A Day That Will Live in Infamy

guard-tower-hmwf-yoshio-okumoto-coll-500x313

A guard tower at Heart Mountain—
the barbed wire and armed guards were to keep people in.

Seventy-five years ago, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which established so-called Military Zones in the United States, a national policy based on fear and racism. This order laid the groundwork for the eventual removal and internment of tens of thousands of people of Japanese descent, including American citizens, people who were not convicted of any crime.

Sadly, this shameful stain on American history has actually been cited recently as a “precedence” for the potential registry and internment of people of the Muslim faith. Those who do not learn from history . . .

I’m using this anniversary and the rhetoric about suggested current bans as an opportunity to educate those who may be unfamiliar with this aspect of U.S. history. In 1992, I had recently earned my MA in history, and I was shocked at how hidden this chapter of our American past was. I don’t believe it rated a single paragraph in my high school history books, and when I chose the topic for my own capstone project as a grad student, much of the secondary source material was recent—as if historians themselves had only just discovered the topic.

After I wrote my thesis, Friends Journal, a Quaker monthly publication, announced they were dedicating their November 1992 issue to a retrospective of the internment experience. I penned the overview (which can be read in PDF form without leaving this website) that introduced the issue. My essay tells the story of internment in brief, from the issuance of 9066 to reparations. Other voices in that issue offered reflections from those who lived through the actual events on both sides of the camp fences and updates on apologies and healing.

Today, there are many more opportunities to learn about the camps and what happened seventy-five years ago than there were even in 1992. The Japanese American National Museum opening coincided with the fiftieth anniversary. Manzanar was also named a National Historic Site in 1992, although the interpretive museum would not open until 2004. The Rohwer museum opened its doors in 2013. And of course, George Takei, of Star Trek fame, interned as a child with his family at Rohwer, has been an advocate for bringing this story to the forefront, through his blog and his passion project, the musical Allegiance (Broadway run 2015–16).

If you want to learn more about this period, I invite you to explore the links in the additional reading section. I think people who truly open their hearts to these events—the tragedy of internment, the suffering of Japanese American families, and the understanding that the internment did absolutely nothing for American security during the war—will see that this is not a mistake we, as Americans, want to repeat.

Text : (C) 2017 Rebecca Bigelow;  Photo: National Archives


Additional Reading

Rebecca Bigelow, “Certain Inalienable Rights,” Friends Journal, November 1992. Note this is a link on Curiosity Seldom Pays. All other links are to external sites.

Friends Journal archives are available to paid subscribers if you want to read the entire issue on the subject of internment.

George Takei’s Allegiance, the musical about internment, is playing in select theaters nationwide on Sunday (tomorrow), February 19, 2017, to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of 9066. This is the filmed version of the Broadway production starring George Takei, Lea Salonga, and Telly Leung. Check the Fathom Events site to see if it is playing near you. Also note that fans are asking for the film version to be made available for in-home viewing, but there are no official announcements on this yet.

A selection of museum sites:

Heart Mountain (Wyoming)

The Japanese American National Museum

Manzanar National Historic Site (California)

Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center (Arkansas)

Science Is Golden

I’m what you might call science adjacent. I’m not a scientist, but I keep crossing paths with them. As an editor, I spend a lot of time correcting their grammar, and on a day-to-day basis, I share my house with two of them: my husband and our daughter.

I may have ended up as an English and history major, but I’ve always liked science. It’s useful for everyday life. Need to bake a cake? Chemistry will help you there. Planting a garden? Show gratitude to botany for your knowledge of Hardiness Zones. Need to know how scary a theme park ride is? Ask about the gravitational force on Space Mountain (calculated by a local news team1 as more than 3.5), and you can nope right out of that ride thanks to physics.

Science appeals to my logical side. For a theory to be accepted, it has to be replicable, so scientists have to be able to lay out all the steps for how they reached their conclusion. “Because I said so,” may be the fallback position of frustrated parents everywhere, but it would not fly in a peer-reviewed science journal. And when science gets things wrong—and it does, after all the earth is not flat, there are no canals on Mars, and the planet Vulcan only exists in the Star Trek universe2—other scientists eventually correct the mistake with new evidence.

Scientists don’t know everything, nor do they claim to, and they don’t always explain things to lay people in a way that they can understand. Sometimes their scientific bent even gets them into trouble. When we were dating, my husband told me he was 99 percent sure that he loved me, but he could never be 100 percent sure because he was a scientist.3 I married him anyway.

The upshot of all this is when the vast majority of scientists agree on something, it behooves us to listen. Scientists agree that climate change is real, and 97 percent of climate change scientists agree that humans are causing it. Now, granted, that is not as certain as my husband is that he loves me, but it’s pretty darn close.

So when scientists tell us that climate change is real (and coming soon to a city near you!), we should listen.  After all, if you were in the way of stampeding heffalumps, and someone yells, “Heffalumps!” to warn you, it would be unreasonable to stand around debating the origins, causes, and motivations of A.A. Milne characters run amok. No, the first thing any reasonable person would do is to try to stabilize the situation: get out of the way, seek shelter, or otherwise try to reduce the number of rogue creatures escaped from the Hundred Acre Wood.4

The same theory applies to climate change. Even without agreement on the causes, it is clear that there are things we can do to mitigate the effects of climate change and to try to stabilize the situation. I know I’m just an English and history major, but it seems to me that we can reduce our carbon footprint now and worry about the whys and wherefores later. After all, the planet doesn’t care where exactly the greenhouse gases are coming from, all that matters is to reduce them.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for the current administration to recognize the heffalump, er, elephant in the room. We can each take steps to limit our own carbon footprints. And with these few small individual steps, together we could make great strides. That said, governments can create the most change because they can affect general policy. If a government is unwilling to act, it makes sense to ask, “Who benefits if we don’t do those things?” The answer seems to be that certain corporations, politicians, and individuals have a vested self-interest in keeping carbon emissions unregulated.

But climate change is only one example of science under attack by the current administration. Being science adjacent, I’ve been alarmed this week when our new president has set in motion several anti-science policies, including issuing gag orders on science communities and canceling long-scheduled scientific conferences. Silence may be golden, but in this case it may be deadly. For science to thrive, research needs to see the light of day, so that other scientists can hold it to the high standards that come from reproducible results. Silencing the scientific community when we are on the cusp of a global crisis is crazy. Scientists are pushing back with alt-websites and planned marches on Washington, but we non-scientists need to speak up as well.

Even if you mixed up mitosis and meiosis throughout your high school biology class, you can still appreciate science—from the computer you are reading this on to the life-saving medications that extend both the quality and quantity of life to the special effects used in the latest blockbuster.  I promise you can learn about these things without having to memorize a single formula. If your current home is free from vector-borne diseases (translation: bugs that carry scary illnesses that they then transmit to humans) or you can get a variety of fruits and vegetables from the local supermarket year round, and you’d like to keep these things, consider reading up on climate change. By learning how to help—from recycling to speaking up for scientists in the wild—you can make a difference. Anyone who likes living on this planet has a stake in the outcome.  As the protest sign says: There Is No Planet B.

 

Text ©2017 by Rebecca Bigelow

________________

  1. See http://forums.wdwmagic.com/threads/orlandos-local-6-news-tests-g-forces.78170/ for discussion of G forces on Disney rides.
  2. Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier, a ninteenth-century mathematician who had successfully used math to predict the existence of Neptune, hypothesized the planet Vulcan could be found in Mercury’s orbit. Other scientists confirmed its existence at first, but later scientists realized that the anomalies in the orbit were not caused by a new planet but by the proximity to the sun. See an article on Real Clear Science for further discussion.
  3. This space available for the rebuttal and justification to be provided by said husband.
  4.  Apologies to A.A. Milne and his fans. No heffalumps were harmed in the writing of this piece.

________________

Additional Reading

For now, both the EPA and NASA have climate change websites available.

This is a list of the alt-twitter sites set up by scientists after the gag orders started rolling out. Many of these also have Facebook pages.

Rolling Stone magazine published an article in 2015 that discussed some of the effects of climate change that were already noticeable and happening at a much faster rate than predicted.

This site messes with my OCD a little bit. They advertise 50 ways individuals can help combat climate change, but then they only list 49. Overlook that and read the list anyway.

If you have kids, NASA has a page just for them.

Pilgrim’s Progress

When the Pilgrims and Native Americans sat down at their three-day celebration to give thanks for a bountiful harvest in 1621, they could not have imagined the trappings of a modern thanksgiving. Football? Green bean casserole? A 2.5 mile parade through a metropolis? All inconceivable!

More than 200 years later, the idea of our modern-style Thanksgiving gained traction when it was made a fixed national holiday in the United States by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Football on Thanksgiving came a few years later in 1869, but green bean casserole wasn’t invented until 1955. In between the two latter dates, R.H. Macy loaned his name to the best-known holiday parade in the United States when employees organized the first procession to Macy’s flagship store in New York City.

Will It Play in Peoria?

Although the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is now synonymous with Thanksgiving and is the way millions of Americans herald the holiday season, it isn’t the longest running holiday parade in the United States. That honor belongs to the Santa Claus Parade in Peoria, Illinois, which is now held the day after Thanksgiving and first welcomed Santa in 1889 (versions of the parade were held in both 1887 and 1888 to celebrate first the groundbreaking and later the completion of a new bridge, but St. Nick was not featured).

And despite the Macy Parade’s starring role in 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street, Macy’s wasn’t even the first parade held on Thanksgiving day. Ironically, that honor belonged to Macy’s real life—and reel life—rival: Gimbels, which first held their parade in 1920 in Philadelphia. Ellis Gimbel attracted children (and their parents) to his toy department with a parade that included 15 cars, 50 people, and the jolly elf himself. Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving parade remains the longest running one in the country, although since the demise of Gimbels stores in the 1980s, the parade has been renamed several times to recognize new sponsors.

 Broadway Debut

Four years after Gimbels’ first parade, in 1924, New York Macy’s employees held their first attempt, but the parade didn’t look much like the one held today. Although held on Thanksgiving, it was called a Christmas parade, and it was held without balloons. The route, which ended at the Herald Square Macy’s—as every Macy’s Parade since has done—began not at 77th Street as the parade does today, but at 145th Street and Covenant in Harlem, making the original route more than six miles long (or more than twice as long as today’s approximately 2.5 mile route).

elephants Macy's
Elephants from the Central Park Zoo.

Kris Kringle—already the main event—was brought in by “a retinue of clowns, freaks, animals and floats,” according to an article in The New York Times. The freaks were not explained, but the clowns were costumed employee volunteers, the animals were borrowed from the Central Park Zoo, and the floats had a Mother Goose theme to match the decorated Mother Goose Christmas–themed windows at the Macy’s store. Crowd estimates were put at 10,000 in Herald Square and another 250,000 along the route.

Santa Macy'sThe first Santa float.

Once Santa arrived, he was crowned “King of the Kiddies.” The event was declared a rousing success, and Macy’s vowed to repeat the effort the following year. Indeed they have done so every year since, with the exception of the years 1942–1944, when the rubber and helium used in the parade was deemed more valuable to America’s war effort than to the parade. Interestingly, however, both Philadelphia’s and Peoria’s parades continued through the war years uninterrupted.

So Much Hot Air

Freaks notwithstanding, the Macy’s parade began to look less like a circus parade and more like the modern version in 1927—the first year balloons were used. The early balloons (four in the 1927 parade, including a dragon and Felix the Cat) were brought to the parade by puppeteer and theatrical designer Anthony Sarg. They were small, filled with air, controlled like a puppet by the volunteer handlers, and were more like floats (falloons, in modern terminology) than today’s high-soaring balloons.

Felix the catThe Felix the Cat balloon. Look, Ma! Only four handlers.

Still, the cat was out of the bag, and the live animals were permanently retired to the zoo. Helium was added to the balloons a year later and has been used every year the parade has run since, with two exceptions: In 1958 a helium shortage force parade organizers to transport the air-filled balloons on trucks and with cranes, and in 1971, high winds grounded the balloons.

P1180481Helium tankers deliver the gas to the public balloon inflation on Wednesday.

Balloons and floats for the modern parade are all created at Macy’s year-round parade studio in Hoboken, New Jersey. After several accidents in high winds, balloon size has been reduced, the number of handlers required for each balloon has been upped to a minimum of 50, and the balloons must be tethered to a vehicle, not just people. Additionally, traffic signals are turned out of the path of the parade or removed altogether, and the balloons are grounded if winds are sustained over 23 miles per hour. Floats have their own requirements on size, but the elves at the Hoboken studios make them so they fold up to 12 feet by 8 feet so they can fit through the Lincoln Tunnel on their way to and from the parade.

P1180696Notice the traffic lights have been moved out of the way.

 No Strings Attached

How much does it cost for Macy’s to create a balloon or float? Well, Macy’s is notoriously tightlipped on this matter. They have stated that they consider the parade to be a gift to the people of New York and the viewers at home, arguing that a gift giver does not announce the price of the gift to the recipient. Still, there are estimates that a new balloon will cost the sponsor as much as $190,000, with a repeat entry coming in around $90,000. A float is said to average $60,000.

In 2015, the balloons are a lot bigger and require many more handlers than in the earliest parades.

The performers are volunteers—mostly with Macy’s—but the groups that come to the parade, like a marching band, pay their own expenses. Last year, the University of Virginia marching band estimated their trip cost would be in the neighborhood of a quarter-million dollars. Groups that come from farther away have higher costs. Stephen F. Austin State University, which came from Texas, estimated their costs at more than $1,500 per person for their more than 300 band member because they had to charter planes. The University of Illinois’ Marching Illini did not announce a final price tag, as fundraising covered most of the expense for their trip, which included seven charter buses, meals and hotels, rehearsal space, and more, for approximately 400 people in the band organization for their four days in New York.

In exchange, after weeks of practice and hard work, and a two or three a.m. rehearsal in front of Macy’s for the live performers, each balloon, float, or band is rewarded with a few seconds of television coverage on Thanksgiving morning. In fact, each band was allotted one minute and fifteen seconds for their Herald Square performance this year. It may seem like a lot of work for little reward, but 175 bands auditioned for the chance to participate this year. Twelve were accepted. Macy’s has no shortage of bands, performers, and sponsors that want to be part of this annual holiday tradition.

I Always Think There Is a Band Kid

As traditions go, I confess, I think football should be a 15 minute game played between two halves of a marching band concert, and I think green bean casserole is an abomination to green beans. But I love a parade. And the approximately 3 million people who lined the streets of New York and the millions of viewers on TV who made last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade the highest rated non-sports show of the fall season agree with me.

Text ©2016 by Rebecca Bigelow;
Historic photos (1–3) Macy’s Public Domain;
Remaining color photos ©2015 by Rebecca Bigelow and Ian Brooks

Additional Reading:

Early Parade Information:

Information on Parade Costs:

Macy’s Parade Tidbits:

2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Marching Band Info

 

 

A Bit of Doggerel


It’s Valentine’s Day—at least for a few more minutes. If the checkout line at the grocery store yesterday is any indication, lots of people got stuffed animals and big pink cards covered in glitter (lots of glitter) in my town today. I tend to prefer a more low-key day (because I am too frugal to see much point in buying a card for eight bucks that will be looked at once!), so my day was perfect for me: No grand gestures, just dinner with my husband and son and a chance to Skype with my daughter who is away at the moment. Spending that kind of time with loved ones is definitely my idea of a successful holiday. Whether you celebrated romantically with a partner, as part of a family gathering, with a friend or two, or just enjoyed alone time, I hope your day was as perfect for you as mine was for me.

Although my Valentine’s Day was lovely, there have been some irritants in the last couple of weeks. What better way to slay those dragons than with a bit of fluff and fun? I think I’ll call this collection Poems from Cranky People. Writing them made me feel better. I can guarantee these little bits of verse will not end up on a card you can buy at the grocery (not in pink, not at any price, and they are definitely glitter free), but perhaps they’ll make you smile.  Enjoy the last few minutes of the holiday!


Foreshadowing by Rebecca Bigelow

Each February we pretend
That some rodent can portend
The duration of our wintry state.
But I wish it would prognosticate
Something of more import.
So if, in fact, we must resort
To using a groundhog named Phil
To predict the future, then he should spill
Whether we will suffer, over our objections,
At least six more months of politics and elections.


Lightning Bugs by Rebecca Bigelow

A light glows briefly in the dark.
And like the mating call of a firefly,
Another answers it.
And soon the lights are twinkling.
Everywhere.
Some flashes last mere milliseconds.
But some can be measured
In moonlights and cups of cocoa.
And I wonder why
It is so important
To check your damn phone
In the theatre.


 

One Day at a Time

780px-Chapel_Hill_Sundial_Carmichael

How long is a day? Generally speaking, we say a day is twenty-four hours. Scientifically speaking, a day is 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds. When is a day not a day? Apparently when shipping companies are involved.

I recently placed an order with a large Internet company. Let’s call them Yangtze. And I have their annual subscription shipping service. Let’s call that Fibonacci. With Fibonacci you get free two-day shipping on in-stock items. I adore Fibonacci, and I often shop with Yangtze because of the convenience of having my purchases show up at my door in a brown box with the distinctive tape on it that says 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 . . .

Last week, I placed an order for two mundane items: breakfast cookies (Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk, yum) and a new case for my cell phone. The old one had finally fallen apart, and duct tape was no longer working to hold it together (even duct tape has its limits). The Yangtze interface said that my items were in stock. I put them in my basket and checked out. The shipping information said I would receive my package on Wednesday. The items had said they were eligible for two-day shipping, so I thought that was weird. By my count, they would arrive on Tuesday. But I figured I’d ask Yangtze Customer Care (YCC) about it after I placed the order. It wasn’t a big deal; I didn’t need the breakfast cookies, and the cell phone case and I could limp along for another day. It was just a curiosity thing—after all that’s what this blog is about. I finished checking out and immediately opened a chat window with YCC.

Full disclosure: I’m a night owl. I placed my Yangtze order at 1:45 a.m. on Friday (the hours between Thursday night and the Friday business day). So at 1:50, I asked my YCC person to explain why my package was going to take until Wednesday to arrive. Our (very polite) conversation went something like this (edited for length/punctuation):

YCC: You need to place an order before the cutoff time to receive the order with two day shipping. As the carriers won’t be working on Saturdays and Sundays, it takes time for the package to be delivered.

Me: But even taking that into account, there is Friday and Monday, so it should arrive Tuesday at the latest, not Wednesday.

YCC: The cutoff time is over so if you place the order now, the two day shipping will be considered from Monday, i.e., Monday and Tuesday, so you will be receiving the order by Wednesday.

Me: So basically, even though we are only 2 hours into Friday, with an entire business day left, you don’t count it?

YCC: You need to place the order before Thursday to get the two day shipping by Saturday.

I explain again that I wasn’t expecting Saturday delivery, nor was I counting the weekend in my reckoning of two business days. But if they count Saturday for regular delivery, then shouldn’t my package arrive on Monday? I didn’t even want to ask that!

Me: But there is still plenty of Friday left.

In fact, for those keeping track, there were still more than seven hours before the start of the business day on Friday.

YCC: If the carriers would have been available we would have happily shipped the packages for you. Carriers won’t be working on Saturdays and Sundays.

We went around like an Abbott and Costello routine a few more times, and she offered to pass my feedback along to the higher ups, which I agreed to, but ultimately we ended the chat because we weren’t getting anywhere. And I was still getting my stuff on Wednesday.

When the chat transcript was emailed to me, I noticed that the chat was time-stamped in Pacific Standard Time. It was still Thursday where she was while we were chatting. I briefly wondered when my package would have arrived if she had placed the order, but it made my head hurt.

Then, the next morning (but time-stamped 2:55 a.m.!), I received an email from Yangtze. It informed me if I wanted to order that late and still wanted my package to arrive on Saturday, I’d have to pay for shipping. Otherwise to get Saturday delivery, I’d have to order before the cutoff time on Thursday to get it delivered for two-day on Saturday.

So at least two people at Yangtze agree Saturdays count for two-day Fibonacci delivery if you order before Friday, but Saturdays don’t count if you order on Friday. And Fridays don’t count either if you order on one. It’s a good thing Fibonacci two-day shipping only is valid in the United States. I think Fibonacci shipping across the International Dateline would open a rift in the space-time continuum. Perhaps it is my fault. My whole life I’ve probably been wrong for counting the 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds of Friday in my week. Although, frankly if we have to not count a day, I’d prefer to give up Monday. I think most people would agree with me on this.

And just when I’d resigned myself to Yangtze’s fuzzy math on day counting, my package arrived.

On Tuesday.

Text: ©Rebecca Bigelow; Photo: Public Domain

An Update (2/14/16): A couple of weeks later, I placed another mundane order on a Thursday night, but this time it was a couple hours before midnight instead of after. That package arrived on Monday. I believe I will build a Time Machine in the garage (assuming I can ever get work space in there), because that will be easier to figure out than Yangtze’s shipping policies.


Further Reading/Viewing:

The Tchotchke Two-Step

Open_cardboard_box_husky

At our house we have a semi-annual ritual dance known as the Box and Bin Shuffle. Its start date is not tied to the calendar, nor is it tied to a moon cycle. Instead it occurs when my husband hears these magic words uttered: Chance of accumulating snow. This year, the call came late—in deepest, darkest January—but we both recognized his call to arms when the Weather Channel announced the threat of four inches of the white stuff last weekend: Time to get the cars in the garage.

Now most reasonable people consider the garage to be a place to park one’s car(s) on a full-time basis. After all, this is definition one in any major dictionary. Most reasonable people are not married to my husband, however. We cannot always park cars in the garage because my husband suffers from an affliction known as “I might need that”-itis. In other words, he is a pack rat. After nearly 30 years of marriage, I finally have him on the road to recovery; so the inside of our house is no longer cluttered with stuff, but the garage is one of his last holdouts.

Our garage is where old computers go to die. There are jars of bits and bobs that might come in handy—someday—and boxes of old games and toys from when the kids were small. No one needs or wants to play the Sponge Bob memory game now. My husband even admits we do not need these things; so in the warm months, he pulls them out to sort them. It is excruciating to watch him decide what to keep, what to throw away, and what to donate. We disagree. Sometimes vehemently. To the point that I have now abdicated all responsibility for the garage. Why? I like staying married to him.

This last summer, our very organized daughter (a gene that clearly comes from my side of the family) helped him sort through everything. She placed like items in boxes and labeled them all. There were several trips to Goodwill and headway was made. But then August rolled around and she had to leave for band camp and other college things—although I thought seriously about asking her to take a gap year to finish the job. So, the boxes stayed pretty much where they were through the fall and into early winter. And my car sat on the driveway. Until the battle cry came once again: Snow.

And so he stood in the garage and said he would move things so I could get my car in there. I said, “Some of this stuff could just go back to the shed.” After all we were done mowing the lawn for now, and the kids had moved all their stuff back to college, so we didn’t need the empty camp trunks and such. My husband looked sheepish. “There’s no room.” Now I was gobsmacked. How is there no room in the shed when a bunch of this stuff had obviously come from there? Never mind. I didn’t want to know. Evidently, the pack rat recovery program is a work in progress.

So, he shuffled boxes to one side. Stacked bins on top of one another. “It’s all still labeled from this summer,” he said. “It’ll be easy to sort out next spring.” I didn’t say a word. In the past, I’ve threatened to donate the lot, but he says we can’t just do that. Some of it is important.

And the thing is, some of it is. It doesn’t help that we are at that life stage where our parents’ things are filtering their way to us. “It needs to stay in the family,” my mother says, playing on my sense of tradition and family history. “We knew you liked that stuff,” my sister-in-law said, handing over several boxes of papers from my husband’s side of the family. She was ostensibly here for a visit, but based on the number of boxes she pulled out of her trunk, I suspect she really just wanted her own garage cleared out.

And it’s true I do like this stuff. I like old birth certificates and family pictures. It’s fun to see my husband’s old report cards. I am just not sure I need his siblings’ old report cards or his unlabeled family pictures. Is that Great Grandma Sadie or some random former friend? Who knows! Someday, I may get to put these items in the recycling, but it is a process to get my husband to that point. I tried to instill the “if you haven’t used it or thought of it in two years, you don’t need it” rule. He upped it to five. Or maybe ten in certain cases. Oh, who am I kidding? We still have baby-proofing items in the attic. The kids are turning 21 this year.

And so, here we are. The threatened accumulating snow last weekend never materialized, but it is only a matter of time. He took a few more boxes to Goodwill this week. Baby steps. And I can, in fact, get my car in the garage now.

His still sits on the driveway.

 

Text: © 2016 Rebecca Bigelow;
Photo: Public domain from Wikimedia Commons


Resources:

The Ridiculously Thorough Guide to Decluttering Your Home. The website is for a dumpster rental place, but they actually have a lot of great advice for people who want to organize and declutter. If you live with your own pack rat, your mileage may vary.

 

False Advertising? Coca Cola and the English-Only Debate

Sunday, Coca Cola had a Super Bowl ad that set off a firestorm on the Internet.

Some people objected to the fact that “America, the Beautiful” was sung in multiple languages, not just English. The ad featured seven additional languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Keres, Mandarin, Senegalese-French, Spanish, and Tagalog. Some of the more printable Internet responses were along the lines of #Boycott Coke and “This is America, speak English.” As is wont to happen on the Internet, civil discourse quickly devolved. Racist comments and hashtags were rampant, and I was left shaking my head in frustration with some of my fellow Americans.

I was also left wondering: Just how many languages are spoken in the United States anyway?

Making Every Language Count

It turns out that this is not an easy question to answer. How many living languages there are in the world is itself open to debate. Different sources group dialects differently and decide whether the language is unique or an offshoot dialect of another language. For example, there are many dialects in Chinese—thirteen with more than two million native speakers each. Sometimes these are counted separately (as Mandarin, Wu, and so on) and sometimes they are lumped together in different ways, the broadest way, of course, being simply “Chinese.” Taking one source, for the sake of argument, Ethnologue currently lists 7,105 living languages. Interestingly, that number is up more than two hundred languages since the U.S. Census Bureau cited the same source in 2011. (Not sure what is happening there, but likely it is simply different categorizing of dialects and unique languages.)

The U.S. Census Bureau took Ethnologue’s number in 2011 (then 6,909) and distilled that into groupings of 381 languages spoken in the United States. They asked the census questions “Does this person speak a language other than English at home?” and “What is this language.” The respondent self-reported and filled in a blank for the second question. The census people grouped those answers into the aforementioned 381 languages. In their report they list thirty main languages and lump the rest into categories of others. Tagalog (one of the languages used in Coke’s ad), for example, is listed separately, but “Other Pacific Island Languages” are grouped together. Navajo has its own listing, but Keres (another Native American language, which was also used in the ad) would fall into the “Other Native American Languages” category.

So the “this is America, speak English” sentiment is problematic to begin with because, while likely thousands of languages (as recognized by Ethnologue) are spoken in the United States, the U.S. Census Bureau recognizes 380 language groupings besides English as being spoken here. “But!” the Internet sputters, “English is the language of Americans! Those people came from somewhere else! They should learn to speak our language.” Setting aside the issue that many of these people also speak English well, remember that the Pacific Island category, for example, covers Hawaiian (an official language of Hawaii, along with English), Chamorro (an official language of Guam), and Samoan (an official language of American Samoa). All three languages are spoken by people native to those islands, but Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa are, respectively, a state and two territories of the United States. The people who live there are recognized as either U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals (both groups can freely travel within the United States, but there are differences in voting rights for the territories). And let’s not forget the indigenous people who speak a variety of Native American languages, including the aforementioned Keres. I think it is safe to say that the ancestors of these people were here long before my English-speaking ancestors showed up to the party.

English Only, Please?

But if we ignore our native populations (admit it, we’re pretty good at it after all!), when Europeans did finally show up to colonize the place, they spoke three main languages: English, Spanish, and French. And remnants of those colonizers live on in languages spoken by people born here, in places like Louisiana and Florida, where French Creole still exists, and Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, where Spanish is still spoken and whose people are U.S. citizens. Again, the Internet may point out that the British Colonies prevailed and thrived (for the most part—see the story of the lost British Colony at Roanoke, which did not end well), and it was these colonists who won independence and started our nation. Of course, even the British colonists spoke a variety of languages (Scottish Gaelic and Welsh, for example, both of which a few thousand people still speak at home today in the United States). And as people immigrated here (either by choice or by force), they brought even more languages and traditions—adding to the polyglot nature of our country.

But How Do You Say That in English?

And English, being a great adaptive language, absorbed thousands of words from these other languages.  This has been going on for centuries, but a list of loanwords acquired by English since the Colonial period includes: cavalry, cachet, and clique from French; armadillo, armada, and adobe from Spanish; pizza, pasta, and piano from Italian; bagel, kibbitz, and schmuck from Yiddish; avatar, karma, and yoga from Sanskrit; bungalow, pajamas, and shampoo from Hindi; jazz, yam, and zebra from African languages; and moose, potato, and squash from Native American languages. We claim these words as our own, but they didn’t start out that way. Never fear, however! We also loan English words to other languages. I am sure the French are grateful for le parking and le weekend and German parents may want to hire der babysitter so they can have an evening out.

Even our American English is geographically specific. What do you call a meat-filled sandwich on a long roll? What do you call the shoes you wear on your feet when you are in gym class? What do you call a fizzy soft drink (like Coca Cola)? Your answers help linguists pinpoint your language origins. Even syntax is different from region to region. My British-by-birth husband speaks English, but even after more than a quarter century of marriage we still find the odd phrase, word, or syntax that has the other one saying, “What did you say?” Is his brand of British English okay with the Internet or should he speak exclusively in American English since he lives here now? And what about slang? Should that be allowed or not? Should we assume all those people clamoring on the Internet for Americans to speak English mean Standard American English? If so, can we apply that rule to written English on the Internet? As an editor and writer, I grow weary of the poor grammar and spelling I see there, but we all make mistakes—even editors and writers—so I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t help keep America beautiful, but it does help keep conversation civil.

Ownay Atwhay? 今度は何なの?Que faire maintenant? Was nun? ¿Y ahora qué? Sasa nini? Na te aha?**

More than a thousand Standard American English words later, I’m not sure where this leaves us. To recap: Coca Cola put together a nice ad with a multilingual version of “America, the Beautiful”; the Internet exploded; Americans speak (and sing) in lots of languages, not just English; and even our English isn’t as English as it used to be. It’s exhausting. We probably all need a Coke (soda, pop, tonic, fizzy drink, or whatever you want to call your soft drink of choice—or heck, it’s a free country, have a Pepsi even) and to chill a little. Sip it while repeating (in your language of choice): there’s no place like home.… Beautiful, America.

~~~~~~~~~

**Pig Latin translation by me; translations of Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Swahili, and Maori by Google Translate.

Sources:

Text © 2014 by Rebecca Bigelow; ad © 2014 Coca Cola