Category Archives: Language

Language: ∞ Description of Experience

Language fosters organization of thoughts, complex actions, and the making and using of tools. It allows for social interaction and the organization of labor. It can be said that language is an evolutionary development and that humans were ‘created’ as language developed. Language is best understood as a discreet combinatorial system of letters and symbols, forming words.

Each sign, sound, or symbol is reference to a notion.(Credit: _marqs via iStock)

  1. Phonology – The parts to use
  2. Morphology – The rules of the recursive combination
  3. Syntax – Ordering to form meaning
  4. Semantics – The interpretation

image and related pop-sci article: Salon – Where does language come from?

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Meaning of the Question – Consensus?


It is assumed that when providing an answer to a question, that the respondent understands the question being asked of them. Throughout the “Forced Decision Questionnaire,” there are a few vague questions that are open to interpretation.

A non-uniform understanding of these statements among group members stood in the way of quickly forming a group consensus. 

These communication barriers were the result of difficulty in parsing the phrasing for all involved.  Some of the statements, as read, differed from our though process, especially in matters of strong personal opinion; or, as was the case with some, a lack of the general knowledge necessary to take a stance.

Members of my group had a hard time with the question “We have more to fear from a revolution from the right than a revolution from the left.”  The younger members of our group were confused as to how to define “left” and “right” in the context of the question, and why or what exactly either would have a “revolution” about.  By explaining the nature of the question, “politics,” and putting value to the left/right terms, group members were more or less able to form a decision.  The problem in this case seems to be one of familiarity with the political process.  In explaining the terms, according to my understanding, and providing my interpretation and answer to the question, I feel that the group made their choices based on my reasoning.  Unfortunately, the group could be misinformed, either from my oversight or intentional deceit.  I suppose that we place a level of trust in one another when we learn something new; other groups, with other “teachers,” likely spawned different ideologies, based on how the unfamiliar students came to understand the question.

Familiarity with an issue helps when attempting to understand a question, but sometimes there are other hindrances to effective communication.  The entire group shared a similar opinion of the statement, “Civil marriages between same-sex partners should be legalized.” But, the choice of words used made all of us determine our answers based on different understandings of the semantics of the question.  While none of us were against homosexual relationships and benefit entitlement, some of us were against the idea of traditional marriage.  A common question asked many times within the group was “Is this about civil ‘unions’ or ‘marriage’?”  Agreement could only be reached by deciding upon a common interpretation of the question.  Whether or not this adequately answered what was asked of us is uncertain, but we did reach a group consensus on one fact:  This question appeared intentionally vague, as if to provoke debate.

For the statement “Organized teacher led-prayer in public school classrooms should be allowed by law,” most in the group looked past the words of the question and statements such as “Why not, if it is a religious school?” or “What if the teacher was fine and comfortable with it?” were posited.  These and other profound statements “I would take my kids out in a heartbeat” and “No way, separation of church and state!” did not answer the question.  Strong opinions on the matter, which would ultimately help in our decision making, clouded our initial reactions to the question we had to answer.  All sides were able to understand each other’s point of view, and through discussion, respectfully agree to disagree on our interpretations, but form a group decision in answering the question.

The wording of a question or statement, when left vague, is open to many interpretations. Intentionally provocative statements, in the absence of discourse, stand in the way of effective communication.  Persons unfamiliar with certain terminologies need definition and context to understand what is asked of them.  Fortunately, we were able to discuss these statements, first in groups and later with the class.  Effective and clear communication, essential to understanding, was aided by this time and effort spent. While each group had different opinions (much like the group members, initially), a class consensus could likely be reached given appropriate time to articulate individual opinions.

(September 2008)

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A Seuss-ish Butter Battle Cold War


The Yook Chief made deals with other like minded spreaders. At first for their resources, the Yooks found new friends, ‘ventually forcing a decision ‘bout best bread-buttered ends.  Their tropical friends had their own customs too, but elected new Chiefs to try something new.  These new leaderoos, figuring “never enough butter,” buttered both sides of bread, sending Yook hearts afutter. The Chief Yookeroo thought they had been swayed by the Zooks, and the media attacked them, calling them kooks.  The Giperoo was young and a hero on the tube. He would reassure the Yooks on what was best to do.  There would be no Zook nonsense, no it must be contained. The radical Zook ideas would need to be shamed.  “This can’t go on”, the Chief would say, to this heathen idea they could not fall sway. He picked his best men, and lied of their hypocrisy, and installed puppet leaderoos in the name of yooocracy.  Far flung places were picked from a hat to engage the Zooks by proxy in geopolitical spat.  The boom-eroo complex moved along with great speed, Yooks were once again drafted according to need.  Yookeroo young began to line up for war; no one was really sure what they were fighting for.

Still all of this time, with fingers on triggers, more boom-eroos were planned and made and delivered.  More silos and spending to match that of the Zooks, no money was spent educating the Yooks.  More taxes were collected, but less money was made, and Yooks ducked and covered and were always afraid. Each Yook Dollar spent went to straight to the cause, pushed through Yookongress with patriotic applause.  There would be more boom-eroos, and boom-eroos meant more jobs, for the out of work masses that had turned into mobs.  Sound bites would tout the creation of work, from Yook leaderoo mouths with a wink and a smirk.   But not all Yooks knew booms or even –eroos.  The ones that did had numbered in few.  So no “real” jobs would gainfully employ, but yooocracy would cheapen the cost of Yook toys. With no money for schools, more Yooks wound up in jail. Idealistic Yooks yearned for this old way to fail.  And just for a glimmer, fail it did, a stand-in Chief was elected and Yooks looked within.  The Gipperoo waited from his Hollyook home, four years out west while a stand-down was sown.  Tired of shilling and starting to age, he could barely contain his zeal for the stage. When he’d get his turn, the Zooks would be crushed; out on top would be bread, with the butter-side-up.

By this time the boom-eroos were biggered and baddered.  Bitsy Big-Boy had no longer mattered.  The potential for carnage had gadzupled by far, and the Gipperoo was anxious raise up the bar.  If only he were Chief, the Zooks would retreat. There would be no butter spread on bread-underneaths.   The Zook “question” should be pushed to the top concern.  The Yooks would get the number one spot they deserved. Because the Yooks were tired of settling for less, the old showman decided to perform the show he knew best.  A deal was arranged, and some Yooks came home, and the dovish Chief Yook was removed from his throne.  The Gipperoo rode into power on a wave of support, to a “new dawn for Yooks” and more building of forts.  We would make more bombs and profits would trickle down, to the poor Yooks living in the poor side of town.  This scheme was a myth, making more Yooks broke, and ever more weary unlike wealthy Yook folks. Weapons were passed on to fight Yook wars, to shady new friends quick to offer support. Monies were funneled through third world regimes, and the discovery of this: a Gipperoo bad dream.  There even was a Yook financial crash, but this had nothing to do with the inevitable Zook collapse. The Zook walls that went up a while ago, came down because the Zooks demanded it so.

Based upon the Butter Battle Book, by Dr. Seuss

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Strangers Set An Agenda: Group Work

Governance-chart-1It’s not an easy task to get five strangers to agree on anything, but by following a classical agenda setting strategy, anything is possible.

In a lesson on group decision making, me and my fellow “committee” members were asked to set criteria for the awarding of a fictional scholarship.


First, we identified the problem by discussing the parameters of the assignment as a team and as a result, we were able narrow down some of our own ideas.  The objective of the assignment seemed pretty clear, and we all proposed not to make it any more complicated than it had to be.  We decided to limit ourselves to just a few (or at the very most, several) core principles from which we would adhere to.

In analyzing the problem, we reviewed our own principles to determine what we felt was most important to include based on the assignment parameters. Each member also considered what was least important in determining our group criteria.  Above all we wanted to ensure that every group member theft their own “stamp” on the process.  It was our singular aim for this to be a completely democratic process.  To determine our solution criteria, we explored our own philosophies and formed opinions on the subject at hand; we each offered our own suggestions as to what to include.  We went around the entire group listing every idea, including ones we were strongly against.  We would continue to brainstorm in order to narrow all of this to form our group criteria.

After forming our initial list, we went around the group again.  Now, each member had the opportunity to discuss their proposal.  When stating their case, everyone was encouraged to explain exactly why they thought their idea deserved inclusion. Simple “because” type answers led to prodding from other members, who asked intelligent questions help the respondent focus their argument.    Some ideas, we felt, over complicated the assignment, and each member who thought so explained diplomatically, why it shouldn’t be included.  Our group kept a very pragmatic approach, and in the interests of simplicity, we kept our list of core principles short. We strived to have our criteria be fairly open-ended, as to not delve too much into details.  If something couldn’t be agreed upon by all, it was left out.

We felt that if we made specific requirements, that that would unfairly exclude applicants before the review process.  All of our members did agree that the person worthy of our scholarship should show academic potential, and this could be measured by predictive scores.  However, we weren’t strict with potential grades as a requirement.  We also wanted someone with clear life goals, as this helps show a sense of purpose.  We decided that our applicant should be able to articulate themselves, as well as do so formally/professionally, considering the seriousness of the scholarship selection.  We figured we would be able to gauge all of this from the Personal Statements, which we had yet to receive.

The solution we selected involved placing less emphasis on all the superfluous elements of the application (such as need, jobs, age, etc.), and make our selection based solely upon how the applicant presented themselves in the Personal Statement.  In implementing our criteria, we chose an applicant who articulated themselves far beyond all the others.  It so happened, that the same applicant had the highest predictive scores.  Her statement was much more formal than the others, who used inappropriate language or “too much information.”  If we were to hold steadfastly to a particular requirement, such as civic engagement, the applicant may have been excluded.  By maintaining a narrow and simple criteria, we avoided a “-by numbers” selection, and awarded our scholarship to someone overlooked by other groups.

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Age. Race. We’re All Just People.

tumblr_m09m1lgYrV1qmnzaxo1_500Many people ask me my age, and when I tell them that I’m almost thirty-five, they were very surprised; saying that I looked no older than twenty-five, which was, coincidentally, the age assumed by all of them. I look younger than my physical age, but I don’t know how people come to that assumption, considering I have a beard and fairly visible gray hairs.  I think it’s more a matter of how they perceive me in the context of how we met. As a college student, I associate with mostly college-aged people. But I talk to everyone; perhaps this geniality “tricks” people into assuming I am younger.

I’ve had a few jobs where I was the only white person.  The black folks I worked with were standoffish at first, assuming I would be.  I stuck out like a sore thumb, so to speak.  I appreciated the situation, however, because it forced me to approach as many people as I could, to “make friends.” The end result was a change in mindset to the idea that (at risk of sounding corny) “we’re all just people.”  I am glad I was able to defy any preconceived low expectations that may have been placed on me; it helped me immensely, teaching me to not see race as an issue. The experience widened my circle of friends and introduced me to lots of good food and music.

I was born in south Florida, and my neighborhood and school was mostly black, Cuban, or immigrant (foreign language speaking) white.  It forced me, once again, to “make friends,” otherwise I’d be one lonely kid.  And race was never an issue; cultures were shared with every invitation to a friend’s house, and all of us kids were better for it.  Eventually, I’d move to Connecticut to live with my father, who didn’t share a similar attitude towards diversity.  The language he would use and the way he would talk about people was atrocious.  It reaffirmed my juvenile beliefs that behavior like that was not to be repeated.  It helped me realize the importance of treating people with respect, regardless of color; and that respect is reciprocated more often than not.

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Reuniting Siblings Raised Apart

DNA genes formatted

From my personal observations of regular siblings raised apart, there are a few problems that come up when they are reunited and studied.

My mother was a middle child of five who was put up for adoption (her birth family was facing an economic hardship and they couldn’t afford to have another child around the time she was born).  The rest of her birth family remained together, and after the death of my mother’s adoptive parents, she set out to find her real family.

They were reunited five years ago by mail, and shortly afterwards, my mother and her long lost brother and sisters participated in a study of separated siblings.  Unfortunately, she had found that the rest of the family lived a pretty hardscrabble life, whereas my mother was more spoiled and had more opportunities.  This caused a tinge of resentment among her siblings.  There is also the idea that when everyone is joined together, they THINK they know each other when they really don’t and I’ve seen this to cause hurt feelings.

There is also the matter of finding out about family genetic health issues, and learning about what you may be predisposed to can be disconcerting.  Lastly, there is the freak chance that when four sisters get together, they could all show up wearing the same hideous pink shirt and blue jean combination (If only I could find the picture).

IMAGE CREDIT (and topical coverage):
Twins separated at birth reveal staggering influence of genetics

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‘Genocide’: All Jargon, No Penance

Much with all subjects, thanks to the television and the internet, humanity has been blindsided with too much information and desensitization to important issues. With all this info, what can we do about it?

Like Ashoka, who converted himself and his state to Buddhism after his army slaughtered 100,000 at Kalinga, humanity needs to feel horrible about what has been done (whether it fits the definition of genocide or not). It must be learned and moved on from, taken as a lesson…instead, we dally and bicker over details.  The failure is with modern bureaucracy.14850-asokacopy-1354542624-535-640x480

Before WW2 and since the dawn of mankind, news of such events traveled much slower, if it was ever heard at all.There are “genocidal acts” being committed everyday, yet we don’t go to war. Is it a matter of going after those trying to “rule the world,” or entering into a conflict under the banner of genocide when its an economic interest.

There is failure in the term ‘Genocide’ because it lacks universality. Because I use it, doesn’t “mean” a thing (well, yes, but beyond philosophically). The people who have the power to effect change need to use it, or otherwise prove the term worthless. Merely a business decision.

When people with the power to label such events ignore it, it doesn’t mean that it is forgotten.  The lack of acknowledgement brings resentment, and instead of an opportunity to learn and better humanity, the inaction of bystanders is reinforced as an acceptable human behavior.

Good recent article: Is Preventing Genocide Possible?

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Bikini Blast: Reagan Strain Naming?

“I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast” – Ronald Reagan

it's a headache from hell

I have yet to see the proof. But Ronnie might have a developed a great strain name.

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SA:’Race-Based’ Rations & Radicalization

Apartheid era menu showing the racialization of food rations.

Apartheid era menu showing the racialization of food rations.

During Apartheid, the political prisoners of South Africa’s Robben Island would frequently go on hunger strike over the quantity and quality of their rations.  Dietitians in the service of the state’s racial system determined ‘racial diets’, according to the Western determined ‘tastes’, with little input from the races themselves. Taste differs from individual to individual.

When prisoners complain, wardens would often respond, “like it,” or “I eat no better at home.” The food would then be quickly traded among the prisoners, until that activity found out and suspended; it later resumes.  There is no need for a racial structure of rations, except but to make detention efforts more backwards and cumbersome. Why should they go through such an effort?

It seems to me that a diet of hunger and frustration only serves to radicalize.

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Americans Work Way Too Much


In introducing shorter work weeks to their audience, John de Graff and Kevin Batker, both advocates on the ails of consumer culture mindset, describe a 1965 United States Senate subcommittee prediction which suggested that because of advancements in technology,

“Americans would be working only about 20 hours a week by the year 2000, while taking seven weeks or more of vacation a year.” 

Work hours had been on the decline since their peak at the height of the industrial age, the labor need decreasing due to automation and computing. They state that “until World War II, bread (higher wages) and roses (as in, shorter hours—time to smell the roses!) were the twin demands of the labor movement.” (de Graaf & Batker, 2011) However, the work hour rate leveled off and Americans adopted an attitude of working more hours than they needed to, in order to raise their standard of living. De Graff and Bakter offer convincing evidence that a shorter work week could provide range of benefits and solutions to contemporary labor issues. In fact, they blame the policy of the 40 hour week for a number of social problems, from unemployment to stress from overwork, and add “surely any economy based on the “greatest good” would take seriously the need for leisure.” (de Graaf & Batker, 2011)

I believe that the forty-hour work week is essentially arbitrary and ‘non-natural’.  I’m glad Google found the logic paying employees “to be effective, not to work 9 to 5.” My article covered similar territory around reduced weekly work hours, showing productivity gains, amidst a range of other economic, environmental, and social benefits.

“The average Dutch worker puts in fewer than 1,400 hours a year, compared with almost 1,800 for Americans. And yet, the Dutch economy has been very productive. Unemployment has been much lower than in the U.S., while the Netherlands has a positive trade balance and robust personal savings. Gallup Inc. ranks the Netherlands fifth in the world in life satisfaction (2010), behind only the Nordic countries (except Iceland) and well ahead of the U.S. Dutch emphasis on free time dates to at least 1982, when employers and unions signed the Wassenaar Agreement, in which unions accepted restrained wage growth in return for reductions in working hours and the expansion of part-time employment. The pact ended inflationary pressures and led to an economic turnaround that came to be called “the Dutch miracle.”

de Graaf, J. &. D. K. B. (2011, November 3). Americans work too much for their own good. Bloomberg. Retrieved from


Reduce the Workweek to 30 Hours
New York Times Opinion | Anna Coote | March 9, 2014

The Truth About The 40-Hour Workweek: It’s Actually 47 Hours Long
Think Progress | Bryce Covert | September 2, 2014