Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Speaking with an elderly man in Romania, I asked where the synagogue had been. He couldn’t remember exactly, only that it had been on a side street. He remembered that a few Jews had come back after the war, but sold the synagogue because there were not enough of them. They left for parts unknown. It was bad for everyone, he thought. People wondered whether their families would be taken and killed. More of the Jews were killed, he believed. This struck me as a little distant and unsympathetic. In the West, we regard the Holocaust as one of the pivotal events of the 20th C, debating whether anything can be compared to it. We can afford to do that because we have some distance. To those up close, there is plenty to compare it to: the death of your own wife or son at the same hands. Seeing through this gentile's eyes made the Jewish loss suddenly larger, not smaller. I had now more fully understood the fear and loss of losing a tenth of one’s family to cruel men. From there I could better understand the loss of nine-tenths, which had been unreal before that.
When reading about the Ukrainian soldiers who were given the duty of executing many Jews -- how it was considered a bad job, a difficult job, a draining job, I held the soldiers’ difficulty of no account. They were victimizing, not victims. But in one account a man who had killed several hundred had a sudden apprehension of the next victim, a child, as a real human being, and it shattered him. Reading the story made the single child real for me as well. One death is a tragedy. A thousand deaths is a statistic
So far so good. I have been driving using this theory for 8 years. No squirrels hit. Of course, the day this doesn't work I'm going to feel like crap.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Neither of my older two boys were fighters. Both were backed into it a very few times growing up, but simply avoided most situations that might lead to fighting. That is not 100% possible, as all parents learn. I was much more worried when my third and fourth sons came over four years ago. Both had had to fight often in Casa de Copii in Oradea, especially the younger one. From what we had heard but never seen, both were very capable of hurting people badly if they chose to. We worked a great deal on teaching emotional control and avoiding conflict.
This year the younger boy, now 18, is at a new school. He is short, quiet, and has an accent. A boy in one clss began insulting him, and the others were picking it up. Before he decided to do anything about it, he brought it up to us. We discussed it over several days. Chris made one set of comments that has stuck with me. I will oversimplify, but he described that in a fight, one has to decide what kind of fight you are in. Do you want to win the fight, or just hurt someone? I had not thought of the distinction before.
In an equal fight, with someone your size, experience, or whatever, the goal is to win. But in a fight with someone bigger and stronger, to fight to win and fail leaves you in a worse position than before. Your goal must be to hurt the other person, win or lose. Then he will at least not want to fight you again. This is asymetrical warfare writ small. This principle underlies the actions of terrorists. Ultimately, they do not have to win in the usual sense. They win if the opponent goes away. This is what happened to Saddam in the first Gulf War. No matter how badly he had been beaten, he would gradually acquire victory once we left.
I supported the liberation of Iraq, and still do. But that added dynamic of losing gradually after winning I had not fully considered. It certainly binds us to finishing what we have now. But I understand Colin Powell's caution better.
To take a geographic analogy, Ruhlen is claiming
All roads lead to Rome, or something like Rome.
The other linguists counter
We can only with great effort trace these roads into the next town, and very occasionally, the next country. Roads do tricky things. Sometimes a freeway dwindles down to a cowpath. Sometimes the cowpaths disappear altogether. Roads take unexpected turns and switchbacks. It is fantasy to assert that all roads lead to Rome.
There is not much way around the fact that the mainstream linguists have a very powerful argument here. A lot of intelligence and effort has gone into tracing languages even short distances in time. Ruhlen’s counterclaim that he is using different techniques, that he is flying over the area in a balloon rather than examining the ground, is somewhat effectively countered with the rejoinder “there’s a lot you can only see from the ground.”
Nonetheless, I think Ruhlen’s theory will eventually prove out. The nature of the arguments used by his opponents fall short of objective scientific inquiry in many cases. There are a few good arguments, two of which are noted above. But the bulk of the arguments actually used are not so rational. When smart people resort often to poor arguments, something is up.
Ruhlen’s mentor, Greenberg, proposed a larger grouping of African languages which was similarly rejected when it first came out. That ridiculed theory is now generally accepted. Greenberg proposed a larger grouping of Native American languages that was rejected when it first came out. There is now some grudging acceptance of it as at least possible. The strongest parts of that argument, the recurrent na, ma, for I, you, and tina, tuna, tana for son, daughter, child, have not been adequately refuted. The argument that such coincidences could be accidental, given so many hundreds of languages, is struck down by the inconvenient fact that it has in fact, not happened elsewhere. Third, Greenberg’s grouping of Eurasiatic, tying together Indo-European, Uralic, Semitic, and other families, is frequently countered by a patently stupid argument. Because the Nostraticists clump several families together as a European-Asian group and Greenberg proposes a slightly different grouping, the theory is dismissed because these linguists with highly similar theories cannot exactly agree what the categories should be though the overlap is great. Next, Greenberg and the Nostraticists made mistakes -- precisely the mistakes that a generalist, overview type of scholar would make.
There is one huge new fact, and it is being ignored. True, it was first published in an obscurer journal – Ruhlen is not published in the better ones – but there is not even any curiosity about the claim. I have myself pointed it out to linguists who have dismissed it with no more than “Oh. Ruhlen. I wouldn’t recommend you pay much attention to that.” The new fact is that Kusunda, a Nepalese language previously categorized with the languages near it, is claimed to actually be an Indo-Pacific language. To those of us far away from the area and controversy, this would seem a small claim. But for Kusunda to be related to the languages on Papua New Guinea is not possible given our current understanding of the movements of people. To be related, those peoples would have had to have been in contact at least 50,000 years ago. That is more than 8 times the current greatest time-depth acknowledged for language connections. It is nearly all the way back to the beginning of languages.
Is Kusunda indeed related to the languages in New Guinea? I have not remotely the training in linguistics to tell. Either side could convince me in fifteen minutes. But I find it damning that there is now curiosity.
Next, I will speculate why Ruhlen attracts such hatred.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
So much for the serenity of Eastern cultures.
There is the Goldilocks version of this growing avoidance: That rehab is far. That rehab is too near. No rehab is just right.
For 80"s rockers, there is the Meatloaf version: "I would do anything for rehab," said with firmness and intensity on Monday morning. "But I won't do that," said Tuesday afternoon. It would be one thing if these were people who were suspicious whether rehab does much good, as I am. But this is from the rehab-immersed culture, with spouses, siblings, and friends all familiar with the various advantages and disadvantages of each program.
Believe it or not, wearing clothing with a beer logo on it to your rehab interview is often interpreted by others as an indication that you're not serious. Imagine that.
If someone claims to be clean but has a positive blood or urine sample, multiply the amount they eventually acknowledge using times six to get a more accurate picture.
Ask specifically about marijuana, as many users pretend that's not really a drug.
Heavy drinkers tend not to wear their seat belts when sober, but might wear them when drunk. I don't fully understand this, but there may be some balance of risk involved. Notice that other people's risk does not factor into the equation.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
A clever amateur looks at a controversy among professional linguists, and attempts to determine which side is more reasonable, not from knowledge of linguistics, but knowledge of reasoning.
The proto-World controversy in a nutshell: Merritt Ruhlen, following Joseph Greenberg and some Russian linguists called Nostraticists, believes that the extant languages of the world all derive from an original language, and that we can demonstrate enough connections to observe this. Most other linguists believe that the languages may have derived from an original language, but we are unable to know this because the time-depth is too great to observe reliable connections.
The amount of anger generated over this would be surprising unless one had observed such controversies in one’s own field. Ruhlen’s The Origin of Language is scathing and even rude in his complaints against the linguistic mainstream, which he contends will not give him a fair hearing. The linguistic mainstream, for its part, is seldom dispassionate and judicious in its criticism of Greenberg and especially Ruhlen, preferring to scoff dismissively and knock down straw men rather than answer the challenges.
I am completely unequipped to argue with either group on linguistic grounds. However, it is possible to come to tentative conclusions and take sides on the basis of something I do understand: the nature of reasoning and argument. As with discussions of global warming, alternative medicine, pre-war intelligence, and a dozen other subjects we might encounter, how people argue, what they choose for evidence, and how they respond to challenges to their reasoning reveals a great deal that an intelligent layman can use to decide whose theories are more likely to prove true.Few of us are world-ranked experts in any subject, and none of us are expert in more than a very few. Plate tectonics was rejected and even sneered at early in the 20th C. Even though Wegener, the originator of the theory, has proved right, I could still not successfully argue with those who thought him wrong. I don’t know their subject in depth. But I can observe the type of argument they made, and estimate whether it was founded on reason and data, or on self-interest and closed-mindedness.
So google up some basic information on the topic, and see if you and I agree which side is making the better arguments.
France is most noticeable, because she greets you at the door. She has completely forgotten who you are, but always tells you in strictest confidence about the affairs she had with famous men in her day. You’ve been secretly keeping count. The number is quite high.
The Benelux siblings, two women and a man, seem initially to have a graciousness about them. Only after repeated visits do you realize that they are always complaining about the cook. They won’t admit it’s their digestions that have gone. They don’t like anyone, really, and are always correcting the others’ grammar and manners.
Switzerland and Austria both still dress for dinner, but the cut of Switzerland’s trousers isn’t as sharp over the Depends. People compliment Austria on her jewelry, and are polite enough not to mention that she breaks wind an awful lot.
The pension that Sweden’s husband left for her didn’t turn out to be as much as she thought, but she drinks coffee and gets by, uncomplaining. She doesn't like to mention that the staff at the home are darker than they used to be, and not terribly polite. It worries her.
Germany is the old guy who sits watching TV until you walk by his room. Then he collars you, assuming you must have come to see him, and gives you advice in an irritated tone of voice. He is always complaining that the world is going to hell, and has a variety of people he blames for this. Before you judge him too harshly, however, remember: he's the only one who makes it out during fire drills without a lot of help.
Italy and Spain sit by the window and talk of old times while playing cards. They lie by leaving out the unattractive bits of the stories. Finland quietly reads the paper, waiting for someone to ask his opinion.
Canada and America are 30ish cousins who visit regularly. America is more impatient about receiving advice and starts eying the exits when it starts. She works at some job that makes money, but they can’t figure out what it’s all about. Computers, maybe. Canada politely listens to the advice and then ignores it, agreeing how irritating America is and then doing just about what America does. But with less acrimony, and the old coots are proud of the influence over her they think they wield. She works in some profession the old folks think they recognize the name of, like journalism or chemistry, but they actually have no idea what the hell she does. At least recognizing the name gives them something to talk about. Denmark asks why they never bring the children to visit. Simple. Several of these old codgers scare the pants off children. The tykes get forced into ethnic costume and dragged in at Christmas.
Canada and America never visit at the same time, but they talk on the phone after. They speak in a sort of complex code that communicates criticism of the various residents without actually criticizing.
United Kingdom is semi-retired, and only comes as a visitor. He still makes an undisclosed bit consulting, and talks amiably with the others about old times. He actually has done the interesting things and been to the interesting places he talks about, but doesn’t correct the shameless lies of the others. He flirts gallantly with America and Canada when he meets them in the parking lot; he times his visits to theirs, actually. Even though he is too old for them, the North American cousins are quite fond of him, and find only a whisper of humor in his flirtation. What they wish is that there were men their own age like that.
Ireland is also a visitor, not a resident. She visits old friends out of duty, but manages a sunny disposition. She actually has a sunny disposition, because her ship has finally come in a bit, what with the grandchildren moving back to the neighborhood and fixing things up. But she thinks it would be unkind to rub the others' faces in her good fortune, so she has perfected looking like she's actually distressed but just putting on a good front. She needn't have bothered. The others don't believe the stories that the grandchildren came back anyway - because theirs never do. She avoids her ex-husband United Kingdom, but they run into each other anyway. There is usually some depressing problem they have to discuss about their son Northern Ireland, who because of their constant fighting and eventual divorce, became somewhat of a bitter, violent drunk.
In contrast to Greece, a cheerful, violent drunk older than everyone in the home but still only a visitor. No one knows how he stays healthy with that lifestyle of unhealthy food, too much liquor, and chain-smoking. He also flirts with Canada and America, which they find appalling. After they leave he calls them whores. France winks and thinks she knows how to handle him. Of course, she thought that about Germany and Great Britain, too.
Commenters may feel free to add their own bits to this
Friday, November 25, 2005
Most of those born with the name of Wyman in this country descend from John and Francis Wyman, who settled in Massachusetts in the 1630’s. Almost all 20,000 Puritans who settled Massachusetts arrived in the 1630’s, so no surprise there. The Pilgrims, who came earlier, were different, you unlearned fools. Some of those were also ancestors of this branch of bloggers, but they were not Wymans. They hoped to be, but failed in the attempt, getting only as far as being Whitneys.
A few other American Wymans have come in via name changes, such as anglicizing the Jewish names “Weiman” or “Weissman.” And we say Wylcome. An astute choice on your part. Your job is to upgrade the stock for beauty. Intelligence we’ve got. Find attractive mates. Please.
The Wymans came to America from West Mill, Hertfordshire, England. That’s in East Anglia, the flat area north of London that sticks out into the channel. Just about everyone who invaded in droves came through there – Danes, Saxons, Normans, Jutes, Vikings, plus the occasional Dutchman and just heaps of Angles. East Anglians never complain about having been invaded so much, because they are all, er, the culprits. A Wyman came in with the Angles, though he hadn’t yet learned how to spell Wyman properly.
The Wyman most likely came from the mouth of the Elbe River, near Hamburg, around 350 AD. We are now referring to an ancestor who has contributed approximately one-trillionth of our genetic material, at a generous estimate. This is a person who in all likelihood is an ancestor of all current Europeans as well. The odds that all 60-odd generations of ancestral women were being fully candid about who the father of their child was is quite remote. It may well be that we are the only Caucasian people not descended from this Wyman.
Nonetheless, we got his name and you didn’t, so we can claim him and you have to go pound sand. Or whatever. He was a member of the Harpstedt Culture, which means his tribe survived by fishing, hunting, herding, and growing cereals, unlike everyone else in the world, who survived by hunting, fishing, growing cereals, and herding. They were Germanic long before it was cool, and long before they were anywhere near Germany. (In fact, just as their language was being promoted from Proto-Germanic to Germanic, they left for Angland, so they got to be on the cutting edge of Anglish as well). Earlier, in the Pripet marshes in Eastern Europe, they didn’t know they were Germanic, because they had not yet traveled to the place we think they came from.
Surnames were not much in use, so the ancestral chain which leads from sons to fathers is lost this far back, and this proto-Wyman was likely wandering around the Pripet Marshes, not knowing his full name, before 1000 BC, speaking a Germanic dialect of Indo-European. Darn clever of him, seeing that there was no India, Europe, or Germany then. Alternatively, our ancestor may have merely been overrun by other people from the Pripet Marshes who also didn’t know their surnames. We all overan each other, raping and pillaging ourselves (Try it!) to create the elevated cultural and genetic mix that causes you and me to be the fine folks we are.
Before that we came from the Pontic-Caspian area. Through past-lives regression, I think that we came from the area around the Dneipr River, not the Dneistr River, though it’s hard to tell when you don’t speak the language of your earlier selves. The Don, Donets, and Danube rivers are also possible, as the root D-n just means “river.” Amazingly creative, our people. “We call it The River.” Great name, let’s use it again.