Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Native speaker" and "Perfect speaker" are not synonymous

Yes, it can be really annoying to some people (like me, many of my friends and acquaintances, the Oatmeal, and many others) when people make the mistake of confusing "they're, their, and there" or "your and you're", along with a host of other language issues. However, the following statement fails on its logical basis:

"As a English non native, I don't understand how English natives can make mistakes with there, their, and they're."


As vomitous as the "their, there, and they're" error may be to some like me, the above statement itself is based on the fundamentally flawed premise that increased fluency in a language is directly related language to perfection. For that flawed logic, this statement is itself a facepalm statement of "logic-fail". I mean, am I to expect that native speakers of the kvetcher's language don't regularly make a class of error that learners of selfsame language almost never make? Sorry, but I don't buy it, and here's why:

I believe that the major reason why native speakers are likely to make the "there, their, they're" class of error and non-native speakers aren't is the same reason why native speakers of English write "... I would of done it": they're sounding out the sentence in their head, and (apparently) they have such a horrible mental accent (or an inability to distinguish different words in their mental accent) that they make otherwise simple errors. (Plus, being surrounded by people who don't constantly harp on their mistaken spellings doesn't help with fixing such errors before they become ingrained.)

In addition, there is the problem that - as a language that has a really convoluted history of hybridization of multiple languages (and grammars) and (heavily salient here) highly varied preferences in spelling (and transliteration) over time, it's not surprising that spelling errors are one of the more common errors in written English by native speakers (whereas improper grammar is the more common error in non-native speakers of English). I mean, how many different ways can you pronounce -ough? (Apparently ten ways: enough, cough, droughtthough, thought, through, thorough, hiccough, hough, and lough; sometimes, different pronunciations are mixed together, as in Loughborough, and sometimes one word as different meanings, depending on how it's pronounced, as in slough.) How many of the words using ough actually sound like the letters that make the word? (Arguably none.) And yet (and yet!) so many people (children and adults alike) are told to, "Sound out the word." Yeah... in English, it's not as useful a piece of advice as in languages whose orthography better matches its pronunciation.

On the other hand, non-native speakers of English often consciously cogitate creating concordant sentences systematically supporting some sense of grammar that seeks to enshrine a unity between spoken and written forms. Therefore, this type of mistake is less common for non-native speakers of English than errors of fundamental grammar (i.e., those parts of grammar that come so unconsciously fluently to native speakers that they often cannot explain the simple rules of them to non-native speakers beyond the next-to-completely-useless, "It just *sounds* right").

You'd expect a native English speaker to (relatively easily) make the "homophonous" mistake of "they're, their, and there" (or "its and it's" or "pique, peak, and peek" or "site, sight, and cite" or "complement and compliment" or "cavalry and Calvary" or "she and sidhe"), but (almost) never forget to correctly and unconsciously present every single noun as plural, singular or uncountable and either definite or indefinite. With people whose native language doesn't have (or uses different sorts of) concepts of countability, plurality, or definiteness intimately associated with every single noun one utters, making the distinction between, "a cat," and "the cat" (either as a real object in a room or as a conceptual object) is really quite difficult.

In other words, each language has its own quirks that create "non-native speaker problems" and "native speaker problems," and I'd wager that - on the whole - the class(es) of problems faced by proficient non-native speakers are more related to grammar than those of native speakers. ... but I guess anyone who worked with non-native English speakers (or have spent time as an adult learning another language) already knew that...

Still, my original bit of pique was that the fundamental logic of the statement is flawed (regardless of the level of personal annoyance I find with people who commit the "there, their, and they're" error), and the statement is thus worthy of it's own, independent, facepalm due to inherent logic-fail.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Pentatonix Carols

I found out about Pentatonix recently. Pump up the bass on this a capella group and enjoy:

Drummer Boy


Carol of the Bells


Enjoy more Pentatonix by subscribing to them on YouTube!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Crash Course American History: When is Thanksgiving

Back in February 7, 2013, the Crash Course channel released a video that investigated the history and context of the period around the first Thanksgiving.

This video provides a reminder about the history and context leading up to this event and the aftermath of what religious persecution by colonists wrought. Remember, Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims was NOT the beginning of English colonial rule in the New World. Also, remember that the Puritans were definitely NOT religiously tolerant to religious (and social) views that went counter to theirs (and many of which we might find normal and perfectly okay today).



(Yes, colonization sucks for lots of people, but awesome for some.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Old journal entries from 2003 and 2004

I found some old journals from 2003 (writing for a class about my views and thoughts about all manner of things) and 2004 (field notes from my research trip to India). I'll be posting entries from them over the next few weeks.

Names of people have been abbreviated or redacted.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Memory on Armistice Day

Some part of me remembers hearing this song when I was growing up. Maybe it was listening to AFRTS when I was growing up in Tokyo. Maybe it was somewhere else. Still, on this Armistice Day, let us remember those who fought, endured, and came home along with those who did not.



A recording of the original:


The song The Band Played Waltzing Matilda,


also makes me tear up thinking about the sheer carnage and waste of warfare. In some similar way, the poem In Flanders Field gives me that same sense of waste, even as the last stanza urges those who come behind to continue the fight; a fight that will serve none but the field on which they die.

In Flanders Field
In Flanders Field the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

No, private property ownership does not grant you the right to do whatever you want with your private property

Over at MLive.com the other day, there was a story about an anti-idling campaign in Ann Arbor. This brought out a whole bunch of people who are (apparently) convinced that anything that stops them from running their cars while parked is approaching tyranny, liberal no-goodness/nanny-state-mindedness, or the heights of hypocrisy (since - as many note - police and service vehicles are likely to be exempted in any future anti-idling ordinances and regional traffic planning creates conditions in which people are left waiting for up to five minutes in order to move through an intersection). After scrolling through many comments that seemed knee-jerk reactionary to me, I saw this pile of paragraphs:

It is my choice to drive and idle my car as I see fit. If I want to sit in the car with the AC on while I am doing work during the summer I will. If you don't like the fact my car, which I paid for and that I pay the gas for is idling, I'm sorry, but that is your problem, not mine. The same thing in the winter where I often have to do paperwork for my work. I am not going to turn my car off to spend 15 minutes doing paperwork when I can leave the car running and stay warm.

The problem is too many people are proposing that we do what is best for everyone, and unfortunately that often means we give up our right to do what is best for us personally.

If someone doesn't like my car idling, tough, it is my car and I will do what I want to do with my car (as long as it is within the law of course).

Ahh... well, someone is apparently of the "I paid for it, so I can do what I want with it, and screw everyone who tells me differently" school of thought. Sorry, but no; society and law don't operate in exactly that manner, regardless of what you might think or want. Of all the comments on that story, this was the one that really made me want to write a response. So, in my longer-than-necessary manner, this is what I wrote:

Waitasec, you say that it's your choice to drive and idle your car as you see fit, because you purchased gasoline and the car. Hmm... did you also purchase the air quality we all breathe and the right to pollute it? Strange, but I don't see that as part of the bundle of goods you purchase when you buy gas or a car...

You ironically state, "The problem is too many people are proposing that we do what is best for everyone, and unfortunately that often means we give up our right to do what is best for us personally." I say that it's ironic, since you *seem* to recognize that you live in a society in which people have chosen to come together to live and operate in proximity (i.e., live in a city), but you then choose to disentangle yourself from that system of relatively close interactions and interdependencies to separate your *personal* actions as somehow more important than (or at least independent from) the curtailed set of actions that one can make (legally, socially, and morally) within the context of a city without a whit of recognition that the two concepts are - themselves - in conflict.

Indeed, you base your argument within a private-property and personal rights framework. However, you (apparently) fail to recognize that your argument from a private property perspective is perfectly well and dandy right up until your private property impinges upon *my* private property and *my* personal rights, which is exactly what you (falsely) say you have a right to do. If you really want to read why, to wit:

Presumably, you do not advocate a right to drive across my lawn in your car, just because you purchased your car and purchased your gasoline. Similarly, you likely don't advocate a right to drive your car into my hose, my car, me, or my family. In short, owning a car and purchasing gasoline for it does not allow you to affect other people's private property or to affect other people. Why? Because it's against the law, and (from a private property perspective) you don't own the property that your car is damaging.

So, too, you likely do not advocate the blaring of your stereo or the constant sounding of your horn (or car alarm) as a right that is inherently a part of what you purchase when you buy a car and the fuel that powers the engine that charges the battery that runs the stereo and car horn (and alarm). Indeed, this is what noise ordinances attempt to curtail. Ergo, owning a car and purchasing gasoline for it does not allow you to seriously and negatively impact the quality of life of society, merely because you own that vehicle. Furthermore, this is - in places - against local ordinances (i.e., the law), but even from a personal rights perspective, such actions are imposing yourself upon others without their consent, much like if you were throwing a raucous house party without the consent of your neighbors; not always illegal, but definitely not respecting other people's equal rights.

Furthermore, you likely do not advocate for lowering the pollutant profile of what comes out of the tailpipe of cars in general. Even if you live in a state (like Michigan) that doesn't have a mandatory car exhaust test at time of re-registering a vehicle, you likely recognize the social nuisance that having a smoke-gushing clunker would have on the standing in your neighborhood (let alone your wallet) and take measures to diminish the obvious costs. Therefore, owning a car and purchasing gasoline for does not give you the social freedom to be a nuisance for the wider community, merely because you own that vehicle. Again, from a personal rights perspective, this is much like the previous case, and from a private property perspective, you are now effectively taking, impairing, or destroying a good or service that you did not actually purchase. That it is something owned publicly does not change the fact that you are affecting more than *your* share of the public good.

The anti-idling movement is merely extending this recognition of tail-pipe emissions as noxious and an unnecessary nuisance that is - in many cases throughout the year - the relatively selfish preferences of the driver imposing costs upon society; and these are costs **that the driver has not paid for.**

In short, using your argument of private property is wrong on its premises, because private property ownership of a vehicle does *not* mean that you can do whatever you want with it. Using a private property argument actually shows that you have a *greater* responsibility for the actions you take, since the negative actions are things that you **have definitely not** paid for, and so - from a private property perspective - you have no inherent rights in taking those actions.

I also noted something strange in the wording of the last paragraph of the comment, which brought about this response:
You state, "...I will do what I want to do with my car (as long as it is within the law of course)," which effectively scuttles the entire argument you laid out previously, since you concede that *if* anti-idling measures *were* made law, you actually *would* follow the law and not idle your car.

This brings to question what your entire point was to begin with.

Presumably, *if* there law that says that you cannot idle your vehicle, and since you state that you *will* follow the law, then your whole preceding argument is rendered moot.

However, if you actually passionately believe what you wrote in your argument (flawed though I personally think it is), then I question the veracity of your statement that you *would* follow an anti-idling law (*if* one were to be implemented).

... or would you decide - based on your own - that such laws can be broken if you don't feel like following them? You know, just like - if you are like any human driver - you don't use your turn lights *every single time* you are going to turn, or you don't always come to an absolute and complete stop *every single time* you come to a stop sign, or that you don't always stop at crosswalks to let pedestrians cross *every single time* you see a pedestrian crossing at a crosswalk, or that you don't drive at the posted speed limit *ever single time* you are out driving, etc. In other words, are you merely *rhetorically* saying "I'll follow the law," but *actually* are going to choose to break the law when it's convenient (just like every single human driver does from time to time)? If the latter, then it raises the question of exactly *which* sets of laws you actually feel you are bound by, and which sets of laws you feel you are allowed to break at your own convenience.
It makes me wonder whether people put such rhetorical devices into their arguments to merely sound reasonable without actually being reasonable, since - when you actually look at their statements rationally - they could not actually be stating truth in both parts of their commentary. In this case, this person cannot be telling the whole truth, since there are times that s/he has undoubtedly chosen to break some part of the law regarding the operation of his/her vehicle (unless this person is absolutely perfect in their driving record since they first started driving). Maybe it was to drive at 80mph on the highway instead of the posted 70mph (since effectively everyone drives at 80mph, and it's safer to drive with the average traffic speed, regardless of it being against the law). Maybe it is to choose not to make a complete and absolute stop at every stop sign or blinking red light, since - in many places - it can be absolutely obvious that the intersection is completely clear and safe to traverse without having to come to a complete stop, but rolling stops are (at least in Michigan) against the law. Maybe it is to choose to be lazy with the use of a turn signal on a back-country road, even though its use is required by law. Maybe it's something else, yet again, but - presuming that this commentator is human - there are undoubtedly many instances in which this person - who states, "I will do what I want to do with my car (as long as it is within the law of course)," is factually lying.

Which then raises the question of what they actually mean when they say that they'll follow the law "of course," especially given the almost certainty that they do not actually follow all the laws. Presumably they mean that they won't drive intoxicated (but how intoxicated?) or drive recklessly (but what constitutes "recklessly"?) or drive in the wrong lane (but what if it's just to go from one driveway to the next, because you mistakenly drove in the wrong one?) or go through a red light (but what if it's in the middle of the night in the country and you can see that no one is coming?) or this (but except when that), or that (but except when this), etc.

Yeah... just seems like a purely rhetorical and almost certainly nonfactual statement.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Nature Remains Legal (no matter what facebook posts say)

I saw this on Facebook today, and I was torn. On the one hand, I believe that I understood the sentiment behind the question, but on the other hand I recognized immediately that the question - posed with those photos and captions - is a factually meaningless question, since it conflates disparate meanings of what is the United States, confuses (il)legality with regulation, and uses a troubling definition of "nature" as its counterpoint to the questioning of the purported illegality of the four photos.


While the photo is technically true, it is only so if you make all the mistakes listed above. So I'm going to go through them one at a time.

Collecting rain water is illegal by state law in a some states in the Western US that operate on the prior-appropriation doctrine of water law. It's a stupid precedent, but it's not at all something that is banned in almost the entirety of the US. Indeed, in the US Virgin Islands, new construction is required to have rainwater harvesting systems, and - since the US Virgin Islands are a territory of the US - this requirement is more akin to a federal law than any of the laws banning rainwater collection.

Cannabis is the inverse of rainwater collection: it's banned by federal law, but not by some state laws. This is working its way through state legislatures, both as a hemp-legalization law as well as a marijuana-legalization law. But this one I'll give you as the "banned in the U.S.A." moniker.

Raw milk is banned by the FDA in interstate trade (which is the only way that the federal government can regulate a commodity), and so - again - I'll give you the "banned in the U.S.A." moniker, but - again - it's not so simple. State and local laws actually do allow the sale of raw milk in stores, but (at least in the State of Michigan, where I live) there are laws about how that milk is stored and sold. I seem to recall, too, that other states do allow direct sale of raw milk from the farmer to consumers. So, technically banned, but in reality legal in many places.

Unlicensed inland fishing is illegal under individual state laws, and - as far as I know - all 50 states require licenses to fish. This is technically not "banned in the U.S.A." under federal law, but is effectively "banned in the U.S.A." under state law, so it's a wash. As far as I know, the only federal laws about inland fishing bans regard endangered species, which are not what most people are fishing for. Now open ocean fishing requires licensing with the federal government, but that's not what this boy's doing, nor is it what most Americans do when they do fishing. Still, on open ocean fishing, the moniker "Banned in the U.S.A." is appropriate.

Finally, though, there is the tag line, "When did nature become illegal?" There are many points here that are interesting. As I showed above, none of these are always illegal, which means that they can all be regulated activities, which is different than an illegal activity. Changing the tag line to the more accurate, "When did nature become regulated?" actually does let you think about the history of human interaction with the land/air/water of the territory that would become the United States of America. If we presume a common cultural heritage that goes back to the Jamestown colony (and not Spanish colonization), then the answer to the question, "When did nature become regulated?" goes back to the Jamestown Charter of 1606.

However, even then, we are left with the other epidemiologically troubling word: "nature." I'm not going to even conjecture about the concept of "nature" in 1606 (although there are many books about it, including Death of Nature by Carolyn Merchant), but focus on the present day in the United States. The idea of "nature" usually is independent of the idea of "utility," and going by that tendency, only cannabis is actually "nature," since all the others are presented either explicitly in terms of utility (collecting rainwater, unlicensed fishing) or implicitly in terms of social utility (milk as we use it in society - raw or not - is a commodity and not a natural product). Indeed, even cannabis - if grown for the purpose of medical or industrial use - will no longer be of "nature" either, but another commodity, like milk. And this definition of "nature" is not even one that discusses nature as an interconnected relationship between organisms; the ecological perspective of nature (of which there are many books written as well).

In sum, the picture is technically correct in a very narrow reading of the terms, "nature," "illegal," and "U.S.A." Changing "illegal" to "regulated," recognizing the federalist structure of U.S. government, and - further - being very generous with the definition of "nature," the short answer is, "In 1606." The specific dates for the individual points, though, are - I'm sure - available if you search for them.