Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brazilian, the language

How about this, folks.

      Portugal may have to recognise the inevitable by bowing to the economic and cultural predominance of Brazil, its former colony. The once proud imperial power is considering reforming its language to accommodate recent linguistic developments in the South American economic powerhouse, with which it shares a language.

There are some languages that are much more formalized and standardized than others.  The French for instance have a standardizing body for all the Francophone nations of the world. 

English, of course, doesn’t have that.  You even get differences within countries like the US, much less the vast differences between countries that cause things like the spelling of “recognize” above (article is from the UK).

      The proposal to be put before parliament on 15 May would standardise Portuguese around the world and change the spellings of hundreds of words in favour of the Brazilian versions. The measure is largely a response to commercial interests. But for the once proud imperial power, whose language is spoken by 230 million people worldwide, it is a blow to national pride comparable to Britons adopting American spellings and writing, say, "traveler" instead of "traveller".

There are several advantages for Portugal (or rather for Portuguese speaking people).  One is that communication and marketing will be easier, as industries like publishing will be able to market more broadly.  Internet searches will be easier, and Portugal hopes that the measure will “advance an old ambition of getting Portuguese adopted as an official language at the UN.”

Hat tip to Catholicgauze.

Reading the Post is torture

What can I say about coercive interrogation techniques that hasn’t already been said a million times.  I could tell you that I’m not sure about military detainee torture and it’s value in war-time.  I’m sure there are studies out there, and some will say that it’s necessary to save lives, others will say that the techniques aren’t necessary and don’t work anyway. 

But no one seems to really want to know whether they work or not.  One side will say it’s OK because they don’t play by the rules anyway and the other says that as decent human beings we shouldn’t stoop to the level of the extremists we’re in conflict with.  I’m of the opinion that we need to know the facts and have a national discussion on this that doesn’t include political partisan bickering.

However, the press never helps with this.  Exactly what are various agencies doing in the battle with extremists?  Well, you might get two different stories from these two sources. 

Washington Post:

      Interrogation practices -- including the use of dogs, sleep deprivation and simulated drowning or water-boarding -- repeatedly created friction between FBI agents and military leaders.


      Fine's audit doesn't assess the conduct of CIA or military interrogators and says FBI agents never witnessed the use of simulated drowning, or water-boarding.

So the Post seems to want you to believe that water-boarding is and has been going on, when actual official reports and statements by the administration admit that it hasn’t been used in many years.   The report from the FBI seems to confirm that, but if you read the Post

Also, I again note that both use the excuse of Abu Ghraib as the reason for the FBI’s new rules that require agents to report when they witness abuse.  Even though what happened there wasn’t sanctioned, nor was it for the purpose of interrogation.

And what is the FBI doing in all these countries anyway?  I thought the FBI was a domestic investigation force?

All and all, to get back to the point, physical coercion has been a part of military interrogation in times of war for as long as there’s been war.  The stuff they’re talking about here – snarling dogs and sleep deprivation – is pretty tame compared to what was done to Americans in the Vietnam war, or what Islamic extremists do to those they don’t like.  So shouldn’t this about having a national discussion, not about trying to nail the administration for something else?  What’s acceptable?  Is anything?

Violence in South Africa

There’s been a rash of Xenophobia in South Africa.

      The spate of violent attacks targeting foreigners in South Africa has caused an estimated 13,000 people to flee from their homes to police stations and other havens, local Red Cross officials said.

      At least 22 people have been killed in the week-long spree of violence, police have said. The attacks and looting has drawn condemnation from South African officials and other African leaders.

I take it that the leaders are condemning racism, but this doesn’t seem like ideological racism.  I wonder if this is more vast uncomfortableness with the mix of people who are not trying to assimilate.  I mean sure, there’s probably some racism going on, but when you get mass violence and protesting from ordinary citizens, you have to ask, “what started the big bang?”

Many of the foreigners are from other countries, most prominently Zimbabwe, because they are fleeing from massive violence or oppression.  They don’t want to be there, but kinda have to right now.  What kind of resentment do you think that’s causing?

I’m looking forward to more perspectives from people who understand that region more.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Perspective on economics

Here’s an interesting statement about economics.

      There is nothing complicated about finance. It is based on old people lending to young people. Young people invest in homes and businesses; aging people save to acquire assets on which to retire. The new generation supports the old one, and retirement systems simply apportion rights to income between the generations. Never before in human history, though, has a new generation simply failed to appear.

This is a response to some complaining by the German President about the present economic downturn (some would call it a crisis).   However the author wanted to point out that the larger elephant in the room isn’t how western capitalism functions and how corrupt it must be, but how unbalanced Europe has gotten demographically, how that stress on supporting the aging population  makes the economic downturn worse, and how that’s going to lead to an even worse crisis.

Early Gaelic discovery of America

Hi.  Me again. 
If you’ve read stuff I’ve put here before, you know that I have some affinity toward geography.  And as such, the study of explorers is particularly interesting, although I admit I haven’t sailed that westerly much in my academic or private life.

Sometime in the past I told of a possible alternate theory regarding the naming of America.  It was the British trader Richard Amerike, Dutch by birth, but English nevertheless.  It is now thought that he possibly traded across the North Atlantic and even had a trading post or two along the harsh northern coasts of what’s now Canada.

So I went out and bought a book on Amerike, so I’ll let you all know how that turns out.
But, you say, does that mean that we should look to the Brits as the discoverers of America?  Well, depends on what you mean.  There are many stories and legends of peoples finding lands that are now thought to be parts of the Americas, including this story of St. Brendan of Ireland in the 6th century returning from many sea voyages beyond the known world at the time.

      The Voyage is often ignored by historians of exploration because it is considered a folk-tale. However, the Voyage has far fewer fantastic details than a standard Irish legend and many of these are best read as confused accounts of real events: a crystal tower (an iceberg); the gates of hell (an Icelandic volcano); the ocean where you could see into the depths (a coral sea); the sluggish ocean (the Sargasso Sea).

      Giving the Voyage the benefit of the doubt, and using the information about the islands Brendan visits, it is possible to draw a series of itineraries that take the saint around the northern two thirds of the Atlantic: the first, St Kilda, the Faeroes, Madeira, the Azores, the Faeroes; the second, the Faeroes, Greenland; the third, the Caribbean, Madeira; the fourth, an iceberg, Iceland, Jan Mayen Island, Iceland, Rockall, the Faeroes; the fifth, the Faeroes and America. The distances given in the text - the Voyage’s author describes the journey in terms of days - approximately fit these itineraries.

Apparently, once Christianity was brought to Ireland, monks got inspired by tales of solitary worship of monks in other parts of the world, such as in deserts and mountains.  Well, since in Ireland it’s pretty hard to get away from people, the monks turned to the one wilderness that the emerald island has in abundance:  the Atlantic ocean.

Seems the monks were not very good navigators, but instead put themselves out to sea, raised a sail and let God take over.  There are stories of Irish monks landing on shores all over the Atlantic that was known at the time, but it stands to reason that some would end up visiting Iceland, Greenland and the like.

Truly there are many stories and histories of peoples who might have visited this continent well before Columbus.  The Vikings, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Arabs, Jewish Diaspora and even Pics are thought to have had the ability of getting boats over to the Western Hemisphere.   There’s even some archeological evidence in South America that some of these cultures might have made it prior to the Roman Empire (although they didn’t get back).

As for Columbus and the title of discoverer of the Americas, you can make the charge that Columbus' voyage opened the doors to general knowledge of the new world, and therefore is the "official" discoverer, even if he wasn't the first one from Europe or Asia to land on our shores.

Truly, there’s so much we don’t know about history.  With an ever changing knowledge of our past do we ever get to say with definitive authority that we truly know what happened at any time in the distant past?