English Language Only–But Whose English Language Are We Speaking?

I love the English language.  As a writer, I have worked with it for more decades than I care to mention.  I have molded it, sculpted it, admired it and, at times, abused it.   I love its versatility and its application.   I enjoy hearing the people who speak it so well, reading those who have applied it to the written word.  I love it in drama and comedy, and even to convey information.

There is no doubt it is our native tongue.   But others have come here who speak in other native tongues and are slow to utilize English as their primary language.   The should, and most will over time, much like our ancestors picked it up.  Over time.   Their kids will surely use it.

I have friends who depending on desire and education speak English with either a thick accent or new accent at all.  I hear most of their kids speak, and the majority sound like any other American kid,  generational jargon, bad grammar and all.    I dare say most of my friends of fairly well educated, and if they are not educated their ambitions have elevated them so they are successful in their adopted land.   They want to assimilate, and their kids definitely want to assimilate, so that may be part of it.

But then there are those who insist everyone speak English.  Nothing but English.   Not a bad idea, really, but not all that practical.  According to an article in the New York Times, a Nashville, Tennessee City Councislman wants to put forth a measure where all government workers speak only English.   His measure has met with considerable resistance among Nashviille’s citizens.   Whether it passes or not remains to be seen.

I am reminded of other instances where either private entrepreneurs or city officials, all puffed up on whatever righteousness they believe in have posted signs in their establishments or otherwise made clear they wish us to be an English only nation.   Frankly, I can see their point.   English, aside from the principle of it all, is our native language, and it does tend to expedite things if we all can speak it.

However, I am also reminded of the wide variety of the way English is spoken.   How the pronunciation of the language and specific words can vary from region to region.   We have a variety of accents in this country, and often one person’s accent while a comfort zone in his region is offputting in other places.   Northerners think of Southerners as dumb because of the way they speak, and Southerners think of Northerners as abrasive.  In the Midwest, people in the Northeast are viewed as abrasive because of how they speak, while more than a few regions revel in mocking the California Dude.

We from some places viewed those form other places as slurrring their words or allowing them running together.  We take umbrage, at least some of us do when a supposedly intelligent Vice Presidential candidate can’t articulate her “ing’s.”   We don’t like it when a President can’t pronounce nuclear, and it’s a tough day in Dixie when its citizens try to make the distinction between “oil” and “all.”

Then in places like Philadelphia, some people can speak distinctly and articulately while some of the neighborhood folk talk with the “d’ese and “d’ose,” and “you’se” or  “yizz,” which always sounds so poetic.   New York Cabbies used to mocked, when they weren’t all recent immigrants, and the famouse “turdy turd and turd,” pronounciation of an intersection is not exactly the King’s English.   Speaking of the King’s English few can understand the Brits, who pretty much invented the language, and then there are variations that can make it even less comprehensible.  Cockney, for example.

Then there is the Irish English and the Scottish English.   The English of the West Indies, and so it goes.  A whole lot of English with a whole lot of variation.   I’m not complaining, mind you.  I find it all pretty fascinating.  Interesting.

I just find it ironic that when certain citizens demand that we all speak English, I have to wonder, ” which brand of English would you prefer?”   Perhaps we should amplify and extend the near forgotten phrase of Gertude Stein.   “A rose isstill a rose in any language.”  Just don’t throw me out of your restaurant for not pronouncing it correctly.

Virginity Marketing, Exchanging Your Cherry for an Education

Here is a new twist on the virginity thing or the bit about saving it for marriage.   The new meaning would translate to save it for a college education.  In this case it would be for a Masters Degree in Family and Marriage Therapy.   Both virginity and a mind are terrible things to waste.

According to an article in the London Telegraph, a young woman is willing to auction off her maidenhood in exchange for enough cash to finish her education.   As luck would have it, ten thousand men stepped up to the plate and put their money where their desires are.   So far, this woman from San Diego, is entertaining bids in excess of $3.7 Million.   That sure beats the hell out of working in Starbucks.

I am sure there are a fair share of perverts and the type of crazo who figures he is in love with her, just because of the proposition.   The virgin in question here is certainly an attractive woman, but  she sure ain’t turning heads away from Paris Hilton or any other sex figure of the moment.   For this kind of money one could have sex with every virgin in some small, developing country.    Some will even fake it for half-price.

One has to wonder about the attraction or fetish, you pick the definition, for men who would spend millions for maidenhood.  Frankly, I don’t get it.  And just as frankly, neither does the party who is auctioning it off for college.  She says she was inspired by her sister who worked as a hooker for three weeks to pay her own way through college.  Feminists must be having a field day with this whole business.   But then there are issues of empowerment and independence.   Who knows?

Turning tricks for dollars is an age old profession.  We all know that.   But what we all didn’t know, it was only a mere conjecture, was that there are enough men out there so desperate for first blood that they will pay close to $4 Million for the privilege.   What’s with the male head, the bigger one, that drives us to such stupidity?   Guaranteed, she will just lay there, thinking of the money she has collected.  With no real sexual experience, what else could she really do?   And why doesn’t she have sexual experience at 22 years-old?  We are talking a late bloomer here.  In this world.

I have to hand it to this woman.  Not for keeping her legs closed for 22 years.   But for the idea.  It is a fantastic idea.   Hell, for that kind of money she doesn’t even have to work at all.   Provided she doesn’t give her three mil and change to Bernie Madoff.    Maybe Madoff should fork over for her.  He has screwed so many people, he might as well pay out for a change and give her a whirl.   Give him something to do while under house arrest.

All jokes aside, chances are it will be an elderly businessman who wins the bid.   If the young woman is smart she will do the video cam on the Internet and sell admission.   There’s a few more bucks in that, for sure.   And, besides, you get to memorialize the big debut.   A little music, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” or some other treacly nonsense, and you can package it as a DVD and sell it off the website.

So in the end, he gets the cherry, she gets the bread.  Hey, there is a first time for everything.

Metal Jewelry Piercings Hazardous in Cold Weather

Slovenian Media has recommended to the German Meteorological Institute they should warn those with jewelry body piercings that the metal can freeze and cause them harm in this extreme and unusually cold European winter.   The metal rings can freeze, causing harm to the body parts they are adorning.   So I guess the bottom line is don’t go out with your nipple rings.   Or some such thing.

Upon reading this article, or warning, I am reminded of the proverbial kid who in freezing weather just had to stick his tongue on the metal flagpole.   LIke Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, his tongue would stick to the freezing steel, until either the fire department or an alert school teacher could free him from the imprisonment.   Of course, having heard about it, or having read it somewhere, our mothers would admonish us against testing out our own tongues against any frozen piece of metal.

Now with so many people partaking in piercings, it is small wonder that such a warning was necessary.  You have the previously mentioned nipple rings, the earrings, nose rings, tongue studs and studs down a littel further in the anatomy.   I have to wonder what does the hapless soul do for groceries when he or she has had implants, that is either ball bearings, studs or whatever pieces of metal implanted under the skin.  Usually these pieces are planted in some sensitive regions, be it the penis, scrotum, clitoris, or in a lovely encirclement of the vagina.   I guess the tattoo and piercing artist never advised them about implants and cold weather.

I would think if you freeze up there, you may be truly frozen in your sex life for quite some time to come.  There is frostbite and then again there is this kind of frostbite.   I suppose it is the price we pay for our personal vanities.   Whatever form it takes.

Pitfalls of a Branded Economic Culture

Brand names have always been important.   For years, a good brand can mean everything from quality and reliability to status and social cache.   But in the last twenty five years or so brand names have evolved into “branding” as a cultural and marketing phenomenon.   Without proper branding, products and services can either fall by the wayside or play second fiddle to those that have been served up to consumers and businesses with the proper branding identification.

We have become dependent upon branding.   Without it, it would appear, few consumers could judge the quality of a product on its own merits.   Without branding we lack the know how to determine how one product may differ from another in the way it is made, crafted,  or serviced.  We can’t really ascertain how it performs, whether in the laundry cycle or on the road.   Despite the Internet and all the information sources we have available, there are relatively few places the average consumer can educate himself on the true character and craftsmanship of any given product.   We know little about the skill it takes to make something just so, the materials used and how they are superior from the knock off varieties.

So we brand products and services and generate enough marketing that consumers believe either the truth or the hype, depending on the goods.   The branding culture has had a tremendous effect on consumer habits and they way they shop.   Our economy is based largely on consumerism, and the perception of someone’s wealth and position in society is what drives much of our economy.    The lines of demarcation is such that without wearing, using or somehow adhering to the socially approved brands, you are considered a lesser person with no taste, no wealth and hardly any social distinction.  Some people really don’t care about all that, but most do.

This kind of mindset certainly has its conveniences.  You really don’t have to think much about what you are buying in order to cater to your own self-perceptions.   You don’t have to know much about the product itself, but just the product elevates you to a certain social category.  No matter that the product is actual quality in terms of construction ad design, the fact that it is perceived as such is all most consumers really need to make their shopping day.

To build their client bases, retail outlets especially rely on stocking branded products.   You must cater to your targeted clientele.   If you stock this product you are considered a lower level, big box type of retailer.  If you stock that brand, then you are the mid-line, department store type of retailer.   And at the upper echelon, you must stock the brands that cause shoppers to perceive you as exclusive.   Coupled with the design of your venue and its geographic location, shoppers know you are ready to service their kind of folk.

But with the economic downturn, branding may have backfired.  With reports of store closings, maybe 70 odd thousand retail outlets across the country, it is becoming abundantly clear that no one really needs all these venues.   Surely, the economic dowturn is the largest factor, but perhaps this financial crisis has shed light on a problem that has existed for quite some time.   Simply put, no matter where you go, you are finding the same merchandise in every place you shop.   One store has no distinction from another.   It is all the same stuff.

You can go to any city on the planet and, largely, it is all the same stuff.  It may vary from one venue to the other, but each venue offers the same merchandise on its social and economic level as the one you found the the last city you visited.   In fact, you might be shopping in the same chain, buying the same stuff.  Only the city you shop in is different.

So if everyone has the same offerings, small wonder retailers are going out of business, left and right.   Small wonder consumers are reluctant to buy anything.  Not only are they short of cash and credit, but they already have a half dozen of whatever it is being offered in any outlet at any given time.   I hear friends tell me, “who needs it?   I already have plenty of those.”

In a nation that prides itself in originality, there are few places carrying original goods.  Perhaps it is time to see more retail outlets offering smaller batches of merchandise from original designers and suppliers.  I realize there are economies of scale, but with staples there are alternate solutions to overcoming the challenges of economy of scale.   It would be nice for a change to not see everyone wearing the same thing or finding in a house the same layout as the last house.   With some merchandise, pots and pans, for example, sure it will be the same.   But furniture?

Perhaps we need a more educated consumer.  Pundits claim we are educated through the Internet, but do we really know the difference in woods in furniture, the types of finish, the distinctions in quality?   Having watched shoppers in furniture stories, I would think not.   In fact, the level of ignorance about the goods we are laying out money for is fairly astounding.

Maybe one way to stimulate this economy is to be a little more original.   To understand quality and craftsmanship and realize the best things are built to last.  Use them, wear them and allow them to take on the vintage textures of an original creation.   Don’t buy junk, because it has a label you can recognize.

Of course the original designers in time may become popular.  Once they do they will scale up production as people rush to buy their goods.   They will buy blindly, with great faith it will boost their status in the eyes of others.   And then these original products will become so popular we will have…branding.  Oh, well.

Ortega Y Gassett Had It Right On The Nose

The other morning my friend, Alex, and I were having breakfast.   As do most friends these days, between nibbles of French Toast we discussed the present economic debacle and society’s ability to recover.   We talked about the general mind set out in the world and how our nation of consumers was in for a rude awakening and a major lifestyle change.

Alex is a Mexican National.  For those who don’t realize it, most middle and upper class Mexican Nationals are extremely well educated and quite often better read than their American counterpart.   There are exceptions to every rule, although upon sitting with educated Mexican and Latin Americans I have seldom if ever thought their formal knowledge lacking.   I can’t say the same for many products of American schools.  but then I have met considerably more American college graduates than former students from other parts of the world.   I dare say, however, in Latin America greater value is put on a more liberal arts education than it is here in the States.   It just seems to be the way of things, for one reason or another.   But I digress.  Or maybe night.

Eventually, Alex and I discussed the current state of civilization and that led to a discussion of Jose Ortega Y Gassett.   For those who are not familiar with him, he was a Spanish writer and philosopher who in 1930 wrote his seminal work, REVOLT OF THE MASSES. For those who are familiar with his writing, many find him to have predicted the present state of society and civilization with uncanny accuracy.  Mind you, he is not always kind in his assessment, and given the passage of times, certain elements the writer alludes to have taken on a different form.   Among the forms that were taken on are political and social leaders, various supposed icons who are revered not for their transcendental ability but for their being, “just like us.”

There is also the matter Ortega Y Gassett addressed back in the thirties, about everyone being entitled to an opinion.  True, but not all opinions should be weighted equally.   It always helps to have formal knowledge about the subject you choose to address.

Anyway…here are some of his more pointed excerpts.  Some will enjoy then, and some will find them discomfitting.   But such is life…which is one of his points.

Here ya go…

“There is one fact which, whether for good or ill, is of utmost importance in the public life of Europe at its present moment. The fact is the accession of the masses to complete social power. As the masses, by definition, neither should nor can direct their own personal existence, and still less rule society in general, this fact means that actually Europe is suffering from the greatest general crisis that can afflict peoples, nations and civilization.

Strictly speaking, the mass, as a psychological fact, can be defined without waiting for individuals to appear in mass formation. In the presence of one individual we can decide whether he is “mass” or not. The mass is all that which sets no value on itself — good or ill — based on specific grounds, but which feels itself “just like everybody,” and nevertheless is not concerned about it; is, in fact, quite happy to feel itself as one with everybody else.

The mass believes that it has the right to impose and to give force of law to motions born in the café. I doubt whether there have been other periods of history in which the multitude has come to govern more directly than in our own.

The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will. As they say in the United States: “to be different is to be indecent.” The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.

It is illusory to imagine that the mass-man of to-day will be able to control, by himself, the process of civilization. I say process, and not progress. The simple process of preserving our present civilization is supremely complex, and demands incalculably subtle powers. Ill-fitted to direct it is this average man who has learned to use much of the machinery of civilization, but who is characterized by root-ignorance of the very principles of that civilization.

The command over the public life exercised today by the intellectually vulgar is perhaps the factor of the present situation which is most novel, least assimilable to anything in the past. At least in European history up to the present, the vulgar had never believed itself to have “ideas” on things. It had beliefs, traditions, experiences, proverbs, mental habits, but it never imagine itself in possession of theoretical opinions on what things are or ought to be. To-day, on the other hand, the average man has the most mathematical “ideas” on all that happens or ought to happen in the universe. Hence he has lost the use of his hearing. Why should he listen if he has within him all that is necessary? There is no reason now for listening, but rather for judging, pronouncing, deciding. There is no question concerning public life, in which he does not intervene, blind and deaf as he is, imposing his “opinions.”

But, is this not an advantage? Is it not a sign of immense progress that the masses should have “ideas,” that is to say, should be cultured? By no means. The “ideas” of the average man are not genuine ideas, nor is their possession culture. Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. These standards are the principles on which culture rests. I am not concerned with the form they take. What I affirm is that there is no culture where there are no standards to which our fellow-man can have recourse. There is no culture where there are no principles of legality to which to appeal. There is no culture where there is no acceptance of certain final intellectual positions to which a dispute may be referred. There is no culture where economic relations are not subject to a regulating principle to protect interests involved. There is no culture where aesthetic controversy does not recognize the necessity of justifying the work of art.

When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism. And let us not deceive ourselves, this is what is beginning to appear in Europe under the progressive rebellion of the masses. The traveler knows that in the territory there are no ruling principles to which it is possible to appeal. Properly speaking, there are no barbarian standards. Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.

Under Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the “reason of unreason.” Here I see the most palpable manifestation of the new mentality of the masses, due to their having decided to rule society without the capacity for doing so. In their political conduct the structure of the new mentality is revealed in the rawest, most convincing manner. The average man finds himself with “ideas” in his head, but he lacks the faculty of ideation. He has no conception even of the rare atmosphere in which ideals live. He wishes to have opinions, but is unwilling to accept the conditions and presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words.

To have an idea means believing one is in possession of the reasons for having it, and consequently means believing that there is such a thing as reason, a world of intelligible truths. To have ideas, to form opinions, is identical with appealing to such an authority, submitting oneself to it, accepting its code and its decisions, and therefore believing that the highest form of intercommunication is the dialogue in which the reasons for our ideas are discussed. But the mass-man would feel himself lost if he accepted discussion, and instinctively repudiates the obligation of accepting that supreme authority lying outside himself. Hence the “new thing” in Europe is “to have done with discussions,” and detestation is expressed for all forms of intercommunication, which imply acceptance of objective standards, ranging from conversation to Parliament, and taking in science. This means that there is a renunciation of the common life of barbarism. All the normal processes are suppressed in order to arrive directly at the imposition of what is desired. The hermeticism of the soul which, as we have seen before, urges the mass to intervene in the whole of public life.”