A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘globalization

[LINK] On Mizae Mizumura and The Fall of Language in the Age of English

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A recent Slate article by Katy Waldmann pointed me towards Minae Mizumura‘s 2008 book The Fall of Language in the Age of English. She seems to make some interesting arguments about the position of the English language and the potential threat to the position of non-English languages.

Languages have materiality, Mizumura insists, and her personal essay-cum-allegory lets the landscape of English letters hover like a mirage above physical America. In Iowa “the view was not particularly beautiful. There was none of the poetry one sees in scenes of the countryside in American films.” Yet “turning to Chris [the program director], I roused myself and said exactly what an American might say at such a moment: ‘Beautiful day!’ ” Such are the dangers of a universal language: Being in America, speaking “American,” Mizumura can utter only “what an American might say,” even if that means lying about the blighted prospect around her. In contrast, here is the author’s memory of touching down in France: “Once I set foot in Paris, I was greeted with boulevards shimmering with new leaves and skies gloriously liberated from the dark of winter.”

I mention France because the French language—all liberté and illumination—is one of Mizumura’s sanctuaries, a spiritual alternative to English. (It is also a scholarly alternative: Though she doesn’t mention him outright, Mizumura, who studied French literature at Yale during its Structuralist heyday, is clearly indebted to Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the first to propose that meaning arises from closed linguistic systems. Saussure wrote in French.) Her family moved from Japan to New York when she was 12, and she “stubbornly resisted getting along either with the United States or the English language,” instead soaking in French audiobooks on repeat in her room. What draws Mizumura to the lingua franca of the Enlightenment is its beauty, but also its predicament: Once the embodiment of the “soul of Europe,” a standard-bearer for the humanities, the expressive Play-Doh for writers like Voltaire and Diderot is now in the same lamentable position as Japanese. Which is to say, French and Japanese speakers are confined to the particular, while English speakers live in the universal.

A writer writing in English can count on her words reaching people all over the world, whether in translation or the original, but there’s no guarantee English-speaking readers will ever encounter experiences first framed in Japanese. Nor can bilingual writers just switch to English: Even if the West does not seem “too far, psychologically as well as geographically,” a sense of romance surrounds novels written in the novelist’s mother tongue, making fiction formulated from a second language less palatable. So, Mizumura concludes, non-English speakers “can only participate passively in the universal temporality … they cannot make their own voices heard.” Discouraged by the deafness of the world—even as Internet fans sing about our increasing connectedness—they might decide to stop writing altogether.

When writers stop writing in a language, that language decays. People lose faith in its ability to bear the burden of their fine feeling and entrust their most important thoughts elsewhere. Raging against the decline of “lesser” lexicons, Mizumura is stressing more than the loss of cultural artifacts, or the value of diversity for its own sake. Non-dominant tongues must live on, she warns, because “those of us … living in asymmetry are the only ones condemned to perpetually reflect upon language, the only ones forced to know that the English language cannot dictate ‘truths’ and that there are other ‘truths’ in this world.” Buried in that argument is an oddly touching one about the nature of literature: “The writer must see the language not as a transparent medium for self-expression or the representation of reality, but as a medium one must struggle with to make it do one’s bidding.”

She says some interesting things. Going by this sympathetic review in The Japan Times, it seems as if her argument is based at least as much on a need for better education in non-English languages. Is fluency in Japanese incompatible with fluenct in English?

Written by Randy McDonald

February 24, 2015 at 4:59 am

[LINK] “Who Speaks for Earth? The Controversy over Interstellar Messaging”

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Universe Today’s Paul Patton notes the ongoing controversy over the idea of transmitting messages across interstellar distances, with the aim of communicating with extraterrestrial civilizations. I’m inclined to think the idea potentially existentially foolish, myself.

Should we beam messages into deep space, announcing our presence to any extraterrestrial civilizations that might be out there? Or, should we just listen? Since the beginnings of the modern Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), radio astronomers have, for the most part, followed the listening strategy.

In 1999, that consensus was shattered. Without consulting with other members of the community of scientists involved in SETI, a team of radio astronomers at the Evpatoria Radar Telescope in Crimea, led by Alexander Zaitsev, beamed an interstellar message called ‘Cosmic Call’ to four nearby sun-like stars. The project was funded by an American company called Team Encounter and used proceeds obtained by allowing members of the general public to submit text and images for the message in exchange for a fee.

Similar additional transmissions were made from Evpatoria in 2001, 2003, and 2008. In all, transmissions were sent towards twenty stars within less than 100 light years of the sun. The new strategy was called Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI). Although Zaitsev was not the first to transmit an interstellar message, he and his associates where the first to systematically broadcast to nearby stars. The 70 meter radar telescope at Evpatoria is the second largest radar telescope in the world.

In the wake of the Evpatoria transmissions a number of smaller former NASA tracking and research stations collected revenue by making METI transmissions as commercially funded publicity stunts. These included a transmission in the fictional Klingon language from Star Trek to promote the premier of an opera, a Dorito’s commercial, and the entirety of the 2008 remake of the classic science fiction movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. The specifications of these commercial signals have not been made public, but they were most likely much too faint to be detectable at interstellar distances with instruments comparable to those possessed by humans.

Zaitsev’s actions stirred divisive controversy among the community of scientists and scholars concerned with the field. The two sides of the debate faced off in a recent special issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, resulting from a live debate sponsored in 2010 by the Royal Society at Buckinghamshire, north of London, England.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 24, 2015 at 12:00 am

[LINK] “The dark future of American space exploration”

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At Vox, David W. Brown describes howshort-sighted American politics mean that NASA’s budget for interplanetary probes will be cut to the bone. All I can add is that at least the United States is not the only country, or group of countries, with the capacity for interplanetary exploration. As posts I’ve made here have pointed out, India, China, and the European Space Agency have all done quite nicely with their tentative explorations of the universe outside of Earth orbit.

[T]he allotment for planetary science has been cut to $1.36 billion — the fourth such proposed cut by the Obama administration, and far short of what is needed by the program. (The rest of NASA’s budget goes to earth science, human space exploration, and operation of the International Space Station, among other things.) According to the Planetary Society, a nonprofit space research and advocacy organization, for the planetary science division to run well, the United States should spend at least $1.5 billion every year to explore other worlds — “less overall,” they report, “than what Americans spent on dog toys in 2012.”

Fiscal year 2013 saw the White House’s Office of Management and Budget call for slashing planetary science funding by one-fifth. Though Congress restored much of the money, the program has yet to fully recover, and with the doleful figures in the 2016 budget, it is again up to Congress to find money to keep the program funded.

In that regard, planetary science is at a disadvantage compared to other federal programs. During the budget standoff in 2013, for example, national parks were closed, which prompted an immediate backlash from the public. But because it generally takes several years for spacecraft to reach the outer planets, they are already funded by the time they start returning data. In other words, the ticket is purchased before the flight arrives at its destination. As such, from the public’s point of view, the planetary science program will seem stronger than ever, returning spectacular images of alien worlds, while in fact the program is hobbling along, ill-prepared for the future due to consecutive years of reduced budgets.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 23, 2015 at 11:45 pm

[DM] “Three links on African immigration to China”

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I’ve a post up at Demography Matters linking to one blog and two articles examining the phenomenon of African immigration to China. Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 21, 2015 at 4:57 am

[LINK] “Pizza Hut Returns to Africa”

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Janice Kew and Christopher Spillane, writing for Bloomberg, describe how Pizza Hut is trying to break into booming African markets.

Pizza Hut knows a few things about fast expansion in emerging markets. In less than 25 years, the chain has added more than 1,300 restaurants across China. But Randall Blackford, the general manager of Pizza Hut’s operations in Africa, says the restaurant operator is taking its time expanding on the continent. In Africa, “we are a small company right now and will stay small for some time,” he says, eating pizza at one of his restaurants in Soweto township in Johannesburg. “It gives us flexibility to respond to local tastes, to engage more. We can’t be first, can’t be the cheapest, so we got to be the best.”

Blackford has reason to be cautious: The world’s largest pizza purveyor, a unit of Louisville-based Yum! Brands, failed in sub-Saharan Africa seven years ago, after consumers were cool to its prices and dine-in model. This time around, Pizza Hut is targeting takeout and delivery service. It will limit drop-off distances to a few miles, which means eventually it will have smaller stores in lots of neighborhoods. From its current eight stores in South Africa and Zambia, it aims to have 200 stores across the continent in three years.

While fast-food purchases in South Africa are growing, with about 34.8 million people expected to buy meals from such restaurants by 2017, up from 31 million now, much of that nation’s fast-food industry is homegrown, according to Euromonitor International analyst Elizabeth Friend. In countries such as Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, there’s less competition than in South Africa. So while supply chains are less reliable, those newer markets offer foreign restaurant players good growth opportunities, “at least for those chains that can survive until that investment starts to pay off,” Friend says.

Almost half of Africa’s fast-food restaurants are focused on chicken, then comes burgers. Pizza is a distant third, accounting for about 5 percent of total spending. One reason: the more moderate cost and wider availability of poultry supplies. Some Pizza Hut toppings, such as air-dried pepperoni, have to be imported. That affects customers’ checks. The Streetwise 5 meal from Yum’s KFC, which includes a large order of fries and five pieces of chicken, costs $5.50 in South Africa, while a fully loaded large Pizza Hut pizza approaches $8. In Zambia, the same pie costs about $10. “The pizza outlets are going to have to focus on pricing, bringing it more in line with what chicken costs,” says Wayne McCurrie, a money manager at Momentum Asset Management in Johannesburg.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 20, 2015 at 11:06 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • blogTO notes the expansion of condo development south of Yonge and Eglinton.
  • Centauri Dreams blogs about the exciting continuing approach of Dawn to Ceres.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze looks at the system of HD 69830, with three Neptune-mass planets and a dense asteroid belt.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper looking at French government surveillance of global communications networks.
  • The Everyday Sociology Blog considers whether globalization is making the world subjectively smaller or larger.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the refusal of a Michigan doctor to treat the child of a lesbian couple.
  • Language Hat and Languages of the World react to a recent study claiming DNA evidence suggests the spread of Indo-European languages is connected to mass migrations.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the problems of Greece with and in the Eurozone.
  • The Planetary Society Blog describes an amateur’s ingenious new map of Europa.
  • The Power and the Money links to a paper suggesting that male advantage in Africa as a result of colonialism, at least judging by Uganda, was brief.
  • Spacing Toronto shows some supposed houses that are actually disguised electricity transformers.
  • Torontoist shares a list of some of this year’s visitors at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.
  • Window on Eurasia speculates about the influence of Admiral Kolchak’s proto-fascism on modern Russia and argues that Russia does not want a Transdniestria-style enclave in Ukraine’s Donbas.

[URBAN NOTE] “The Boring Secret of Great Cities”

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Bloomberg View’s Christopher Flavelle reports on a recent study suggesting that properly-fitted urban governments, encompassing entire metropolitan areas and not only fragments thereof, are key to ensuring a city’s long-term prosperity. Fragmentation helps no one.

(Greater Toronto Area, are you listening?)

Plenty of things make a city great: well-paid jobs, good roads and public transit, high-quality schools, attractive parks and cultural goodies like celebrity chefs and art galleries, to name a few.

But what creates those qualities in some cities and not others? A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development across industrialized countries points to maybe the unsexiest topic in public policy: the structure of municipal government.

Sure, you’ve probably never argued over drinks with friends about the optimal size and responsibilities of county government. And that’s exactly the problem. If the OECD is right, the overpowering boringness of metropolitan governance bodies is a big part of what keeps more big cities from succeeding. It’s hard to worry about (let alone fix) something that’s too dull to argue over.

That neglect comes at a pretty high cost. In its report, “The Metropolitan Century,” the OECD says you can’t expect a well-functioning city without “effective governance arrangements that fit the situation in a city and its surrounding areas.” So long as people live in one area, work in another and go out in a third, the patterns of their lives don’t reflect arbitrary jurisdictional lines drawn decades (or, for some cities, centuries) earlier.

The result is a “mismatch between functional boundaries and administrative boundaries,” as the latter fail to keep up with the former. Some metropolitan areas adapt, either by merging small local governments or by creating new ways to coordinate across those governments — what the report calls, collectively, metropolitan governance bodies. Others don’t, allowing bureaucratic and planning friction to persist and fester.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 19, 2015 at 10:51 pm

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