Archive for April, 2007

English Rules


magic_english_logo.jpgSINGAPORE — Riding the crest of globalization and technology, English dominates the world as no language ever has, and some linguists now say it may never be dethroned as the king of languages.

Whoa, a bit grandiose, that King stuff. Didn’t we found this country to get away from that? And who says English is masculine? Why not the “Queen” of languages? Isn’t it the Mother Tongue? These tendencies, toward heirarchial patriarchy and ethnocentric domination, are built into the language and the way Americans use it.

John McWhorter, a linguist at the Manhattan Institute, a research group in New York, and the author of a history of language called “The Power of Babel” was more unequivocal.

“English is dominant in a way that no language has ever been before,” he said. “It is vastly unclear to me what actual mechanism could uproot English given conditions as they are.”

As a new millennium begins, scholars say that about one-fourth of the world’s population can communicate to some degree in English.

And another one-fourth are Chinese.

It is the common language in almost every endeavor, from science to air traffic control to the global jihad, where it is apparently the means of communication between speakers of Arabic and other languages.

It has consolidated its dominance as the language of the Internet, where 80 percent of the world’s electronically stored information is in English, according to David Graddol, a linguist and researcher.

There may be more native speakers of Chinese, Spanish, or Hindi, but it is English they speak when they talk across cultures, and English they teach their children to help them become citizens of an increasingly intertwined world.

This much is true. The revolution in communication technology and the worldwide reach of commercial networks have driven the need for a common tongue, and English is it, by default if not by election or pedigree. Of course, English does have outstanding characteristics which make it well-suited as a world language. It is direct and economical to the point of terseness. It is flexible and absorbent. If another language can say something English can’t – no sweat, we just incorporate the word or expression into English, giving it a broad midlands mispronunciation.

English is the great robber language. We have taken words and expressions from EVERY OTHER LANGUAGE SPOKEN ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH, from Latin to Lativian, from Esperanto to Quechua to Klingon. 40% of our words were stolen directly from French!

If we want to say something that doesn’t Exist in English or any other language, then we just make up a word. Words move into and out of English like clients in a half-hour hotel, and there is no one to tell them they don’t belong. There is no “Royal Academy of English” ruling on acceptability new words and the purity of the language itself. William Safire and Nathanial Webster are the closest we get to official language authorities.

On the other hand, English has its downside as a universal language; fiendishly complicated grammar, the only rule being that every rule has an exception, and a system of spelling seeming designed to reduce phonetically oriented learners to gibbering idiots. Furthermore, linguistic factors alone cannot explain the emergence of English as the dominant world language – American military, economic and cultural hegemongy may have something to do with it as well…..

But unlike Latin and other former common languages, most scholars say English seems to be too widespread and too deeply entrenched to die out. Instead, it will probably survive in some simplified international form — sometimes called Globish or World Standard Spoken English — side by side with its offspring.

Global English already exists in today’s world, and is starting to be studied both as a reaction to and a defense against American domination of globalization. As noted earlier, every language carries coded within itself the priorities, prejustices and power relationships of the culture which developed it. According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis the structure of the language a person speaks determines how they perceive and order the reality around them. In other words, speaking English forces people into an English way of conceptualizing the world and relating to it.

This bothers a lot of people, especially those who don’t see eye to eye with George Bush or American foreign policy. Back in the 1980’s the Dowbrigade was a professor at the National University of Peru during the first Allan Garcia government, a corrupt center-left coalition locked in a death-struggle with a rabid Maoist insurrection. Most of the students majoring in English were young women from conservative, right-wing families. No self-respecting progressive would major in the language of the neo-colonial oppressors. And yet, even the fervent communists realized they needed the language itself.

As a result, Global English is being studied, and could be modified, to minimize the American cultural influence and make it more value neutral. It will be interesting, in this light, to see what dialect of English evolves and emerges as dominant in the New China rising in Asia.

The teaching of English has become a multibillion-dollar industry, and according to Graddol, nearly one-third of the world’s population will soon be studying English.

So that’s why we are enmeshed in the field, for the big bucks. We are lying in wait for our share of those billions, ready to lend our talent, experience and polished Ivy resume to any well-laid scheme to get a piece of that pie.

artocle from the International Herald Tribune

C.O.D. Future Fashion


Comic of the Day


Thumbs On the Scales of Justice


thumbsup.jpgWASHINGTON — More than a year before the Bush administration has said it first considered firing US attorneys, a top Justice Department official asked lawyers to determine how the administration could temporarily fill vacant US attorney positions with appointees who had not been confirmed by the Senate.

In a September 2003 memo, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which answers legal questions for the president and his appointees, described a way to install a replacement US attorney who could serve up to 330 days without Senate confirmation.

But the memo also said that any appointee would eventually still have to win confirmation from the Senate or be approved by a federal court to continue serving. Two years later, the administration quietly got a provision inserted into the USA Patriot Act reauthorization bill giving itself the power to permanently appoint replacement US attorneys without Senate or court approval.

from the Boston Globe

This might be the hook this story needs to grow some legs. The mass firings of 8 Federal Prosecutors has been a hard sell to the American public, mostly because they “serve at the pleasure of the President” which in the popular mind means he can fire them whenever he wants. It is difficult for most folks to conceptualize in a few sound bites or column inches in the Metro the difference between the customary dismissal of prosecutors at the end of a president’s term and the politically motivated dismissals which oozed out of the back corridors of the White House and infected the Justice Department.

But everybody understands the separation of powers and the checks and balances built into the American political system, at least everybody who usually votes. They are taught repeatedly from 4th grade to high school to the citizenship exam. The quietly inserted provision in the Patriot Act designed to subvert this is precisely the kind of sneaky fascist chicanery undermining the bedrock principles of American democracy that could capture the national imagination and spark a wave of righteous indignation against the regieme.

It may not be enough to jump start the impeachment movement all by itself, but it could get the ball moving in the right direction.

People Disappearing Like Bees


Anti-WifiladyNo, she’s NOT a beekeeper. This woman believes that her bizarre headgear can save her from the dangerous electrosmog all around us. Can she possibly be right?

Before knocking on Sarah Dacre’s door, I take the precaution of checking my mobile phone. It’s switched off, as she has requested.

Sarah, 51, is one of a growing band of people who claim to be experiencing extreme – and incapacitating – sensitivity to electrical appliances, as well as to certain frequencies of electromagnetic waves.

“Wi-Fi, or wireless broadband networks, seem to be the worst thing,” she says.

from the Daily Mail

Is it just a coincidence that this get up resembles nothing so much as a beekeeper’s headgear at a time when ALL OUR BEES ARE MISSING. And why are the bees missing? Because of the VERY SAME electromagnetic waves the brain protector is designed to protect you from! Maybe we will have to design little tiny versions of this protective netting for the bees to wear!

Bus seriously, the Dowbrigade thinks this is a habit that could catch on. Something like a new age Hijab, the controversial, cutting edge Muslim women’s head covering. The word Hijab comes from the Arabic word “hajaba” meaning to hide from view or conceal. It could also mean “protect”. With echoes of the Western bridal veil, and the ever-attractive nurse’s mask, we can see a whole new world of head-swathing high fashion.

This should be a time when fashion follows function. Some sort of protection from all of that electromagnetic radiation is urgently needed. We weren’t designed to be bombarded with microwaves, wifi, radio, phone, television frequencies, not to mention x-rays, intense magnetic fields, power transmission bleedoff, gamma rays and whatever they’re using in airports these days.

We fear that without products like this protective mesh, humans will soon be dropping like bees, driving around with no sense of direction, unable to find their way back to the hive or find food, eventually dying in their cars one by one, never to be heard from again.

The Dowbrigade will try to find out if this form of self-preservation is commercially available. If it isn’t, we suspect it will be soon. What did the beekeepers know that the rest of us didn’t?

Cannabis Capitalism Comes Out of the Closet


closetqWASHINGTON (Reuters) – The marijuana being sold across the United States is stronger than ever, which could explain a growing number of medical emergencies that involve the drug, government drug experts on Wednesday.

Analysis of seized samples of marijuana and hashish showed that more of the cannabis on the market is of the strongest grade, the White House and National Institute for Drug Abuse said.

They cited data from the University of Mississippi’s Marijuana Potency Project showing the average levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in the products rose from 7 percent in 2003 to 8.5 percent in 2006.

The level had risen steadily from 3.5 percent in 1988.

from Reuters

This has been a regular recurring story now for going on 20 years, which can be scientifically confirmed by independent researchers around the country, including (full disclosure) several associated with the Dowbrigade Research and Development Department (DRDD). Let’s go to the archives.

During the initial invasion of pot-smoking hippies in the late 60’s and early 70’s, most of the marijuana was local scrub weed, gone to seed and poorly cured. In the rich American loam the variety of cannabis (hemp) grown extensively throughout the mid-West during WWII for making strong, durable rope, grows to monstrous proportions. Specimens have been seen over 20 feet high and as thick around at the stump as a telephone pole. Smoking this variety of pot, with a THC level of about 0.5% had little effect unless large quantities were consumed, in which case a wicked headache could be achieved.

During this period the “primo” pot on the street was driven up from Mexico, and weighed in at about 2.5% THC.

The 1970’s was the heyday of “commercial Colombian”, grown by the first of the grand Colombian Cartels, on huge, well-protected plantations by the ton, shipped to the US aboard a network of phantom freighters and ferried ashore by sleek cigarette boats that could out-run anything the Coast Guard could put in the water. It was undistinguished but strong, tipping the scales at about 3% THC.

In the 1980’s the continued growth in numbers, affluence and sophistication of marijuana consumers led to the development of higher-quality, outdoor domestic production, primarily in isolated areas of Texas and the Pacific northwest. The seed stock was gathered by itinerant world travelers in cultures where cannabis cultivation was a time-honored tradition.

In these cultures programmed interbreeding, stem splicing (a primitive form of genetic manipulation) and closely controlled growing conditions had produced super-active strains many generations old, which reached THC concentrations of 5 or 6%. This is a process of guided natural selection somewhat akin to evolution, in this case producing a much more potent product.

From Colombia, Panama, Afghanistan, Thailand, and Nepal came the seeds, tiny arks of arcane knowledge, to our shores, where they were transformed by modern techniques of manipulated plant genetics and American ingenuity into the multi-billion dollar domestic marijuana industry which is meeting the demands of discerning consumers today.

By the 90’s most domestic production had moved indoors, and sales of hydroponic potting beds, grow-lux lighting arrays and high-nutrient liquid growing medium skyrocketed. Current crops can have THC levels of 8-10%.

Local police and DEA agents have started to search for these grow houses by reviewing secondary evidence of the operations; receipts for lights and plant food, ridiculously high electrical bills in seemingly unoccupied properties, banks of lights seen to go on and off in unison at regular intervals, even the infra-red heat signature of the house itself, as measured by heat-sensitive instruments in unmarked cars or even helicopters.

This tendency has resulted in several interesting court cases questioning whether training sophisticated electronic detectors on a house without a search warrant constituted an unconstitutional search, and therefore makes any subsequent seizure inadmissible. In California v. McGillicutty…..but we digress. What was the topic, anyway? Oh yeah, the increasing potency of street weed in the US.

Although it surely doesn’t figure in the University of Mississippi study, one prime result of the increase is that millions of dope fiends are smoking less and enjoying it more.

Stay Away From the Chips


poyokoAfter years of applying for every exotic posting, niche program, foreign conference and off-shore exchange related to our professional position, the Major Boston University where the Dowbrigade has been gainfully employed since ’88 (a good year), despite our reputation as a brilliant but eccentric loose cannon we are finally getting to go somewhere.

In July, just in time for Wimbledon, the Dowbrigade will be traveling to exotic London, of all places, to teach the basics of the American Legal System, of all things.

It has been 36 years since we have been to the Olde Cuntry. The last time we were there we were busted for smoking a chillum huddled under an azalea bush in the Queens Garden across from Buckingham Palace while waiting for the changing of the guard, and given 48 hours to leave the country.

Which we did. We guess we’ll find out if the Bobbie who told us to do so and with a straight face wrote down our passport numbers in his little, leather-bound black book managed to get the information into our “permanent file”.

Hopefully, some things have changed in the last 36 years, both in Merry Olde England and in the personal habits of the Dowbrigade, but not too much. We envision erudite intellectual morning discourse on topics like Habeas Corpus, Res Juridica, and Sanjaya Malakar, rousing afternoon mixed doubles with a smashing (on court and off) heiress with the demeanor of Anne Robinson (the Queen of Mean), and evenings spent in tweedy smoke-filled pubs chatting up marvelously accented locals with tales of Yankee daring do.

Accordingly, we have been monitoring news about all things British, specifically in the areas in which we will be spending time, so as to be prepared for whatever we may encounter. Unfortunately, yesterday we came across the following item:

A man burst into a busy central London restaurant and chopped off his own penis with a knife in front of horrified diners, police and reports said today.

The man – identified by the Sun as a 35-year-old Polish national – ran into Zizzi, in the Strand, at 9pm on Sunday.

“This guy came running in then charged into the kitchen, got a massive knife and started waving it about,” Stuart McMahon, who was eating at the restaurant with his girlfriend, told the paper. “Everyone was screaming and running out as he jumped on a table, dropped his trousers and popped his penis out. Then he cut it off. I couldn’t believe it.”

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said a man aged between 30 and 40 was the only person hurt in the incident, and that his injuries were self-inflicted.

He was taken to hospital, where his condition was described as stable.

From the Guardian Unlimited

We’ve been warned about London restaurants. Luckily, our flat comes with a kitchen……

Stumpy Still Has a Leg Up


A duck who became famous after he was born with four legs has lost one of his extra limbs. 938652.jpgStumpy was born at Warrawee Duck Farm, Hampshire, in February, with an extra set of legs behind the two he moves on.

His owner Nicky Janaway, who was amazed Stumpy had thrived into adulthood, said he caught one of his extra legs, which stuck out, in his pen’s fencing.

But she said it was a plus for Stumpy as, without the flailing leg, the duck could now safely roam the whole farm.

Mrs Janaway said: “He’s now only got three legs and a stump which means he’s Stumpy by name and stumpy by nature.

from the bbc

Virgin Sacrifice in IT Sector


geeksexA Dutch escort agency is launching a special virgin service for computer geeks.

Sociology student Zoe Vialet, who set up Society Service last year, says she has had a lot of demand from virgins.

She says most of them work in the IT sector and added: “They are very sweet but are afraid of seeking contact with other people. They mean it very well but are very scared.

“Every booking lasts three hours minimum. Longer is possible, shorter not. We take the time to take a bath together, do a massage and explore each others body.

“When the date is over, you will have had a fantastic experience, and you will be able to pleasure a woman.”

Zoe and her colleague Marieke have specially trained five girls to look after the needs of virgins, reports De Telegraaf.

She added: “You better practise before having a girlfriend. Woman expect men older than 30 having had some experience.

“Some men need a little bit of help. But it makes them happy and they are glowing .There is nothing more terrible than dying as a virgin.”

from Ananova

As if the feng shui requirements of the Wari civilization in pre-Columbian Peru weren’t terrible enough! The Wari were wont to sacrifice a dozen young virgins when breaking ground on new construction, burying them at strategic points beneath walls, columns and spiritually significant areas. They would even sacrifice three or four when they were just renovating a room, which was quite often, since their buildings were built on top of ruins of previous generations of the same culture, often eight or ten successive layers which archeologists have sifted through and catalogued, each with its quota of dead virgins meticulously murdered and buried in auspicious locations and positions

One would think that living, working, eating and sleeping among so many dead virgins would be spooky and odiferous, not to mention unhygienic, but the Wari were masters of mummification and the climate in costal Peru is hot and extremely dry, so it wasn’t a problem.

As to the Dutch escort agency, we wonder if they are offering franchise deals to area agents. If so, we want to wrap up Cambridge, Mass. as our personal territory. We could probably run a shuttle out of Logan….

BU Student Gamer Crosses the Line


lgvt.jpegA part-time Boston University student who hosts a popular video game review show on an MTV Web site allegedly sent an e-mail threatening to kill an ex-girlfriend and recreate the Virginia Tech bloodshed at her school, according to a Boston police report obtained by the Herald.

“(I)’m gonna (expletive) bring a gun to your school and kill you and K (another female student) and everybody you love. It’s gonna be VT all over again,” 20-year-old Andrew Rosenblum allegedly wrote in an e-mail to the victim just hours after 32 people were gunned at Virginia Tech.

“Seriously I’m just that demented,” Rosenblum wrote, according to a BPD report. He ended the message with a threat to commit homicide and suicide: “killing people can change people’s lives forever. (T)he best is in the end when I pull the trigger on myself, too.”

from the Boston Herald

Another hit to the image of both Boston University and the gaming community, as well as another reminder that while the human body is a remarkably robust and resilient organism, the human psyche can be incredibly delicate, and when suffering from catastrophic meltdown, incredibly dangerous.

Much discussion has been heard of gun control, early warning signs and emergency response systems. But to the Dowbrigade, these are all peripheral issues. Sure, without semi-automatic handguns and hollow point bullets it would be harder to kill 30 people in a few minutes. If a Neolithic proto-human went berserk in a cave 30,000 years ago, he probably could have taken out but 3 or 4 folks before going down or running out of juice.

On the other hand, suppose this incident had taken place in Japan, where guns are largely unavailable. Armed with a quality katana, a well-trained martial arts expert could probably kill that many people without resorting to a firearm. Hell, Uma Thurman killed the entire Crazy 88 with a samurai sword in ONE SCENE in Kill Bill (vol.1). The problem isn’t weapons.

The problem is that the human psyche, which evolved over tens of thousands of generations while we wandered around the savanna chasing animals and rooting for grubs and berries is not always up to the incredible pressures and distortions caused by our unnatural modern life. The effects of urbanization, mass culture and especially technology on daily life, in a certain small but significant percentage of the population, produce not a shutdown or paralytic breakdown, but a deadly explosion, a human hybrid of a suicide bomber and IED.

Don’t misunderstand us – the Dowbrigade is a big fan of technology and the rush of post-modern culture. We adore advertising. We see beauty in buzz. But we have achieved this transcendent perspective only after years of intensive auto-psycho-(delic) therapy, and recognize that these are influences we were not innately inured to. Others proved less resistant. We have seen the finest minds of our generation crash and burn.

The human mind is the most powerful instrument in the history of the planet, and when it implodes the results can be spectacular. The problem is exacerbated by psycho-pharmaceuticals which mask the problem without fixing it, often for years, creating these walking time bombs just waiting to be activated by going off their meds or fixating on a psychic trigger.

Is there a solution short of sending everybody home and throwing civilization into reverse? Maybe making different lifestyles available to more people by recognizing that different people can contribute in different ways, and life in the fast lane isn’t for everyone. Maybe by making an effort to find our moral compass, and reaching a consensus on what living in a post-industrial democracy entails, and requires, and makes possible.

Not easy tasks. But we are afraid that unless we at least start down that past, these incidents will happen again and again, until they touch every life in America.

Stoned Ponies Open for Rolling Stones


drinkyhorseA troupe of performing horses are to be given sedatives to help them cope with a Rolling Stones gig.

The horses will be in the stadium for the Stones concert at the Hippodrome in the Serbian capital Belgrade on July 14.

The animals live at the stadium where they make regular performances for locals, and managers at the stadium say they have no other place to move them before the concert, so they will have to stay.

Hippodrome director Jovanka Prelic said: “We are not too worried, although it is not ideal, but they survived NATO bombings so I guess they will survive the Rolling Stones, and in any case, we will give them drugs to make sure they do not get too upset.”

from Ananova

Blogging in the Boston Globe


blogginng.jpgTwo front page stories on blogging today; the first page of the Metro/Region is a story about how many major American universities are using blogs in the admissions process, encouraging, promoting, and even paying students, professors and administrators to “tell it like it is” through blogs. And the front page page of Business section titled “Blogging for Dollars” echoed the theme of enumerated blogging and quoted extensively Berkman’s own uber-blogger, David Weinberger, and Boston blogfly Adam Gaffen. Excerpts below:

From the college blog story: “Eager to forge stronger connections with prospective students and parents, MIT and other universities in the last two years have been starting blogs and recruiting undergraduate bloggers. Blogging has become one of the hottest trends in college admissions.”

The article reports that MIT is actually paying undergraduates $10 an hour to blog, and featuring the results on the Admissions web page! Wonder what the professors and administrators are getting. Somehow the Major Boston University where the Dowbrigade teaches has neglected to offer us any cash or perks for our own blogging pearls of wisdom. In fact, they have forced us to sign a blood oath NOT to mention the institution itself by name, any students, colleagues or administrators, any incidents true or invented taking place at or in any way connected to the university, or any thoughts, feelings or conjectures involving any of the above. Maybe we should call the Globe.

From the “Blogging for Dollars” story: “As a few star bloggers have made six-figure salaries or million-dollar deals off blogs, more and more people have been tantalized by the prospect of making money online — even though the vast majority of the blogs are little more than online diaries.

Still, Barry Parr, analyst at Jupiter Research calls the blog ad market “a rounding error” in the total advertising budgets.

“Like anything else, you’ve got a pretty steep curve,” Parr said. “There are a small number of incredibly successful bloggers, and it drops off pretty quickly.””

The Dowbrigade has long ago given up on making any money off of our blogging. For one thing, it would sully the artistic purity of the act of blogging. For another, we have tried all of the popular paradigms – joining a group or guild of bloggers, attracting theme-based advertisers, prominently mentioning certain products or people in our postings, photos and links, promising to NEVER mention certain products or people in our postings, photos and links – and none of them worked.
However, we are nothing if not flexible, and are always willing to admit new possibilities. All offers will be considered…

Cell Phone Use Killing Missing Bees


It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world’s harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world – the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe – was beginning to hit Britain as well.

from the Independent of London

The neo-Luddites who rabidly oppose cell phone use (funded, no doubt, by the last of the state-monopoly land-line phone companies’ dinosaur death throes) have paraded a variety of flimsy, pseudo-scientific scenarios in front of a gullible public: cell phones are causing an epidemic of auto accidents; cell phones are causing brain cancer; cell phones are contributing to the spread of pre-teen promiscuity by facilitating “hook-ups”; cell phones are a hazard to public safety and national security.

Now this nefarious cabal has raised the ante. They are claiming that cell phone use by bees is threatening the survival of human civilization by endangering agriculture.  Without our trusty bees to pollinate plants, trees and flowers, they aver, human agriculture would collapse.  Men and women would have to revert to pre-agricultural survival patterns, migrating behind packs of wild dogs and gathering roots, nuts and berries.  What tommyrot!

Obviously, the answer is to outlaw cell phone use by bees in flight.  Worker bees especially should be prohibited from using cell phones while on the clock.  Some would argue that the government should ban all sales of cell phones to bees, period. But please, enough with the doomsday scare tactics.