Thursday, August 14, 2003
And darkness covered the land...
About an hour ago, the power went out all over central Canada and the northeastern US. It's out from Chicago to New York and north to Timmins in Ontario. I caught it on the Beeb not too long after it started up. Now, I'm listening to CBC Radio One from Ottawa and it's kinna funny listening to the People's Radio get themselves together. First, there's afternoon guy, basically looking out his window and saying "Yup, the power's still out. How 'bout you, Bob?" Cell phones are down because the relays have only got thirty minutes of battery time. Then, they get some guy from Hydro on the phone to say, "Power's out, eh? 'Mericans did it." Now, CBC seems to be organised. Lester Pearson's closed, but Dorval is open. NavCan has air traffic in hand. They've got - I swear to god this is his name - Sgt. Muscat from the Toronto fuzz on the phone, saying the buses are running, the cops'll be doing traffic control, it's all cool, go home and smoke a constitutionally protected spliff.
For some reason, the whole thing makes me think of Bruce Sterling. Especially this:
On January 15, 1990, AT&T's long-distance telephone switching system crashed.
I was in France in early '90, so I missed the whole thing, but Sterling's account has always struck me as quite compelling. Naturally, there seems to be a blanket denial that this problem is terrorism related, so perhaps the surreal response to the 1990 Mother's Day phone system crash wil not be repeated this time. I think since '90 people have gotten used to the idea that technology fails.
Anyway, time for me to see if I can find an American station.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Speaking English is hazardous to your health
My wife picked this up off a forum somewhere.
Language Rights and Political Theory, which I promised to review here after having earlier promised Jacob Levy that I would read it when it came out in paperback, came in yesterday at the wife's US mission box. Thanks again, Aidan.
I'm about two-thirds of the way through it - in the middle of Idil Boran's chapter on linguistic diversity as a public good. Some meta-review notes: Are political science collections usually this acrimonious? David Laitin and Rob Reich trash Stephen May, Thomas Pogge trashes May, Reich, Laitin and Kymlicka, May trashes all the above, and everybody seems to hate Brian Barry.
In linguistics, it never works that way. A collection will almost always unite people who largely agree; not, as is clearly the case with Pogge and May, people from different planets. Stephen May, Will Kymlicka, Phillippe van Parijs and Jacob Levy are the only contributors that I recognise from other publications, so the conflicts of the first few chapters are new enough to me that I can laugh at them.
Chapter 6 offers incontrovertable proof that Phillippe van Parijs has a strong - if oblique - sense of humour. I have to wonder if he is being intentionally Swiftean with his proposal for resolving all linguistic justice problems. It took me several pages before I asked myself, "Is Phillippe shitting me?", and until the last paragraph I wasn't sure that the answer was "yes."
It's a little odd to see language politics discussed in the language of Rawlsian liberalism - a language which seems uniquely ill-suited to the challenge for exactly the reasons Kymlicka points to in his introduction: the impossibilty of language-neutral policy. Though, I suppose it's an improvement over discussing language policy in terms of nationalism, segregationism, historical grievances and Lebensraum. I'm not a liberal of the Rawlsian type myself, but I can more or less follow the lingo.
I'm thinking the format will go as follows: Three posts in short succession (I won't publish the first one until I've actually written the lot). First, a couple paragraphs to review each chapter, after which I'll pontificate on more general issues of linguistic policy and then present an alternative approach to language policy and some model policy ideas. Sound good?
Monday, August 11, 2003
Mennonites lose their last enclaves of separatism
I think there will be light blogging for a few days, but I have a knack for saying that when all of a sudden I'm about to blog a lot, so keep checking in. I've been off for the weekend because it was my birthday Sunday, and I spent the weekend moping about being old.
Anyway, Language Hat sent me this from Sunday's NY Times:
Paraguay Mennonites Find Success a Mixed Blessing
As weird as it is for me to think about there being an "Orlando Penner" (Penner is one of the most common names among Manitoba Mennonites), this pattern in Paraguay parallels what happened in Canada. One of the things that I'm eventually going to cover in my Grandfather's autobiography is the complex and sometimes painful integration of the Mennonites into Canadian society. Unwillingness to integrate was the key reason Mennonites went to Mexico and Paraguay in the first place, and in Canada, two generations after they left, no one under 40 still spoke German on any regular basis and even church services were in English.
Mennonite communities and businesses proved quite successful. Steinbach Credit Union is the largest non-union credit union in Manitoba. Penner Foods is a rapidly growing supermarket chain. Businesses with names like "Reimer", "Friesen" and "Unger" are pretty commonplace. Steinbach is still a majority Mennonite city, but now it has a Catholic church, a mall and a McDonald's that's open on Sunday.
There was a decision in the 1960's - a semi-conscious decision - to try to preserve the Mennonite faith, even at the cost of losing any sort of distinct Mennonite culture. Now, Canadian Mennonites speak English. In my own extended family we have no other common language. With my grandfather's death, my grandmother and I are the only remaining Martenses who are literate in German, and my mother is one of the youngest in Manitoba to still be able to speak Plautdietsch - and she almost never uses it. Mennonite churches nowadays usually contain a mixture of "hereditary" Mennonites and first, second, in some cases even third generation converts, while the culturally Mennonite may belong to any of several Evangelical churches or often none at all.
It looks like this is what is happening in Paraguay now too. There are almost certainly people in Paraguay who are afraid of losing their cultural distinctness, but there are no more countries with free land and tax bargains to run off to anymore. The 21st century almost certainly means the end of a separate Mennonite way of life, for better and for worse.