The limits of my language
mean the limits
of my world.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
Does time only flow in a continuum? Does a sentence have to contain a verb? The answer to the first question hasn’t been definitively answered. The answer to the second one is definitely no. Both play a role in the science fiction movie Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
For once, the U.S. government doesn’t bomb first and ask questions later. When aliens arrive, they send the linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to try to solve the mystery of their language so that peaceful communication can take place. This is where my little geeky language heart starts to beat faster. Concepts such as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (the correlation between language and worldview), logograms (symbols standing for words and not a single sound), and palindromes (words reading the same backwards and forwards) are used. The movie does an excellent job explaining these concepts so that non-linguists understand and linguists don’t get bored.
August 1970, late afternoon: Something legendary is unfolding right before the eyes of just about every black household in Chicago: “This is Soul Train, the hippest trip in America, 60 non-stop minutes over the tracks of your mind into the exciting world of Soul!” is heard for the very first time on local television. The show’s owner, producer, and hippest host in history, Mr. Don Cornelius, steps on stage and starts a new era in African American history. He has no idea his train is heading for television heaven.
After yet another election season with a number of glitches, the problems with America’s voting system have been all over the news once again. Will the fuss die down after a few months like it has in past elections? Somehow I don’t think it will. In recent months, it has become increasingly evident that some of the same rights that were fought for and won during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s have come under fire. The movement, once considered a done deal, has recently gained new urgency.
“Make America Great Again.” Again. Despite what the media coverage lead us to fear, the world did not end with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. No candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign was as omnipresent in the public perception as Trump. It has been said that the speech Trump gave on January 20 did not foreshadow a good presidency; it was aggressive, simple, and populist. But is that really something new?
History never crawls or walks. It runs. Sometimes silently as if on the softer sands of time. Sometimes we can hear its footsteps louder as they hit the hot pavement.
As I write this on January 19, 2017, Barack Obama is still the President of the United States. But only just. Great Britain is still a member of the European Union. But only just. And after the painful lessons of the 20th century, nationalism is still a sleeping giant. But only just. The giant is waking.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the vote for Brexit in 2016, Europe and the United States have known over a quarter century of relative peace. No wars, hot or cold. Some exceptions: Sarajevo, Srebrenica, 9/11. But for the most part, some 10,000 mornings, afternoons, and evenings have unfolded in secure calm. But as in the eye of a storm, calm can be deceptive. And temporary. Read more »
Tommy’s parents wave from the porch as our minivan pulls up. His dad smiles, and that’s when I see he’s missing about half of his teeth.
Before retiring a few years back, Gerald had been a mechanic. During high school, he’d apprenticed at his uncle’s garage, then serviced army vehicles while stationed in Germany. When he finally returned home he kept fixing cars. Worked “from can to can’t,” worked Saturdays, feeding himself
into the maw of busted trucks in unairconditioned Alabama, feeding a wife and three kids. Eventually he’d own his own shop, Franklin Automotive. In addition to repairs, he had a line on “totals,” wrecks the insurance company didn’t consider worth fixing. Gerald considered otherwise. He’d buy two or three of the same model at salvage auction and Frankenstein them together. Technically he wasn’t allowed to sell them – “branded title” and all that – but he figured there was no harm in it as long as the customer knew. He loved to negotiate, and that man could sell an icebox to an Eskimo.