Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Learning a new language

Language is the vehicle of culture, I'm told,and virtually all our understanding of the world is incorporated into language. If we want to truly know someone, it helps to learn their language. When I'm in Europe, I encounter people who speak 5 or 6 languages fluently.

One time, I rented a car in Germany and drove to Nancy in France. I then got on the freeway to Strasbourg that has un-manned toll booths. I stopped at a booth, blocking traffic,to see if the multilingual sign had an English translation. none! The driver behind me came forward to help and asked me - in German (he noticed my German licence plate) - and I replied with one of the few German phrases I had memorized - "I don't speak German." He then asked me in French. I understood the question because I studied French in school and university but hadn't practiced it for years. Finally I asked him if he spoke English and he courteously explained to me -in perfect English - that if I didn't pay the toll posted, when I got to Strasbourg they would charge me to full toll from Paris to Strasbourg. I felt like a country hick in the big city while he was tolerant, understanding and competent - a man of the world.

But the best incident happened in Victoria, Canada at the time of the Queen's visit to the provincial capital. The Canadian Prime Minister had been unable to attend and was represented by one of our senators, Jack Austen. In his speech welcoming the Queen, Senator Austen expressed the Prime Minister's regrets that he could not attend - the crowd booed when the Prime Minister's name was mentioned (Pierre Trudeau was not popular in Western Canada because he had promoted Canada's policy of bilingualism and Biculturalism based on our two official languages, French and English.) Senator Austen soldiered on and repeated his welcoming speech in French - the crowd booed him again for speaking French.

Then it was the Queen's turn to respond to Senator Austen's welcome. It was devastating, the head of state for the English-speaking world replied first in perfect French. The crowd looked like beaten dogs but they didn't boo. I am not a monarchist but that was one time I felt proud to have a Queen. She was quick and classy and it was clear she was not amused. Her speech didn't mention the crowd's impoliteness. She simply said how glad she was to be there but the crowd knew they had been spanked and they dispersed with their tails between their legs.

I think it is a privilege to be able to understand another language and because language is the key to the culture of its speakers, it makes real communication between different cultures possible. I know enough French and Spanish that I can read books and newspapers in those languages. When I travel outside countries where those languages are spoken I feel a bit anxious and isolated but when I return, it's almost like coming home.

I can't understand why people -especially those who take pride in their rational approach to the world - would reject an opportunity to learn spanish. Learning another language is like discovering a new solar system with access to new people, new literature and music, new science and a new - sometimes disconcerting - perspective on your own culture and your place in it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Oklahoma where Christian Flakes Rule

Oklahoma Rep’s ‘proclamation’ blames gays, porn, abortion for economic woes

By Daniel Tencer Raw Story Media

Published: June 30, 2009
Updated 1 week ago

Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern, probably best known for her comparison of homosexuality to toe cancer, has ignited controversy once again with her “Oklahoma Citizen’s Proclamation for Morality,” a document that blames America’s current economic crisis on “our greater national moral crisis.”

The document (PDF) blames “abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse and many other forms of debauchery” for the country’s economic woes.

To rectify the problem, it suggests the following solution: “BE IT RESOLVED that we, the undersigned, humbly call upon Holy God, our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, to have mercy on this nation, to stay His hand of judgment, and grant a national awakening of righteousness and Christian renewal as we repent of our great sin.”

Though Kern’s proclamation reads like a latter-day version of a tribal appeal to the gods for rain, it is being taken very seriously, especially among gay-rights groups.

“Instead of dealing with issues that she ought to be dealing with, it seems she’s advocating her religious views once again, which is not the proper purview of an elected official,” Scott Jones, a gay pastor, told Oklahoma City’s News 9.

Jones added that he didn’t think the timing of the document — the week after Pride Sunday and the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots — was a coincidence.

“I think it’s a response to this celebration,” Jones said.

He said the real moral issues are about poverty, hunger, the cost of health insurance and environmental degradation — “Representative Kern, a public official doesn’t address any of these moral issues.”

The proclamation implicitly blames President Barack Obama for the economic crisis — or at least sees his policies as contributing to the problem.

The document says the undersigned are “grieved that the Office of the president of these United States has refused to uphold the long held tradition of past presidents in giving recognition to our National Day of Prayer.”

The undersigned are also “deeply disturbed that the Office of the president of these United States disregards the biblical admonitions to live clean and pure lives by proclaiming an entire month to an immoral behavior” — referring to the Obama administration’s support of gay pride events this month.

News 9 states that “Kern, and a host of other lawmakers, civic and religious leaders, will gather at the State Capitol next month to sign” the proclamation.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Paleontologists visi Ohio Creationist "Museum" NYT

I think it was a wise decision for the organizers of the Paleontology Conference to include a tour of the Creation amusement park for the attending scientists. Most of them will immediately understand that creationism /intelligent design is not proposed as an alternative to evolutionary science. It is a political organizing tool with two objectives
1. people who are submissive enough to accept creationism, intelligent design, bible in-errancy are probably sufficiently psychologically impaired that they will work without questioning on other church campaigns to ban gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research. abortion, etc. most proponents of creationism don't believe it either - they know it is simply an organizational tool.
2. It diverts rational thinkers from pursuing their own political objectives - into a debate with virtual idiots. It is a debate that science cant win because creationism is prescribed - according to church authorities - by the divinely inspired and therefore inerrant bible. It is tragic to watch talented, capable, intelligent scientists debating the relative merits of creationism and evolution at the school-board level before a dull-eyed audience of believers who have already outflanked science by electing a majority to the board.
From its foundation, the church has been about political power. It had no history of its own so it stole popular components of other religions which it then proceeded to persecute and exterminate. Before Lenin admitted that "the end justifies the means" It had been the practice of the church for almost 2000 years to lie, intimidate even to use mass killing of its opponents to achieve political power. I hope we don't reach a point when biology classes have to be placed under tight security like abortion clinics out of fear that teachers and students might be assassinated.
The scientists from the Akron conference were immediately aware that the Creationism "museum" is not a museum but an amusement park. They understood that it is situated in Ohio for political purposes - an easy drive for the majority of american voters. The next step for scientists and their supporters is to contest elections at the local level so that our schools aren't administered by people who have so little self-respect that they would publicly espouse creationism/ id