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Friday, August 8, 2008

The Olympics, Frog Sex Calls, My Sands of Time in Texas Are Running . . . . OUT!, and, English: The National Language

Let the Olympics Begin. . . .

Ew-boy -- ready for the Olympics to begin?

It's about 3:00 P.M. Friday the 8th as I write (which, auspiciously enough, is 8-8-08 on the Chinese calendar, in case you somehow have managed to miss that little tidbit of info during all the hype in the run-up to the games; "8" is a super-lucky number in Chinese thinking). Just hours before the hoopla all finally comes to the start of the actual games themselves.

I hope the Chinese government doesn't blow this. They may not have been able to do enough to clear the skies (though if not, they shouldn't have promised to do so, since if the skies are polluted, people are going to hold them responsible).

But they could have "cleared the air," so to speak, over their many flip-flops and 180-degree turns regarding various issues, such as press coverage. Though they promised essentially unfettered news coverage, clearly those who yearn for the gold ol' days of Chairman Mao (who brought the country such little thrilling historical experiences such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution) have managed to stick their hands into the pie, mucking it up, to a degree, in the process.

I like China, and I have given successive Chinese governments due credit for various things they have done for the greater good, in some cases done quite well, especially in those cases in which we can contrast the results of efforts by the People's Republic's governments to actions by earlier governments.

For instance, from the mists of history right up to the mid-19th century, there essentially was no medical care for the great hordes of the huddled masses, certainly none provided by the state. Whatever else the Communists did, they did introduce the institution of the "barefoot doctor."

Now, these folks weren't really doctors, you have to understand. But neither were they merely the human public face of propaganda. They were (and remain, in places) not only the front line in bringing basic medical care to ordinary folk, but often the only line. At a guess, I would bet they did far more good educating people about matters such as basic hygiene than they ever did -- or could have done, in the circumstances -- in terms of actually treating people.

But along comes Mr. Paranoia, Chief Adviser to the Politburo, those Old Men who live in Zhongnanhai, the closed-to-the-public western part of the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing. (For instance, Mr. Paranoid won the day June 4, 1989.)

And he clearly has been at work as the Olympics approached, which is too bad -- especially considering that the government showed in the aftermath of the earthquake in May it can experience, and survive, close press scrutiny. In some instances, various officials showed a streak of innate brilliance in playing the media.

Sigh. I just hope they don't blow things too badly. . . .

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Even Frogs Have Sex Lives --
Which May Be Good for
Our Hearing

Yep, that's the key fact according to the story "Frogs inspire hearing aid idea
" I just read in the main local paper here in Denton County, Texas (where I'm on holiday), the Denton Record Chronicle.

Seems that something in a male frog's ears suppresses certain wavelengths of sounds when he cooing out his mating call for Miss Froggie to come join him in some illicit, but biologically imperative, festivities.

You who are familiar with the ubiquitous Horny Toad in the American Southwest better give Mr. Horny Toad a little more RESPECT next time you see him!!! ;-) "Ah-Ten-SH_H_H_HUT! Pre-seeeeent-ARMS!!!"

Some clever scientists, no doubt originally wondering how this might be turned to men's advantage, have figured out a way, maybe, to apply this to hearing aids.

I personally don't have to use hearing aids -- yet, anyway -- but some of my friends do, and from them and people I've known in the past, I do know, as many of us know, that sometimes sometimes their hearing aids don't give them the hearing they wish they had at a given moment.

So, if this moves from concept to device, it could be a boon for anyone needing a hearing aid.

No word on what, if any, strengthening effects of your mating calls, however! . . . :-)

Before you rush out to the nearest body of water inhabited by frogs -- thinking you can steal a march on the researchers -- I should mention the finding was in just one kind of frog, the Chinese torrent frog. The frog is reported to be quite rare. I don't think you'll find it in Midland.

On a somewhat more serious note, we sometimes question the value of what appears, at first glance, to be superficial scientific research, bemoaning the money "wasted" on it, especially when the money comes from our tax dollars. The prototype is to despairingly ask the Heavens, "Why, oh why, are those guys studying the sex lives of fruit flies???" -- with MY money?????

Well . . . now you know! (If you don't, Class 101 is down the hall, last classroom on the left. . . .)

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As Time Goes By . . .

Jiminy crikes. How the time is just a-scootin' right on by.

Hard to believe this is my 40th day in Texas. But there it is, a fact to see on the calendar; arrived in these parts the morning of June 30th.

Come to think of it, today is Friday -- my last Friday before getting on a Silver Bird to be borne back across the Big Pond to Bangkok.

I'll be sorry to leave, in a great many ways, of course. Although my Sister likely will be plenty doggone glad not to have me underfoot anymore -- as will my brother-in-law!

After all, no matter the closeness of the relationships -- and mine with my family are very, very close -- my presence is disruptive simply by my presence, though I do try to stay out from underfoot as much as possible, at least in ways I'm aware I should. (That has the added benefit of keeping me out of the line of fire -- sometimes, if not always!)

That said, it will be mighty good to get back to Bangkok. No doubt I'll fidget in the taxi (as I always do, after even a short trip) all the way home down Soi 22. It'll be a tough decision whether to stop off at the Square on my way home, or to rush right straight home to see my neighbor, if my plane isn't delayed and I get back mid-evening, as the schedule promises. Or maybe I can convince her to come out for a whirl.

Anyway, I'll be plenty darned glad to be home. . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Wading into the Language
Debate: Another Compelling Reason
for a National Language -- English

I know I'm setting myself up for a huge attack with this story, but the story "At least 13 dead, more than 40 hurt in bus crash on U.S. 75 in Sherman
" draws attention to the need for people to be able to communicate.

Sherman is a fairly distant suburb of Dallas, located north of the "Big D" on I-75, not far from the state line with Oklahoma.

The victims were Vietnamese, all members of the same denomination from two churches, traveling between Houston, their home area, and Carthage, Missouri on a religious outing.

According to the story, emergency personnel were hampered by the inability to communicate with some of the victims, who couldn't speak English.

Why is it we in America are so afraid, even terrified, at the mere rumination to have a national language?

Mandarin is the official national language of both mainland China and Taiwan, though numerous other dialects are permitted to be used openly in both -- and no one appears hurt by the existence of a national language.

Thai is the national language of Thailand, and while the Kingdom has its many woes, this doesn't seem to be among them, or, if it is (and I just don't know it), it's certainly not a headline-grabber.

Why English, when America has such a rich history of exploration, settlement, and, in some places, dominion by people from countries who spoke other languages? Especially French and Spanish.

Well, the English speakers ended up running the show at the end of the day, so by chronological precedence the language makes sense.

Besides, without regards to how bad or good the reasons English is the dominant language in international science and business are, it is so that it is. People who can't use the language are at a significant disadvantage in those areas. Not if they're harvesting whatever crop in, say, a remote part of India, true.

But I'm talking about communicating in a country with a rich, varied history of immigration from all over the world, not a homogeneous setting as one finds, to a very great degree, in places such as Japan.

Did you know that to become a citizen of Thailand, you have to demonstrate a certain proficiency in the Thai language? No exceptions. Other countries have the same requirement in their own language contexts; even linguistically-fractious India restricts the number of official languages to just a few (from legions from which to choose).

No one here in America gets excited about, say, a family from an African country speaking their native language at home, among their friends with whom they share the language, and so on.

Neither does anyone get excited about people whose mother tongue is Spanish speaking Spanish in comparable settings.

But it downright infuriates me to be in the U.S. and have someone say to a companion, when I'm able to respond to them in their language, "Oh, listen! He speaks the national language!"

Well -- yes, I do speak the de facto national language, i.e., English.

I actually have had this happen to me. For instance, once in Beaumont, Texas, I found myself in a situation in which the other people were all native speakers of Mandarin. At a point at which I was able to dredge up enough Mandarin words to make a halfway comprehensible response to something one person had said, someone else made exactly that comment, the one regarding "national language" -- in Mandarin of course -- using the term for "Mandarin" preferred in Taiwan, "National Language." (Okay, okay -- the most common literal translation of "guo yu" is "Country Language," but give me a break; we sometimes have to bend stuff to capture the actual sense of what we're translating.) "Gou yu" most certainly is not "the national language" of the U.S.

And much as it may chap some people, neither are Spanish, Vietnamese, nor any other language. True, English doesn't hold the legal standing of being a national language -- yet -- but neither do any of the others.

How often do we hear of someone of, say, Irish descent (or even first-generation immigrant folks) moaning no one speaks their language? Never, that's when.

Now, this being a free country, if a person whose native language is one other than English and that person elects not to learn the language, even when it becomes the official language (which there's a fair chance it might, eventually) -- fine. But don't go moaning to anyone, especially the courts, when you have problems because you can't read, write, speak, or understand the language. If you're in a bad accident outside your Swahili-dominant neighborhood, you're injured, and you need to talk to the ambulance crew, then guess what? -- that probably ain't gonna happen.

Learn some English.

You don't have to use it all the time, just when you're trying to deal with the rest of us who don't share your language ancestry, many of whom don't speak your language even as a second or foreign one

But by all means -- let's *do* weave all the wonderful, varied strands of our widely varying peoples together in a tapestry richer than its parts.

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A Little Tad of Bangkok News

Called my neighbor last night on the newfangled webcam-with-microphone I bought and got hooked up to Sis' computer last night, and it actually works reasonably well, despite the less than sterling Internet connections, especially on the Bangkok end. She said things have been pretty quiet around there, and that even the Rain Gods haven't been acting up.

Some friend -- Sis wandered in while I was talking to Sweetie Pie, and Sis asked her if she wanted me back, as in "at all," not just in Bangkok -- and that Thai Hussy sure took her sweet time answering!!! ;-)

"Crane" Joe called yesterday and is all raring to go, as he had just booked a ticket to head out for Bangkok this weekend. So he'll have a week to get everything ready for *my* return the following weekend. And said he'd try to catch me for a first welcome-back drink. Looking forward to that, of course.

He told me some thing most of us know, but which merits repeating. When he called yesterday, he had just finished booking his ticket online. He checked a day at a time into the future, and when he hit next Monday, the price leaped from around US$1,200 to about US$1.900 -- a 700-buck whammy, if you can't head out quickly.

But if you do have the flexibility, clearly you can save significantly, at least sometimes. And since just in the last day or two more bad news stories about new or increased fees have been all over, such opportunities will be even more important than they were just a week ago.

Enough for now --

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