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AWADmail Issue 299

March 23, 2008

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

What's in a name? How about the White House?
Seattle Times

Can 200,000 Hours of Baby Talk Untie a Robot's Tongue?
Scientific American

In Babel of Tongues, Suriname Seeks Itself:
The New York Times

Monkeys Challenge Language Theory:

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Last week's theme (Re: vegan)

In 14 years of Wordsmith.org, last week was singular in the volume of angry email from readers. They were upset that we had given a platform to a veg advocate. Some sent thoughtful notes, while others made snide remarks; still others canceled their subscriptions.

Food is something so personal, such an intimate part of our lives, that any comment upon it, especially something that appears to question it, makes us wince. The discomfort displayed in those notes is understandable.

I felt similar discomfort 12 years ago and decided to go vegan after reading literature from Vegan Outreach, an organization co-founded by Matt Ball. I thank him for being a Guest Wordsmith here last week, and thank you for taking the time to write and letting us know how you feel.

From: Soni Pitts (soni sonipitts.com)
Subject: Re: Vegetarian theme

I'm wondering if you'll get any pushback on this week's theme, along the lines of "using your platform to preach".

I want you to know that at least some of us out here on the other end of the send button managed to splutter on past our indignation and into reasoned acceptance on this issue at some point and in some manner. (I'm afraid it was my youngest sister who caught the brunt of my own cognitively dissonant wrath, before her arguments convinced me that loving animals and paying others to torture them to death for my lunch were at odds. I have since apologized.)

From: Judith Hooper (jhooper pimaresearch.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--factory farming

For those who want to know more about factory farming, check out this award-winning expose of corporate farming techniques and consequences, The Meatrix (based on the movie The Matrix).

From: Elsa Kramer (efk earthlink.net)
Subject: factory farming

Factory farms are actually AFOs, Animal Feeding Operations. According to the EPA definition, they are lots or facilities where "(1) animals have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in a 12-month period; and (2) where crops, vegetation, forage growth, or post harvest residues are not sustained in the normal growing season over any portion of the lot or facility."

An AFO is designated as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) "based on the number of animals at the facility and/or whether the facility discharges to waters of the United States."

Thus, not all factory farms are CAFOs, but they are all AFOs and definitely worthy of our attention, as both reflect the potential problems of cruelty to animals as well as the impact of discharged animal waste on our planet.

EPA definitions.
EPA's national CAFO site.

If you live in the United States and want to see where your state ranks among factory farm polluters: Factory Farm Map.

From: James A. Bischel (james.a.bischel kp.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--speciesism

Speciesism - what a wonderful word that brings up such a poignant and pertinent issue today! I would like to take a moment to comment, however, that the quotation provided is an excellent but unfortunate example of hagiography.

Although it is true that Darwin objected to the violent treatment of slaves, Darwin maintained that various races evolved at different times and rates, thus some were evolutionarily inferior to others. For instance, he stated that the break in evolutionary history between apes and humans fell "between the negro or Australian and the gorilla", and he expressed his hope that in the near future civilised races would "exterminate and replace the savage races" so that the gap would be larger, such as between "the Caucasian and some ape as low as the baboon" (The Descent of Man, 1874, p.178). In the same book he often affirms that natural selection had produced significant differences in the mental faculties of "men of distinct races" (pp. 109-110, 160, 201, 216).

From: Shrisha Rao (shrao nyx.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--speciesism

Speciesism is also called "species chauvinism", and is invoked by proponents of Strong AI (Artificial Intelligence), the view that machines can (eventually) do anything that humans can.

From: Robert Paul (rpaul reed.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cartesian

Although Descartes did believe that non-human animals were automata who had no thoughts or feelings, the most common meaning of the noun Cartesian is one who believes in strict mind-body dualism. The adjectival form, as your grim example shows, well expresses the assumptions behind today's "factory farming" and meat "processing".

Robert Paul
Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
Reed College

From: Robert L Wilson (wilson math.wisc.edu)
Subject: Coordinated Descartes

Within mathematics Descartes did a great deal, but his name is most often used as the adjective in "cartesian coordinates". That refers to the way we graph things with one set of numbers labeled along one (usually horizontal) line and another along a line at right angles to the first (so they can also be called rectilinear coordinates, but cartesian seems to be used far more often) and associate pairs of numbers with points in the plane that contains those two lines. (When I was younger, cartesian was usually written with an upper-case C, but such formality seems to have disappeared now.)

By using this scheme Descartes made it possible to connect geometry and algebra or arithmetic. The power of this connection in solving problems in both fields has been enormous. He did a lot of other things that come up in a History of Mathematics class, but this is where a typical student hears his name.

Bob Wilson
Mathematics Department
University of Wisconsin at Madison

From: Angela Webb (angelaw skilledcare.com)
Subject: Karuna

I love this word. I think in order to have loving compassion you have to challenge yourself to connect on some level. In any cases I've come across in reading, news, or in life -- when people are not compassionate they have become disconnected or purposely make themselves that way in order to justify their behavior.

From: Constance Rondeau (constance99 live.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--karuna

Thanks for this week's words. Have you seen meat.org?

Thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind it. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

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