Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 10th, 2008

Magnetic-fields movie

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I don’t fully understand this video, but here it is:

Some background info from the source:

Credits:A film by Semiconductor: Ruth Jarman & Joe Gerhardt
Photographed and Recorded at the Space Sciences Laboratory UC Berkeley
Space Physicists in order of appearance: Janet Luhmann, Bill Abbett, David Brain, Stephen Mende
VLF Radio Recordings Stephen P McGreevy

Natural magnetic fields are revealed as chaotic, ever-changing geometries.

Scientists from NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratory excitedly describe their discoveries.

Natural magnetic fields are revealed as chaotic, ever-changing geometries as scientists from NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratory excitedly describe their discoveries.

The secret lives of invisible magnetic fields are revealed as chaotic, ever-changing geometries. All action takes place around NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratory, UC Berkeley, to recordings of space scientists describing their discoveries. Actual VLF audio recordings control the evolution of the fields as they delve into our inaudible surroundings, revealing recurrent ‘whistlers’ produced by fleeting electrons. Are we observing a series of scientific experiments, the universe in flux, or a documentary of a fictional world?

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

The old self-regulation ploy

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Businesses are quick to propose that they can regulate themselves and therefore regulatory legislation (and regulatory agencies) are totally unnecessary. And somehow, some politicians still fall for it, even though the history of self-regulation is replete with failures (except for covering up problems, which self-regulation excels at). Businesses, not to put too fine a point on it, are simply not trustworthy. They require continual oversight and monitoring—as does any human institution. Look at the state we’re in today because Congress lacks effective oversight and monitoring. (Oversight and monitoring of Congress was formerly done by a free, combative, and competitive press and a watchful citizenry, but now the news outlets are all owned by major corporations, and it’s in their interest to coddle and pay off Congress so that things like “self-regulation” can flourish.) At any rate, look at this story:

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has announced a ban on giving branded items to doctors. The pens, notepads, mugs and other gifts are ubiquitous in medical offices. Some, like Senator Herb Kohl, think it is a step in the right direction. “We’ve been pushing to see reforms like this for some time now. Consumers will undoubtedly be the beneficiaries of these industry changes.” But the voluntary code does nothing to stem the more egregious ways that drug companies influence doctors, including speaking fees and lavish “educational” events. Kohl has co-sponsored a bill to require drug and medical device companies to publicly disclose payments to doctors of $500 or more, but does not ban them. Industry watchdogs are not convinced. One complained that “It strikes me as an attempt to persuade people against doing anything that’s serious.” The industry’s new policy, the Code on Interactions with Health Care Professionals, “will ask the chief executives of large drug makers to certify in writing that ‘they have policies and procedures in place to foster compliance with the code.'” But because it is voluntary, there will be no accountability or regulation. Former U.S. Representative Billy Tauzin now heads PhRMA. Tauzin said, “This updated code fortifies our companies’ commitment to ensure their medicines are marketed in a manner that benefits patients and enhances the practice of medicine.” CMD staffer Anne Landman recently wrote about the perils of letting industries self-regulate.

Source: New York Times, July 10, 2008

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10 July 2008 at 2:30 pm

New way to steal memory cards

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Just ask for them. From Bruce Schneier:

Petty thieves are exploiting the war on photography in Genoa:

As they were walking around, Jeff saw some interesting looking produce and pulled out his Canon G-9 Point-and-Shoot and took a few pictures. Within a few minutes a man came up dressed in plain clothes, flashed a badge, and told him he couldn’t take photos in the store. My brother said “no problem” (after all, it’s a private store, right?), but then the guy demanded my brother’s memory card.My brother gave him that “Are you outta your mind” look and said, “No way!” Can you guess what happened next? The guy simply shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

My brother saw him in the store a little later, and the guy had a bag and was shopping. My brother made eye contact with him, and the guy turned away as though he didn’t want Jeff looking at him. Jeff feels like this wasn’t “official store security,” but instead some guy collecting (and then reselling) memory cards from unsuspecting tourists (many of whom might have just surrendered that card immediately).

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Daily life

The FBI’s summer reading list

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Russ Kick has the list. I am heartened to see The Elements of Style among the titles, a little disheartened to see several “For Dummies” titles for Office 2003 packages—they don’t use Office 2007? (Also from that blog, a link to how the FBI gets to destroy irreplaceable public records.)

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10 July 2008 at 2:18 pm

People better than computers at playing music

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At least in terms of the effects on the audience:

Music can soothe the savage breast much better if played by musicians rather than clever computers, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

Neuroscientists looked at the brain’s response to piano sonatas played either by a computer or a musician and found that, while the computerised music elicited an emotional response — particularly to unexpected chord changes — it was not as strong as listening to the same piece played by a professional pianist.

Senior research fellow in psychology Dr Stefan Koelsch, who carried out the study with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, played excerpts from classical piano sonatas to twenty non-musicians and recorded electric brain responses and skin conductance responses (which vary with sweat production as a result of an emotional response).

Although the participants did not play instruments and considered themselves unmusical, their brains showed clear electric activity in response to musical changes (unexpected chords and changes in tonal key), which indicated that the brain was understanding the “musical grammar”. This response was enhanced, however, when the sonatas were played by musicians rather than a computer.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Music, Science

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Bad news about tilapia

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Beyond the way they’re farmed in China. Tilapia, like many oils (soybean, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower oils and others), contains much too high a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. I never use those oils (I stick with olive oil almost exclusively, with occasional use of canola, sesame, pistachio, pecan, and walnut oils, all of which are benign). And from the article it looks as though I should cut out catfish as well. Here’s the finding:

Farm-raised tilapia, one of the most highly consumed fish in America, has very low levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and, perhaps worse, very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, according to new research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

The researchers say the combination could be a potentially dangerous food source for some patients with heart disease, arthritis, asthma and other allergic and auto-immune diseases that are particularly vulnerable to an “exaggerated inflammatory response.” Inflammation is known to cause damage to blood vessels, the heart, lung and joint tissues, skin, and the digestive tract.

“In the United States, tilapia has shown the biggest gains in popularity among seafood, and this trend is expected to continue as consumption is projected to increase from 1.5 million tons in 2003 to 2.5 million tons by 2010,” write the Wake Forest researchers in an article published this month in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

They say their research revealed that farm-raised tilapia, as well as farmed catfish, “have several fatty acid characteristics that would generally be considered by the scientific community as detrimental.” Tilapia has higher levels of potentially detrimental long-chain omega-6 fatty acids than 80-percent-lean hamburger, doughnuts and even pork bacon, the article says.

“For individuals who are eating fish as a method to control inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, it is clear from these numbers that tilapia is not a good choice,” the article says. “All other nutritional content aside, the inflammatory potential of hamburger and pork bacon is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia.”

The article notes that the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, known scientifically as “long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids” (PUFAs), have been well documented. The American Heart Association now recommends that everyone eat at least two servings of fish per week, and that heart patients consume at least 1 gram a day of the two most critical omega-3 fatty acids, known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

But, the article says, the recommendation by the medical community for people to eat more fish has resulted in consumption of increasing quantities of fish such as tilapia that may do more harm than good, because they contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, also called n-6 PUFAs, such as arachidonic acid.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Naomi Klein on the Shock Doctrine

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Her book just came out in paperback: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Interview—Part I:

Part II:

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 1:56 pm

The 20 most healthful foods for under $1

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Excellent list, which includes the reasons and links to recipes. Readers of Leisureguy’s Cooking Compendium will be familiar with most of this. The first four:

1. Oats
High in fiber and complex carbohydrates, oats have also been shown to lower cholesterol. And they sure are cheap—a dollar will buy you more than a week’s worth of hearty breakfasts. [And I would strongly recommend oat groats as the form to cook for cereal. – LG]

Serving suggestions: Sprinkle with nuts and fruit in the morning, make oatmeal cookies for dessert.

2. Eggs
You can get about a half dozen of eggs for a dollar, making them one of the cheapest and most versatile sources of protein. They are also a good source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may ward off age-related eye problems.

Serving suggestions: Huevos rancheros for breakfast, egg salad sandwiches for lunch, and frittatas for dinner.

3. Kale
This dark, leafy green is loaded with vitamin C, carotenoids, and calcium. Like most greens, it is usually a dollar a bunch.

Serving suggestions: Chop up some kale and add to your favorite stir-fry; try German-Style Kale or traditional Irish Colcannon.

4. Potatoes
Because we often see potatoes at their unhealthiest—as fries or chips—we don’t think of them as nutritious, but they definitely are. Eaten with the skin on, potatoes contain almost half a day’s worth of Vitamin C, and are a good [great – LG] source of potassium. If you opt for sweet potatoes or yams, you’ll also get a good wallop of beta carotene. Plus, they’re dirt cheap and have almost endless culinary possibilities. [And eat the skin’s, for God’s sake. – LG]

Serving suggestions: In the a.m., try Easy Breakfast Potatoes; for lunch, make potato salad; for dinner, have them with sour cream and chives.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Good advice from Trent Hamm

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No relation—I’m a one-m Ham and he’s a two-m Hamm: the former is English, the latter is German. But he has some good advice, nonetheless: how to get away from living from paycheck to paycheck, an uncomfortable and hazardous mode of existence.

Many people find themselves trapped in this mode, always waiting for the next paycheck. Break the cycle now. If you are in that mode, this (free) Excel workbook may help explain why it’s happening.

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10 July 2008 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Daily life

Running for cover

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UPDATE: Mike got it wrong: here’s the correction.

Mike Lillis notes some by-play in the Medicare vote:

Regarding yesterday’s passage of the Democrats’ Medicare bill: If there was ever question about what force of nature compelled nine Republicans to switch their “no” votes of last month to “yes” votes yesterday, they’ve been put to rest. Here’s a hint: It wasn’t because they like the legislation.

There was some early speculation that ads run by seniors groups the physicians’ lobby over the July Fourth recess might have convinced the Republicans to join 129 of their House colleagues and support the bill. But according to today’s New York Times, all nine flip-floppers voted against the bill yesterday in the early stages of the vote. (Senators have a 15-minute window in which to vote, and change votes if necessary.) It was only after the surprise arrival of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who hasn’t visited the Capitol since being diagnosed with brain cancer nearly eight weeks ago, that the Republicans recognized the bill had the final vote it needed for passage. Rather than going down with the ship, the nine switched their nays to yeahs.

So, technically, these nine supported the bill. But if they think the physicians’ lobby didn’t watch the process closely, they should probably think again.

As an interesting side-note, this is a different story than the one reported yesterday by The Dallas Morning News. It credited Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison with supplying “crucial support for the bill.” Actually guys, that was Ted Kennedy.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Self-awards are the safest, if not the best

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For example:

It isn’t every day that a state’s largest polluter gets honored, let alone receives a national environmental prize. But odds are better when the polluter — and its buddies — start and sit on the board of group giving the award. The Maryland-based Wildlife Habitat Council gave biodiversity conservation awards to 21 companies, including the Lafarge cement plant in Ravena, New York. The award was given to Lafarge for it’s 150-acre Deer Mountain Nature Preserve and was awarded six months ago. But the honor was not publicized until the company came under fire for mercury contamination from its plant that is affecting a local high school. Federal reports show that the smokestack at that plant was New York state’s largest mercury emitter for three years running. Environmentalists smell a case of greenwashing. “‘At first I thought it was a joke. Then I was astonished and horrified,’ said Laura Haight, an analyst with the New York Public Interest Research Group who has called on the state Department of Environmental Conservation to clamp down on the plant’s mercury emissions.” Joining Lafarge on the Wildlife Habitat Council’s board of directors are representatives from Monsanto, Exxon Mobil, DuPont, ConocoPhillips and Waste Management. The conservation group Ducks Unlimited, which is funded by both Exxon Mobil and Anheuser-Busch, also holds a seat. The Council also awarded “Signatures of Sustainability” to DuPont and Anheuser-Busch Companies, both of which had a role in founding the group.

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10 July 2008 at 1:29 pm

Duty, Honor, Country, and Lying

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ThinkProgress notes:

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) yesterday “accused an Army general of misleading Congress about problems with a major defense contractor in Iraq.” Dorgan said Maj. Gen. Jerome Johnson told the Senate Armed Services Committee “in April 2007 that there were no widespread problems with water supplied by KBR, after the Pentagon’s inspector general had already found that there were.”

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Military

More and more restrictions by the Pentagon

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This is depressing:

On April 24, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported on the Pentagon’s effort to keep media out of earshot and photo range of the funeral of Lt. Col. Billy Hall, the 4,011th American to die in Iraq. Milbank wrote that Gina Gray, Arlington’s new director of public affairs, “pushed vigorously to allow the journalists more access to the service yesterday — but she was apparently shot down by other cemetery officials.”

Today, Milbank reports that Gray was demoted and then fired by the Army for trying to investigate the restrictions on the media:

When Gina Gray took over as the public affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery about three months ago, she discovered that cemetery officials were attempting to impose new limits on media coverage of funerals of the Iraq war dead — even after the fallen warriors’ families granted permission for the coverage. She said that the new restrictions were wrong and that Army regulations didn’t call for such limitations.

Six weeks after The Washington Post reported her efforts to restore media coverage of funerals, Gray was demoted. Twelve days ago, the Army fired her.

Gray told Milbank that Arlington’s deputy superintendent “has been calling the families of the dead to encourage them not to allow media coverage at the funerals — a charge confirmed by a high-ranking official at Arlington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.”

The Pentagon seems determined to keep the media away from the realities of war. Just 10 days ago, the military kicked out an embedded blogger for photographing the body of a Marine killed by a suicide bomber, in late June. Last month, CBS’s Lara Logan said she believed “the soldiers feel forgotten” because Americans don’t understand the harshness of the Iraq war. “Tell me the last time you saw the body of a dead American soldier. What does that look like? Who in American knows what that looks like?” she asked.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 1:24 pm

IrFanView: free image viewer

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MakeUseOf has a detailed review of IrFanView, which looks pretty good. I just downloaded and installed it. So far so good.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Compiling an oral history

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The Son once interviewed me for a sculpture he was doing of me, and it was interesting. Somehow being asked questions by someone else triggers more memories and associations than asking yourself the same questions. Perhaps it’s because your personality/psychology is responding to the presence of the other person.

At some point, you may want to approach someone—a parent or a grandparent or someone who’s lived through some event—and compile an oral history. Alex Kingsbury has some good tips regarding:

  • preparation,
  • technology,
  • questions,
  • silence, and
  • resources.

Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Solar-powered ultralight plane

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Electric Airplane

Electric Airplane

Didn’t Tom Swift have an electric airplane? No? Well, he could have one today. From EcoGeek:

A design for an ultra-environmental aricraft just won the top prize at the prestigious Lucky Strike Junior Designer Award. Roland Cernat, who just graduated from the University of Applied Sciences Schwäbisch Gmünd / Germany created the airplane with the environment in mind.

First, once in the air, it can travel entirely fuelessly, much like other ultra-light gliders. It can tuck away it’s tiny propellers for 100% aerodynamic flight. But when it needs an extra boost, generally for take-off, the glider’s propellers unfurl, driven by a small electric motor that is powered either by an on-board generator or by thin film solar panels on the planes wings and tail.

We’ve seen other ultra-lights that get good gas mileage, but every component of this plane was constructed for minimal environmental impact.

The cockpit is constructed entirely from …

Continue reading. More photos at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 12:18 pm

The psychology of cultural differences

Art Markman, a Cognitive Scientist at the University of Texas whose research spans a range of topics in the way people think, is starting a series of posts on the psychology behind cultural differences, and how one’s culture affects one’s psychology. The first installment is here, and it begins:

With the Olympics coming, there have been lots of news stories about China and Asia. This seemed like as good a time as any to talk a bit about cultural differences in thinking. I realize that this blog is mostly about motivation. It turns out that cultural differences in thinking are probably deeply bound up with cultural differences in motivation, though it may take us a couple of entries to get to that point. To start, I’ll just highlight some of the ways that thinking differs across cultures

Psychology aims to understand universal aspects of mental experience. When a cognitive psychologist talks about categorization, decision making, or reasoning, statements are usually made about the way people (in general) form categories, make decisions, or reason. It is important to realize, however, that most experimental research is done with a rather select group: western educated college students. We almost qualify our conclusions by the particular population being studied unless that population is clearly special (people with a particular mental disorder or children who are not expected to have achieved adult abilities yet).

Over the past 20 years, however, there has been growing interest in

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10 July 2008 at 11:50 am

Gay marriages with children work well

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The happy couple, Squawk and Milo

The happy couple, Squawk and Milo

Certainly for penguins:

Two penguins native to Antarctica met one spring day in 1998 in a tank at the Central Park Zoo in midtown Manhattan. They perched atop stones and took turns diving in and out of the clear water below. They entwined necks, called to each other and mated. They then built a nest together to prepare for an egg. But no egg was forthcoming: Roy and Silo were both male.

Robert Gramzay, a keeper at the zoo, watched the chinstrap penguin pair roll a rock into their nest and sit on it, according to newspaper reports. Gramzay found an egg from another pair of penguins that was having difficulty hatching it and slipped it into Roy and Silo’s nest. Roy and Silo took turns warming the egg with their blubbery underbellies until, after 34 days, a female chick pecked her way into the world. Roy and Silo kept the gray, fuzzy chick warm and regurgitated food into her tiny black beak.

Like most animal species, penguins tend to pair with the opposite sex, for the obvious reason. But researchers are finding that same-sex couplings are surprisingly widespread in the animal kingdom. Roy and Silo belong to one of as many as 1,500 species of wild and captive animals that have been observed engaging in homosexual activity. Researchers have seen such same-sex goings-on in both male and female, old and young, and social and solitary creatures and on branches of the evolutionary tree ranging from insects to mammals.

Unlike most humans, however, individual animals generally cannot be classified as gay or straight: an animal that engages in a same-sex flirtation or partnership does not necessarily shun heterosexual encounters. Rather many species seem to have ingrained homosexual tendencies that are a regular part of their society. That is, there are probably no strictly gay critters, just bisexual ones. “Animals don’t do sexual identity. They just do sex,” says sociologist Eric Anderson of the University of Bath in England.

Nevertheless, the study of homosexual activity in diverse species may elucidate the evolutionary origins of such behavior. Researchers are now revealing, for example, …

Continue reading.

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10 July 2008 at 10:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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How our personalities change for different people

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I think everyone who has come to adulthood notices how, in the presence of parents, a much younger personality seems to emerge. And it turns out, it’s true. MindHacks:

The BPS Research Digest covers an intriguing study that found that imagining friends, parents, and romantic partners differently affected how we rate ourselves on personality measures.

The study suggests that being primed with certain sorts of relationship seems to alter either our personality, or how we perceive our personal characteristics.

Dozens of female university students were led to believe they were participating in an investigation into the effect of visualisation on heart rate, with the appropriate medical paraphernalia in place to make the story more convincing.

The students were asked to visualise a range of fairly mundane items or experiences and then at the end they were asked to visualise in detail either one of their parents, a recent romantic partner, or a friend. Afterwards they completed a range of personality and self-esteem tests. Post-experimental debriefing confirmed they hadn’t guessed the true purpose of the study.

Students who visualised a parent subsequently rated themselves as less sensual, adventurous, dominant, extraverted and industrious, than did students asked to visualise a friend or romantic partner, consistent with the idea that people revert to a more submissive “child role” with their parents.

The paper itself doesn’t mention it, but the study has some striking relevance to rather confusingly named ‘object relations theory‘, which could be much more clearly named ‘human relations theory’.

It’s a development of a Freudian idea, but instead of suggesting that sex and aggression are the core drives which shape our psychological landscape, it suggests, rather more sensibly, that …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 10:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Obama understands the importance of learning a language

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Moreover, he knows that learning a language should start in Pre-K, not in high school—even educators have trouble with that one (or maybe it’s a staffing problem). I once read a book on foreign language instruction in the elementary schools. At the time the book was written, the foreign language most commonly taught in elementary schools was Polish because of the many Polish neighborhoods in certain cities, such as Chicago. The author’s ideal was to begin in day-care, with a different language instructor appearing once a week and speaking to the tots ONLY in the language of the day. As I recall, his languages of choice were French, Spanish, German, Japanese, and Chinese (but that recollection is probably imperfect). At any rate, Obama’s comment in answer to a question at an event, via Andrew Leonard of Salon (and the whole article is worth reading):

You know, I don’t understand when people are going around worrying about, “We need to have English- only.” They want to pass a law, “We want English-only.”

Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they’ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

You know, it’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], “Merci beaucoup.” Right?

You know, no, I’m serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they’re 5, or 6, or 7 than when they’re 46, like me.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2008 at 10:43 am

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