Monday, August 25, 2008

Compromising, Categories & Labeling

Political "Ooching"

Writers, talking heads and so many others reference categorizing terms with names like conservative, liberal, ultra conservative or ultra liberal, just plain left or right, far right, or far left, extremists – left and right, radical right and left, religious right (is there a religious left (?) and I'm sure there are more such labels. Frankly, I don't think many of these terms are very well defined despite the efforts of various groups to do so. Individuals and groups devise their own criteria, which are fine if clearly stated so that everyone who encounters them understands.

I've taken several of what I call "whiz-bang" Internet short tests with questionnaires purported to determine which of certain labels applies to the test-taker. Most I've seen must be considered fun experiences at best, but I've enjoyed taking them just out of curiosity. Sometimes I take a test more than once varying one answer just to see how easily the resultant designated label can be altered. The tests value is questionable in my mind other than for entertainment purposes.

I've always had a problem with how readily we variously categorize people and their beliefs or behaviors, but then trying to find common grouping characteristics is one system by which we try to make sense of our world. Also, those kinds of groupings are one of the ways our brain stores much information we gather into our memories.

I was prompted to think about the language of categorization when I read Bob Frank's recent blog at "Eclectic World."

Bob refers to one publication's approach to making their point about political positions. They make a strong case that presidential candidate Barack Obama should be very careful to not waver on his previously stated positions. They caution there are great risks to his election should he do so. They present positions they state as being Obama's. (Another blogger questioned in a private email exchange with me whether the publication's position list in some instances may actually be a projection of what the publication and supporters want Obama's positions to be, contrary to what has been stated on his website as his position on some of these issues. You can decide for yourself by checking links there.)

The emphasis in this post is on political labeling and candidates wavering. I read print and hear broadcasters views suggesting the other candidate, John McCain, is wavering on some of his positions, also. The "why" of altering or "ooching," as I call it, on issues is an election campaign activity sometimes used in the belief the candidate will attract a new voter group hesitating in endorsement, or one previously not supportive. Often the issue move is toward the middle or more moderate view. Is there a middle of the road or center view on issues?

I've thought of myself as being independent, generally having moderate views on many topics. Yet when I state my view on some issues there are those who would label me as having a liberal viewpoint. Other issues I support would garner me a label by some others as being conservative. Naturally, I think my views have been formed from intelligent, well-considered information resulting in logical conclusions. I believe labeling me by applying to all my beliefs and political positions the same, but only one, all-encompassing label is a false description and can be a gross misrepresentation of my views. Yet, often that is what occurs. Individuals are labeled on the basis of one or a few positions alone.

My focus of interest here is the link in Bob Frank's post to some ideas expressed by George Lakoff, professor of linguistics, in his book Thinking Points. He argues in chapter two entitled "Biconceptualism" that the existence of an ideological center is a myth. Don't let this academic-sounding terminology discourage anyone from considering reading this online short 6 pgg accessible chapter. (Note: excerpts of this chapter are also currently accessible on "The Huffington Post" with a repeat post there from 9/27/06.)

Frank says at his blog with links to George Lakoff's discussion on biconceptualism and the "Mythical Center":

"Compromise is a mark of a skillful politician. But not compromising on core values or on issues that appear to be core values. It appears that presidential candidates want to move their positions to an ideological "center". George Lakoff, professor of linguistics, in his book "Thinking Points" argues that this "center" is a myth. He claims that progressive candidates weaken themselves by moving to the "Mythical Center" because people vote, "...on the basis of values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity with issues used symbolically to reflect values."

I want my candidate to be strong in presenting his core values. I want there to be no question about the issues for which I am voting. I think in this election, perhaps as in none other in my lifetime, most of the voting public agrees.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Convention Countdown

(My blogging continues to be hampered by computer technical issues as noted in previous post and comments.)

Up date 8/23/08 -- News sources announce:

Democratic Vice Presidential Choice is

Sen. Joe Biden

The countdown to officially select U. S. presidential candidates continues. The two major political party 2008 national conventions begin:

Democratic – Monday, August 25th in Denver, Colorado

Republican --Monday, September 1st in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

All the other political parties have selected their candidates. There are a total of fourteen including some Independents and at least one write-in office-seeker you may read about at Wikipedia. ( Information is generally reliable at this site, but be aware of how the site is developed.)

We all know the primary parties presidential candidates identities and have known for many weeks. Yet, until the official nomination processes are completed the process is not official. The candidates have yet to announce their selection of a vice presidential running mate though Barack Obama has tantalizingly revealed his selection has been made. He will reveal this information at any time and provides a link on his website that will provide viewers the opportunity to be recipients of his announcement:

Barack Obama's Vice President Selection at "First To Know"

When John McCain announces his Vice Presidential choice and the political conventions conclude, we will begin to experience very intense campaigning until voting in our national election on Tuesday, November 4, 2008.

The latest poll results I've read indicate the two major candidates are basically statistically tied. Obviously, this is a pretty critical election, so all those voters who haven't yet chosen the candidate for whom they'll vote will be doing so over these remaining months before election day the first Tuesday in November.

I think we need to attend to candidates stances on the critical issues, demand they specifically discuss them, especially if.....

  • we want domestic change from the status quo.
  • we desire to re-establish democracy with individual rights and privacy that our constitution written by the founders of our country intended for us.
  • we hope to regain respectability in the world.

We need to reject any candidate employing the divisive strategies of our most recent previous elections under the guise of playing on emotional issues, personal belief systems that do not belong in the political and legislative arena. Candidates who do so and voters supporting them betray the purpose and function of government in the interest of political gain at the expense of the very system of governance we profess to desire.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Olympics '08 Microcosm

(Just so you'll know .....

Computer glitches have been a problem for many weeks allowing me only spasmodic blogging. My primary problem has been frequently losing Internet connectivity whether I'm in email, reading or making blog comments. I've lost comments I've written on various blog posts and finally just didn't re-write them. Publishing a post to my blog can be an unreal excessively time consuming trial.

My patience, enthusiasm and motivation are being really challenged. I have limited time I am able or want to devote to resolving this technical frustration though my long distance tech guru son is trouble-shooting with me as he is able. I do get fed up with the hours spent on this task and these complications. Once again, I'm sorry to say, future blogging will possibly be more inconsistent than usual for some indeterminate period of time.

Later ..... True to form I lost connectivity sometime while composing this draft. At least I can copy, paste it and try again, but how many times. If I don't provide links I have a better chance of publishing more quickly. But, who is to say whether or not I can sustain connectivity long enough to publish.)

Olympics 2008 Microcosm

I've enjoyed losing myself in the spirit of the 2008 Beijing Olympic activities. A member of my writing class is there touring, attending some games with his wife and has sent our group a few pictures of their travel adventure through China. I've had some other friends who have been there in recent years whose accounts of their experience have also whetted my interest in the country.

I'm watching most of these Olympic game competitions this year because I can lose myself in them and leave the rest of my world behind. I prefer delayed (if necessary) television viewing while I recline on a comfortable sofa rather than perching on my cushioned chair before a much smaller computer screen for real time events. I find whether or not I know in advance who has won, lost or been unexpectedly eliminated doesn't really matter to me. Of course, I do hope the U.S.A. competitors win, but I also identify others I want to do well. What I appreciate are the actual athletic performances.

I'm quite aware of the inequities surrounding the choice of this Asian country to be host of these games. I also know about the controversies associated with how some of the participating countries select and train their athletes. I'm familiar with the speculations made that some athletes may have had some of their personal information altered in order to participate, thus violating the rules of these games.

I've heard the arguments that some of the athletic event point grading rules have resulted in medals being awarded inappropriately. I've listened to discussions that judges are selected who are sometimes not the most knowledgeable about the intricacies of the very sport for which they award athletes points determining medalling hierarchy. I understand this system for selecting judges is an effort to correct alleged earlier years Olympic inequities of political influence and nationalism. None of these issues are what this post is about, but that is not to say they are unimportant, should not be discussed, or do not need correction. Readers are encouraged to comment on any of these issues should they choose to do so.

I've viewed varying events from the Olympics since they were first televised years ago. Even before TV there was radio, film and news coverage via the medium(s) of the day. There have always been Olympic games inequities, some having more serious implication and significance than others. The fact we recognize injustices, bring them to public attention has some value in precipitating the possibility of change. I realize that is little solace for individual athletes who are immediately adversely affected, and lacks in comfort for their teams, or the aggregate of each countries teams. Nor does awareness alone rectify the serious human problems present in each country including our own U.S.A.

I view the Olympics in some respects as a microcosm of the macrocosm that is our world. The main difference between the two I see is the Olympic participants are not literally killing each other.

Olympic Websites -- Click or Search:

The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympics August 8-24, 2008

Official Online Broadcaster -- Live Streaming Video

Monday, August 18, 2008

Birthday Wishes for Millie Garfield


B I R T H D A Y ! ! !

" M I L L I E "

May your day be special
with family and friends.

Lucky eights: 08/18/08

Looking forward to sharing
many more birthdays with you !

(Visit Millie at "My Mom's Blog")

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Dialects, Accents, Spelling Confusion

Word confusion comes about in many ways, but frequently as a result of complications trying to understand an unfamiliar language, or speech accents and dialect differences in the same language.

We do associate certain speech patterns and characteristics with geographical areas of our country and even particular communities. Standard English may be spoken in the USA with various specific area dialects, which can sometimes result in misunderstandings based solely on words being pronounced differently. These accents can also be perceived as strange, alien and a source of humor, or even as an indication of a person's inferiority because of the difference from the prevailing group's speech and language pattern.

I recall years ago as a native Great Lakes state northerner being made aware of having acquired a slight southern dialect during my few years in the South. My standard northern flavored speech had been subjected to southern word dialect osmosis which emerged in some words being recorded I was reading from a sales promotion script. I was supposed to be a woman from Chicago praising our companies products. When we finished audio taping the promotion for the sales department, I glanced up from my script to see the recording studio staff laughing uproariously. I soon learned my northern housewife character had unknowingly spoken her lines with southern speech patterns. Needless to say, her hometown was soon changed.

What a reversal, as I was reminded that only a few years earlier I had learned the reason why my new southern school's classmates had invited me to join them regularly at lunch. They said they had decided they liked me, but they admitted they really wanted to hear what they described as my northern dialect, which really was just general American speech. They stretched their words out, speaking slowly with "Y'all" while I sometimes said, "you guys." Occasionally I said "warsh" for "wash," and "crick" for "creek." My dialect variations were minimal or "light," but southern, northern, other regional dialects and accents can sometimes be so pronounced, "heavy," or "thick," (they're composed of so many unique sounds) others unfamiliar with such speech think they sound really strange. The confused listener may say, "I'm sorry, I didn't understand, could you repeat that please?" or maybe just a simple "Whaddya say?"

"Do you speak American? What speech do we like best?" These are questions asked at this PBS site.

Other times the special accent of foreign speakers creates a unique production of our English words. I always delight in Great Britain's English pronunciation of "laboratory" as they say "luh bor' a tory" accenting the "bor." We Americans often say "lab' ra tory" accenting the "lab." Even other English speaking countries Scotland, Australia and numerous additional ones produce their own distinct but differing word sounds from each other. Within each of those countries they have dialects, also.

Anyone who has ever needed to communicate on a regular basis with someone who speaks a language other than their own with an accent, whether here in the United States or in other countries, may have had difficulty understanding the other person, especially when they first interact. Probably each person has sometimes serious, other times humorous stories to relate resulting from misunderstandings they've experienced.

I am acutely aware of the effect of dialects and accents on others. I know anyone trying to re-acquire speech and language due to neurological damage as a consequence of stroke or brain injury for example, may experience as most challenging, interactions with those unable to speak precisely the patients native language. Individuals with hearing loss also must make an extra effort to perceive correctly the words of someone not speaking the predominant language of the hearing impaired person. These issues are universally true, in English and other languages, too.

I think about the experience of being in another country where my English is not predominant.
Great patience and tolerance is required of speakers and listeners with the emphasis needing to be on understanding one another, not blaming and complaining about each others poor speech and language shortcomings. That is not to say that we each shouldn't make an effort to speak more precisely, clearly and even acquire words, phrases and other languages.

Actually, I think in some settings, such as medical, rehabilitation centers, public contact offices, an offering of speech class intervention is highly desired, but these accent reduction classes are rarely offered for our U.S.A. limited English speakers Unfortunately, doctors, nurses other staff are generally quite busy working long hours, some also training additionally to advance their professional levels and careers. They often do not have the time to attend such ESL adult education classes, or those offered at many community colleges.

The most difficult words and ideas to be understood by those acquiring English are idioms and colloquial sayings. (The latter are phrases more often spoken than written, sometimes slang.) One idiomatic story I recall from many years ago occurred when the college I was attending began admitting foreign students from a war torn Far Eastern country.

Soon after arriving on our campus, one such foreign limited English speaking (LES) student was hurriedly trying to find a new friend of his. The LES speaker had lived several years through a war in his home country. He had witnessed or known of all sorts of human atrocities to which a person could be subjected if he/she was simply unliked or in any way different from others. His perspective of life that anything could happen to a person prevailed here, too, as he was still unfamiliar with the ways of our country, much less our idioms. He managed with a limited few English words to ask a mutual acquaintance where his friend might be. He was quite unprepared for understanding the answer he was given. "Oh, you'll find him hanging around the corner." His shocked reaction quickly revealed further language explanation was needed, that his friend was well and not literally hanging.

Spelling words in any language present their own unique problems. Years ago I briefly assisted foreign speakers for whom English was a Second Language (ESL.) Fortunately, I already was quite aware of why so many find our language very difficult to understand, speak, read and write. We have quite a few words that are pronounced the same, but spelled differently and have very different meanings. For example: four/for is a very simple one, but many far more complex words can result in significant meaning differences if used incorrectly. Some native speakers still have trouble with such words, too/to/two.

Thoughts of all these speech and language matters, especially spelling issues, came to mind when I visited a local restaurant recently that appeared to be staffed by natural American citizens. This isn't the most fancy restaurant in town, but it's clean, respectable, has the highest "A" rating, with the food reasonably tasty, considering the inexpensive cost. The restaurant's near proximity to my residence also serves as an attraction when I make a sudden spontaneous decision to eat out and don't want to drive far. While paying my bill, I noticed a hand printed sign posted on the cash register:

"Sorry we can not take creit cards. This is temporitory."
Signed "Manager"

I don't know if these spelling anomalies can be attributed to someone for whom English is not their first language, to a weakness in the writer's education, or if, perhaps, the writer has a learning disability. I wish I knew the answer as it might affect my attitude toward eating there in the future. I guess spelling accuracy and quality of food preparation don't necessarily reflect poorly on one another, but I must admit that simple sign planted questions and doubts in my mind.