Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Strange English Language

After a long absence ...

Pronounce "Christmas" - short i

Pronounce "Crist", a surname - short i

Pronounce "Christian" - short i

Pronounce "Christ" - ... long i ????

What gives (short i)?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If You Can't Say Something Nice ...

I got a better feel, today, for the content of some of the Wikileaks documents. Reuters has a nice review:

Despite the sometimes childish nature of the contents, in general, they appear to have what would be considered to be normal internal information (with a few exceptions).

It is interesting, though, that there are numerous examples of unethical behavior, at least according to the yearly ethics training that my employer provides.

We offered money and meetings with the president in exchange for taking prisoners out of Gitmo. This would be an offense that would land you in jail if you did something similar in exchange for business.

There were numerous examples of authors inserting personal opinion in the technical analysis that often bordered on slander. My company has explicit training on what to lay down in print and always says to ask yourself the question: "How would that look and how would I feel if this memo ever got into the media?"

This speaks very poorly of our diplomatic corps, not to leave out our ineptitude to safeguard State Department communications.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


About 8 weeks ago, I was at a conference in Budapest, Hungary. Each day, there was a two-hour time frame for lunch and one evening there was a group activity. These small windows allowed me to get out for walks and see a bit of this charming city (cities? Buda and Pesht).

My first walkabout was along the Danube river. It was there that I crossed over on an impressive iron bridge.

Crossing from one side to the other, I stumbled onto the Cave Church in Gellert hill, that I had glimpsed on the taxi ride to the hotel.

I did not get a chance to go into this structure, but it's mere construction into the hillside was fascinating.

On day two, I went a different direction and visited the opera house. Unfortunately, it was closed. I must continually remind myself to check times before trying to work a visit into a small time window. Nonetheless, I found the St. Stephens Basilica, which was quite lovely. Interestingly, having read Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, I was chuckling when I found the obelisk just outside the church.

The inside of the church was beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed a quick walk through.

Crossing a beautiful park (which was schizophrenic ... beautiful by day, homeless and drug infested at night), I meandered toward parliament. On the way, there was a last vestige of the cold war (the engraving that said something about the Soviet Union and the star on top were dead give aways) ...

Parliament was a very impressive building:

On day three, I went to the castle at lunch. Quite impressive, but not like other castles I have visited; perhaps the Heidelberg castle in Germany or, more appropriately, the one in Schwetzigen, Germany.

The old city nearby offered beautiful views across the Danube.

You may notice the church steeple in the mid-ground. All across the city the steeples were elaborately tiled ...

That evening, my last before leaving to return home, I visited the Duna Palota to watch Hungarian folk dancers.

Of course, no trip to Europe would be complete without the street guy ...

Budapest was interesting from another standpoint. All I heard all week was English. It must be a popular tourist spot because it was amazing hearing the Swedes, Italians, French (yes French), German, and other visitors all ordering at restaurants in English (as well as out on the street).

Finally, there is the European custom of wearing one's scarf around the neck ...

These guys are clearly European. I often want to ask them if they wear their socks tied around their ankles.

Can Anyone Say "George Orwell"

George Orwell's 1984 was a bit early in its prediction of an all-seeing government. The recent hoopla about invasive screening at airports is just another example for us. Since 9-11, the government has been particularly adept at removing our personal freedoms in the name of security and safety. I am not saying we should not have security and safety. Anyone who remembers airlines being hijacked to go to Cuba knows that some level of security is required. However, we, as Americans, seem to be all to eager to turn in our freedoms when the government yells safety and security and terror. In fact, our appointed officials, like Janet Napolitano, simply refuse to listen to the brave few who would question the TSA tactics. They just don't "understand why people are so upset".

I am really tired of the media on this one, too, because, until it became scandalous (someone was touched improperly), they did not care. Even now, they seem more than able to find some dolt who says ... "Well, if it makes us safer I am ok with it." Well, I am not ok with it. It is ineffective, looks for the wrong things on people, screens those who don't need screening and costs billions of dollars while we are going broke.

Since I cannot complain without offering alternatives, here is a partial list ...

  • profile based on criminal background
  • profile based on probing questioning
  • vigorously x-ray all baggage - cargo and otherwise
  • make better use of psychological training for employees
  • mine the vast information network that has been built up on every American by our and other's governments
  • develop a friend-foe system (the theory is that if one has not been a problem the past years on any number of flights, it is unlikely that they will be a problem)

I am really tired of having my civil rights removed from me and am afraid that we are edging ever closer to a police state, at least when it comes to group travel.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Government and Me

I was listening to an interesting program on NPR this afternoon during lunch where the guest was tracing the links between the Tea Party of today with the John Birch Society of the 50's and 60's. As I have supported some of the ideas of the Tea Party and applaud their exercise of their constitutional rights, I thought it might be good to put some thoughts down regarding my own feelings regarding our loveable federal government. I think that there are those in my family that see me as a Tea Party supporter in the worst case and as anti-Obama in the best case. So, for all of you, here are my thoughts on our government (in summary form with extended explanations where needed).

There is clearly an important role for federal government; anarchy is not an option. The federal government should do the following:

  • Uphold the Constitution of the United States

  • Defend the country from attack (but not by stripping its citizens of their rights)

  • Protect the borders

  • Guide and regulate monetary policy, especially on a global scale

  • Protect the rights of all citizens (by definition, this includes all minorities)

  • Guide commerce and protect citizens from fraudulent and toxic buisness practices

  • Legislate without the influence of business, special interests, other governments

  • Adjudicate according to the Constitution and well-established precidents of English and American law

  • Carry out foriegn policy with the best interests of the citizens in mind (not the petty concerns of individual politicians following misguided policies)

  • Pursue massive projects that support new knowledge (to be shared with the citizens) and technologies that cannot be pursued by profit-driven entities

  • Provide a safety net for the poor and infirm and provide meaningful training to render all capable persons of gaining employment in the private sector

There may be more, but this is a good start. Now for what the government should not do:

  • Redistribute wealth

  • Become the largest employer in the country

  • Withhold the funding of schools that comply with all equal opportunity requirements but do not follow the whims of various government programs that control the environment and content of education

  • Dictate health care

  • Intrude on the daily lives of citizens with arbitrary legislation that appeals to the latest pseudo-science or mass-driven opinions

  • Allow legislators to abdicate the responsibility for writing legislation to hired hands

  • Pile up massive debt (I think some debt is ok ... it works well for me, but there has to be a limit)
So, this should be enough to get some tongues wagging in the family. It is not a complete list, but a good working one.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The death of English has been exaggerated greatly

I have had a sneaking suspicion that, over the next 10 years, as the Chinese emerge as the number one global economy, that English will disappear as the language of business and travel. After this week, I have had second thoughts.

I was at a trade conference in Budapest, Hungary, a beautiful city with much to offer. I got the impression that it is a vacation destination due to its central European location and numerous natural "baths".

I was struck quickly by how easy it was for me to communicate. Everyone was speaking in English. As I sat at restaurants and visited sites and shops, English was all around. The Italians, French, Germans, Japanese, Swedes, Chinese, and even the Hungarians (and other folks as well) all spoke English, not just to me, but to each other. Italians cannot speak Hungarian, nor can Germans, and so on, so everyone conversed in English. This represents an interesting issue and involves billions of people. Basically, due to the huge influence of Britain and the US after World War II and into the travel and international business age, everyone learned English. Some folks learned other languages, but in Europe, in particular, I think it is clear. Germans know German, and they were taught English, but they do business all over Europe (now the world). Maybe they pick up another language or two, but they cannot cover them all, so English is something they all have in common.

I know now, in retrospect, that this makes sense. But, until I went to a city in a country that was a real tourist destination, I did not realize how pervasive the use of English is. I had an easier time getting around Budapest than any city I have ever visited where English was not a native tongue.

I think, too, that there are other barriers to Chinese becoming a global language:

  • It is a difficult language, foreign in structure and tone to most of the business and travel world.
  • Which dialect should you learn? (I don't know, perhaps one is dominant enough in China to suffice.)
  • There is not yet a global driver to teach it in European, North or South American schools. Kids in these regions that do not already speak English, normally have the option to learn it in school.
So, I can focus on the languages I need most. I tip my hat to those who would try to learn Chinese; they will have a great advantage in the business world to come.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This is not your Caesar's Latin

I was walking through Budapest today and stumbled onto the basilica. There was an inscription on it that made me think back to my Latin studies in junior high and high school ...

"Ego sum via, veritas, et vitas."

I was pleased that it hit me immediately that this was messed up. Latin always has the verb at the end and there is no special word for I. Clearly, someone, versed in English, was trying to say:

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Seems odd to have this carved into 75 year old stone, though; especially at the top of the entrance to the basilica.