Posts Tagged ‘United States’

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Political Monday: Do We Need A National Language?

April 23, 2012

Depending on the source you use, the number of countries with an official language varies.  The number is high and sits around 146 out of 196 countries[i].  That works out to about 74% of all countries in the world claiming at least one official language.  The United States is not one of them.

While many arguments are made regarding an official language, both for and against the idea, most end up being political and leave the legitimate arguments behind.  Regardless of your position, by understanding the issues surrounding an official language, you will be better prepared to make up your own mind without the stupid political rhetoric bogging you down.

First, we must accept there is a de facto official language in use – Americanized English.  While many other languages exist in our daily lives, Americanized English (English) is overwhelmingly our primary language.  About 1.5% of people in the United States speak no English at all[ii] and almost all are first-generation immigrants.  Virtually all second-generation immigrants have, at least, a working knowledge of English.  Given its dominance, English is, in effect, our un-official national language.

So, why not just make English our official language?  As with most issues surrounding a group of 300 million-plus people, answers are not as straightforward as the question implies.  While it is easy to stamp a language as “official,” doing so may have unintended consequences.  For instance, what about our indigenous people, how do we consider their native languages in this debate?  For those of us that only speak English, we may not see the cultural significance of such a matter, and it does matter.  Recently, a young member of the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin was benched from the school basketball team for speaking her native language earlier in the day to a classmate[iii].  It is hard enough today for Native-American Tribes to hold on to their cultural heritage, if we put an official language in place, we must ensure we do not further trample Native-Americans in the process.

Had we, as a nation, been successful in our attempt to suppress Native-American language[iv], it would have negatively affected our war efforts in World War II.  We would not have had

Codetalker in WWII
(click on image to visit site)

the famous Navaho Codetalkers[v] .  Accepting, for the sake of argument, the suppression had the best of intentions, it remains a blatant example of how we are diminished if we do not honor the cultural differences within our boarders.  All citizens can take pride by having four-hundred bilingual Navaho-Americans in World War II.  Those same four-hundred Navaho-Americans have pride is providing their nations (the Navaho Nations and the United States) with service that saved thousands of lives.

About one-hundred years has passed since we attempted to educate away Native-American language and it seems today some of our educators are hell-bent on continuing the practice.  We cannot forget they are part of us.  It is not any “us against them” situation.  We need to honor their choice to preserve their cultural language.  Doing so enriches us, as a whole, along

Carlisle School Pupils (c 1900)

with our Native-American siblings.

Not having an official language has its downside too.  Part of being a nation is having a sense of oneness.  A common language is a primary means to reach that oneness.  Moreover, it simplifies communication and understanding.  It is all too easy to classify anyone promoting an official language for the United States as being racist.  Surely, there are those out there that see it with bigotry, but it is wrong to lump everyone in that category.  Even without English being our official language, knowing it provides benefits, including employment opportunities, education, and social connectivity, to name a few.  Without a basic knowledge of English, immigrants are limited to menial labor and advancement is severely impacted in a negative way.

Several years ago, I worked in an industry that had a high percentage of non-English speaking employees.  It presented management with a real problem in terms of quality, productivity, and worker-safety.  In a meeting to find a solution, it was proposed we train our managers to speak Spanish, as most of the workers in question did.  It seemed like a good solution until one of our senior managers, who just happened to be Hispanic, pointed out our flaw in thinking that way.  As he put it, “if you have a manager that has fifty Hispanic employees working for him and he leaves, you now cannot communicate with fifty employees until you find another Spanish-speaking manager.  It is better to train the fifty employees to speak English, if one leaves it does not have near the same impact.”  He further went on to explain it helps the immigrant employee feel connected to their new home.  It helps them become part of our national identity, and not just a visitor.

As a company, we found we could use it as a benefit to our employees.  Something we ultimately did.  It decreased employee turnover, increased productivity and reduced OSHA related injuries.  The cost of educating employees was more than offset in the savings and increased profits the company enjoyed.  In the end, it was a true win-win situation.

The point is, there are benefits for immigrants learning to speak the language of the country they live in.  It does not have to be draconian in nature or repressive of culture.  In fact, as the Codetalker incident illustrates, we benefit from bilingual citizens and our citizens benefit from having a national identity.

The trick is how to establish a national language and honor cultural differences.  This is where the debate should be.  Let’s forget all the rhetoric and do something useful for the United States.  We must remember, no one of us is as smart as all of us.  Therefore, we must engage opinions that differ from our own to find the best solution to a problem.  We have a tendency to take ownership of ideas and this means we get defensive when we see them being attacked.  A better way to think about it is to take partnership in the solution.  Then the best points from all ideas can form the best solution possible.

The idea of an official language for the United States is not an earth-shattering topic.  If we do or do not pick one the fabric of our daily lives will not change.  This makes it a perfect topic to engage others of differing views and set our petty political personas aside.  Perhaps by taking a small step with a subject like this, we can learn to do the same on issues that really will shake the world.


[i] Wolframalpha. Wolframalpha LLC. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=number+of+countries+with+an+official+language>.

[ii] Shin, Hyon B. and Robert A. Kominski. 2010. Language Use in the United States: 2007, American Community Survey Reports, ACS-12. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. Web,  23 Apr 2012.
<http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/acs-12.pdf>

[iii] ICTMN Staff.  “Student Suspended for Speaking Native American Language.”  Indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com. Indian Country Today Media Network, LLC, 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.  <http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/02/07/student-suspended-for-speaking-native-american-language-96340>.

[iv] “Native American Boarding Schools.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_boarding_schools>.

[v] “The Code Talker Story.” Official Site of the Navajo Code Talkers. Navajo Code Talkers Foundation. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.navajocodetalkers.org/code_talker_story/>.

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Rick Santorum, The Most Dangerous Man in America

March 30, 2012

As rational beings (I realize I am being overly gracious) we look for the reasons behind events; we look for the cause.  In theory, that is a good thing; in practice, we fail miserably.   Our history shows we have a tendency to apply magical thinking and fear to situations we don’t understand or worse yet, we blatantly chalk things up to God or some other manifestation for events we, as humans, should be fully invested.  Simply put, our rationalization is flawed.  This flaw may be the reason a buffoon like Rick Santorum is able to make a serious run for the Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States.  It is why he just may be the most dangerous man in America today.

Let me explain, some among us place everything, good and bad, beyond the control of man.  For instance, a woman walking across the street may trip as she steps onto the curb, fall and break a toe, then think it’s the will of God!  My thinking is God simply wanted her to watch where she was going but her refusal to take such responsibility set the events in motion.  In her thinking, she is not responsible, it was God’s will.  Another example is kneeling in the end zone of a football field and thanking God for a score.  Now, I do not claim some special knowledge or to know God’s mind, but I am pretty sure God does not give one a single damn about touchdowns.

In fact, I find giving thanks to God for such trivial matters offensive.  I mean to invoke God for granting six measly points, all the while homeless people starve right outside a packed football stadium where over a ton of food will be thrown into the trash, has more to do with my understanding of evil than good.  If a football player wishes to be thankful in a useful way, he would be better off thanking the 300 pound linemen that kept the defense from crushing him.  The simple fact is Christianity, and more importantly to this discussion – the Christianity Rick Santorum promotes, warns against such public displays, as Mathew puts it, “… they have their reward.[i]”  In a football player’s case, he gives credit to God for Touchdowns, in Santorum’s case; God gets credit for his campaign[ii].  Both employ a sort magical thinking that removes from them responsibility.  If they do not take responsibility for the good, they cannot be held accountable for the bad.

I get the feeling that some people see praying to God in the same way a child see sitting on Santa’s lap and asking for a toy.  Good little girls and boys get what they ask for and bad ones do not.  So, if Santorum does not prevail in his bid for the presidency, does that mean God thinks he’s been a bad little boy?  The logic is there, but Santorum has his out.  In his diluted mind he simply will apply more magical thinking and rationalize it somehow.  Trust me, he will not accept he simply ran a lousy campaign nor had a message no one wanted to support.

As magical thinkers see it, they just need to believe and pray hard enough and they will get what they want.  All the while, never questioning just what is it they want in the first place.  This sort of thinking leads to seeing others as deserving the bad things that happen to them, but coming up with new magical justification when it is they that do not get what they want.

I really do not intend to get too preachy or discourage anyone’s belief system.  If someone needs to thank God for that tango-mango smoothie they just enjoyed, who am I to question it?  On the other hand, if that person wishes to apply their magical thinking to issues that directly affect others, I will voice my concern.  In Santorum’s case, the latter applies.

I realize prayer and well wishes do not hurt, the research is inconclusive if they help[iii], so prayer, in itself is not the issue.  Moreover, I think it wise to inwardly reflect before making major decisions.  The issue is people claiming God to be on their side, so they cannot possibly be wrong.  Going further, the issue is someone who intends on using his religion to lead the country, rather than our laws. It is someone who does not believe separation of church and state is absolute and that the 1960 speech on the matter by John F Kennedy makes him “throw up.[iv]”  Pray for guidance all you want, but don’t expect me to accept being led by a guy that is willing to place his own sanctimonious views on God and religion above the views of others and above the Constitution of the United States he wants to swear to defend.

Just in case I was not being clear – the man is a religious zealot that wishes to push his perverted view of how life should be on the rest of us.   He is a theological fascist that employs the same political tactics used by Hitler and Goebbels, the Big Lie[v], to achieve his ends.  The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) wrote of Hitler in World War II:

“His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.[vi]

While I do not believe Santorum is necessarily evil, like Hitler, I do believe he is misguided and dangerous and he employs the same evil tactics.  Specifically,

  • He flames emotional responses to political issues.
  • He never admits his mistakes.
  • He never admits others have something to contribute.
  • He presents his view as righteous, therefore the only one that matters.
  • Nothing is his fault.
  • Makes his opponents the scapegoat for everything that is wrong.

It is his hope that the more he shouts his extremist view, the more it is believed.  Sadly, he is not the first American politician to employ such tactics.  He simply couches his version of the Big Lie in a passive-aggressive nature making it harder to see we are getting played.   What makes Santorum truly different is his shrouding his views in religion.  Santorum seeks and receives all the right religious based photo-ops and support he can.  He speaks in religious “us against them” terms going so far as to accept blessings and endorsements from a pastors that suggest non-Christians have no place in America[vii].

Does Rick Santorum believe his own rhetoric?  I do not know, but I do see it as his crossing the line between him valuing his personal belief and pressing that belief on others.  I believe he is willing to use dangerous tactics, regardless of the cost to our individual freedom, to achieve his goals.  Moreover, I believe if this guy is elected President, he will attempt to remake the United States into the Christian-fundamentalist nation that his mind already believes it to be.  His magical thinking, irrational belief that he cannot be wrong, and willingness to subvert the freedoms protected by the US Constitution, all wrapped in his slick, high-glossed, religious based presentation show why Rick Santorum very well may be the most dangerous man in America today.


[i] Matthew 6:5. BibleGateway.com. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew 6:5>.

[ii] Badash, David. “Santorum Makes It Official: He’s Running For President On God’s Platform.” The New Civil Rights Movement. 6 June 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
<http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/santorum-makes-it-official-hes-running-for-president-on-gods-platform/politics/2011/06/06/21438>.

[iii] Brandeis University. “The Healing Power Of Prayer?.” ScienceDaily, 17 Jun. 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.
<http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/06/090617154401.htm>

[iv] Walshe, Shushannah. “In the Battle for Michigan, Santorum Says Separation of Church and State Has Been “Turned on Its Head”.” Www.abcnews.com. ABC.com, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/02/in-the-battle-for-michigan-santorum-says-separation-of-church-and-state-has-been-turned-on-its-head/>.

[v] “Big Lie.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Lie>.

[vi] “OSS Psychological Profile of Hitler, Part Three.” Holocaust Educational Resource. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/h/hitler-adolf/oss-papers/text/oss-profile-03-02.html>.

[vii] Michaelson, Jay. “”Get Out!” Says Christian-Supremacist Pastor. Does Rick Santorum Agree?” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/03/20/get-out-says-ethnic-cleansing-pastor-does-rick-santorum-agree.html>.

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