19 September 2016

My Lifetime Language Learning Plan

origins of the languages in my plan
Some time ago, a friend posted on Facebook about choosing a new language to learn. He said he was aiming to learn seven to nine languages in his life, so he needed to be careful about what he chose to spend time on. I was struck by his words because I'd never really considered that I should consciously limit the number of languages I'd try to learn. Now I think about it all the time.

It makes sense, of course: Growing up, we all realize in one way or another that everyone has limits to their knowledge of different languages. If you intend to learn several languages over the course of your life, then, it should help to plan deliberately and conscientiously how to meet those goals. I love languages, and I do intend to keep learning many throughout my life—so it's about time I made a plan.

04 August 2016

The War on "Political Correctness" Is a War on Common Decency

"Political correctness" is a buzz-term that draws millions of haters. It's not a new phenomenon, either. The concept has been lambasted for decades, in the United States and elsewhere, accused of attempting to quash free expression and truthful discourse in favor of sugar-coated, politically convenient language. If you search around online, you'll undoubtedly find far more sites devoted to attacking political correctness than defending it.

Donald Trump: tackling the real threats to America
Spoiler: Political correctness doesn't deserve all the hate it gets.

When politicians criticize "political correctness," they're just using it as what one author calls "the mother of all straw men."

In the end, being politically correct is mostly about just being a polite, decent person. It's about being conscious of the words you use and open to changing your language to be more widely acceptable and respectful. Some people hate that, apparently, and Donald Trump's been waging a constant war on it.

30 July 2016

You're Free to Vote Your Conscience!

An enormous number of Americans do not like either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, the major parties' 2016 candidates for U.S. President. Most of these Americans will probably end up voting for either Trump or Clinton anyway, or they'll stay home and won't vote at all. Those who ultimately vote for Trump or Clinton will justify their choice as "tactical voting," a chance to avoid the greater disaster they think the other candidate will bring, or in other words, a vote for the "lesser of two evils."

Believe it or not, though, you probably have no real reason to vote for a candidate you dislike. For the vast majority of Americans, "tactical voting" won't make any difference whatsoever in the outcome of the election. Instead, you are perfectly free to vote your conscience and choose the candidate that you most admire and agree with, even if they have little chance of winning the race. You won't have to hold your nose and vote for the "lesser evil" after all!

03 July 2016

Is the Fourth of July Really "Independence Day"?

We Americans all celebrate the Fourth of July, but how many of us take the time to consider the real events the holiday does or does not commemorate?

Here are two reasons the Fourth of July may not really be our "Independence Day":
  1. July 4th 1776 is not actually the day Americans declared the United States independent.
  2. The day that the independence of the United States was declared seems much less important than when the United States became independent—that is, the day Americans truly secured their independence, rather than just declaring it.
First, let's just get the facts straight: The American Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain on July 2nd, 1776. Yes, the Founding Fathers of the U.S. officially decided that they wanted an independent country on July 2nd. July 4th was only the date when the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence as an official statement. We Americans may love the Declaration of Independence as a document, but we have to be honest about what we're celebrating: Did we want to celebrate the day our country's forefathers actually declared their independence, or the day they adopted the specific words they wanted to use to make their position known?

Second, regardless of whether you choose July 2nd or 4th, should that day really be called our "Independence Day" anyway? I'd argue no. The United States was not a functional, free, and independent country at any time until several years after 1776; Americans were embroiled in war! They were fighting to gain and secure their independence, and there was no guarantee they'd win. In fact, there were many reasons to believe the American rebels would lose. After all, they were up against what was probably the mightiest military in the world at the time, and many American colonists were still loyal to the Crown throughout the war.

What day truly represents the moment when the United States was independent, then? I'd say we have to choose September 3rd, 1783—the day that British and American representatives signed the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war and granted the United States Britain's official recognition as an independent country. The first article of the treaty is as follows:
His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.
That may not sound as inspiring or poetic as the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, but in terms of what they meant for America's future, they may well have been a lot more powerful. The Declaration of Independence articulated a group of rebels' reasons for revolt; the Treaty of Paris gave a nation its full liberty as its former ruler forever conceded any claim to those lands.

No doubt, the Fourth of July will continue to be our national celebration day, but when September 3rd rolls around, be sure to remember all the events that truly gave our nation its independence.

30 June 2016

West Coast vs. East Coast City Choices, Round Two

Wherever you might live in the United States—north, south, east, west, or middle—it's important to know whether you're a West Coast or East Coast person.

If you haven't done so already, please take round one of the poll right now. This second round will settle things once and for all. Choose which city you'd prefer to live in out of the following pairs to determine whether you're West Coast or East Coast. (Keep track of the number you choose on each side.)

*Note: Again, these cities are not meant to be perfect counterparts to each other, just interesting choices. Not all of the cities are on the coast themselves, either, but they're all part of the West Coast or East Coast regions.

So, are you a West Coast or an East Coast person? Leave a comment and let me know.

08 June 2016

The Final Clinton-Obama vs. Clinton-Sanders Map

In March I posted a map I created overlaying the state-by-state results of the 2008 Democratic presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with the 2016 Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. There are four colors: dark green for states that went Obama-Sanders, light green for states that went Clinton-Sanders, light blue for states that went Obama-Clinton, and dark blue for states that went Clinton-Clinton. Now I've updated that map for the last time:

27 March 2016

Unpopular Opinions on Revolutionary History: The Easter Rising and the American Revolution

Today is the 100th Easter since the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, when republican revolutionaries rallied to fight for independence from the British. The actual dates of the rebellion were April 24-29, but Easter's come a bit early this year, and Ireland has chosen to commemorate the centennial now rather than in a month. It's doing so with unprecedented ceremonies, as it should. The Easter Rising was brutally crushed, but it was a critical moment that soon led to the rise of the Sinn Féin republican party, the Irish War of Independence, and ultimately Irish independence in 1921.

On Twitter a few days ago, I noticed people were upset about coverage of this history from RTÉ, Ireland's national broadcaster. I never got the chance to see any video of the coverage in question, but here are some of the relevant tweets:

Not All Native History Is "Ancient"

Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, early modern leader—not "ancient"
(actor Cristian Esquivel, source)
The Aztec Empire—was it "ancient"?

I hope your answer is no, because no empire formed less than 600 years ago qualifies as an "ancient" one. If it does, I guess we need to start calling Leonardo da Vinci an "ancient" artist and scientist.

(Leonardo's life, by the way, was fully contemporaneous to that of the Aztec Empire, and he died the same year that Cortés landed in Mexico.)

On two occasions this week, I saw the word "ancient" used in reference to indigenous histories that are anything but. The first example was what you just read: I saw someone refer to the Aztecs as "ancient" and it just made my head spin.