02 May 2006

Hey man, look at me rockin' out ...

... I'm on the RADIO!

I've gotten back into listening to morning radio in the past couple of weeks, mostly because the Tom and Lisa Morning Show on 95.1 FM WIIL ("95 WIIL Rock") is a lot of fun. They keep things pretty light-hearted, and it's obvious that the cast and crew get along really well ... it's broadcast out of Kenosha, and like so many things out of southeast Wisconsin/northeast Illinois, they're like their own little community, having gone to high school together and hanging out and working together for a couple of decades. Oh, and they play good "angry music" in between all the hijinks (including Disturbed's "Just Stop" this morning, perfect for the subject matter!).

Well, this morning Tom decided to get heavy, and took on the Spanish "Star Spangled Banner." His point was that it was a sign of respect, and he tried valiantly to keep the discussion wholly separate from the immigration debate currently going on. I think it took a lot of guts for him to take this stand -- this is Kenosha, after all -- and he was dutifully taking his licks from all the red-blooded, red-necked "Americans" who picked up the phone and dialed in.

When I was about halfway to work, some guy called in and asked "What language is the Constitution written in?" Tom tried to set him straight, explaining that there is no official language, until the guy went down this strange path about the French and German constitutions not being written in English. When Tom tried to explain that a lot of folks in France and Germany (India somehow made it into the conversation too) speak English, the caller was incredulous, disbelieving that people in other countries bothered to be multi-lingual.

This hit two of my hot-button issues with "Middle America" -- one, an education system that doesn't start multilingual learning until students are 13 or 14, and makes a mockery of it by only mandating 2 years of a "foreign language;" and two, a huge chunk of the U.S. population who thinks everyone in the world is just as xenophobic and closed-minded as they are, and who refuses to believe that someone in Europe or India speaks better English than they do. WAKE UP, dude, THE WORLD IS PASSING YOU BY!

So I had to call. I wore out the redial button on my cell phone, getting a busy signal over and over again. At one point I got through, but it just rang and rang so I gave up, thinking it was a phone-company mixup. D'oh! So I tried again, and vowed to let it ring until I got to work ... just as I pulled into my parking space, Tom himself picked up the phone!

So if you were listening at about 8:26 this morning and heard a guy tell Tom he had a lot of guts, and say that both France and Germany have legal language requirements but that -- as in the case of France -- that can lead to stagnation and a lack of influence in the global community, and that a lot of folks in other parts of the world speak better English than most of the people you meet on the street, and that one of the things that makes the U.S. a good place to live is its ability to assimilate the best of all cultures ... that was me! I was nervous as all get-out, and when I hung up I was shaking, but I think I was pretty clear and fairly concise ... at least I hope I didn't sound like a dork!

Of course, the next caller started by asking Tom "What universe did you wake up in this morning?", so there's a good chance my points were lost on a lot of the listenership ...

Speaking of France: Check out the Top 10 at the Trophée des Grimpeurs ("Climber's Trophy") from last Sunday! This is a pretty prestigious UCI 1.1 race that has seen some major players take the win in the past ... and coming in 10th among all the Jacques and Jean-Lucs was Wisconsin's own Garrett Peltonen! His teammate Karl "Ten" Menzies took 7th, and there's a good account on Garrett's blog. That's a pretty impressive way to start a European campaign! Congrats!



Andy said...

I think I've had that same experience...sometimes when you feel your point is so important to get out there, along with the caffeine in your veins + after a convincing win already this year...you are good man Strout

David Johnsen said...

I'm on the radio, too, but not until Wednesday morning at the earliest. Today I taped an interview about Biking Illinois for WJPF-AM 1340 out of Herrin (near Carbondale). I hardly had time to get nervous, though -- I literally woke up two minutes before they called.

I agree that Americans in general shouldn't be so ignorant and xenophobic, but at the same time I think that if you live here, you should learn English. Everything just works better if everyone speaks the same language. Look at cycling teams as an example -- they choose a language and require riders to learn and use it, at least for official communication. Of course, sometimes they change, as T-Mobile did from German to English as the team became more international, which leads to my next point.

Although mandating French has probably hurt France's influence, that argument is rendered irrelevant here by American hegemony. English is the default language for business, diplomatic and Internet communication throughout the world. In that regard, requiring immigrants to learn English is probably one of the best things we could do for them. I took five years of Spanish, but that hasn't opened nearly as many doors for me as English has.

As for the national anthem in Spanish, I think it's an incredibly boneheaded tactic. It doesn't upset me; I just think it's a bad idea. If people are opposing you because you don't learn the common language, why give them an example to use against you? And why choose the war-oriented national anthem in a country where "patriotism" is too often synonymous with xenophobia? Something like "America the Beautiful" would have been a wiser choice. Besides, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is already hard enough to sing in English!

Chris said...

In the interest of keeping it short, I didn't insert one assertion: learning a new language opens you up to learning about that culture. That's where people in the U.S. fall flat on their faces compared to those in other countries. And that's where I encounter conflict in my own mind: the immigrants are not assimilating to a new language (and thus a new culture), which causes its own set of problems. At the same time I believe they are enriching the existing society by introducing new ideas and "clinging" a bit to the "old world." I mean, what would the world be like if all Poles gave up pierogies as soon as they landed on the shores of New York? Who can imagine a world without burritos? I guess my point is that "culture" as we know it is influenced by language, but it is also a movable target -- and by *not* learning the language, immigrants do themselves a disservice, but at the same time they are helping to re-create the very fabric of the world around us.

And that's what pisses me off about most "Americans" -- they readily adopt new ideas if they're a perceived benefit, but without an appreciation for where it came from -- and, in fact, too easily poo-poo the very culture that introduced the new thing in the first place! "Sure, I'll take your Sony Playstation, but don't let me catch no slant-eyed Jap in my local grocery store ..."

Were I to relocate to a new country, I would learn the language. That's who I am, that's the way I think. I have difficulty even visiting a country in which I haven't made an effort to at least learn some basic getting-around phrases. I agree that immigrants do themselves a disservice, but to say they "should" or "shouldn't" do something? Chicago has such a thriving Polish community that our cleaning ladies at work are able to survive and thrive without learning English. And you know what? I don't care. It doesn't affect me in the least. Would they be better off if they understood everything I said to them each night? Maybe. But it doesn't change my life in any way that all they know is "hello" and "good night."

Ultimately, that's why I think a Spanish version of the Star Spangled Banner is a good thing. We are sorely in need of immigration reform in this country. Things are way out of control. And if a Spanish-language version pisses off the populace enough to get a discussion going, then by all means let's hear it.

David Johnsen said...

"[Americans] readily adopt new ideas if they're a perceived benefit, but without an appreciation for where it came from"

Look no further than Cinco de Mayo, which has been wholly embraced by Americans as a drinking holiday!

"I agree that immigrants do themselves a disservice, but to say they 'should' or 'shouldn't' do something?"

We aren't necessarily disagreeing here -- I think you misinterpreted my "should" as "must." I'm not talking about making English mandatory. And I didn't say that immigrants must cast aside their native tongues and cultures, just that they ought to learn ours as well. Shared customs, history, culture and language are by definition what holds a nation together. If immigrants don't assimilate somewhat, we cease to be a nation of Americans; we're just a geopolitical unit. That's what scares many Americans about Mexican immigrants (and what scares many French and Dutch about Muslim immigrants).

You support the Spanish anthem for the same reason I don't. Immigration needs reform, but pissing off the American populace is not a good idea right now, in this political environment. Things could get ugly pretty quickly. My right-wing brother wants to build a wall and shoot on sight.

Anonymous said...

Coming from an immigrant family I have to say everyone should/must learn the langauge. That's what you did in the old days, when you apprieciated the oppotunity for bettering your life. Do you know how much business and government spends on printing documents/instuctions/signage alone? We all pay for this. Our taxes go to pay for their illegel kids in school and let's not start with insurance! What about the other languages. Discrimination, I can say. Look at the countries in Europe to see what will happen in the USA if it keeps going this way. Remember the riots in France this past year. The social system being overburdoned. Those counties have been dealing with these issues longer than we have and because of their size have a faster "explosion" rate.
Seeing the changes in Germany in person, on a weekly basis, for the past 20 years makes you look at things a little differently. You live in a country so large where people can say, that doesn't affect me. Until it's too late.
Just my thoughts
The old man-

Chris said...

Couple of things, and I'm done.

1) My comments have nothing to do with illegal immigration. Please go back and read what I've written before you take it down that track. And while I would like any immigrant to learn the language, this country was not founded on the idea that you "must" do anything. You pay the consequences if you don't. And if immigrants refuse to learn English, they will subsequently have difficulty functioning here (at least for now).

2) Children born in the U.S. are not illegal, even if their parents are. That's already part of the system. It's in the voter's hands how much immigration reform should happen, and what should change. You don't like it? Work to change.

3) Where does it end? If we legislate English now, what happens in 20 years when Hispanics are in the majority? Legally? Are you prepared for those consequences? I know I'm not -- our high school Spanish teacher was so horrid that I took French and German instead.

4) By definition, the U.S. is a geopolitical unit. How much history do I share with my cleaning ladies, even though we're both "Americans"? Not very much! To me, that's one of the greatest fallacies about this country -- there is no "American culture." Very few "cultural" things we encounter on a day to day basis do not have their roots firmly planted in a borrowed civilization. We're too young! And that's why the Founding Fathers were so open -- they recognized that society can only continue to thrive if it adapts and assimilates. Not the other way around. That's also why all of the immigration rallies have been peaceful -- a far cry from the anti-immigrant riots in Germany not too long ago, or the rampant anti-immigrant hate crimes taking place in France. The beauty of our system is that it is predicated on peaceful evolution, and doesn't require bloodshed to change. That's "American." To force-impose anything -- language, for instance -- would be to bring about violence and retribution.

5) When I said "it doesn't affect me," I was refering specifically to our cleaning ladies at work. If they refuse to learn the language, so be it. I was not refering to the larger issue of entire population shifts -- that absolutely affects me, on a daily basis. It affects everyone. That's why we need immigration reform.

Which leads me to my last point ...

6) When is there a good time? Some eras may be more receptive to change, but if the issue is now, it's NOW -- there's no way to sweep it back under the rug. Was it the "right time" for Rosa Parks to sit at the front of the bus? Was it the "right time" for Lech Walensa to morph the Solidarity movement into what it became? Hell no! THAT'S why all of this is ultimately a good thing -- it finally gets people thinking, and gets the ball rolling toward change. Apathy is easy until you get pissed off.

David Johnsen said...

Regarding 4)... I know the U.S. is a country (geopolitical unit) by definition, but I think it also must be a nation to survive. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the U.S.S.R. were countries but not nations, and now they are gone. The Basques want independence because they are a nation trapped in a larger country. A shared identity as a nation is vital to the cohesion of a country.

The question of whether our "melting pot" constitutes a culture has been widely debated. My opinion is that we do have a culture, and we are indoctrinated by schools and mass media. Relating that to language, those who do not know English will miss out on a fair amount of that indoctrination. And just because our culture has borrowed from others doesn't invalidate it. After all, Mexicans talk about preserving their culture when they come here, but theirs has borrowed heavily from Mayan, Toltec, Aztec, and Spanish. Cultures borrow from each other as much as languages do, now more than ever thanks to travel and communication.

As for our system having peaceful evolution without requiring bloodshed, aren't you dismissing the Civil War as well as the civil rights martyrs of the 1950s and 1960s? Ask the Native Americans about peaceful evolution. I hope the current debate doesn't become violent, but I won't be surprised if it does. Look at Arizona's Minuteman Project.

Chris said...

"The beauty of our system is that it is predicated on peaceful evolution, and doesn't require bloodshed to change."

Unlike in the very countries you mentioned, the U.S. does not REQUIRE bloodshed for change. We have a political system that allows for dissent and peaceful activism. It's not perfect, but the options are there. Don't ever, EVER suggest that I'm dismissing the Civil War, or the Civil Rights movement. Remember, I'm the guy who honeymooned at Gettysburg.

Violence to bring about change is certainly called for at times. What I am saying is that because our system is the way it is, we are much more able to find peaceful solutions than those in other societies. Think about it: in the 230 year history of the U.S., we have had open, armed rebellion for only 4. In that same period of time, we have had 43 different leaders. There have been some very violent periods in our past, but I would challenge you to find any other civilization currently in existence with that kind of track record.

And as far as the Native Americans, I'm refering to after the apocolyptic treatment they received, refering to the government that has evolved since then. And for all the violence that preceded it, the past 50 years have seen relative peace when it comes to their plight. (I'm not saying it's right, I'm not saying things are the way they should be. All I'm saying is that there is at least an option to work the system, not resort only to violence and bloodshed, which would destroy what fragile society they have left. This, of course, highlights one of the major downfalls of rule by majority -- sometimes it is morally reprehensible.)

And I will restate what I've said before: It would be great if immigrants to this country learn English. They will miss out if they don't. But I don't think it's in the spirit of our governmental system to mandate language requirements. That's not to say that government should pander to every possible tounge spoken on its shores. Just that the openness and ability to adapt that our system affords us is NOT a threat to our way of life. There needs to be reform, and we need to find a solution -- but the rhetoric and ill will -- especially on the side of folks scared of change -- that is currently on the table is not the way forward.

Maybe you're right. Maybe we do have a culture. Maybe it does come from the media and schools. And if that's the case, I would argue that the Minutemen embody that culture. So then I have to ask: how sad and scary is that?

Chris said...

Two other thoughts:

1) I'm convinced that reality TV is the downfall of society as we know it. Just as the Roman Empire crumbled on the back of its voyeuristic addiction to gladiator games, so too will U.S. "culture" be destroyed by its gluttonous feast on the pour souls who try to sing and dance each week on television ...

2) And yes, this is the stuff I think about on my long rides. Damn, I need an iPod.

Chris said...

Check this out for a good perspective:


David Johnsen said...

I'm with you on reality TV. I had hoped the novelty would wear off about a year after it started. So many trends come and go, yet we still have reality TV!

How about this... Let's create a reality TV show called "Green Card" with illegal immigrants as contestants. Okay, maybe making a mockery of the naturalization process isn't one of my better ideas. But it might work on Saturday Night Live.