The Sound of English

 

Right now, say a few words in fake French.  Don’t use real French words,  just imitate the French sound.  If there is someone in the room with you chances are good they will correctly guess it was French you were imitating.  It would probably work just as well with fake Chinese,  fake Spanish or fake Norwegian.  But now try something else:  say a few words in fake English.  You can’t do it, can you?  You don’t know what English sounds like.

I know what French sounds like, I know what Russian sounds like and I know what Japanese sounds like.  But like you  I don’t have any idea what English sounds like.  English is my native language, which is probably the reason I don’t know what it sounds like.

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Sid Caesar is the master of fake languages.  It is hilarious and delightful to hear the way he captures the nuances of a language’s sound with complete gibberish, as he does in the video below.  I always want Sid to mock English next, but he can’t do it.  He doesn’t know what English sounds like.

This question has been in the back of my mind for years.  What does English sound like?  It must be hard for a native speaker to know how English sounds for the same reason that a fish doesn’t know anything about water.  A fish is no doubt an expert in the uses of water, but because everything in the fish’s world is in the water, water is just a normal and ubiquitous part of his fish reality. He doesn’t separate it out as something.  And so it is with everyone who was steeped from birth in English.

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If we could hear fake English would we learn what English sounds like?  Well, there is one (and only one) good example of fake English available on the Internet.  Get ready to jam to the nonsense verses of Italian comic Adriano Celentano  that are intended to sound like American English.

Adriano Celentana knows what English sounds like because he’s an Italian.  I know his fake English is good because it makes me think I could almost understand what he is saying if I listened  a little harder. My non-rational, intuitive side swallows his fake English hook, line and sinker as English. From the standpoint of pure aesthetics, it might as well be English. It’s so good that  I’m back at square one, oblivious to what English sounds like on any aesthetic level. I might as well try describing what my tongue tastes like.

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And so I am led to wonder:  what else do I know absolutely nothing about for the reason that it has pervaded my reality since day one? Can I tell you what my religion or my politics is like if my native perspective in these matters is all I have known?   If I don’t know very much about world cultures, can I say what it’s like to be an American? Worse yet, what if I am asked to describe something with which there is no contrast?  “Define reality.  What is truth?  Discuss the meaning of life.”  Sure . . . as opposed to what?

Sorry, I got nothing when it comes to questions like this.  There are times when I think I got something, but right now I don’t.  And I am certain I have really heard the sound of English on more than one occasion.  But damned if I can remember what it sounds like.

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Free Money

Industrialization has been a blessing and a curse to the human race. We have developed marvelous technologies for supplying goods and services with a minimum of human drudgery. Machines eliminate work.  When you eliminate the work needed to supply the basic necessities you have leisure to do whatever you like.  At the most basic level, isn’t that the reason for having machines?

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The trouble is that labor is the only commodity some people have to sell.  When automation puts them out of work they have no money.  This in turn means that the machines cannot continue to run at full capacity, because now not everyone has money to buy the product.  It is a curious situation.  With humans working, we have a product and the means to distribute it.  With machines working, we can make plenty of product but we have a serious problem distributing it to people.

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The conservative solution is to let the unemployed “root hog, or die” ,  a sentiment markedly devoid of human compassion.  The idea is that the economy left to itself will reach a kind of equilibrium where unemployment and profit are properly balanced in a sustainable way.  However, this approach has led today to the widest gap between rich and poor in American history, a gap that shows no sign of slowing its yawning expansion.   The liberal solution of forcing the out-of-work to shamefacedly accept public assistance is only slightly better.  A third solution is often applied wherein millions of unemployed are paid to do work of a useless or even destructive nature, such as making war.  This has the double benefit of enabling the previously out-of-work to buy mass-produced widgets while at the same time reducing the numbers of previously out-of-work people.

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The only rational solution to the technology/employment problem should be obvious to anyone not immersed in the peculiar social biases of planet earth.  The community as a whole should issue itself credit (money) for the work that the machines do.  This credit will be given to every community member.  It will guarantee each person at least a basic, subsistence living, while at the same time guaranteeing the managers and owners a market for their product.  With the necessities of life guaranteed, not only will poverty be effectively eliminated, but people who today feel trapped in meaningless work will be free to pursue their dreams to be artists, inventors, musicians, writers or craftsmen.  And if some small minority has no ambition but to smoke crack and watch TV, they can do that.  We would be right to guess that the latter would reproduce at a somewhat slower rate and eventually disappear by the process of natural selection.

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“Hold on a minute,” someone asks.  “Exactly where will all this free money come from?”  The answer is that money does not come from anywhere. Money is not a resource mined from the earth like iron or uranium.  As we have discussed before, money is an abstract symbol like an inch or a degree on the Farenheit scale.  It is a unit of measurement that we invent as needed.  When we invent and print money based on real, actual resources (such as the work machines do), there is no reason for any major inflation.

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There are a thousand objections to the free money plan, not least of which is that it is just against common sense.  It is also against common sense that the earth is round, that it orbits the sun and that it inhabits a curved spacetime continuum.  It has taken 500 years of eduction to get some of these ideas across to humanity, and some have yet to be gotten across.

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Quiet Rooms

When you get Mitt Romney off his 3×5 note cards, little windows open up that reveal his real thoughts.  Like that time in debate he mentioned how he told his groundskeeper he couldn’t hire any illegal aliens because he’s running for office, for God’s sake. Or when he said how much he likes being able to fire people.  Well, this week he let slip a doozy.

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In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, the topic came up of the GOP’s accusation that Democrats are engaging in class warfare trying to stir up envy and jealousy among the masses.

Lauer:  .“Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?”

Romney: “You know, I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms. But the president has made this part of his campaign rally.”

As to who can be  in the quiet rooms where income disparity is discussed, Romney didn’t say. We can only surmise that he feels these matters are properly debated in secrecy by captains of industry and playboys of high finance, with maybe a few politicians in attendance to give the quiet rooms an air of official sanction.

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It is clear, however,  who is not called to Mitt Romney’s quiet rooms:  you and me.  God forbid a public figure should discuss matters of wealth and poverty within earshot of us little people, lest we proletarians be incited to take up our torches and pitchforks to raise a Marxist revolution against the Wall Street bourgeoisie. Much better to keep it in the quiet rooms and post security outside the door.  Nothing going on here. Move along.

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To be fair, Mitt Romney’s Quiet Rooms doctrine has noble origins, and it might even have merit. Plato, who was a strident foe of democracy, had the same idea 2,500 years ago. In his Republic a few wise and benevolent philosopher-kings worked these matters out in quiet rooms amongst themselves, while telling noble lies to the vulgar common rabble outside,  just to keep everything nice and orderly.  And who among us hasn’t thought at one time or another what a rotten thing democracy is, given the results of some elections? And yet, Plato surely didn’t mean that the philosopher-kings in the quiet rooms, who only seek  wise counsel for the well-being and happiness of all, would be corporate buccaneers from Banes Capitol  like Mitt Romney, swooping in to destroy firms and chop the legs off working folks for the benefit of a few investors.

What a window into the soul opens when Mitt Romney goes off script. Look for many more of them in the coming months as he goes head to head with President Obama.

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Flu Update

Greetings, Friends:  Your humble blogger has been ill since Christmas.  However, just to let you know he’s still here and remains your champion of American greatness as manifested in topless overalls, here is a photos-only update for your approval.  Check again next weekend and chances are he’ll have a thing or two to say.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

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