Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Language, dog-whistles, and extremism

I often read the blog entries over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars each day. Ed usually posts four or five short posts in the morning, and I almost always find the posts interesting, and I enjoy reading (and sometimes contributing to) the commentary; the other commentators there are (usually) civil enough.

There was one entry today -- "Those Scary Muslim Words" -- that was one of those posts that really made me want to post a reply... and upon greater reflection, to cross-post it here.

Ed quoted from a story from the NYTimes about people in the Phoenix, AZ area who didn't like the fact that the massive sand and dust storms that had hit them twice this year had an Arabic name: "haboob". Never mind that the Arabic words are not Muslim words, but some people were making that conflation, and going to extreme lengths of politically charged language to try and pressure someone (I don't know who) to change the use of the word (much like the silly change of name from "french fries" to "freedom fries" on the Congressional cafeteria menus way back in 2002):
"I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob," Don Yonts, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to The Arizona Republic after a particularly fierce, mile-high dust storm swept through the state on July 5. "How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?"
Many of the commentators did -- admittedly -- focus on this comment, showing how much of a boob Don Yonts was with regard to the haboob. Many extended the comment that Ed made in his blog:
As Adam Serwer points out, there are lots of words we use every day that are rooted in Arabic words: sofa, admiral, magazine, mattress and many more. And for God's sake, don't let grandma knit any more afghans. Those poor soldiers will be so offended!
To this, I just had to also throw in my attempt at showing how silly such reasons for not using a particular word were. If "haboob" was just too much of a "Middle Eastern term", then why not try to expunge other words from Arabic? My comment tried to highlight the extent to which Arabic words already exist quite commonly within the English language, even though England wasn't overrun by Muslim hordes during the Crusades:
Well, I suppose we ought to get rid of all those loanwords from Arabic. 
I mean, we can't have soldiers, sailors, generals or admirals getting into their alcohol (especially apricot schnapps or mint juleps). I mean, the haboob has also affected farmers' alfalfaartichokes, Pima cottonlemonslimesspinachtangerines and oranges, and so referring to it using such a vulgar word could make them feel even worse. The dust could also have infiltrated jars of coffeejasminesugar and other foodstuffs (and your candy, too), and no one appreciates gritty foods.
I mean, the word is almost just a garble of sounds that you can't barely decipher! I have zero tolerance for this sort of a racket. This will end up being an albatross around the necks of our poppinjay leaders! Throw down your magazines! Get off your sofas! Get off your mattresses! March out of your alcoves and your adobe colored houses! This is checkmate!

I don't always find Jack Black that funny.

For example, while I liked School of Rock, I don't like Tenacious D:

The Marriage of Figaro (with drum kit!)

This piece is one of my earliest memories of classical music:

The Marriage of Figaro: I fell in love with it an an early age; the sounds are so emotive, the composition just so perfect to my ear. I cannot say how much I love this piece.

And now I love it even more:

Blogging reactions to Rush Limbaugh's theory of global warming as I listen to it for the first time

"I have a theory on global warming," he announced. "I have a theory about why people think it's real."

Oh, really, I thought to myself. This ought to be rich, coming from a shock-jock who has proven -- time and again -- to be a global-warming denier. What, exactly is your "theory" then?

"Go back... thirty, forty years."

Uh, huh....

"When there was much less air conditioning... in the country."

Ooooh, boy. This is going to be balls-out nuts, isn't it? This is going to turn into a "it's all in your mind, so it's not real" sort of an argument, isn't it? Is that why he's taking so many breaks and talking so slowly? Is his hesitation an indication that he's making this up as he goes on; that he didn't really have a theory before he said that he had a theory?

"When you didn't have air conditioning, and you left the house... *snort* It may, in fact, have gotten a little COOLER out there. Because sometimes houses become hot boxes.... 'Specially if you're on the second or third floor of a house in the summer time and all you've got is open windows and maybe a window fan, or you have some SERVANT standing there, fanning you with a piece of paper."

"Piece of paper"?!? If I had a servant, I thought, I'd be wanting to be fanned by something other than a mere piece of paper. Hell, even the internal logic of this construct is ludicrous.

"When you walked outside... no big deal: it's still hot as hell."

When did you describe it being "hot as hell" outside? I thought that you said that it would be hotter inside. Or are you saying that inside is just a hotter part of hell than outside? Where's the consistency in your theory?

"Now, thirty, forty years later: all this air conditioning... And it's a HUGE difference when you go outside. When you go outside now, my GOLLY is it hot. Whooo..."

Oh, so it is all in my head? Funny: I don't have an air conditioner in my house, and it's still hot outside. In fact, it's as hot outside when I leave my non-air-conditioned home as it is when I leave my air-conditioned office. And it doesn't really feel hotter when I leave my office as compared to when I leave my home: 90F and humid feels equally hot to me. So... maybe this guy's got something strange with his senses?

"GLOBAL WARMING! ... It's all about the baseline you're using for comparison.."

Well, yes, he's right on this one thing. Taken out of context from everything else. And if you know what the term "baseline" means in the context of global warming science. And you know how to use it. And you know how to compare. And you know how to interpret your results. And if you were to read the statement without the whining sarcasm that spills from his mouth.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Naming children with numbers

As part of the cultural gulf between the US and Japan -- something that is topical for today's Women's FIFA World Cup final between the US and Japan -- I present the following clip about what baby names Rosie Pope likes and dislikes:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Now, I know that Rosie Pope probably isn't an American (her accent sounds British), but the point is that when it came to using numbers as names, both she and the interviewer were negative to the idea of using numbers as a name (indeed, the interviewer didn't even know that people did this). While I don't know how common the practice is anymore in Japan, the use of a number in the name was not uncommon historically. Indeed, the high school principal of my school in Tokyo had the given name "Saburo" (三郎), which literally means "third son." Also, the name "Ichizō" (一三) literally means "one three": a number (and also the name of one of my uncles).

Okay, okay, okay, the naming conventions of Japan shouldn't be at the forefront of white Americans (and Brits), but in a world where Americans are naming their children after fruit (like Apple), natural features (James Mountain Inhofe), etc., the idea that someone might name their child after a number -- even in English -- shouldn't be too surprising.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Linked through "NetworkedBlogs"

If this all works out, then I will have connected this blog with my Facebook and Twitter feeds. We'll see how that works, though.

The "need" for connecting various communication platforms is something that -- in a multi-platform world of greater communication (but perhaps diminished actual contact) -- is becoming increasingly necessary (well, if you've hooked in already). Thus, the wonder of tools like "Tweet Deck" that you can either install on your computer, or use as an app in Google Chrome. And the Android device that can query your Gmail account, your Facebook account, and even your Skype account to pull in different contact details for your friends, family, colleagues, etc.

Of course, with this increased connectivity between communication resources, a part of me wonders about the amount of privacy that I'm giving up. For example, now that this is connected to Facebook even more obviously (other than a link to the blog on my "info" page), what is the benefit of using a pseudonym? Also, what amount of information am I sharing anyway? Should I start up a blog with my real name or just keep on trucking with this one, since my online identity is it's own thing anyway.

In the end, I believe that the increased number of platforms that are hooked into communications will only work if people either all buy in to one or another platform or if platform-linking services like NetworkedBlogs and TweetDeck help take up the slack for people who don't have the time or intent to get onto every single social networking and communication tech and app that comes online. Of course, a possible trade-off is privacy, but I'm not one that is in a good position to determine the exact degree of this trade-off. Therefore, like someone hoping for herd-protection, I march onward, partially hoping that -- if privacy concerns occur -- breaches occur to someone else and not to me, perhaps conveniently forgetting that privacy information "predation" is less like lions attacking a herd of wildebeest (i.e., only one gets pulled from the herd), but more like drag-net fishing (i.e., it's a technologically driven, targeted, mass capture).

Friday, July 01, 2011

Six days, 102 miles.

Okay, so it's not a century in the true sense (i.e., 100 miles in one day). However, my bike ain't a road bike, so with a relatively heavy bike, I think that it's pretty good (especially if I'm working during the day, and all the miles are commuting miles).

Basic stats:

  • Distance: 101.68 miles
  • Time: 7.35 hours.
  • Average speed: 13.83 mph
I'd say that it's not too shabby.