The optimal time to learn a second language is when one is very young. When I was in grade school, my sister started French in the third grade (late to start, but not too late). When I arrived in the third grade a few years later, foreign language instruction was moved to seventh grade. When I started seventh grade, it was moved to eighth grade. Finally, in eighth grade, I got my first year of a foreign language.
My sister has a real facility with languages. She can speak French and Spanish, and has picked up quite a bit of Vietnamese from her students (she's a teacher). I, on the other hand, have always had great difficulty learning languages. I have never picked up a language with ease, despite being immersed in one for a year, and despite living in a bilingual household.
American schools should begin foreign language instruction in the first grade, third grade at the latest. That they have gone in the opposite direction with little complaint does show a deep-seated American cultural bias against learning foreign languages.
Reading Gertrude Himmelfarb on the French and British enlightenments leaves me soured. Not at her, but at just how mixed the French- a metaphor for the Contiental enlightenments- have been for the rest of Europe. Worse, is the unexplainable jealousy that sometimes rises within me that the the British and Americans have by and large been damned fortunate with their Enlightenment while Europe just careened into the abyss with theirs.
I pointed out in a comment to Iain's original link (the comments are off line at the moment) that if the 'enlightened' monarchs of the Catholic kingdoms hadn't suppressed the Jesuits, the Continental englightenments wouldn't have gone off the deep edge and embrace utopianism with its abominal desire to remake a 'new mankind.' The French revolution would've been less violent, bloody, far less anticlerical and there wouldn't've been a French republic and the left certainly wouldn't have the monopoly of legitimacy it's usurped since 1793.
Unfortunately, that's not what happened and we're like Noah, we can't emerge from ark after the flood and pretend that nothing happened.
It's article like Himmerfarb's that cause me to despair, sometimes, in disgust at what a waste the Continental englightenments were. They've could been as contributory as the English and American but weren't.
...[L] crise de la pensée outre-Atlantique résulte d'un curieuxeffet pervers: je veux dire que l'universailté même de la langue angalise se mt à engendrer la provincilsation de la haute culture américaine. L'avantage de rencontrer partout dans le monde des interlocteurs qui parlent leur langue donne aux intéllectuels américains l'illusion d'être informés de tout ce qui se passe sur la palnète. Mais, en fait, cet avantage se retourne contre eux et les isole des courants mondiaux. Ils n'entrent en contact qu'avec une mince péllicule d'anglophone qui «résument» pour eux quelques généralités conventionnelles. Ils n'atteignent pas à la familiarité, à l'intimité, à la connaissance intuitive et concrète que seule confère la capacité de lire un autreculture «dans le texte» , de l'entrende parler de s'imprégner de sa sonorité.
[p 535; Jean-Francois Revel: "Le péril supreme" in Obre des siècles (Paris: Librarie Arthème Fayard coll. Pocket (1999)]
It's not just the intellectuals, it's other Americans too that are affected by the global dominance in English. In fact American society doesn't really encourage learning a second language. Advocates like Robert Unz and journalists like Jeff Jacoby decry bilingualism in American life and proposition that immigrants must learn English. I don't contest that requirement;what I do disagree is that learning English is a zero sum game: that the immigrant must give up his mother tongue.
Unfortunately since Sept 11, it turns out that America really does need citizens who are fluent in a second language.
Prof Glenn's comments on Suman's experiences with the FBI and blasts that law enforcement entity and the CIA for their prissiness with respect to potential security risks over smoking marijauana or being associated with 'dubious' elements. I haven't read of any outcries by the American public over the FBI and CIA's dearth of polyglot analysts.
The erosion of foreign language teaching is particularly egregious in the institute of higher education. Martin Kramr is particularly scathing with respect to Mideastern studies I find it scandlous that students who will devote their careers to studying various either don't know the language(s) or aren't as fluid as they should be. Again I hear no outcries from American public outraged at how vast sums of public money go to universities that don't even bother to teach students the necessary language skills for their degrees.
The discouragement by American society to learn foreign language and teh eagerness by the rest of the world to learn English has the unintended effect of giving disincentives for Americans. Worse is that the disinterest leads many of its citizens to refer to stereotypes and prejudice when dealing with the broader world. Nowhere has this been clearer than with the American bloggers and their commentators. In fact I've intervened in some comment sections and pleaded with the commentators and bloggers not to succumb to jingoism. At time, I became so fed up with the gratuitious references Europeans as anti-Semite, anti-Western, American hating appeasers that I wrote an sharp article blasting the lemming like goose stepping mentality found amongst some ofthe American. (By the way Solly, I still find 30% of Europeans as anti-Semites rather high)
We must acknowledge that the deep divisions and tensions between Europe and America since 11 September constitues a strategic victory by Al Qua'ida. The Islamists see no difference between the two but are estatic at the split as it'll facilitate their strategy of divide and conquer. Europe and America has more in common than differences; despite the wishful thinking of some for the Anglopshere to break away and become its own civilizational fragment, the fact remains that the Anglopshere is very much a part of Western civilization as the Germans and French. No amount of bitching will change that central fact.
John and Antonio point out that I fell into a fallacy. Perhaps but so did they. Their fallacy is to argue that because certain untranslatable foreign words have made it into English, that suffices. It doesn't as I've already made clear above. The second fallacy is to presume that all important books and ideas are translated into English. That's not the case as Revel points out:
Il y a vingt ans, on récontrait dans les grandes maison d'éditions américanes des hommes et des femmes polyglottes à la culture authentiquement cosmopolite. Aujourd'hui, il n'est pas rare que personne ne soit pas capable chez un éditeur de lire une seule langue étrangère. La maison demande alors des rapports de lecture sur les livres non anglais à des professeurs qui connaissent lalangue originale mais ne sont pas plus éditeurs qu'un directeur de cinématique n'est un producteur de films[ibid p 535]
Revel draws the logical conclusions:
La majorité des intellectuels américains n'ont qu'une connaissance schématique et superficielle de ce qui ce pase et se pense hors de chez eux. Le grands débats d'idées moderne, le débat compétent, imaginatif, innovateur et international, c'est en Europe et en Amérique latine,de nos jours qu'il se déroule. Y compris à la télévision! Car l'Europe bat de loin l'Amérique dans le domaine des émissions culturelles et du débat télévisé de haut niveau [ibid p 536]
One of the biggest mistakes the mainstream America TV networks did in the aftermath of the Gulf War was to cut drastically their foreign news coverage. For 10 years, Americans were fed a diet of O.J. all the time, the Mendendez brothers and the trivial details of politicians and celebrities' lives. America may have taken a well-deserved holiday from the Cold war, as Krauthamer elegantly stated, but that didn't mean that the world accomodated America while it holidayed
Ismail Royer se pregunta por qué los EE UU no se asenten y buscan una manera a convivir con los musulmanes Discuplame Ismail pero no has preguntado correctamente la problemática. Es más bien el contrario: ¿por qué los musulmanes demuestran tanta dificultad a convivir en un mundo no-musulman?
En hecho, siempre es la misma cantrilla con los musulmanes. Se quejan que el mundo no les entiende, es ignorante etc etc. Tal vez; pero tampoco se puede cerrar los ojos a estas situaciones tal como: las sentencias de muerte a las adulteras en Nigería o las matanzas con impunidad de los cristanos en sus iglesias u ofícinas; las conversiones forzades de los no-musulmanes en Indonesía o al Súdan.
En todas la índices sobre el desarrollo, educación, innovación, analfabétismo, sanidad, el mundo islamico se enceuntra a los bajos de las lístas. La razón es que partes del mundo islámico, sobtretodo al sector árabe, se han cerrado de toda influencía extranjera. Esta decisión ha conducido la región en un estéril callejón sin salida. Es absolutamente asombroso a leer que en una región que cuenta unos 200 milliones de habitantes producen el mismo PDB que Finlandía con una populación de 5 miliones si se excluye el petrólo.
Sin embargo es más fàcil echar la culpa a los demás que interrogarse las razones por su decaída espectácular en todo ambiento con que se medie una civilización
Roger Fontaine is incorrect when he asserts that outside of Latin America its literature isn't readily grasped It's America that doesn't quite understand it; the rest of the world does and appreciate it much more readily.
With respect to magical realism and its Brazilian counterpart o realismo marvahaloso, it's not dervative of European culture and if it was; so what? American culture and literature wasn't impressive until the late 19th century and slavishly imitated British, French and German cultural genres. Do those influences diminish in any way Amrican cultural contributions? No of course not; quite the contrary.
It's precisely because Latin America from the late 19th century until the 1940s, it slavishly copied from Europe and America. However, it was precisely in the 50s with the first boom literaría that Latin American authours and cultures demonstrated an astonishing originality primarily through magical realism. In fact since the 50s, the Latin American authours no longer take their cues from Europe precisely thanks to the originality of Márquez García, Carptienter, Borges, Vargas Llosa, Mistral, Delibes, Reyes, etc.
Fontaine's criticism of magical realism is totally misplaced. He can criticize it on esthetic grounds but to turn around and transform the critique on ideological grounds is ludicrous. That the Left has failed in Latin America is quite obvious; so has the Right. Latin America's problem is that it's wanted to imitate every European and Amrican intellectual, political, ideological fad rather than being true to its political and cultural heritage. Spain and Portugual weren't all that terrible as colonial and imperial powers.
Just before I comment about the flag controversy, I want to simply explain to the non-Spanish readers what the fight is about. One of the acts of 'patriotism' in Spain is hommage to the [Spanish] flag (homenaje de la bandera) The problem with this civic act is that that the Catalans, Basques and Gallegos view it as means to deny the multi-state/multilingual reality of Spain and the ceremony is one of those cringing and nauseating affairs on who gets to wax the most lyrical over one's love affair with the Spanish flag.
Recently, Aznar- Spain's prime minister- decides that each month there'll be an hommage to the flag. This at moment when the central government has decided to intepret the Constitution of '78 very restrictively culimating in delaying as long as possible the transfer of competencies (juridictions) from the central to the Basque government under article 150 or 153 of the Constitution. Also, the government with the support of the Socialist party has been rather clumsy in illegalizing Batasuna- ETA's poltical façade.
What does this have to do with Catalunya? Well the same sort of strategy is being applied to Catalunya. I could mention the controversy of the national government's refusal to return the archives of the Generalitat of the Second Republic for purely spurious reasons. To me, there's a concerted effort, bordering on obsession, to reduce the regional nationalities to purely folkloric quaintness. Neither the PP or the Socialist have ever learnt that every time Spain apes French centralism, the results are catastrophic. Spain does better when the nationalities are left alone and allowed to flourish. I'm constantly surprised that the Spanish right, so enamoured by the Siglo de Oro have failed to grasp the Casa de Asutria's asuteness on this matter.
With respect to the Catalan flag, as John and Antonio explain, the official Catalan flag is the senyera (from LATIN: signilium) Strictu sensu in Catalan the word bandera refers specifically to the Spanish flag (and by extension other countries' flags)but never to the Catalan one. As for the other flags, I'm more familiar with one with the red triangle. From what I've been told that one supposedly comes from the Cuban flag. Very few Americans know that the Catalans settled in Cuba and were quite entrepreneurial (Barcardí the rum maker is a very Catalan name); lots made their fortunes and came home. My maternal great, great granddad was an americano, as they were called, and made his fortune which my great grandad gambled away. Like any war, some Catalans fought with the rebels; other's with the colonial government.
Many thanks to John and Antonio for their plug to my site. Long before I had my blog, I would read John and Antonio. I enjoyed perusing their posts even as I totally disagreed with the majority of their positions. That's because within the context of Spanish/Catalan politics, I oppose both national parties and view their Catalan subsidaries as nothing but Trojan horses who've never really accepted the Estats de les autonòmies in the Constutution of '78. So whatever disagreements John, Antonio and myself have with each other's position, they're are bound to lively but good-natured as well.
Let me clarify an important point, I don't live in Spain but I have enough family there, I faithfully download and print out the Thursday (for the supplement cultural) the Saturday and Sunday editions of the Avui and am sufficently fluent in both Catalan and Spanish that I might as well be there.
I'm somewhat skeptical, but I think that for now, I'm the only (semi) Catalan blogger of the blogsphere. One of my goals- which will cause John and Antonio to roll their eyes- is to normalize Catalan in the blogopshere. Mind you, unlike my cousins, I never formally learnt Catalan in school. My parents spoke Catalan at home and we were rather fortunate that our neighbourhood had 2 other Catalan families. Also when I visited my grandparents and the rest of the parentat that also stimulated knowing Catalan. However, with respect to reading and writing, I'm mostly self-taught. I didn't read Catalan until I was 16 and begin writing it until 19. I'm comfortable writing Catalan but not competent. I'm disappointed but undeterred.
It's great that the Generalitat and the rest of the Catalan state provide all these cool resources, links, help and encouragement; though in the end it's really up to the Catalans and their descendants from the diaspora to use Catalan as naturally as any any other language
Contrary to many sci-fi fans, I find early American colonization from 1607-1789 frankly unimpressive and I'm even more unsympathetic to America's second colonial period: that of the settlement of the west in the post-civil war period. If one reflects, we have Dissident religious denominations leaving England to the northern part of the New World to found theocracies... Let's not forget that the Dissidents, the generic umbrella name I give to the Protestant sects that opposed Anglicism, wanted to establish a New Jerusalem and to be a city on the hill.
Nor should we forget that New Jerusalem was opposed by New England i.e. the Establishment's colonization of the same space. Consequently, the formative years of the American colonies were wracked by the socio-religious conflicts between those that left England to be free of any authourity that was external to the denomination and those who desired to transplant England in the New world.
The post civil war expansion of the frontier states recreated the early colonial experience between as the settlers moved westward to settle that vast area.
These formative periods of American history shape how Whedon treats the notion of justice in his show.
Suman's practically breathless towards Firefly-as-the-frontier with its rough justice and extreme individualism. In fact, he's practically euphoric at an episode, when Maclaren pushes a reclacitrant stowaway into the engine intake because he threatened the crew. The viewers are to be impressed by this dispensation of retribution? On the contrary, for myself it offends my Augustinian principles of peace as ordered tranquility
Indeed, my reaction was how was Maclaren's action any different from the Latin American death squads, guerillas or unidades de autodefensa? One possible interpretation is that the death sqauds, guerillas and self-defense units are pathologies of a polity whose legitimacy derives from an extant state and its monopoly in dispensing justice. Consequently to challenge that administration of justice is either to capture the state or to create a parallel state apparatus that will dispense justice in a manner that delegitimizes the other. By contrast, an individual taking the law in his own hands is merely a temporary situation to right a wrong in the absence of rightful authourity.
Perhaps, but individiuals are, at times, the least reliable judges to right wrongs. Maclaren was the least competent to have put to death the stowaway. Maclaren is a nilist with a bitterness that he represses with heroic self-control. A bitterness that's lead him to live on the edge of space between civilized life and the wilderness ever since he lost his original livelihood by fighting on the losing side of a war. He's conflicted between the relative peace of the former and the appealing freedom to live as one pleases in the latter. Eventually, if Whedon doesn't develops teh charcter logically, Maclaren will succumb to a Freikorp type organization seducing him with an illusionary hope of ordered tranquility
Space won't be colonized solely by private enterprise nor will entrepreneurship be necessarily rewarded. The state is neither a friend nor an enemy but a necessary institution in human affairs
It's precisely this enduring theme with American sci-fi that turns me off: the plucky band of individualistic partners owing allegiance to no one but themselves and have no need of any kind of authourity because they self suffice.
I no more want private enterprise to monopolize space colonization any more than the state. I suspect that given the complexity of the undertaking, there will be situations that will be reminiscent of the Spanish, French, Portuguese and Russian colonizations as well as private initiatives à la early British colonization or even joint private/public ventures
In any case, I'll be impressed the day when some American sci-fi writer/producer reimagines the Spanish, Portuguese, French or Russian colonial periods with the same sympathetic passion as the American. Why? Richard Morse explains that:
Many think of the Spanish colonization of America as the work of free-acting conqusitadores and their followers avid for products of soil and subsoil, in particular gold and silver, and for servile labour to be used by extracting them. Others, who applaud the individualism of the self-reliant settlements of Anglo America, criticize Spain for having stifled colonial development with statism, bureaucracy and discrimination against the early settlers....[T]he conquistador was not a free entrepreneur under a private contract. He was under teh continuing obligations to ask the crown for privileges, such as grants of Indian labor. His contract (capitulación) linked freely assembling social forces with the power of the stat, converting them to political elements. The state then was a colonizing state (estado populador), operating through laws customs and judicial and administrative decisions. Grants of soil and subsoil were founded in royal concession, not in private law. Colonization implied the organizing of civil and ecclestiastical jurisdictions and hierarchies; a regime of defense, taxation and tribute; and systems of schools and universities. Not only did economic life and claims to land have their origins in the state but the whole colonizing process was conceived as having the 'civilizing' function of transmitting Western Christian culture[pp 95-96:"Claims of political tradition" in Richard M Morse: New World Sounding: culture and ideologies in the Americas]
How fascinating for a writer to cover such a vast, varied and alternative subject matter! Reintepreting Spanish, French, Portuguese and Russian colonialism would be a most welcome change of pace from yet another reinterpretation of the American wild west.
I'll give Whedon credit for neither ignorning religion completely nor showing too much hostility towards it. Nonetheless, I'm somehwat bored with the typical American approach of mixing Dissident religiosity with a mishmash of gnostism and do it yourself theologies. As with the plea to reinterpret the colonial experiences of the other Europeans, so too with religions. I'd appreciate a sci-fi show that integrates the richeness of the Catholic- with its Western and Eastern rites- the Orthodox, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu religions and their interactions just like in real life.
Finally, I want to comment briefly about the shows esthetics. They're deplorable. I haven't seen a show that's so intent in denuding the richness and senuality of colour to its minimalist expression. The visual presentation is that of washed out images. I suspect that's in keeping with the reintrpretation of both the early colonial and post civil war colonization which eschewed 'extravagance' and 'excess' How unfortunatee because the near absence of colour irks my Mediterranean sensibilities which loves colour, the stronger and more vivid; the more beautiful and more sensual.
The esthetics also jar. On the one hand, the Firefly is a relatively sophisticated space craft; yet on many of the planets, the inhabitants travel by horse or animal driven wagons. Why? It makes no sense not to see cars or other automated forms of transportation. There's no seamlessness between the various everyday objects of life. There are wooden houses but no plastics; metals but no nonferrous materials. The list goes on. Whedon would've benefitted if he had looked at the Minority report movie.
There you have it. My own thoughts on Firefly.