that college town. Her sister, who was 39, was married to the police chief in the next town over, where there was no college.

        On May 5, my mom & aunt argued bitterly over who was responsible for the deaths in Kent. My mom wrapped up my (older) sister, her first baby, in her blanket and stormed out. They didn’t speak for 7 years.

        That asshole Jim Rhodes (my dad is a native of Jackson County and that IS his full name) ordered action that day that split families all over Ohio.

        At least.

  • Was there really any such thing as a coherent line of Hippy thought that believed the world was basically good and that justice and law would take care of evil people? Hippy seems to me have become more a catchall term describing a particular life style rather than a philosophical movement. But, maybe people with more knowledge than me can expand on Casale’s statements here?

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      it was what people meant by “truth justice and the american way”. it was something they wanted to believe in until, like Casale, they had no choice but to accept reality

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        realistically, and at the risk of invoking the parrot troll, it was mostly people of a certain race, economic class and (probably) gender who believed that the u s was essentially a fairy tale version of good

        • Ralph Wiggum

          I think if you look at the early Sixties, there were a lot of people who believed that the system was reformable and that basic American principles were sound. By 1970, that seemed a lot less realistic. Tom Hayden’s career trajectory, for example, fits that pretty well.

          • atheist

            I’m not totally sure what you mean. Tom Hayden’s just as political as he ever was.

            • ruviana

              I don’t know what he means but I read it as he worked outside “the system” and later moved into the system (was an elected official, etc.). He still holds positions way more left than a lot of people, even most liberals.

        • Aimai

          I’m related to a bunch of people on the left. I don’t see people of that era thinking that the US was essentially good, but that people were essentially good and that right thinking and right acting in the world could affect the balance of good and bad. I think some of that generation (not my generation, one up from me) thought that the personal was political in a number of ways and that lots of social constraints, race, money, geography, education were things that kept people from recognizing their common humanity. It was certainly naive but it wasn’t a form of american exceptionalism.

          • pete

            Also true (see my note below, or above deepening on your perspective).

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            I was trying to comment here and carry on a real world conversation, which didnt work out so great either way

            i kind of think that there was probably a sense of potential that was left over from being the country that won world war 2 that gives some foundation for that sense of possibility

            but I’m too young to have an opinion on this that should be taken very seriously

            • MAJeff

              The Introduction to the Port Huron Statement expresses something along those lines:

              We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.

              When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world: the only one with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would distribute Western influence throughout the world. Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for the people — these American values we found good, principles by which we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.

              As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss. First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism. Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract “others” we knew more directly because of our common peril, might die at any time. We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility for encounter and resolution.

              While these and other problems either directly oppressed us or rankled our consciences and became our own subjective concerns, we began to see complicated and disturbing paradoxes in our surrounding America. The declaration “all men are created equal . . . rang hollow before the facts of Negro life in the South and the big cities of the North. The proclaimed peaceful intentions of the United States contradicted its economic and military investments in the Cold War status quo….

              • JoyfulA

                Maybe it was a remainder of old-fashioned Progressivism, that the world was perfectible.

                I grew up seeing the peaceful sit-ins and marchers conquering violent racists and hatred. I hoped that all the hatred and degradation and inequity in the world, much of which I hadn’t even yet recognized, could also be vanquished with courage and love.

                Nixon and Reagan and finally that war on Iraq disabused me of such sentiments. I’m now a believer in Original Sin, not from the Garden of Eden but from our genes. A peaceable, cooperative, generous planet is not possible, and the best I can do is individual acts of decency and applause for the good I see.

                • Chris

                  The whole “the world is perfectible” sentiment is actually very excusable if you look at where they’re coming from. Compare America at the end of the nineteenth century with the America the boomers grew up in, look at the MASSIVE amounts of progress that were made – not just technological but economic and social – that happened in just half a century, and the utopianism you see in the sixties doesn’t seem nearly as out of place.

                • Nathanael

                  I still believe that the world is perfectable, but only by killing the problem types like Reagan and Cheney. We need more left-wing ruthless killers.

                  Yeah, I know this doesn’t make sense to most people, but Mr. Spock would understand it.

                  And frankly, FDR understood it. And so did Teddy R.

          • I am of that generation and I think Aimai’s correct. I was also a college student at a Quaker college, so there it was all marinated in a pacifist viewpoint. We were all still touchingly earnest in 1970.

    • Davis X. Machina

      Was there really any such thing as a coherent line of Hippy thought that believed the world was basically good and that justice and law would take care of evil people


      Insofar as Rousseau was a hippie, yes. Mankind is essentially good, and it is only our institutions, structures, and The Man that keep this intrinsic goodness from expressing itself. L’homme, né libre, est partout enchaîné and all that.

    • atheist

      It would probably be more useful to take Casale’s statements as being a communication from a person about how he felt & changed, than as some sort of academic thesis on hippies. At one time Casale felt idealistic but these murders and the aftermath changed his worldview.

    • pete

      It wasn’t coherent, it was visceral. The mainstream 1950s encapsulated many sins but the one that resonated most with proto-hippies was that they were boring. This was frequently mixed with the sense that Moscow and Washington were at two poles of one axis, but both sitting at “down wing” on the other axis. The politicos (such as Hayden) were not really hippies, and the hippies were anti-establishment in a cultural rather than political way. In my view (at the time) they complemented each other.

      • Tehanu

        Don Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart, was a friend of mine. He called the Fifties “The Big Snooze” and I’ve never had any reason to suppose he was wrong. As a side note I’m actually unable to watch “Mad Men” because I just can’t stand being in that world again, even for a few minutes.

        • JoyfulA

          Yes, me, too! I watched about 10 minutes’ worth and said, “I lived it. I don’t want to go back.”

          • Cheryl

            So glad to hear two people say that! I feel exactly the same way whenever I try to watch it..which I do now and then.
            It’s worse now that they’re into the late sixties or early seventies, apparently, given the beards and longer hair on men, short skirts on women.

    • Kathleen

      I think the sentiment of young, politically aware people at that time was that if people learned the truth they would change their minds. I can’t speak for everyone in that period, but that was certainly how I felt.

      • Davis X. Machina

        I think the sentiment of young, politically aware people at that time was that if people learned the truth they would change their minds.

        Forty years on, nothing has changed. There are still people who are surprised single-payer didn’t sail through Congress.

        • Kathleen

          Absolutely true. And in today’s media, there is no real “truth”, just stuff Tea Party/RWNS’s make up, which they dutifully report.

      • Yes — remember the teach-ins.

    • ploeg

      There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…

      And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…

      So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.

      Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

      • pete

        Very much on point

    • what i regarded as your “true” philosophical hippie was a back-to-the-land utopian, with helen and scott nearing as patron saints, the i ching as spiritual guide, and the whole earth catalog as the standard text.

      the various forms of counter-culture new leftism have been noted here already, with majeff’s citing of the port huron statement especially on point in terms of the kinds of idealistic hopes that were floating around.

      it was, after all, a period where many kids of wealthy backgrounds actively rejected their class status in the interests of a better world….

      • James E. Powell

        it was, after all, a period where many kids of wealthy backgrounds actively rejected their class status in the interests of a better world hanging with the cool people and getting laid.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          If that’s not “a better world”, what is?

        • pete

          Yeah, but the cool people were not necessarily from wealthy backgrounds. Note: Hippie bashing has been a widely practiced sport for almost 50 years, from the right, the center and significant parts of the soi-disant left.

          • Chris

            from the right, the center and significant parts of the soi-disant left.

            Wasn’t around in the sixties, but oddly the first thing that pops to mind when thinking of the “establishment” and its reaction to the new left isn’t Kent State… it’s Mayor Daley’s thugs and their reaction to the new left at the 68 convention.

            With friends like these, who needs enemies?

            • pete

              Huh? I completely agree about ’68. But if you’re reacting to my comment (and I dont really see how), I knew lots of folks who saw themselves as being in the left at the time who also engaged in hippie-bashing. Some were nice about it (“clean for Gene”), and some were privileged assholes who later became (surprise!) pillars of the establishment. Twas ever thus.

              • Sargasso Sink

                As an independent third party, it is my distinct impression that clearly Chris’s post was 1) a reaction to your comment, in that 2) s/he is completely agreeing with you that many people that were not labelled politically conservative didn’t like hippies, e.g. Daley

                • Chris

                  I confirm what Sargasso was saying. My apologies if that was unclear.

                • pete

                  Oh. It just never occurred to me that Daley was anything but conservative. Prompted, I can see that Daley’s self-image may have been just a teensy bit different than my view of him. Bastard.

                • pete

                  And by an amazing coincidence, we posted almost simultaneously, after a gap of many hours.

                • Chris

                  How about that?

                  Again, wasn’t alive back then. But I thought of Daley as belonging in what I’ve heard described as “Establishment Liberalism.” People who often rose to the top through unions or machine politics – either Southern or (like Daley) urban and rooted among “ethnic whites” – which a generation ago would’ve been considered the voice of the rabble but by the sixties were solidly part of the system. Not trying to move backwards like the right wing, not trying to move forwards like the new left, just basically continuing within the framework the New Deal had built.

                • pete

                  @Chris: You’re not wrong. But in the moment that was 68, Humphrey and Daley both presented as culturally conservative and pro-war (or at least not anti-war), and that was simply unacceptable. The status quo was effectively retrograde.

        • and sure it’s true to some degree, but i don’t really think kids of wealthy backgrounds had much trouble getting laid.

          more to the point, if you look at any analysis of who joined the peace corps, or at a more extreme level, who made up the weatherpeople, you’ll find that a good number of them came from upper-middle or upper-class backgrounds.

  • I had a former friend of mine – he proved to be far too Conservative for even patient ol’ me to take, after a long while – who was there.

    And I think that the events of that day changed him forever.
    If I remember correctly, he knew one or two of the slain students.

    I was 13 when this happened, and I know it effected me.
    It didn’t stop me from protesting for the last 40+ years – but it made me more cautious.

    I remember being a bit frightened, seeing snipers on the rooftops of Fayetteville, NC, when I was one of the organizers of our annual anti-Afghanistan/Iraq war/occupation marches.
    But the police assured me that they were there for OUR protection – from the “Freeper’s.”

    And that was the march when I realized the tide had turned against Dumbaya!
    One of the helmeted police officers, on his horse, turned towards me as we were marching to the protest site, and he have me the “peace” sign with his leather-clad, gloved fingers.

    THAT, was about as cool a moment, as I have ever experienced!!!!!

    • atheist

      That is pretty awesome!

  • Here, at the Strong Museum of Play, there’s an exhibit of important events in American history that includes the Kent State protests.

    The phrasing they used is that “Four students at Kent State were killed while protesting the Vietnam War.” It’s only one sentence and there is no context provided; if I remember correctly when I went the picture accompanying that year was of another event.

    Now, given that I just taught my Latin students the passive voice, I’m particularly sensitive to that little choice in the sentence. No mention of who did the killing. No context provided by an active subject or agent. Almost – but not quite – an implied causal link, such as in “Carl died while operating the lathe at the town’s textile factory.”

    Language is important.

    • Davis X. Machina

      American politics – hell, politics politics — cries out for deponent verbs, and the middle voice.

      • Shop talk for a second: do you think deponent verbs exist in a different space from active or passive voices? I kind of do, because some of them correspond to Greek mediopassives, but I’ve always wondered in the back of my head if they’re just verbs that the Romans considered medial or passive and we don’t.

        (I used to think they were passive verbs that we consider active, but it’s hard to see how exhortor or conor is somehow passive.)

        • Lee Rudolph

          My bet is that ergativity comes into it all somehow. (I don’t actually know anything about ergativity, but I like to say it.)

          • Actually, that makes a certain amount of sense, since I can think of only a few deponent verbs that are straight-up-no-chaser subject-to-object verbs.

            (Me, I just like using “straight-up-no-chaser” as an adjective.)

          • Gregor Sansa

            Mayan languages are ergative, and a little bit of that comes through in the colloquial Spanish of native Mayan speakers. And having just looked up deponent verbs on Wikipidia, I think that it fits… insofar as I can understand it from that quick read, it does seem to me like a half-step towards ergativity.

            • IIRC, Basque is also an ergative-absolutive language, so it might be interesting to compare the colloquial Spanish of Basque speakers to that of native Mayan speakers.

              And of course this has implications: I remember hearing that Spanish speakers are less likely to form causal links between sentences than English speakers because of our greater number of impersonal-ish and reflexive-ish constructions.

              I never thought about it this way, even though I’ve long wanted to try my hand at constructing an ergative language so I can understand how that works.

        • Karen

          If you two lived in Austin, I would buy you lunch at least twice each week. This is really fascinating, and I am completely sincere.

          I will never forgive Ronald Reagan for creating the economic bust in the 80’s that took an excellent professor of Classical languages and made her (me) into an adequate lawyer. Sadly, I don’t remember very much of my Latin at all and never got far enough in Greek to learn much of anything.

          • Well, given that the ever-lovely Peregrina identifies as Texan, I have been considering graduate school at UT Austin if the stipends and so on work out in my favor . . .

            I don’t remember almost any of my Greek, which is sad, because I fell in love with it at first sight; my Latin is much better, but nothing like what most of my graduate colleagues can do. Of course, then again, I’m younger than most of them and lack the master’s degree most of them have.

          • Davis X. Machina

            What Reagan’s economy didn’t kill by accident, Arne Duncan will kill on purpose.

            Classics just aren’t STEM-y enough to warrant saving. They don’t stand on their own bottom. They can’t creatively leverage their core competencies. They’re laughably non-synergistic.

            What 500 years of neglect and plunder couldn’t do, we’ll do in a decade. For money.

            • Don’t remind me. I graduated just at the end of the fleeting Latin boom – my classics department always had articles showing how important Latin had become again to the nation’s parents and students, and when SUNY Albany cut its classics program, we were heartened by the fact that the most famous defense of the humanities came from a microbiologist.

              Classics aren’t worth saving to the modern education movement because they’re not “necessary.” English – not literature, because that’s being chipped at – needs to be there. History needs to be there, if only so that you know which figures have importance beyond questioning. Art and music have to be there, but only for certain classes of child and deserving individuals from others, because we continue to think that talent at those things is exclusively some magical power, and because if you get really, really good at them, you may someday make a ton of money. But you probably won’t.

              Classics, on the other hand . . . well, even classics departments are running away from their traditional core of philological studies. These days it seems you can’t get a job in classics unless you’re an archaeologist, paleopathologist, or some other kind of social-science specialty that gives you some practical experience.

              I don’t know that they’re entirely non-synergistic. My undergrad now has a program that melds classics courses (admittedly a minority of them) with courses in engineering and architecture to create a sort-of-kind-of archaeology minor. Within the high school curriculum you could definitely bring classics into other areas of it, but I guess not in major enough ways to really take advantage of it.

              The thing is, I may only have three years at this, but I know what I’ve seen in front of me, and that’s that the kids who take Latin for four years walk into one of my Spanish 1 classes and they can beast the entire year without much effort. The reverse usually requires an incredible work ethic. I’ve also seen the writing skills of Latin students (mine or not) improve in real time, either in my class or when I see them write for the school newspaper or the blog (which I run) or their cases for speech/debate (which I helped coach).

              There’s value there. Maybe it can be achieved with something else instead; I’m not opposed to that at all. But if we’ve already got a language that does that sort of thing, I figure why not keep it going?

              • Davis X. Machina

                It doesn’t matter to the people who matter.

                Everything that is, can be bought and sold.
                Anything that cannot be bought and sold, is not.
                Everything that can be bought and sold, must be bought and sold, at the highest price.
                For buying and selling is the reason why we’re here.

                Economic efficiency is the summum bonum. It sits where saving your immortal soul sat for a millennium, and earning undying κλεος sat for a millennium or more before that.

                This is the whole of the new law, and the new prophets. The rest is commentary.

                I tell my students that a.) they’re the last generation of HS students who will read Portrait of the Artist in a class, and that I am the last man alive who had the same education as Stephen Dedalus.

                • pete

                  I started Latin just before my 8th birthday, with building blocks reading “am” and “o” and “as” etc. Later, I was taught composition in part by rendering into English Latin translations of Burke, and into Latin English translations of Cicero; and then of course comparing the results with the originals. These were handed down by a partly retired teacher, who had them from his teacher, and I believe they dated to about 1870. I wish I had them, but alas I broke the chain. Sic transit …

                • The phrase you’re looking for may be “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…”

                • Lee Rudolph

                  He canceled our assigned Latin homework immediately, replaced it with 17th century English poetry, and enriched my life.

                  I am glad, and envious, that he was able to get away with doing that. My (vaguely) similar excursions from the (students’ imagined) syllabus of university calculus may have—I hope they did—enriched (at least modestly) some of my students’ lives, but enough found them sufficiently offensive to their sense of what they (or someone) was paying for that they regularly complained about them on student evaluation forms, to my (significant) disadvantage. (Protip: it doesn’t matter how many students say positive things about one, a dean will seize on anything negative to cut one down and save some money.)

                  In particular, I thought and think that it’s really enriching (if only a bit) to know that the “focus” of a parabola (and the foci of an ellipse or a hyperbola), first so called by Kepler, has something directly relevant to do with the fire on a Roman hearth, and that Fr/Eng “foyer” and Sp “hogar” come wrapped up in the same package. But it turns out that that’s just telling stories.

              • Davis X. Machina

                The Hot New Thing among administrators is that everyone does two years of Spanish — there are no other languages, are there? I mean, look at Dora the Explorer — to get their ticket punched as per the state uni’s admissions policy.

                Everything else gets outsourced — online, or Rosetta Stoned. If the kids still want to do anything beyond that. Saves a fortune. A six, seven thousand dollar a year site license and you can fire ten times that much in annual teachers’ salaries.

                That’s it. Languages aren’t part of CCSS.

                • Davis X. Machina

                  @ pete That’s Roger Ascham’s (Queen Elizabeth’s teacher) method. Straight out of The Scholemaster

                • Oh, don’t fucking remind me. If I hear one more perfectly practical and important reason why kids should take a dumbed-down version of a Spanish curriculum that was originally designed for elementary school students I’m just going to start teaching them all of my Cuban grandfather’s favorite swearwords.

                  It’s my first language, goddamn it. It should be taught like Latin is. It should have the same cachet that being a Latin student has. But it doesn’t, and I know the reasons all too well, and that really annoys me.

                  (Actually, I’m interviewing for a job with an online Latin school that plans on partnering with certain schools, so I suppose I’m playing both sides of the coin here. But at least I’d only ever want to do that part-time.)

                • Gregor Sansa

                  My daughter grew up in Guatemala and now goes to a bilingual school in Cambridge, MA: alternating weeks of Spanish and English.

                  And my Guatemalan wife is appalled by what it’s doing to her Spanish.

                  Now, I recognize that teaching is hard, and languages are hard; and that the old system of “classical education” had its pedagogical flaws and even deeper anti-egalitarian ones. But I can’t help but think that if we gave the language of Borges and Sor Juana the same respect as we once gave the languages of Cicero and Sappho, the teachers would be holding themselves to a higher standard, and my daughter would not have started saying things like “no tengo nada pero agua”.

                • Gregor Sansa

                  Also, Dora the Explorer is objectively creepy. She runs away from crocodiles without ever taking her eyes off the camera. The stuff of nightmares.

                • Chris

                  If only it was only Spanish and only high school.

                  The standard for pretty much any foreign language in college is “we’ll offer two years, after that you’re on your own.” As if you could be anywhere near to fluent after just two academic years.

                • My daughter grew up in Guatemala and now goes to a bilingual school in Cambridge, MA: alternating weeks of Spanish and English.

                  And my Guatemalan wife is appalled by what it’s doing to her Spanish.

                  I teach Spanish 1 and have for three years. I cannot for the life of me decide if it’s been good or bad for me. On the one hand, I had lost a lot of my Spanish going to English-language school in PR and then college in the States, and teaching it has made me appreciate it more and use it daily, so I’ve retained a lot that otherwise would’ve gone away. On the other, it’s made me feel like Spanish has no poetry, and this is from someone who used to write sonnets and stories in the language. This is partly because I’ve been reading mostly for school, though.

                  Now, I recognize that teaching is hard, and languages are hard; and that the old system of “classical education” had its pedagogical flaws and even deeper anti-egalitarian ones. But I can’t help but think that if we gave the language of Borges and Sor Juana the same respect as we once gave the languages of Cicero and Sappho, the teachers would be holding themselves to a higher standard, and my daughter would not have started saying things like “no tengo nada pero agua”.

                  I agree with this, but (and this might be my reflex pro-teacher stance on almost anything) I think teachers don’t hold themselves to higher standards because there doesn’t seem to be a point to it. My kids take Spanish not because it’s practical – that’s certainly what they tell me, and themselves – but because it’s supposed to be the easiest and most painless of the languages, and because for some of them it’s an easy 98 instead of a 92 in Latin or German. They get very rude awakenings when they find out that that’s not really how it works.

                  If we gave Spanish the same respect Latin and Greek had, I’d be really happy teaching it, but as it is, well . . . meh.

                  If only it was only Spanish and only high school.

                  The standard for pretty much any foreign language in college is “we’ll offer two years, after that you’re on your own.” As if you could be anywhere near to fluent after just two academic years.

                  We’ve been really lucky there at my uni – I mean, for practical language, that’s the case, but you do continue on with lit classes and reading courses where you’re expected to do a ton of language work.

                • Gregor Sansa

                  I don’t have much to add*, but I just want to say that this entire comment section is pretty awesome.

                  *OK. I did actually want to muse that for me, Spanish isn’t just the language of Borges and Sor Juana, but also that of Calvino and Eco and Saramago. Saramago, in particular, is unreadable in English translation, but seems to have lost very little when I read him in Spanish. Point being, it’s really worth being fluent in a Romance language, and I guess that’s part of the point of the old Latin education thing.

                • pete

                  @Davis X. Machina: Thanks, I was not aware of that. I just did the method, never taught it. I might add that the same excellent teacher (J.P. Morrison, J.P.) once was horrified to discover that our little class of 14/15-yr-olds did not know the metaphysical poets. I think it was a Marvell reference that soared over our heads, and he noticed the blank expressions. He canceled our assigned Latin homework immediately, replaced it with 17th century English poetry, and enriched my life. He was disappointed that I switched to politics at university.

                • I continue to think that Latin is one of the best languages you can take, starting from English, to really widen your appreciation for language in general and your ability to work with and in it. The fact that it is inflected, and fairly anal-retentive about its inflections, means that the one crutch English speakers rely on in learning other languages – word order – gets kicked away within the first few days of class.

                  I don’t think it’s the only language that can do this: Russian has inflections and an imperfective/perfective verb system; Arabic has a lot of things, not least the calligraphy, that can cause the proper amount of aporia; Mandarin does things extremely differently from English, but I don’t speak it at all so I can’t vouch for it much; Swahili’s noun types and head-marking are also things that I think English speakers would find confusing and weird enough to make an object of serious study.

                  Latin, though, has the Romance connection, and for me personally that’s really important – but I don’t think it has to be.

                  (Side note: I’ve heard it said that GGM thought One Hundred Years of Solitude was better in English. Anyone know if there was some truth to that?)

              • Cheryl

                I love what you’re saying here, and I, forty years ago, fit what you say about moving from Latin to Spanish.
                I took Latin only because my dad insisted; then found myself in love with it, and took all four years in high school.
                I had just started Spanish when my family moved; the curriculum was so different that I was horribly behind in every single subject. Never caught up in Spanish; but I got B’s on exams by extrapolating from Latin.
                I took lots of Spanish in college, including Golden Age literature, and never thought of it as an inferior language. The Boom was booming while I was in college – Spanish Lit was pretty damn cool.
                And Karen – I’m in San Antonio; a language major who also went to law school. Maybe we should have lunch?

            • James E. Powell

              What 500 years of neglect and plunder couldn’t do, we’ll do in a decade. For money.

              Except that the “we” who are getting the money isn’t exactly us, now is it?

              A nation run by a gang of Milo Minderbinders.

              • Barry Freed

                It’s devolution in action, Jocko Homo.

        • chris y

          Yes, Latin deponent verbs reflect an obsolete Latin Middle voice, hence taking a dative object. Greek deponent verbs follow Middle forms. Ordinary Romans going about their business didn’t consider them one way or another, they just used them the way their mothers did.

          [Mediopassive? WTF? Why use four syllables where two will do?]

          • Yes, Latin deponent verbs reflect an obsolete Latin Middle voice, hence taking a dative object.

            But compound Latin verbs do the dative object thing as well without being medial in nature. Is there a different justification for that?

            Greek deponent verbs follow Middle forms.

            This I did know – it’s why I thought that Latin deponents would be originally middle voice verbs.

            Ordinary Romans going about their business didn’t consider them one way or another, they just used them the way their mothers did.

            Well, yeah. Same for pretty much any feature of language. But presumably the medial nature of the verbs reflects some kind of conceptual difference with how Anglo-Saxon or proto-Germanic speakers saw such things.

            [Mediopassive? WTF? Why use four syllables where two will do?]

            I suspect this might refer to the instances where Greek middle and passive voices share forms. I used to think that in other languages, which I didn’t know, perhaps the medial voice was combined with something else (say, a hypothetical “medioreflexive” voice or something) but mostly I just like the word “mediopassive.”

            And heck, maybe four syllables meets my private meter.

    • FMguru

      Reminds me of one of greatest uses of passive voice ever – Ronald Reagan starting an explanation of the Iran-Contra scandal by saying “Mistakes were made.”

      Since then, every time I hear someone use the passive voice, my B.S. detector starts going off with klaxons and alarm bells.

      • Yeah, that’s the ur-example, and I use it to teach my kids that you don’t always need an agent in a passive sentence.

        Languages evolve ways to avoid legal responsibility. In Latin and in German (the latter, only AFAIK), you can use the subjunctive to report what someone else said or thought. This is why my future Latin grammar will be called The Subjunctive of Hearsay.

        In English, I think the passive has sort of grown to fill that role – and it does so very effectively because, unlike the Latin or German usage, you can drop the agent.

        (Then again, in Latin at least, there’s the impersonal verb, which allows you to do the exact same thing – erratum est, “it was erred.”)

        • Davis X. Machina

          The impersonal can be used to distance oneself like a passive. Sometimes they’re both used, like the passive periphrastic: mingendum est (mihi), “It must be peed by me” for “I gotta pee.”

          Because no man can be truly free who’s a slave to his bladder, or something.

          • Yeah, the passive periphrastic is a hoot to explain. I recall learning a thousand different constructions using mingere when I went to Reginald Foster’s summer program.

      • Halloween Jack

        On the other hand, it gave us this.

    • UserGoogol

      The passive voice has a massively unfair reputation. It is entirely possible to dodge responsibility in the active voice, and it is entirely possible to make responsibility absolutely clear in the passive voice. If you replaced “were killed” with “died” it would be active voice, but that would make it even more ambiguous about the responsibility. It would be good to add “…by National Guard troops sent to disperse the peaceful protest” or something, but whether that’s put before or after the verb isn’t all that important.

      • The passive voice has a massively unfair reputation. It is entirely possible to dodge responsibility in the active voice, and it is entirely possible to make responsibility absolutely clear in the passive voice.

        To the bolded part: Agreed. I’ll defend the passive voice to anyone who says it’s inherently weaker or less definite than the active. I suspect that in English it’s considered as such because of all the modal verbs you have to use to establish it, and conciseness is considered a virtue.

        To the rest: Still agreed, but it does seem that the passive has taken on the role of skirting responsibility. In this particular example, “died” works to replace “were killed,” but in the classic Reagan formulation, you can’t really say “made mistakes” without a subject.

        Obviously, that isn’t the passive voice’s fault, but it’s still pretty suspicious when it’s used in such a way that it looks like dropping the agent was the object.

        • JoyfulA

          Early in my copyediting career, I was told to remove the passive voice from a cardiology textbook.

          I still worry and hope no one died.

          • At least it wasn’t an obstetrics textbook. To start the lesson on the passive voice I told my kids that no one ever says “My mother bore/birthed* me on January 27th, 1963 . . .”

            * Yeah, the active is more properly “my mother gave birth to me,” but oh well.

  • Funkhauser

    As a follow up to the (fellow Rochesterian?) above, and to Erik’s first sentence, it’s also important to note that two of the four killed (William and Sandra) weren’t even taking part in the protests. They were just walking across campus.

    • Nailed it. I’m originally from San Juan, but after seven years in the area, Roch is my adopted ‘burg. You still around here?

  • john not mccain

    Are the murderers still alive?

    • Lee Rudolph

      James Rhodes, murderer-in-chief, isn’t. Neither, I think, is the National Guard officer in charge. The kids who shot when ordered? I don’t know. Were they murderers, manslaughterers, or something less or other? I don’t know that either, any more. But the Governor, and the officers: yes, they were murderers.

      • John Revolta

        They were good soldiers. They were only following orders.


    • MikeJake

      Niedermeyer went to Vietnam and was killed by his own troops.

      • john not mccain

        Hmmm. Nevertheless, I still think that war was a mistake.

  • Matthew Stevens

    They scary part about Kent State isn’t that four protestors were killed, but that a majority of Americans approved of the killings.

    • Davis X. Machina

      Not strange, just scary. They felt the same way about Lt. Calley.

    • Lee Rudolph

      And a large majority of Ohioans.

      The next day, I went to my usual phone booth (I didn’t have a phone in my apartment) and phoned my parents in Cleveland. It was the last time I spoke to my father, and the first day that I knew consciously that I would never ever live in Ohio again.

      • pete

        Wow. I am so sorry, for both you and your dad. That must have been awful.

      • Aimai

        I’m so sorry, Lee.

      • PhoenixRising

        Oh, dear.

        I wasn’t born yet, but this disruption in my heritage loomed large over my childhood.

        And future developments: I’m the one in the Kent State shirt, which is not quite visible, second row. God, we were tired.

        Just learned that someone kept, and scanned, the first flyer from May 4, 1990. I’m a little dizzy to read this again…I never have learned proper cursive: http://issuu.com/thecampanil/docs/strikedocuments?e=0

        • Gregor Sansa

          If my wife’s US visa hadn’t been denied, I would have gone to Mills. No offense intended.

      • Cheryl

        Last time ever? That’s a terrible shame. My parents and I eventually reconciled, but the 70’s were a time when it seemed we agreed on nothing.
        My mother and I had a fight about Kent State; she thought it was just fine that the “rioters” were shot, and some killed. I remember her saying that one of the young women “was not innocent,” because she lived with a boyfriend and was not-a-virgin. We didn’t speak or visit for months at a time.
        Then there was the Thanksgiving dinner at my bf (later DH)’s family, including his older brother, recently back from Vietnam. The argument got so ugly that we left in mid-meal.
        This was extremely common in those days. It wasn’t till Vietnam was over for a few years that our families could converse peacefully.

    • ChrisTS

      “The first card that I opened up in the intensive care unit was a very nice-looking card,” recalls Dean Kahler, who was paralyzed during the shooting. “But the note in it said, ‘Dear communist hippie radical, I hope by the time you read this, you are dead.’ “

    • Chris


      I’ve had all kind of wake-up moments growing up in the 2000s to the effect that my differences with conservatives are NOT just a polite misunderstanding.

      I think the final one, though, came with the image of that OWS protester who was lying on the ground unconscious when the cops threw a flash bang grenade on top of him, driving away the people who were trying to help him. And my wingnut, Get-The-Damn-Gubmint-Off-My-Back uncle’s only comment about it was that OWS was a mob who didn’t believe in the law anyway so they couldn’t complain if the cops broke it. I don’t think I even need to ask what his reaction to Kent State was.

      They really, really, really fucking hate you and me and every one of us, they really want to see us dead or deathly injured, and they will break out the champagne and drink themselves into a coma every time it happens.

      • JL

        Yeah. Being a street medic, and seeing/hearing what some people really think of me and the people that I try to protect, has done a lot to destroy my belief in the “polite misunderstanding” theory of politics. Some of these people are happy when we bleed.

        Incidentally, the Occupy Oakland guy that you’re talking about, Scott Olsen, had a fractured skull/coma/brain damage, and ended up getting something like $4mil in a settlement.

  • But! But! The militia types tell me that the US military would never fire on American citizens!

    • asmallmoose

      I think they just mean the military won’t fire on them, and they are being very optimistic

  • I never knew that about Jerry, but there’s a lot of anger and sadness hiding behind the songs of what I would imagine most people think of as just a kitschy nerd band.

    • Dr Ronnie James, DO

      Strangely, I never got into Devo (they were about 10 years before my time), but all the tributes after his brother’s death, I’ve been discovering their music & it’s incredible. They are so much more than the twitchy novelty band they were pigeonholed as, but that was the point . It’s kind if cool how they’ve kept it going in other forms (even the weird Devo 2.0 project was kind of perfect in concept).

      • Me too- I was a teen in the 90s when I discovered them. Their first couple albums are really great, but even some of their later hits are really good. Beautiful World was a really poignant song- the turnaround at the end always hits me really hard.

      • Halloween Jack

        The thing that I loved about DEV2.0 was that, even though a lot of trufans came out of the woodwork and whined about how the lyrics were being changed from their One True Meaning and whatnot, Mothersbaugh & Co. were perfectly OK with the kids just kind of having fun with the songs–which doesn’t take away from the meaning or significance of the originals at all, of course.

    • Dr Ronnie James, DO

      And now my 2 yo loves “Drawing with Mark” on Yo Gabba Gabba…

    • Bruce Baugh

      Yeah, they’ve always been sold short that way. There’s a lot of passion and thought in their work, presented in a gaudy costume. I’ve been known to compare them to sf writer Howard Walrop, who does the same kind of thing in prose, with bleak tragedies about nominally goofy subjects.

      It’s worth noting that the album they put out just a few years ago, Something For Everybody, is really good both musically and lyrically.

      • I’ll have to check that out. The thing that might have limited them was that they’ve always been kind of opaque- it’s hard to tell sometimes what exactly they’re getting at.

  • A fine wit and a brilliant artist. You can tell how much his memories of Kent State mean to him.

    That video is from probably my favorite Devo era and has one of my very favorite songs, “Blockhead”.

    • It’s like they showed their disgust with humanity in becoming a machine of superhuman musical ability

  • Bill Murray

    I’m surprised DEVO doing Ohio wasn’t in the OP. They did their version on the weird cover album “When Pigs Fly” and I found a video someone made for the 40th anniversary at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WyrbkF08SY

    • elm

      Oddly enough, I’ve had Don Ho’s “Shock the Monkey” stuck in my head all day…

  • James E. Powell

    Kent State is a pretty big moment in my political development. I was in the 9th grade at a high school where a fair number of the graduates attended Kent State. It’s about a half hour away. Somehow somebody in school heard about it shortly after it happened. Before school let out we walked out. It wasn’t the first or last time we walked out over some Viet Nam related thing. Ohio State’s campus closed and my sister came home with tales to tell. I wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand it, but there was a feeling that a line had been crossed and the world was no longer the same.

    For most of the kids in my school it was an illusion. I remember what they looked like and how they talked about these things. In a few years they would be voting for Reagan. Now they post right-wing rage on facebook. But for some of us, it was the year we became permanent left-wing political types.

    • Terry

      How is someone not changed seeing the tanks roll down my darkened street in Urbana

  • James E. Powell

    Watching a CNN show on this right now. Doing a good job reminding everyone that the protests at Kent State and many other campuses was a direct response to Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia. He insisted it was done to shorten the war and make it easier to get out (cf. The Surge). Nobody believed that. They saw it as an expansion and extension of the war.

    It may be hard for people these days to understand this, but these were all very hot topics of discussion in high schools. Our older brothers were getting drafted, some didn’t come home. (mine did – he’s fine) And we were thinking it was only a matter of time before many of us would be drafted. It struck us as insane and immoral. Our guys were the fucking redcoats. Who wanted to be part of that?

    And the fact that the government, the cops, and everyone else in power responded with “fuck you, do as your told our we will hurt you” provoked rebellion against them.

  • Kalil

    The Guardsman were terrified. In shock. Panicked. Confused.
    As they marched in an organized line, gunning down the unarmed civilians.
    Their actions were excusable – and excused! – because they were clearly afraid for their lives.
    Can’t you tell?

    (Thanks for the reminder, Prof. Loomis. A somber memorial…)

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  • jkay

    But they were already such perfect human beings that NIXON WAS ALREADY IN AND THE LONG PROGRESSIVE ERA REVERSED. And Nixon and Reagan were reelected.

    LBJ must’ve radicalized most, via Vietnam. Not saying shootings are right or easy, but the worst damage already there.

  • Gregor Sansa

    I’ve done the protest thing… spent 3 days on a hunger strike in jail once. But it was a fucking lark compared to that.

    • Gregor Sansa

      Thinking about the comparison between Kent State and Seattle N30 or Occupy, my feelings are mixed. It’s definitely a good thing that shooting protesters is not generally OK anymore. But it’s not so good that the forces of repression have learned so well to smother protest with only a few small tears in the velvet glove. I don’t know how to think about this very well.

      • For the most part effective and stable political systems do not have to use a lot or repression to effectively neutralize opposition. The mass use of violence is often a sign of political weakness and tends to be used early on in solidifying particular regimes or during times of vulnerability for the regime. A strong and secure regime can generally deal with dissent effectively with minimum violence.

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  • J R in WV

    OK. I graduated from HS in 1968, went to a liberal arts college immediately. Was always a little different from my classmates and wanted to move on to my next step. Problem was, I had no idea what to do as a career or as a major. Which meant I had a lot of spare time at college.

    I became anti-war (as opposed to no opinion) pretty quickly that freshman year, and participated in relatively mellow marches in town, where there was a fairly big town-gown gap. By fall 1969, after meeting Mrs J R (who was even more liberal than I was at that time, and who educated me quite a bit back then) I was more active as a sophomore.

    I participated in planning for a large march in Washington DC, and was a parade marshall (one of thousands) intended to organize things, keep people from getting lost or breaking the law. I got to smell pepper gas, that first day. I helped set up for the big musical event the next day, Sunday (IIRC) which meant I wound up with a back stage pass, and a pass to the small area right in front of the stage. Amazing!

    Then I got my draft number in the lottery. They had been allowing most all college students out on a student deferment, which meant that blue collar kids were the only guys getting killed for Nixon’s war. My year was the first one to get a lottery, and my number was NOT good. 72. They took people up into the 200s, which lets you know how bad the meatgrinder called Vietnam really was.

    After much worry I decided to try to join the Coast Guard, not expecting that a small town draft board would give me a CO deferment.

    My eyes were bad, not good enough for the CG, but fine for the Army, Marines, etc. So I joined the Navy, which didn’t have a serious oar in the ground fighting. I had no desire to kill others, nor to be shot at myself.

    I enlisted (at the point of a gun, really) in very early spring of 1970, and was in boot camp for Kent State. Many of my fellow recruits were pretty open about their dislike of the anti-war movement, which made me (silently) wonder why they weren’t in the Marine boot camp.

    When the Guard shot those kids, we got the very controlled news from USN staff, our company commander, who was a pretty tough Chief Petty Officer. Obviously we got the version that the protestors were violent communist revolutionaries who needed to be shot down to save the world from the Comintern takeover.

    Now I have a friend who was a young run-away in Kent the day of that shooting. She tells a different story. After two unarmed non-violent demonstrators and two non-participant students walking/running between classes were shot down like dogs on the orders of their commanders, the town of Kent Ohio was shut down and isolated.

    Then troopers and police searched homes without warrants for the communist agitators who organized the violent revolutionary mobs at the school. Which of course only existed in the fevered minds of Nixon and his henchmen. The more that nothing was found, the more desperate the Ohio officials who ordered the whole disaster became.

    My friend, who was 14 or 15 and hitchhiking around awol from her parents, was taken in by people who had a regular in-town house. The upstairs was a finished attic with drawers built into the part of the upstairs where the roof came down too low for people to stand.

    Deborah was helped to climb through the wall, and hid under the roof. She could hear searchers going through the house. She had put stuff into the drawers that would keep them from being pulled out easily. So when the searchers came upstairs, it was all dark and quiet. She was afraid to even breathe! They pulled out a couple of drawers, which stuck after coming out half-way or so. Of course, getting an over-full drawer unstuck takes a lot of time and is a hassle, to they went away.

    But the whole town of Kent was under lockdown for days. Gov. Rhodes was pretty hostile when no commie organization was uncovered, and the fact that the shooting was ordered from the top became the subject of a cover-up. No one was ever convicted of any crime in the execution of those 4 kids,, IIRC.

    Much less was made of the killing of those (black) kids at Jackson State – even more of the combat troops were black than were white blue-collar kids. I suspect many white kids got assignments that were more like office or logistics jobs than out at the pointy end of things.

    And I’m not knocking anyone who joined up to fight, and did so bravely and honorably! The whole power of the state was behind the war effort, and it was difficult to get any objective information about the whole situation in SE Asia.

    Meanwhile back at boot camp, I had to listen to the other 19 year old kids promising how they would like to shoot some commie revolutionaries when they came to attack the Navy Base. Yeah, right!

    I spent my time in the Navy in Key West, Mobile Bay, Alabama, and Pascagoula, Mississippi, aboard a Submarine Tender which supported the last squadron of diesel subs in the USN. This was the perfect assignment for a guy who was antiwar. We were protecting Florida from the Cuban Navy!

    Once I figured that our time in the shipyards of Mobile Bay and Pascagoula was rebuilding the old (1942) tender to work on and service nuclear subs, armed with nuclear weapons, I applied for a discharge as a CO. The USN denied that application, but a judge in the Southern District of Mississippi overruled them, and I got an early and honorable discharge.

    I worked hard, and followed orders, and stayed out of trouble, as difficult as that was sometimes. Especially after filing for a discharge. I was actually physically attacked once, and took a pretty good hit to my head when a paint grinder was dropped 15 or 20 feet on my head. The hard hat I was wearing was shattered, and I nearly fell into the water. I’m pretty positive it was deliberate, because it happened during the couple of seconds my safety line was unhooked for me to move over to the next section of hull we were removing the paint from.

    I will never forget the stress of being in boot camp, which is as close to being in a prison camp as you can get without a trial, during the period after Kent State. Fortunately, the whole plan of boot camp is for you to be too tired to think or do anything you aren’t ordered to do.

    I like to think I have had a good start on understanding all the wars, big and small, that upper management has foisted on the American public since that time. Seeing the University cop spray poison into the eyes of peaceful demonstrators sitting on the ground with a smile, that was pretty hard to take. What a piece of dirty work! And to get a medical retirement from that dirty work~! Some things, the more they change, the more they are the same! W. Bush is our Nixon!

    • Gregor Sansa

      Thank you.

      • Lee Rudolph


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