Friday, September 23, 2016

A man was killed by police... again. And people are still "just asking questions"... again.

To all of the people who continue to ask questions about one detail or another detail, who think that something could have happened before the start of the video, or who think that we should all wait so that the police can uncover all the evidence, I really have to ask one small thing:

If the humanity alone doesn't move you to ask what the heck is going on and demand action and accountability from those who killed him, then why are you not asking the questions based on the fundamentals of what makes America what it is: what about this man's day in court in front of a jury of his peers? Why aren't you angry that this guy was - for all intents and purposes - determined to be guilty and was executed by members representing an armed branch of the government? Where is the clamoring for his day in court, to be proven guilty by a jury of his peers?

Yes, there might be something in some alternate version of the video that could have shown something if it started sooner or was taken at a different angle or distance away. But that is beside the point that such evidence should be used by the police to prove the suspect's guilt in a court of law in front of a jury of the man's peers, and not used as an excuse after following what amounts to a summary execution.

And - furthermore - if you are someone who is continuing to ask questions as "isolated incident" after "isolated incident" continues ever onward, how many more "isolated incidents" are needed before you even see a pattern (let alone become angered by the presence of that pattern)?

Or to put it another way, how many more people must die before you choose to change your mind and choose to place fundamental American values of "innocent until proven guilty" and "tried before a jury of your peers" ahead of what amounts to a couch-potato desire to play Monday morning quarterback?

Yet another man died at the hands of the state. The state that is supposed to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people." And that should be troubling enough, regardless of what the corpse lying on the ground did in the last seconds of his life, simply on the grounds of basic, fundamental American values.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

To non-scientists, science is something that you can believe in

A friend of mind posted the following article to their Facebook wall. 
 
 
While I understand that some scientists feel annoyed with the framing of "belief in science," I thought that the author (and many of those scientists) got so many points wrong that it required a lengthy response.
 
Several points. 1. The author states, "Science is not a philosophy." Patently wrong; science is a philosophy. Indeed, for a long time, it went by the name "natural philosophy," since it is a framework of knowing about the natural world.

2. "It is a methodology." If this is all that the author thinks science is, then the author has a dim view of science. Science is far more than either a single methodology or even merely methodology. It is, as I wrote above, a means of knowing the natural world.

3. "[Science] is not something you believe in." Sorry, but this is also false. For non-scientists, who are not involved in the process of collecting, assessing, and interpreting information through the various methodologies of science, there is a belief that the whole institution works; that the whole institution provides reliable answers; that the whole institution is usable for more than the purpose of navel-gazing.

4. "Of course, the word 'science' has come to represent much more than the scientific method." For someone writing an article about what science is and isn't this is so bloody obvious that it's the very first thing taught in many philosophy of science courses (which - apparently - this author never took).

5. "[Belief in science] has also become political shorthand." Yes, this is true. But the way the author addresses this point is irrelevant in terms of the acceptance of different types of science. Hillary likely doesn't really want to "believe" in the science that doesn't fit into the platform of her party, such as the carbon benefits of constructing loads of nuclear power plants. However, the 'science-as-fig-leaf' use of science in politics is neither new nor surprising to anyone who has spent even a modicum of time looking at how science has been used, abused, ignored, or highlighted during the past two decades.

6. "'The idea that you can believe your own facts is an unfortunate consequence of the whole climate denial movement.'" I would argue that both the author and Prof. Russell are right, but speaking irrelevantly, since most people are not in the business of doing science (even once or twice removed). In other words, the point of stating "belief" or "non-belief" in one field of politicized science (be it evolution or climate change) is not about scientific knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, but more an issue of identity (both personal and political). And in that framework, speaking about "belief" is far more accurate and useful than speaking about "knowledge" and "understanding," simply because people can't be bothered to spend the time to get to know the science (just like everyone has some parts of life that they just can't be bothered to learn about to have a working knowledge of, and so merely just presume it to be so, like how a GPS works or how a car operates; unless you know, you are basically just believing that everything is working as it should).

7. "But Republicans could hear her tone as mocking not their candidate, but them." Umm... if the point of stating belief or non-belief in climate science is to present political identity (which the author does acknowledge above), then any tone Hillary takes is going to be seen as mocking them, and not their candidate. This isn't about convincing the people who incorporate climate-change denial into their political identity; this is about convincing the people who are on the fence (yeah, there are people on the fence) or who do believe in/understand climate change science that Trump is not their man.

8. "People who remain unconvinced that humans are a significant contributor to climate change are not necessarily anti-science (whatever that means." True, but when given the choice of a person who supports big government programs, then the type of person the author is talking about is likely going to be highly distrustful of her, anyway. It's like the author is thinking that it's an all-or-nothing gambit.

9. "It changes the practice of science from a method for understanding into a dangerous political weapon." Yeah... it's her fault. I mean science as *never* independently categorized into "good science" and "bad science" under the Bush administration... Oh, yeah, it was. And science has *never* been used for political purposes before 2000... Oh yeah, it was. Hell, even the creation of the NSF was done for the purpose of using science to help the government. Arguably, the use of science in agencies - from NASA to USGS - all are pursued for public policy purposes, and those purposes can be changed due to political winds. (Remember how the Republicans have threatened again and again to stop payments for Earth-monitoring satellites and "reminding" NASA that their mission is not to look at Earth, but to look out at the universe?) And let's not forget about how military science progresses, if *not* for a specific and applied used of political weaponry. So let's not get lulled into this utopian idea that science and politics are two separate worlds that have never and should never mix; they have been bedfellows for decades and decades and decades.

10. "At its best and most objective, science can heal divides, answer questions, solve problems." Let's take those one at a time. If the best science can heal divides, then it *is* being used for political reasons, which the author *just said* was when science would be diminished. Seriously; pick a side here. Next, the point of science is not about answering questions; some scientists would argue that science is about learning to ask better questions. Indeed, in the context of the larger question of "what is science," many scientists (and philosophers of science) would argue that science can never prove something to be true, but only that something is false. As such, we are left with the question of whether answering what something *isn't* is actually positively answering a question, since - in order to get a positive answer out of statements of what something isn't - one must negate the infinite set of what things it isn't in order to show that it is something. Finally, the question of whether science can solve problems depends on what problems you are asking science to solve (and the frameworks of science that you are using to try and solve the problem). Wicked problems (usually those that involve society) generally are not completely amenable to science, while those problems that science is really good at solving (usually those that completely exclude society) are - by their nature - not often relevant to society. In addition, there is the "science-as-the-genie" problem (my own phrase; I can't remember what the "technical term" is for this phenomenon), where science creates a new understanding or leads to a technological breakthrough that creates a whole new paradigm in which existing social norms and laws are no longer applicable or capable of addressing the advance. In such cases, science can be seen as creating a whole host of new problems... which may require science to solve again (a commonly cited example is the splitting of the atom and the ushering in of the nuclear age). So, no: by the factors listed by the author (and also by a myriad of factors the author failed to list), this assertion is just wrong, wrong, and wrong.

In short, it seems that the author is cleaving to a very narrow (and very limited) definition of what science is in order to make a very shallow and limited argument. I would suggest that the author - and people who think much along the lines of the author - read the book Honest Broker. It explains how science is used to support (or not) various political positions by various types of actors. I would also suggest that people pick up Michael Specter's Denialism, which discusses the problems of science denialism and also touches on pseudoscience and the question of "belief" in and of science. Finally, it might help the person who agrees wholeheartedly with the fundamental miscontrual of science to read even a primer on the philosophy of science to discuss what is science (the Oxford press's short introduction to Philosophy of Science is a decent book to pick up); science is - after all - far more than methodology and facts. It is - indeed - a means of knowing of the natural world (i.e., "natural philosophy").

Monday, July 25, 2016

"Drogar" is a word in Spanish, but "evolver" doesn't exist.

One question that occasionally pops into my head is, "Why is that English word made into a Spanish word?" This normally happens when I stumble across a banally common word that is so obviously from English that it makes me wonder, "Why isn't there a word for this in Spanish?" I then check the RAE to see if it is an officially recognized word, and - if it is - I look to see if there are any handy Spanish synonyms that could have also worked. And when there are, then it makes me think the complementary question of, "Why is this English word not made into a Spanish word?"

Case in point with the word drogar. I knew already that there was the noun droga, and that it means "drug." Interestingly, I also knew that the RAE cited a very different origin for the word droga (Hispanic Arabic) than what is cited as the origin for the word "drug" (Middle French). But okay. Whatever, right? Well, not so quick: the word origin for drogar is that it's from English ("to drug"). *sigh*

But the definition for drogar translates to "to administer a drug" (administrar una droga). And this point would be less irksome to me if Spanish would have the verb bicicletear, which would do the job of the phrase andar en bicicleta, which is the most common way to say, "to bike." Well, no; it's the most common way to say, "ride on a bike," since there is no verb for "to bike" (which is what bicicletear would be, much like drogar is the verb of "to drug," which is the shortened form of the phrase administrar una droga).

Breathe....

Okay, so as long as I continue to be a cyclist, I will admit that this will likely remain a pet peeve of mine. But, as an ecologist, I have to find fault with another verb in Spanish, namely evolucionar, which is the verb of "to evolve." There is no verb, evolver, despite the fact that the following verbs that share the same root all exist: volver, revolver, devolver, envolover, desenvolver, and the list almost certainly goes on.

But it does not include evolver.

No, the word for "to evolve" in Spanish is, evolucionar ("to evolutionate"). And when you go to look up the etymology of evolucionar, you get that it's from evolución (which is like a big, "no duh"). But if you go an look up the etymology of evolución, you find that it comes from the Latin, "evolutio, -ōnis," which is basically what you get with the English entry for "evolution." But if you go to look up the English word, "evolve," you get, "equivalent to ē- + volvere to roll, turn." Ah-hah! "Volvere" looks a lotlike volver, and, indeed, if we look up its etymology, we find that it's from the Latin, "volvĕre."

So the Spanish word volver derives from the Latin "volvere."
The English word "evolve" derives from the Latin "e + volvere."

But Spanish doesn't have the word evolver, even though it has the term devolver. No, the term is stuck as an awkward back-tranformation from the English "evolution" to a verb of that Latin-based word.

Argh!

But that's language for you, and I'm not the one to make the rules, so as much as I would love that I could write about how fish evolver and talk about how I bicicletear to work, I have to stick understanding that languages evolucionar and let that sink in while I andar en bicicleta on my way home.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How Bathroom Bills will NORMALIZE the presence of men in women's bathrooms

The so-called bathroom bills that specifically state that transmen and transwomen are required to use the bathroom that matches their sex registered at birth rather than the gender that the individual identifies and presents as. The rhetoric so often seems to be based on the idea that this will protect girls and women from harrassment (often portrayed as sexual harrassment) in women's bathrooms and locker rooms.

Never mind that this never happens.

Never mind that this is the same sort of baseless attack that had been trotted out against homosexuals (almost exclusively gay men) for centuries.

Never mind that the argument tends to be so heavily focused on women and girls that it borders on paternalistic condescention on the one hand and willfull blindness to the analogue happening to boys and men (or perhaps the silence is based around the tacit position that a woman can't sexually harrass boys and men).

Never mind that - unless the room is otherwise empty and the man in question is able to overcome the sole woman in the room - a man entering a women's room will almost certainly be screamed, kicked, hollered, and pushed right back out again.

Never mind and ALL of those points.

Let's focus, instead, on how the argument is so often presented: that there is a male sexual predator that will put on a dress in order to enter a woman's bathroom, and that stopping trans-women from entering women's bathrooms will stop male sexual predators in dresses from entering a woman's bathroom.

One of the problems with hypervigelence for the safety of women from a man-in-a-dress from entering women's restrooms and locker rooms is that it completely FAILS to consider trans-men and the impact that forcing trans men will have on who goes in to women's bathrooms.

The bathroom bills will force trans-men (who can look HYPER-masculine) to use the women's bathrooms. Now, let's stop for a second and think about what this means. Trans-men are people whose birth certificates say "female" but now look really male. If the bathroom bills require people to use the bathroom that matches the sex listed on their birth certificate, then men-who-were-born-female will be using the women's bathroom. And these men can look REALLY masculine, such as Aydian Dowling.


This transman will be forced into women's bathrooms in North Carolina


This guy looks more masculine than I do, since he can apparently grow a far better beard than I can, has more body hair than me, and better muscle development than me. And Aydian Dowling - and all transmen - will be forced to use the women's bathroom, because their birth certificates say "female."

What this means is that people who were born female, but currently look VERY male will be in women's bathrooms, because of the law. Which only serves to INCREASE the presence of masculinity in a women's bathroom, NOT to diminish it.

The imagined male predator is a man-in-a-dress, but what supporters of these bathroom bills ALL seem to forget (or be completely ignorant of) is the simple fact that a trans-man (i.e., a person who was born female and now presents as male and will be forced to use the women's bathroom) will LOOK EXACTY LIKE A MAN.

In other words, bathroom bills will force MORE male-looking individuals into women's bathrooms, thus making it EASIER for a cis-male (i.e., born a man, presents as a man) to enter a women's bathroom, NOT more difficult.


On the flipside, there are a lot of transwomen who look MORE feminine than lots of ciswomen, so if these bills are to stop the "man-in-a-dress" from walking into a women's bathroom (or - supposedly, but never actually stated - a woman-in-slacks from walking into a men's room), then a simple visual assessment is not going to be either enough OR fairly implemented (since a hyperfeminine transwoman is less likely to be stopped at the entrance to the women's bathroom than a comparatively masculine ciswoman).

For example, there are even beauty pageants for transwomen:



Without being told that these were transwomen, I would posit that it would be difficult for most people to say that all have bith certificates that list "male" as the sex.

In (unfortunate) comparison, there have always been women who have been labeled as being "mannish" or (at minimum) "not feminine." And if one were use only visual assessment against a socialized gender norm, then there will definitely be cases in which (A) transwomen (i.e., women born as male) could enter a women's bathroom (in contravention of the law) and (B) ciswomen (i.e., women born as female) would be stoped from entering a women's bathroom (in contravention of the law).

So the only way to competently implement the bill is to require the presentation of one's birth certificate to a gender assessor who will sit at the door to all public bathrooms. In addition, the birth certificates should be notarized in order to ensure legitimacy (since - as we learned from Trump's witchhunt of Obama - almost anyone can create a forged birth certificate). And, to be equally sure, there should be some additional, corroborating, piece of government-issued identification (perhaps something with a photograph and that traces all changes to name, address, and gender that may have taken place since the issuance of the notarized birth certificate) that should be presented.

In other words, in order to fairly execute these bathroom bills and ACTUALLY think about the safety of women and children against imagined sexual predators going into locker rooms and bathrooms under the cover of being trans, one would have to set up a surveillance state to ensure that all the "men-in-dresses" are caught (regardless of how feminine they look) while allowing all women-born-as-female to enter female locker rooms and restrooms (regardless of how unfeminine they look)... which seems to be at terrible odds with the principle of privacy and no "big brother" government surveillance that the GOP so often says that they support...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

America and América are false cognates

Living in Chile has brought about some additional awarenesses of false cognates between English and Spanish, and one that I have encountered a number of times is that between "America" and "América."

In Spanish, "América" refers primarily to the single continent in the Western Hemisphere that stretches from the Arctic to the Antarctic. This means that in Spanish, there are five populated continents (Europa, Asia, África, Oceanía, and América). In Spanish, América del Norte (Norteamérica), América Central (Centroamerica), and América del Sur (Sudamérica) are considered to be "subcontinents."

In English, this same configuration of land is made up of two continents - North America and South America - which are collectively known as "the Americas." This means that in English, there are six populated continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North America and South America), with Central America being a subcontinental region.

Therefore, when a Spanish speaking person talks of "América," they are referring to the entirety of the single continent of the Western Hemisphere, which English speakers would refer to collectively as "the Americas," because the term "America" in English means something specific: the nation of the United States of America. This is something that a lot of Spanish-speaking people just don't want to accept, seeking to impose one cultural-linguistic understanding for another, but would rather suggest in considering "America" and "América" to be false cognates, much like "embarrass" (tener verguenza) and "embarazar" (to be pregnant) both stem from the same Portuguese root (baraçar), but now mean very different things (and my Spanish-speaking friends have little problem accepting the fact that the word that means "to be pregnant" in their language doesn't mean that at all in English).

The perceived problem among Spanish-speakers is that "America" is somehow (perhaps imperialistically or at least imperiously) laying dominion over the spatial extent that they understand to be "América." However, I would argue that this - the history of US imperialism aside - this perspective hasn't internalized the contrasting logics of how each language refers to the same land mass and the various peoples living within it. Nor does it adequately consider the history of how the term "American" came into use within English. Let's start with the history first.

240 Years of (non-Indigenous) Nations in North America



In 1774, when the video begins, the Spanish (indicated by the Cross of Burgundy until 1785) are in Mexico, and much of the modern-day central and western United States. Britain (indicated by the Union Jack) is all along the eastern coast of North America (except for Florida) and much of Canada. In 1776, the United States of America declares its independence, and - if you stop the video there - you will note that nowhere else in the entire continent is there any flag that is not a European national flag. From 1776 until 1804 (i.e., 28 years), all non-indigenous governments in the Americas were European colonial governments except for that of the United States of America, until Haiti declares independence. Since it's inception as a nation, the United States of America identifed itself as being separate from Europe, not just politically, but also geographically. This mindset admittedly later became the basis of the concept of "Manifest Destiny" (and all the religiously justified racism and genocide that came from it), but the birth of the United States of America not only created a new nation, it also created a new people, who labeled themselves - and were labeled by others - "Americans." As a comparison, one can look at a comparative n-gram of "American" against "British" - which only really came into use after the Acts of Union in 1707 - and is thus only a couple generations older than the concept of "American." What's clear is that the term "American" made a jump that vaulted it to the same relative level of commonality as the term "British" at the same period, and they followed their own trajectories subsequently (although tracking against each other during WW1 and WW2). It should be clear, therefore, that the concept of "American" predates the independence of any other European colony.

Conversely, when we look at a Spanish n-gram between "América" and "América del Norte" and "América del Sur" (and their respective cognates), the term "América" remains far and away the most common use. Indeed, it isn't until the mid-1800s that either "América del Norte" or "América del Sur" even reach a sufficient quantity to be seen in comparison. Furthermore, it is clear from a comparison of English vs. Spanish that the concepts of separate North and South Americas were more established earlier on in English - before the US War of Independence. It also makes a kind of sense that - in Spanish - the concept of a separate North and South America did not fit into the mindset of an empire that stretched across a contiguous landform.

So the usage of the term "American" to refer - in English - to a citizen of the United States of America stems from a history in which the only (non-indigenous) sovereign power in the Americas was the United States of America, whose people were born free of any political ties with Europe, and were thus the only (non-indigenous) people in the Americas that were considered to be "of America" and not subject to any other nation or empire.

Relating Culture and Linguistics
The idea of "America" in English - as outlined above - is associated with the United States of America and the term "Americans" in English is associated with citizens of the United States of America. Furthermore, the idea of a continental "America" is not a common concept in English, with the divisions of "North America" and "South America" predating the US War of Indpendence. Therefore, insisting upon the logic that "America" actually means the entirety of North and South America, when that historically wasn't at all a common notion in English is like suddenly insisting upon the logic that "embarrass" actually means "to be pregnant," when the common understanding of the common Portuguese root word was not a common notion in English (and perhaps in Spanish) for a couple hundred years.

But let's look at what Spanish speakers present as alternatives to "America" referring implicitly to "the United States of America" and "American" referring to "a citizen of the United States of America": estadounidense and norteamericano.

estadounidense. This directly translates as "United Stateser," which could serve as a description of what a person from the United States of America is, and even though it sounds *bleaugh* to me, I recognize that this dissonance is merely based on personal preference, and continued repitition of the phrase may well make it palatable over time. However, there is a problem beyond that of personal aesthetics: the United States of America isn't the only country that uses "United States" in its name. Setting aside the 11 historical nations that used "United States" (at least in their English translations) in their name, the modern world has Mexico, whose official name is "los Estados Unidos Mexicanos." If people from los Estados Unidos de América should be called estadounidenses after the "Estados Unidos" part, why is this logic not extended to citizens of los Estados Unidos Mexicanos? The response could well be that they are from México, but if the argument that "America" does not match the geographic boundaries of the landmass with the same name (even discounting the fact that there is no continental "America" in the English-speaking world), then neither does modern-day Mexico match the geographic boundaries of the landmass from which it draws its name: Mēxihco, also known as the Valley of Mexico, which makes up only roughly half of the Federal District (where Mexico City is found). According to the logic of "America means all of the continent of America" (which - again - let's skip past the part where there doesn't exist a single continent of America in English), "Mexico means only the Valley of Mexico." Yeeeah... no; if you want to make the argument, it needs to be applied consistently, and in the case of Mexico (the other Estados Unidos in today's world), the naming is not applied consistently.

norteamericano. This directly translates as "North American," and it is even more problematic than estadounidense in describing specifically people from the United States of America, because in the English-speaking world, the concepts of "North America" and "North American" are concepts that are inclusive of the United States of America, and not (generally) used to mean only the United States of America. Even in the Spanish-speaking world's conceptuaizatio of América del Norte (aka Norteamérica), the area includes two nations that are not the United States of America, namely Canada and Mexico, which makes me wonder what sort of inherent biases are at play when someone suggests norteamericano to be an adequate alternative to the English term "American."

americano. This term directly translates into "American," exists in Spanish, and is defined by the Real Academia Española (RAE) as:
  1. Natural de América (Natually of the continent of America)
  2. Pertenece o relative a América o a los americanos (Pertaining or related to the coninent of America or things that are American).
  3. indiano (Spaniards who return rich from the continent of America)
  4. estadounidense (citizens of the United States of America)
  5. café americano (coffee made by adding hot water to espresso)
  6. chaqueta de tela, con solapas y botones, que llega por debajo de la cadera (a sports coat)
Let's run through the definitions one by one. We discussed already why definition 1 doesn't fit into the logic of the English "the Americas" description of what the Spanish see as a single "América." For this reason, definition 2 is similarly unusable. Definition 3 is (apparently) historical, and therefore not applicable in today's world, but still I have to ask, WTF? Why does Spanish have a specific term for a Spaniard that goes back to Spain after making it rich in the Americas, whose root word is the same one as the word describing the indigenous people of the Americas? There could be a simple, innocent, non-racist reason for the existence for this word, but without further digging, the implications seem really messed up. Definition 4 indicates that the term americano can be a synonym for estadounidense, which - from above - is the Spanish word for citizen of the United States of America. Okidoki...Definitions 5 and 6 refer to describe objects and not people.

Concluding Remarks
The major argument against using "America" and "American" to refer, respectively, to "the United States of America" and "citizens of the United States of America" seem to be based on a cultural-linguistic difference between English and Spanish. To recap:

In English
  • There is no continent "America," but two continents ("North America" and "South America").
  • "American" cannot refer to people from the single continent of "America," since there is no such thing in English.
  • "American" refers, instead, to people from the first (non-indigenous) nation to declare independence from a European empire, making all its citizens of the land of America.
In Spanish
  • There is a single continent América, within which there are two major subcontinents (América del Norte and América del Sur).
  • Americano refers to people from the single continent of América, including all people from Chile to Canada, but it can also refer to a Spaniard who made it rich in the continent of América or it could mean a citizen of los Estados Unidos de América. It's not so exclusive a definition, apparently.
  • People from los Estados Unidos de América are referred to as either estadounidenses (despite the inconsistency of labeling these people against the people of los Estados Unidos Mexicanos) or norteamericanos (despite this definition implicitly including countries and people who are not from los Estados Unidos de América, namely los Estados Unidos Mexicanos and Canadá).
In the end, if the disagreement stems from the implied misappropriation of the term América (which it wasn't), when the term refers to the entire continent (which doesn't conceptually exist in English), then why even accept the name los Estados Unidos de América? After all, the official name of the country could indicate dominance over the continent of América, even as the preposition de can also indicate that the country is mere associated with América.

Conversely, why allow the country of Colombia to have control over the more classical name for the Americas? After all, if one wishes to argue that America=América, which was named after Amerigo Vespucci, and - only by a twist of fate - came to be used to describe the continent(s) of the Western Hemisphere, then why not also argue that Colombia=Columbia, which was named after Christopher Columbus, and used to describe the entirety of the "New World" as far back as 1738? Or is the argument for consistency of scale only important, because América currently refers to the name of the continent, whereas Columbia no longer does? Again, it's a logical (if tangential) inconsistency in the general argument that the English-language conceptualization of "America" need align itself perfectly with the Spanish-language conceptualization of América.


Seems far easier for people to recognize that different languages use words from the same word root in contrasting ways. Sometimes (like between "to embarrass" and embarazar) the contrast is so great as to make the words so obviously different. Sometimes (like between "climate" and clima) there is a great amount of overlap, making implicit distinction present in one language unapparent in the other. But still, if native English speakers can learn that - in Spanish - the two continents of North America and South America are subcontinents in a single continent called América, and that citizens of the United States of America are called - despite the logical inconsistencies inherent in the words - estadounidenses and norteamericanos, and that the term americano can refer to anyone from the Spanish continent of América, a Spaniard who made it rich in the continent of América, or a person from the United States of America (but to avoid confusion and reminders of US imperialism, one should avoid using americano to refer to what nearly every English speaker means when they say, "American," then why shouldn't Spanish-speakers learn the implications of "America" and "American" in English?

In other words, "America" and "América" are false cognates, deriving from the same root, but having evolved into different concepts in English and Spanish.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Random health assessment: Resting heart rate

Just for shits and giggles, I decided to check my resting heart rate. I had been riding my bike as a daily commute, averaging 25kph to work and 22kph from work, and I wanted to see if there was a benefit to all this bike commuting.

According to topendsports, an average resting heart rate of someone 35-40 years old is 71-75 bpm.

My resting heart rate prior to re-starting my bike commute was about 70bpm (and I was 37 at the
time), which put me right around average, maybe slightly on the border with "above average." As a point of reference, my resting heart rate when I was a vasity swimmer in high school - at 16 years of age - was 47 bpm, which put me well within the athlete level.

Now, it's not surprising that resting heart rate will increase with age, but moving from an athlete level to average means that I knew what it was like, and 70 bpm seemed really fast. But now, my resting heart rate is roughly 55 bpm, which works out to being on the upper end of "athlete" for a man in my age category.

And that feels nice.

Maybe it is also time to check my BMI (with recognition of problems of height and muscle density) and my blood pressure?

Friday, April 22, 2016

No, socialism almost certainly isn't what that anecdote on Facebook wants to scare you to think it is

Recently, a friend of mine posted a story about an economics professor failed his class, because the students gave a misguided understanding of a socialist nation that Obama would bring, and because - as you follow the story - of the professor's own complete lack of understanding of what socialism is (beyond an equivalency between socialism in general and a hyperbolic representation of Stalinism and Maoism). When someone pointed out to him that - as a person so serves in the US military - wasn't he a member of a socialist organization, my friend denied it, pointing out how he is graded and promoted based on his merits, and that isn't how socialism works.

But my friend is wrong; his idea of socialism (and that of the anecdotal - and most likely fictional - professor) is not how socialism works. The US military is a socialist organization, because socialism is a political (and economic) system that says that the society owns and regulates production, distribution, and exchange. And, in the case of the military, this is exactly what the US government does. Specifically, the US military:

1. regulated by the government (socialist!)
2. is operated (ostensibly) for the benefit of the society (socialist!)
3. is paid by taxes drawn from society (socialist!)
4. is not permitted to make decisions based on profit motivation (socialist!)


One could also point out that the Commander in Chief is not a part of the military, but a civilian (who could be a veteran) that is voted by popular vote (well, kind of) of all citizens (and - since there are no slaves and very few nationals that aren't citizens - this is also socialist control, albeit a step removed).

In contrast, a private military of mercenaries might be regulated by government (but historically they haven't had such strong regulations, and often the companies that paid for them insisted upon the right to use their militaries as they saw fit, even in the name of the nation the company represented), is often operated for the benefit of those who pay for it (which is not a society at large), the monies may be drawn from private coffers (or - historically - was given as a cut of booty), and they are allowed to make decisions based on profit motive (although this could be curtailed to an extent by contracts of guaranteed monopolies, such as were given to the British East India Company and the Dutch East Indies Company).

If one understands that "socialism" means many more things than "Marxism" (let alone "Stalinism" and "Maoism"), one can actually start to understand that Lincoln's "government of the people, for the people, by the people" is actually socialism. You will note that the VA - and all the veteran care programs that preceded it - were socialism. You will note that public roads, bridges, and highways are socialism. Police and fire services are socialism. Sewage treatment and drinking water provision are socialism. Even tax breaks based on having a mortgage is socialism.

It is, therefore, possible to have a highly socialist system that isn't based around the presuppositions of what socialism is that the story above describes. Never mind that such anecdotes completely fail to understand what socialism - let alone Marxist socialism - actually is, how modern democratic socialism actually operates (and how communist socialism along the lines of Stalinism and Maoism preferred political propaganda and party-line politics to the ideals of even Marxist socialism), and how much of the modern United States is built heavily upon socialism. (Indeed, the only thing that such stories tend to highlight is the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.)

IOW, meritocracy and socialism need not be at odds, despite all the anecdotes and stories like the one above paint socialism as being.

Conversely, one can look at militaries that were not socialist organizations, and if one looks at many militaries across time, one will note that militaries rarely operated on meritocracy, were rarely operated for the benefit of a nation of citizens, and often were associated with private interests that purchased the use of that military to further its own (non civic) ends. Thus were the British East India Company and the Dutch East Indies Company operated, not to mention all the funding of mercenary armies that Venice did from medieval times through to the 18th Century.

Furthermore, simply being a republic or a democratic republic does not mean that meritocracy is the general condition. Look at the history of pretty much every European power prior to 1917: they were (for the most part) democratic (or moving in that direction), but still *heavily* class-based and not-at-all meritocratic. As was much of the United States at the same time (although less so than in Europe, and less so in the military).


In sum, if one thinks that socialism is and can only be *Marxist* socialism, then this would be like saying that "the right to bear arms" is and can only be referring to Revolutionary War-era weaponry. It is, in other words, a comparison that is only seen to be not-at-all ridiculous by people who ony have enough knowledge about the subject to make them sound silly when they make such claims.

When do you translate a name?

This morning, I was listening to the morning 24horas broadcast, and listened to the story about the 90th birthday of Reina Isabel (Queen Elisabeth). The next story was about a book fair where people could buy books from great authors, including William Shakespeare.

Waitasec... Why translate "Elizabeth" into "Isabel" but not "William" into "Guillermo"?

I already knew that European explorers during the "Age of Discovery" were all given transliterations into various languages, with "Christopher Columbus" being known as "Cristóbal Colón" in Spanish and "Christoph Kolumbus" in German; "Amerigo Vespucci" is known as "Américo Vespúcio" in Portuguese and Spanish; and "Ferdinand Magellan" is known as "Fernando de Magallanes" in Spanish and "Ferdinando Magellano" in Italian. True, the differences were not often great, but many of the "great European explorers" of that era are known by their transliterated names (so if a German typed "Christoph Kolumbus" into the Spanish-language Wikipedia, they don't get to the "Crist{obal Colón" page).

But what about authors and monarchs?

I went to look at the Spanish-language Wikipedia page for William Shakespeare, and it is: William Shakespeare. There is no other moniker by which he is referenced on the Wikipedia page (which I use as my easy-access translator). And so I went a little further, and checked other Latin-script alphabets, and they all called him "William Shakespeare." Even in Gaelic and Hungarian, the spelling remained the same, despite their highly distinct orthography. But the entry on Queen Elizabeth II all had the name and title always translated into the linguistic equivalents.

Okay, so what about other famous English-named authors?
  • James Joyce is always spelled JAMES JOYCE in all Latin-script Wikipedia pages.
  • Mark Twain is always spelled MARK TWAIN (and his real name is always spelled SAMUEL LONGHORN CLEMENS) in all Lantin-script Wikipedia pages.
  • Jane Austen is always spelled JANE AUSTEN
What about Classical-era authors and philosophers?
  • Homer is transliterated into different versions (e.g., Homero, Gomer)
  • Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus) is translated into different versions (e.g., Plinio el Viejo, Idősebb Plinius)
  • Aristotle (which is transliterated from the Greek Ἀριστοτέλης) is transliterated into different versions (e.g., Arastotail, Arystoteles)

So it seems that famous English authors retain their names (at least since Shakespeare forward), but names from the Roman Empire and before got transliterated (and translated when there were descriptors associated with that name). What about monarchs?
  • William I (aka William the Conqueror) has his name translated into the native version in all cases.
  • Charles I of Sweden is translated from the Swedish Karl I, and it is subsequently translated into the local variants of Charles/Karl.
  • Stephen I of Hungary is translated from the Hungarian Istvan I, and it, too, is translated into the local variants of Stephen/Istvan.
  • Al-Mansur of the Persian Abbasid Caliphate is known as homonymous versions of either "Al-Mansur" or "Abu Ja'far" in all Latin-script Wikipedia pages.
  • Ibrahim I of the Ottoman Empire is known by homonymous verions of "Ibrahim" (not "Abraham") in all Latin-script Wikipedia pages.
So European monarchs have their names translated, while non-European monarchs apparently don't, even when the name exists within a European context, such as with Ibrahim I. But then what about non-monarchical heads of state?
  • Thomas Jefferson remains spelled THOMAS JEFFERSON, despite there being transliterations of Thomas in other European languages.
  • George Washington remains spelled GEORGE WASHINGTON, despite there being transliterations of George in other European languages.
  • Oliver Cromwell remains spelled OLIVER CROMWELL, even though there are many different versions of Oliver across Europe.
So, monarchs have their names translated. Non-monarchical heads of state don't have their names translated. Interestingly, when I looked up non-monarchical heads of state on the Russian pages, their names were transliterated from the pronunciation in the original language, so "Charles de Gaulle" was transliterated to "Sharl de Goll," which is far closer to the French pronunciation than if they had used the same transliteration that they did with Charles Darwin ("Charlz Darvin").

I guess the rules for translating names of people (between European languages) are:

  1. If it is a European monarch, you translate the name to the local language equivalent.
  2. If it is a Classical anyone famous, you transliterate and/or translate the name to the local language equivalent.
  3. If it is an explorer from the Age of Discovery, you translate the name to the local language equivalent.
  4. If it is anyone else, you leave the spelling as-is.