Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alan Watts on 'General Semantics'

The Realist: "How would you evaluate the relationship between Zen and General Semantics?"
Alan Watts: "Well, there's a very close tie in principle between Zen and General Semantics, but there is a great difference in practice. Most semantics people I know talk too much and get increasingly involved in increasingly fine distinctions, as if language could be made n-dimensional. But I do think many of the writers—Korzybski, Bois, Hayakawa—have said things to wake people up.  
"I'm all for General Semantics as long as they call a halt to the discussion at about eleven o'clock." 

Paul Krassner's Impolite Interviews (1999), p. 3
New York: Seven Stories Press 

You can read the original 1959 interview here:
http://www.ep.tc/realist/14/index.html

Chapter 11 - 1917: Part 3 - For Want of a Horseshoe

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

September had come. Given the uncertainties of the Russian government and its war effort, he felt relief that the U.S. had entered the war and that the U.S. Army was in the process of mobilizing men and resources to join its allies in Europe. Despite the horrors he had witnessed on the Eastern Front, despite the terrible waste of life in the bloody maw of the Great War, he was neither a pacifist nor neutral. He considered the future of Poland and Polish culture, among other things, at stake. He had already paid his dues with his war service but he wanted—needed—to do more. In July he had tried to enlist at the British Recruitment Center in New York but had not passed the physical.(6) Now, he saw a newspaper notice: “MEN wanted (50), bet. 25 and 40 yrs. for Intelligence Corps, National Army; must speak French fluently; former investigating experience desirable; good pay and allowances. Call or write, Army Recruiting Station, 280 Broadway, New York.”(7) Alfred saw an opportunity to help. He immediately sent a letter to the recruiting office. After describing his background, language skills, and prior war service, he requested a job.
...I am not able to fight on account of an accident with a horse and Wounds, so I am perfectly free to accept work. Misfortunately it must be in the rear. As is shown in my documents, I am discharged from the Russian service and have the right to apply to the armies of the Allies. I can be useful as interpreter at the front, or as censor, having practice and knowing well what news can be useful to the enemy. I know that for positions that are not directly in the firing line the vacancies are always taken in advance, but I suppose that a man who has offered all he had to the war and is not able for front service and can be very useful having knowledge capacities and experience may have the right to apply for a position. …I remain Sir your obedient servant (8)

In a few days he got a reply from the Chief of the Military Intelligence section of the War Department in Washington D.C., where his letter had been forwarded. The Lieutenant Colonel respectfully turned down his offer. They already had more applicants than they needed.(9)

Alfred continued looking for employment. Finally, he landed another job with the Russian government. Horses had continued to provide one of the main forms of military transport (an estimated eight million horses died by the end of the war) and the Russians needed horseshoes in large numbers. The Russian Supply Commission in America contracted in July with The U.S. Horseshoe Company to obtain at least several thousand of them. Now, there were problems with getting the job completed and the Supply Commission needed someone to deal with the company. Korzybski was appointed as Chief Inspector and went to Erie, Pennsylvania sometime in October or the first few days of November. He knew almost nothing about manufacturing horseshoes.(10)




After meeting L. E. McElroy, the President of the company, he spent his first few days there simply walking around the factory and observing the operation. The company had lost many of its older and most qualified workers through the military draft. It had also been hit with a number of strikes. he could see significant disarray in the operation. For one thing, workers seemed to have no system for separating good horseshoes from rejects. They mixed piles of both on the shop floor, which meant good shoes could get thrown away as scrap while bad shoes got packed.

Once he started inspecting lots of completed shoes, he found more problems. The shoes were already packed in barrels before he was able to inspect them. So he had to unpack them by hand—a dirty, time-intensive job. The condition of the packing room and the inspection room he used appeared chaotic. He found a large percentage of the shoes he unpacked of sub-standard quality. He had to send them back. Completion of the order was getting further delayed. The company would not be able to finish the job by the agreed-upon deadline in November. Initially there may have been some tension between him and McElroy, who had to request a time extension from the Russian commission. However, McElroy soon realized that Alfred was simply concerned about the quality of the product and would do whatever it took to help the company get the job done properly.

Alfred had discovered some other production problems at the plant. Some parts of the shoes were too thin, which he attributed to the metal getting cut poorly. In addition, many nail holes appeared poorly placed in the smaller shoes. The holes, made with a punch machine, needed to be placed centrally, away from the edge of the metal, to keep a shoe from breaking. This was not getting done consistently. It may have seemed like a little thing, but he took the placement of the holes quite seriously, since he knew the consequences of a horse breaking its shoe and getting hobbled on the battlefront.(11) He also saw a problem with the shoes getting packed in old fertilizer bags before being put in the barrels. The acids from the unwashed bags could corrode the metal of the shoes.

Korzybski made specific suggestions to McElroy for each of the problems he uncovered. To assist with quality control, Korzybski invented an automatic horseshoe holder/counter made of a simple, round iron base and a screwed-in wire handle. The base and handle were constructed for the circumference and thickness of various sizes of shoes, 
so a production  worker could fit, say, 100 shoes of one particular type onto an appropriately-sized counter. The counter was labeled with the name of the worker and carried into the packing area, where the shoes could be easily inspected and recounted as necessary before packing.

By early December, the Russian contract had been completed. Because of railroad delays, all of the horseshoes couldn’t be sent to New York at once. Alfred stayed a little longer to arrange the shipments. When he left Erie, he had been at United States Horse Shoe for two months and had helped reorganize the entire operation of the factory. Both the Russians and McElroy were happy and wrote him glowing recommendation letters. In addition, McElroy had become intrigued with Alfred’s iron-tire repair kit and agreed to build a prototype. If they could get some outside concerns interested in it, he even seemed willing to become the manufacturer. Despite his support, nobody else seemed much interested. McElroy corresponded with Korzybski into the following year but by early 1918, Korzybski had little time or energy to invest in marketing the device. He was involved in other things.


Notes 
You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
6. Scrapbook of Alfred Korzybski. AKDA 3.324. 

7. Recruiting Notice, AKDA 32.63. 

8. AK to N.Y.C. Army Recruiting Station, 9/15/1917. AKDA 32.63. 

9. Chief of Military Intelligence Section, War Department to AK, 9/18/1917. AKDA 5.52. 

10. I derived my account of Korzybski's work at the United States Horse Shoe Co. from his correspondence files on the company dated Nov. and Dec. 1917. AKDA 32.136-225. 

11. An old nursery rhyme reflects the potential importance of a 'little thing' like a horseshoe nailhole: 
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; 
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost;  
For want of the horse, the rider was lost; 
For want of the rider, the battle was lost;  
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost;  
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail. 

 See "Engines of Our Ingenuity, No. 1541: History and Horseshoe Nails" by John H. Lienhard, University of Houston College of Engineering.  http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1541.htm (accessed on 10/25/2010)



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chapter 11 - 1917: Part 2 - On the Waterfront

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

It seemed clear; nothing much was going to happen with his inventions anytime soon. Korzybski left Ottawa near the beginning of May 1917 and moved to New York City, where he had friends. He also had some remaining connections with the Russian—no longer Imperial—Artillery Commission. He was asked to work as their chief inspector at the Brooklyn waterfront where they were having serious difficulties loading ammunition shipments destined for Russia. All the men previously assigned to the job had quit after one or two weeks. Alfred agreed to do it.



Some ships were getting loaded from smaller freighters. Korzybski, given a little motor boat he could use to putt-putt around the harbor, went to talk to the junior supervisors overseeing the work on one of the ships. He asked how things were going. Terrible—they told him—the longshoremen were disobeying them and, as a result, dangerously mishandling volatile ammunition. Korzybski watched the work being done for about twenty minutes and confirmed what the inspectors had said. Then he went to speak to the dockworkers' foreman whom Korzybski described as “a New York Harbor roughneck”.(3) Korzybski told him that his men would have to start listening to the Russian inspectors who wanted to make sure the ammunition got loaded in a safe manner. The foreman brushed him off. Realizing he would get nowhere with the man, Korzybski proceeded to the office of the ship's Captain.

The Captain accepted his credentials and greeted him warmly. When he heard Korzybski’s concerns, he said that loading the ammunition on the ship was not his business but a matter between the Russian government and the private company the longshoremen worked for. “Then I asked the Captain just a simple question: ‘Captain, do you wish to be blown up?’” Korzybski had gotten his attention:

“What do you mean? What do you mean by ‘blown up’? ” 
I made a gesture of the ship being blown up going into the air and I told him, “By ‘blown up’ I mean blown up.” Then I showed my hands going into the air, “A big puff and it’s all over. That’s all I mean by blowing up.” 
“Oh, for pity’s sake.” 
I told him I was never more serious in my life. 
He got alarmed…quite alarmed. …Then he asked me, “What to do?”(4)
Korzybski quickly devised a plan. The work depended on steam. The longshoremen used steam-powered machinery to do their loading. If the steam stopped, the workmen would not be able to earn their money. And the Captain controlled the supply of steam. The Captain would have someone wait for a signal from Alfred, who would—if necessary—wave his handkerchief to indicate he wanted the steam turned off. And the Captain would then order the steam off. Alfred returned to speak to the foreman and quietly repeated his request. The foreman told him to go to hell.
I said nothing. I just took my hankie and waved. Suddenly, of course, the steam stopped. Means the whole loading stopped. [The foreman] and all the workers said, “What happened? What happened?” Then I [said]—I won’t repeat…what I said. I used good military language then because I had him by the neck. “You so and so and so”—it was a long list. I was quite expert at it. I had learned from the Canadian and British soldiers. "Will you obey, you so and so?" Well, he was terrified by the expediency of stopping the steam. Not my so and so stuff. So immediately the whole thing changed. It means the man began to obey orders of my men…When the ships were loaded, they went…and when the ships were changed I had to flirt that way with [each] captain, [i.e.,] make that arrangement that when I wave my handkerchief the loading stops. That’s all and then I [took] care of the rest. So the whole thing was organized. It went beautifully... I reported to my general[s], how I solved it. To them it was a miracle. Somehow it solved the problem. This was inherited by my successors. They were told how to solve the situation. It solved the problem completely.(5)

After a few months, Alfred was also out of a job. In the meantime, he had some money to tide him over. He had found an apartment in Manhattan on 21st Street, where he had moved after first living in Brooklyn, and then coming to his friend Sobanski on 15th Street. Alfred had few possessions beside some items of clothing. He had brought only a few things with him from Poland. These included some pictures from home, some uniforms, his cavalry saber and spurs, and his credentials and letters of recommendation related to his various positions on the Eastern Front. He also had a small, but growing collection of books , music scores, and document files—including letters, recommendations, newspaper clippings, calendars, memos, bills, etc.—he’d gathered since he came to North America. He typed almost all his letters and made carbon-copies of nearly every one he wrote, saving them along with the letters he received. He had found it useful to have a record of what he had done and of his communications with others. In subsequent years the files and books would accumulate. Undoubtedly, storing them presented difficulties at times but he had systematic habits and was able to keep things more or less organized.

Notes 
You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
4. Korzybski 1947, p. 171. 

5. Ibid., pp. 172-173.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chapter 11 - 1917: Part 1 - Introduction

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Alfred spent March and most of April of 1917 in Ottawa. While he was there, important news came from Russia. Early in March (still February according to the Julian calendar then used in Russia), workers had gone on strike in Petrograd to protest a lack of bread and other essentials. With the military garrison in Petrograd deciding to support the workers, the popular uprising centered in Petrograd became a revolution that spread to Moscow and other parts of Russia. Within a little more than a week, the Tsar had abdicated. A new provisional government was formed with a core of constitutional liberals from the Duma (Russian Parliament). This weak government shared authority with the Petrograd Soviet (Workers Council), made up of various socialist factions. What would this mean for the Russian war effort, as costly and ineffective as it had become? What would it mean for Poland? Alfred didn’t know. He had never considered himself a Russian but he did have Russian citizenship and a Russian passport. And for the time being, Russia still fought on the allied side. So for the sake of Poland, he still hoped to be able to somehow work for the Russians in order to defeat Germany.

In the meantime he was occupied with a number of inventions he had been working on and which he hoped might eventually provide some income. These included a rain protector for clothing (which appears never to have gotten beyond the initial drawing stage), a repair kit for broken iron wagon-wheels, and a mechanical potato digger/sorter. He had been developing the latter two for some time. Alfred made detailed mechanical drawings, technical descriptions, and promotional material. He also researched and wrote to several hundred manufacturers in Canada and the U.S., trying to get someone interested in the devices. Despite this intensive campaign, he had no takers. He also found an attorney in Ottawa who helped him to apply for U.S. patents. Later, once he had left Ottawa, his extensive travel and incessant activity over the next few years diverted him from doing much with the “wheel red cross”(1) or the potato digger. It appears he never got the patents.

On April 6, the United States entered the war against Germany. President Wilson had terrific reluctance about the U.S. becoming one of the combatants. Nevertheless, the German government had attempted to get Mexico to go to war against the U.S. (the infamous Zimmerman Telegram). It had also declared that it would begin unrestricted submarine attacks against all shipping in French and British waters. This would imperil U.S. citizens and U.S. trade with France and Great Britain. With U.S. ships already being sunk and U.S. citizens killed, Wilson could no longer resist the overwhelming American support for entering on the side of the Allies. Alfred, still in Ottawa, had already been thinking about how to protect allied ships from torpedoes.

One device consisted of a moveable-chain net, loaded with small bombs in the interstices. The net would be suspended from a mast and could be positioned by means of a rail to cover all or part of the ship anywhere along its circumference. The net could be lowered quickly whenever a submarine or torpedo was spotted. Either an electrical charge or the impact from a torpedo would set off the bombs which would in turn explode the torpedo before it reached the ship. The position of the net would be calculated to be far enough away from the ship to prevent the explosions from damaging the hull. He also suggested using  protective net bags around ships, and on-board machine gun crews using high explosive shells for exploding oncoming torpedoes. Korzybski offered these suggestions, with drawings, gratis to the Canadian Naval Attaché in Ottawa and, later that summer, to the British  Naval Attaché in New York. He corresponded and met with both men, who had numerous objections but still appreciated his inventiveness and desire to help.

Alfred had never held a professional job as an engineer. Yet his inventions demonstrated his orientation towards science as a “form of action”(2) to be applied to practical concerns. Since absorbing this engineering attitude from his father as a young child, he seemed  naturally inclined to apply what he knew to matter-of-fact problems of living, e.g., wheels to repair, potatoes to be dug, ships to protect from torpedoes.

Alfred's engineering bent definitely leaned towards mechanical devices. Over the next few years, he made other inventions but once he started writing, his creative energies got focused there. Nonetheless, he continued to make things with his hands and fiddle with mechanical and electrical tools for the rest of his life. His hands-on experiences with designing and making things taught him that a workable solution might require much trial, effort, ingenuity, and revision. However, the science and mathematics behind it might remain relatively simple. His engineering mentality probably also contributed to his appreciation for the beauty of simple artifacts displaying an economy of form with a maximum of function—like the crafted ebony wooden boxes and other objects he liked to keep on his desk at one time or another.



Notes 
You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 

1. Korzybski, Patent Application “Wheel Red Cross”. AKDA 35.874 

2. Pauly 1987, pp. 43-44.



Monday, July 28, 2014

Chapter 10 - Oh! Petawawa: Part 5 - Incident at a Train Station

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

By January 1917, the ‘prophecy’ Korzybski had engraved on the ash tray seemed as fanciful as fairy-dust. The war, in its third year, seemed to have no end in sight. Both fronts in Europe saw little overall movement of the entrenched sides.(12) Inside Russia there were lines for bread and signs of open revolt. Devastated Poland now had German overlords. The grim situation did nothing to change Alfred’s conviction that he had chosen the right side to fight for. It had become clear—even for Poles who had fought on the German or  Austrian side—a victory for the Central Powers would mean the end of any hope for Polish independence.

The Russian Imperial Artillery Commission completed its work at Petawawa in the first week of February. Alfred never knew exactly why. Probably, the contract with Canadian Car and Foundry had ended. At any rate, he no longer had a job at the proving ground. The Artillery Commission retained him a bit longer in order to supervise the packing and loading of the field guns and remaining ammunition onto railway cars. After he shipped them out of Petawawa, he packed up his own belongings and went to Ottawa, where he was staying with a friend. He had sent the ammunition—including high explosive shells and gun powder—to the Eddystone Ammunition Company in Pennsylvania. The Russian guns, loaded in two open cars, went to Ogdensberg, New York, where Alfred met them and arranged for the next step of their transport to Weehauken, New Jersey, for transfer to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. By the end of the month, he had handed over the guns to the representative from Aberdeen, and returned to Ottawa.

He no longer worked for the Russian Artillery Commission. Over the previous year he had written letters trying to find the location of the Body Guard Heavy Artillery, still holding some possibility of joining them. But he heard nothing. He didn’t know what he would do next.

During this period, an incident happened one night at the Ottawa train station. Korzybski, probably on his way to Ogdensberg to deal with the Russian guns, happened to meet two Canadian officers, Lieutenant Consitt and Captain Bothwell, whom he knew from Petawawa. They were in the company of a Captain Maloney, whom they introduced to Korzybski. What happened is not exactly clear but the following day, Korzybski sent a letter to Lieutenant Consitt.:
Dear Sir, 
Wednesday 14th February at 11-45 pm. at the central station in Ottawa I made through you and Captain Bothwell the acquaintance of an officer whose name I do not remember. The conduct of the said officer toward me was perfectly insolent, as you are the witness. Not  wishing to make trouble in a public place, I kept still for the few minutes to the train, but was decided to ask satisfaction. Therefore I invite very kindly you and Capt. Bothwell to be my seconds, this is friends, and challenge the said officer in my name to fight a duel. I accept all conditions fixed by you and Capt. B. Sword or pistol are without difference to me, for pistol I suggest 10-15 yards. Believing Sir, that my invitation you will honor me by accepting my invitation, I remain very truly yours. Formerly of the Imperial Body Guard Heavy Artillery, now officer of R. I. Art. Com. In N. Am. 15 February 1917. (13)

They all wanted to avoid a duel and Maloney wrote a letter of apology. Alfred wrote back as soon as he received it, “Dear Friend. …I am glad to learn that you did not intentionally hurt my feelings. Therefore I am pleased to accept your apology and also hope to meet you again under more favorable circumstances. …”(14) Later in life, he sometimes received petty, unwarranted, even insulting criticism—which he sometimes responded to. However, after this episode, as far as I know, he never challenged anyone to a duel again.


Notes 
You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
12. On the Eastern Front, a Russian offensive the previous March at Lake Narotch in Lithuania had failed miserably at the cost of huge casualties. In the summer of 1916, around the time of Alfred’s party, General Brusilov had masterfully managed a Russian offensive in Galicia , where his forces made a significant breakthrough into Austrian territory. However, with tremendous losses on both sides and severe shortages of supplies, Brusilov couldn’t sustain the campaign. 

13. AK to Lt. Consitt, 2/15/17. AKDA 32.19. 

14. AK to Capt. Maloney, 2/22/1917. AKDA 32.15.





Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chapter 10 - Oh! Petawawa: Part 4 - Gossips, Bugs, and Skunks

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent. 

Alfred had become aware that some people at the Petawawa Camp considered him in an unfavorable light as an arrogant attention-seeker. He seemed so familiar with the Duke and his daughter, he had so many responsibilities not fitting his job description, he kept so much to himself, etc., etc., etc. The negative opinion about him might be summarized in the statement “Who the hell does that Korzybski think he is?” Alfred did not let it bother him. He knew that he skirted trouble and misunderstanding because of his independent attitude and direct manner. He wasn’t going to change just because people might misunderstand his actions and words and then gossip about him or believe other people’s gossip.

For example, he felt he had very little in common with most of the Russians, who spent their off-hours drinking. At the camp—when he wasn’t working or studying on his own—he tended to socialize with the Canadian and British officers stationed there. (Goodima had his wife and children with him and spent his time at home with them.) When the Canadian officers invited him to join their mess hall, he felt glad to stop eating with the Russians. He liked the food at the Canadian officers' mess better and it didn't cost as much. And he had a chance to practice his English with people he felt he had more in common with than the Russians. He had no interest in insulting anyone. However, not eating with the Russians could easily be viewed by some Russians as an insult. He did not feel inclined to expend much energy trying to correct such impressions:

In my country, gentlemen speak the truth, do not compromise with themselves, and are simple about it, of course this was misinterpreted, they laughed maybe, I smiled because I understood quite well their misinterpretations, which doubtless added to their irritation, but after all of what importance was it?…what through the narrow, petty and often ignorant lenses of bureaucracy was considered “pose” or “bluff” is known today, as it was before the war as simplicity, frankness, straightforwardness. I hate “diplomacy” which I refuse to emulate, I did so always, and will continue to do. To my mind simplicity and straightforwardness is the biggest luxury a gentleman can indulge in, and so I remain the same. (8)

Besides the gossips, other minor annoyances of life at Petawawa included the bugs and skunks. Korzybski had run-ins with both. Other than the multitudes of mosquitoes, the camp—at the edge of a wilderness area—had many different kinds of insects he had never seen before. Many of them bit. He found them quite bothersome, especially at night on the gun range. Alfred tried repellents that didn’t work. So when shooting, he often wore gloves and used a veil under his cap to reduce the bites to his hands and face.

As for the run-ins with skunks, many of these actually consisted of run-overs at night when, once they had finished shooting, Alfred would drive to the target area five miles  away with a few of his men. In the dark, his car would typically hit a few skunks along the way. He wasn’t happy about hitting them. As he said “They can certainly mess up the air all right.” He once came back to his cabin and found a skunk wandering around inside. He just waited until it left. “You don’t argue with a skunk.”

The bugs, skunks, and other disagreeable aspects of camp life became the subject of the dark humor of Alfred and his friends. One, James A. Robinson, wrote “The Popular Song of Petawawa” which they sang to commiserate among themselves. Korzybski, still learning how to spell in English, dutifully recorded the lyrics for posterity:

Oh! Petawawa Oh! Petawawa Oh! Petawawa
Down where the Ottawa flowes.
We will never go there anymore anymore,
We will never go there anymore anymore,
We will never go there anymore anymore,
Down where the Ottawa flowes.

There are skunks in the gras overthere overthere,
There are skunks in the gras overthere overthere,
There are skunks in the gras they piss from their ass
Down where the Ottawa flowes
Oh! Petawawa * * * * We wont go there

There is magets in the cheese overthere overthere,
There is magets in the cheese overthere overthere,
There is magets in the cheese you can hear the beggar snees
There is magets in the cheese overthere.
Oh! Petawawa Oh! Petawawa * * * We will never go there.

There are bugs on the wall overthere overthere,
There are bugs on the wall overthere overthere,
There are bugs on the wall you can see the beggar crawl
There are bugs on the wall overthere.
Oh! Petawawa *************We will never go there.

There lots of skunks overthere overthere,
There is lots skunks overthere overthere,
If you anywhere near they’ll piss in your ear
There is lots of skunks overthere.
Oh! Petawawa *********** We’ll never go there. (9)




By the end of July 1916, Korzybski had been at Petawawa for more than half a year. He felt gratitude for the kindness of the Canadian officers he had met. Wanting to express his thanks, he decided to throw a grand party for the officers and their ladies aboard the river boat steamer, the “Oiseau”. He arranged an elaborate multi-course banquet on board, with a variety of wines for the 40 or 50 couples whom he invited as guests (the Russians whom he had invited seemed too shy to attend). They dined while cruising up the river and back to Petawawa in the course of several evening hours. The guests seemed especially charmed by Korzybski’s personal performance. In the szlachta tradition of hosting—which dictated “Gosc w dom, Bog v dom” (“Guest in the house, God in the house”)—he moved among his guest, filling glasses, supervising the staff of military waiters from the base, and leading a series of toasts to the King, the Tsar, the Allies and to the health of the war injured. After the ices and fruits and before the coffee, liqueurs, and cheese, Korzybski also made a toast to his guests and to Canada. By this time they had returned to dock at Petawawa once more and danced until after midnight to the orchestra Korzybski had assembled. 

Alfred may have considered the bill the most exciting part of the event. Renting the steamer cost him only $40 (he had expected to pay 3 or 4 times as much). He paid only around $100 for the food and drink, and nothing for the cooks, the waiters, or the orchestra. He didn’t ask questions.(10)  People talked about the evening for months afterwards. A local newspaper account of the evening noted:
Every lady carried away a beautiful Nippon dish as a souvenir of the trip. The gentlemen each received, as a remembrance, an ash tray cut from a shrapnel shell, and engraved, prophetically “World War, 1914-1917.”(11)



Notes 
You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
7. Alfred Korzybski Scrapbook. AKDA 3.324. 

8. Korzybski to V. Molodoy, Unsent letter, 12/16/1924. AKDA 15.733. 

9. “The Popular Song of Petawawa”. AKDA 32.3. 

10. Korzybski 1947, p. 262. 

11. “An enjoyable private dinner was given on board the Steamer “Oiseau” on the evening of July 28th...” Unknown newspaper. n.d. AKDA 32.13. 


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Korzybski's General-Semantics

"General[-]semantics is not any 'philosophy', or 'psychology', or 'logic', in the ordinary sense. It is a new extensional discipline which explains and trains us how to use our nervous systems most efficiently. It is not a medical science, but like bacteriology, it is indispensible for medicine in general, and for psychiatry, mental hygiene, and education in particular. In brief, it is the formulation of a new non-aristotelian system of orientation which affects every branch of science and life. The separate issues involved are not entirely new; their methodological formulation as a system which is workable, teachable and so elementary that it can be applied by children, is entirely new." 
— Alfred Korzybski , "Introduction to the Second Edition 1941", Science and Sanity, Fifth Edition (1994), pp. xxxviii-xxxix

Korzybski's General-Semantics "Wordle"

Friday, July 25, 2014

Chapter 10 - Oh! Petawawa: Part 3 - Junior Inspector

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Korzybski also had to get quickly up to speed in his knowledge of artillery. When he wasn’t studying English, he spent much of the rest of his spare time reading artillery textbooks. The senior inspectors in the Russian Artillery Commission at Petawawa, Colonel Sachanow and Captain Goodima, were seasoned artillery men but in the main did not deal directly with the field guns. Although Korzybski had the title of junior inspector, his  responsibility was not inspecting the ammunition. Rather, his civilian job consisted of test-firing and maintaining the field guns, and seemed more military than not. Basically, he functioned as an artillery lieutenant and when at work he found it most convenient to wear one of his old uniforms.

His bosses would give him samples to test. These might include shells (empty shells, loaded high explosive shells, and shrapnel shells) or shell components (primers, brass casings, timed fuses for shrapnel, etc.). Korzybski supervised the test-firing and acted as range observer. When the gunner was sick, he would take his place and operate the gun, which could hit a target several miles away. Afterwards he would report the results to Sachanow and Goodima, who had chosen the test samples and were responsible for analyzing the results, passing or rejecting lots of ammunition, corresponding with the manufacturer, etc.

In order to deal with such correspondence, Sachanow and Goodima had a small office staff of immigrant clerks who would take their dictation in Russian and write the necessary letters in English. But Sachanow and Goodima soon found they needed someone with more linguistic and technical knowledge than what the clerks could offer. So Korzybski soon had additional work acting as their liaison with the Canadian Car and Foundry Company and with Colonel Mackie, the Officer in Charge at Petawawa Camp. 

If either Korzybski, Sachonow, or Goodima had wanted to do a little ‘business on the side’ they certainly had the opportunity even at Petawawa. The company could lose tens of thousands of dollars if dishonest inspectors rejected a carload of good ammunition. As grafters, the three men could easily have squeezed one or two thousand dollars out of the company in this way. But none of them had any inclination to do so. Canadian Car and Foundry behaved honestly as well, although Korzybski considered their prices high. For example, they might charge three times the production cost for a shrapnel fuse. Nonetheless, they had a low rejection rate for their products. They clearly were on the up and up and showed no interest in bribing the Russians to pass faulty ammunition. Indeed they seemed quite interested in cooperating with Sachanow and Goodima who would present Korzybski with advice in Russian on technical problems which Korzybski would then communicate in English or French to company representatives, engineers, etc., who seemed eager to improve their products. With Sachanow spending more and more of his time drinking and Goodima allowing Alfred a certain degree of independence, Alfred was using his abilities with language and troubleshooting once more.

As in his previous position as a “translator” in which he did intelligence work, Alfred’s title at Petawawa didn't accurately represent what he did there. Though officially a civilian  inspector, he inspected no ammunition. He spent his working time in a military role on the firing range supervising soldiers operating and maintaining field guns. And in the office, acting as a go-between, the ‘junior’ inspector was taking on responsibilities of the senior inspectors (with their permission).

Korzybski’s bosses depended on him for some of their informal obligations as well. Because of his language facility and his noble bearing, they designated him the “host” when visitors such as foreign military officers came to see the Russian operation. 
The practice in military circles of the time involved a ritual, with the host and guests trying to drink each other under the table. Korzybski had orders to be a good host and go along. Though not a non-drinker, he cheated:
I had a special bottle of whiskey which was just plain tea and my man, or orderly if you wish, was keeping my particular tea bottle, means whiskey bottle, filled with tea separately so I would not be caught red-handed… I had to be on my feet and personally I don’t like that kind of hell drinking.(5)

There were also a number of international military meetings, during which the French, British and Russians demonstrated their artillery. Although as a civilian it was not Korzybski’s role to do so, Sachanow and Goodima had him demonstrate the Russian guns wearing his old “private with a string” uniform. One day Korzybski was informed that the Duke of Connaught, one of Queen Victoria’s sons and the Governor General of Canada, would be coming within a few days to tour Petawawa with his daughter Patricia. Korzybski was ordered to take care of a royal parade and demonstration for the Duke at the proving ground. “My god. What did I know about that [?] Nothing. No instructions. Just orders to do it. So I had to take care of my side which means the troops, guns, shooting , etc.”(6) Alfred was certainly not overawed at the prospect of seeing the Duke. As a Count, he had been around nobility all of his life and he had encountered royalty. Besides, he had already met the Duke and his daughter on one of his visits to Ottawa and had seen and become friendly with them on subsequent visits. The royal parade came off well and they were ready for the artillery demonstration. Korzybski had been flirting with Patricia and did not notice a photographer who had placed himself directly in front of the muzzle of the field gun. Luckily, before giving the order to fire, Korzybski turned his eyes from the young woman long enough to see the man and get him out of the way. The Duke appeared impressed with Korzybski’s efforts and sent him copies of the photographs and an invitation to a garden party in Ottawa.


Artillery demonstration for Duke of Connaught, 1916
(
Korzybski seen toward left, behind wheel of field gun)  


Notes 
You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
5. Ibid., p. 163. 

6. Ibid., p.165. 




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chapter 10 - Oh! Petawawa: Part 2 - Where One Hears the Noise of the Water

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.


The Canadian Army base and proving ground was adjacent to the tiny village of Petawawa. A few miles southeast on the Ottawa River was the slightly larger village of Pembroke, which contained nothing much of interest to Alfred—just a few stores, a movie house, and a church. The Canadian capital of Ottawa was a two-hour trip further east, with Montreal only a few hours further by train. The proving ground stood on the edge of the white pine forests of the Algonquin Provincial Park. The name “Petawawa” came from the Algonquin Indian word for “where one hears the noise of the water”.(3) By the time Alfred arrived there—on December 30, 1915—he more likely heard the noise of artillery fire. 

Alfred had been exiled there because he didn’t want to take any part in graft. He had the official title of "Junior Inspector of the Commission for the Acceptance of the Orders of the [Russian] Imperial Artillery Department in North America”. He knew almost nothing about artillery, except what it felt like to be on the receiving end. Yet he was expected to be in charge of a battery of Russian Q.F. (Quick Firing) three-inch field guns used to test shells the Canada Car and Foundry Company had begun to manufacture for the Russian government. He spoke little or no English but was expected to work with British “Tommies” and Canadian soldiers on the base. In spite of these obstacles, his exile felt heavenly to him.

His nerves needed a rest. On the Eastern Front, he had begun to suspect his superiors in Second Army Headquarters Intelligence of using him as a subject for an efficiency study on how to work under the constant threat of death. He had gotten used  to the continuous noise of shooting at the front and had only recently begun to sleep soundly without the sound of artillery bombardment, having realized this indicated greater—not less—safety. Over the last year and a half, he had developed the habit of sleeping with his arms folded over his chest to protect precious papers he carried. Now he still found himself waking up clutching his chest with both arms, a habit he no longer needed and worked to break.

Yes, Petawawa seemed in many ways like bliss. He had a Ford car and a comfortable furnished and heated cabin provided by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company. He had a decent salary and minimal expenses. He had only three or four hours of work per day—or at night when testing shrapnel—firing and maintaining the field guns with a crew made up of British Tommies. Otherwise, his time was his own. Any lag in getting a shipment of artillery from the manufacturer would give him a few days free, which he used to visit Ottawa or Montreal. He made such trips as often as he could.

One of Alfred's first main tasks was to learn decent English. He needed it for his work and, as a multi-lingual person, he also knew learning the language of a place provided the key to feeling at home there. He got his first few words of English from the Tommies who worked on his gun crew: “Yes”, “No”, and “God Damn!”(4) They soon helped him learn even more ‘colorful’ terms. He also studied English on his own. He had known and loved Shakespeare and Byron in translation. He now began to read the originals with an English grammar in hand. But he realized he could use still more help. For one thing, he knew he had lousy pronunciation. He needed a tutor. A Canadian customs official named Gilchrest lived at the camp. A military man, Gilchrest’s health had deteriorated from overwork and he had been sent to Petawawa by kindhearted superiors in order to get a good rest. His perfunctory job of signing off on train deliveries of ammunition to the Russians took him about an hour a day—if there was a delivery. Soon enough, he began to feel lonely and bored. Both he and Korzybski found a mutual solution to their problems. Gilchrest studied French with Alfred, while Alfred worked on his English with Gilchrest. Soon Korzybski was speaking fluent Canadian-British English with the Polish accent he never lost. In later years, his U.S.-born wife helped him, and he made an effort to Americanize his English as much as he could.

Notes 
You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
3. http://www.town.petawawa.on.ca/history/index.asp 

4. Korzybski 1947, p. 472.