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New categories & LinkedIn archive

With the previous post I introduced two new categories to this blog, both of which represent interests, experience, and areas for exploration (although not necessarily formal expertise):

  • habitat & community – brings the dimension of built environment and how we live in it more explicitly into the set of “multidisciplinary perspectives;” it facilitates discussing the urban side of development as much as the rural, as well as diverse aspects of planning and resource management
  • roads & streets – brings the dimension of physical connections between and divisions within inhabited places, as well as a class of systems and socio-economic dynamics (all of which may be on a cusp of change to the extent that autonomous vehicles and airborne alternatives become more viable).

I’m also adding two others that will eliminate use of the default category “Uncategorized”:

  • about (this blog) – to which this post and articles previously tagged “about this blog” will be moved
  • personal – this will include articles with biographical content

There will also be some upcoming minor revisions of the pages listed in the header.

Addendum, 10 March 2017

I’ve moved the page in header for my other older blog, Beyond Niamey, under Other blogs. Also under the latter is a new page listing articles and some smaller posts made on LinkedIn, which are being copied over.  The latter is kind of an archive, since content and features on such social media sites can disappear.

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Çatalhöyük & a line from Kōbō Abe

In the Neolithic town at Çatalhöyük in what is now south-central Turkey, “The houses were … built so close to each other that it was impossible to pass between them. … It’s thought that the roofs of the houses provided the paths and sidewalks to traverse the community.” This description by Prof. Steven Tuck in his “Cities of the Ancient World” course, called to mind a passage somehow remembered from a translation of Kōbō Abe‘s Red Cocoon1:  “I slowly walk along the narrow crack dividing house from house ….”

Rendering of mural in Çatalhöyük that some say shows nearby mountains and a kind of map of the community. Adapted from Image by: Schmitt AK et al. Source: Sci-News.com.

I don’t recall reading the rest of Red Cocoon but the image that sentence2 evoked was of some slightly surreal cityscape where one could walk along the flat roofs of adjacent dwellings inhabited by mostly unseen people. Perhaps that image was shaped by memory of the scenario in another one of Abe’s works, Woman in the Dunes, where the main characters (one unwillingly) were confined in a space below a barely known community above. Or perhaps by my brief experience on rooftops in Djenné, Mali, even though the houses I lived in were not connected and (unlike the solitary wandering and wondering of Red Cocoon‘s protagonist) there was a certain social nature , although somewhat circumscribed, to that level of city living.3

Artist’s impression of Çatalhöyük. Image credit: Dan Lewandowski. Source: Sci-News.com.

In any event, here was a city that, strangely enough, seems to have been laid out along lines similar to what I’d once imagined from Abe’s line about “the narrow crack dividing house from house.” Çatalhöyük’s particular organization of habitat (bunched together so that one entered each one from above) and social space (the adjacent roofs of the nearly joined houses), doesn’t conform with basic assumptions we have about the fundamental layout of living space and community. And it raises a number of questions, many of which – about why people pioneered urbanization in this place, and how their town worked – have been examined by archaeologists such as Prof. Tuck.

One question that interests me is whether “street” (as opposed to path) hadn’t yet been invented – rather analogous to the concept of “zero” in mathematics. People knew probably all too well what “nothing” was, or wasn’t, but it didn’t have any practical use once you had something that could be counted. Perhaps similarly, anyone could see that there could be a space between two houses, but maybe it didn’t occur to use that for anything other than another dwelling (which would have the advantage of keeping the continuity of roof spaces above, and eliminating the risk of people or things falling into the gap).

Obviously imagining a lot here, but the idea of streets as something that had to be thought of has actually been discussed regarding a much later period of history. In an essay entitled “The Discovery of Streets,”4 J.B. Jackson takes us from the ancient but definitely post-Çatalhöyük small city with its “flexible and informal network of alleys, blind alleys, flights of steps, and paths,” through the evolution (focused here on Europe) of markets and spatial needs, to the eventual use of streets in planning and reshaping communities (which he ultimately connects with the freeway, which I always associated with paths and old turnpikes, but that’s another subject). The turning point he sees as having happened in 11th century Europe:

the discovery of the street as a determinant of city growth and development had by the end of the century produced increasingly orthogonal town patterns, based on right angles and perpendicular lines …

So it does seem as if one could also suggest an “invention of the street” or perhaps “discovery of the alley” some time after Çatalhöyük. And by extension, that perhaps there might be concepts of urbanization that we, for all our sophistication, haven’t yet thought of (or maybe even contexts in which the ancient model from Çatalhöyük might turn out to be useful).

Returning to Abe’s walking along the “narrow crack dividing house from house,” with benefit of Jackson’s discussions of space in Old World cities, there is another interpretation (which likely was obvious to other readers): the “narrow crack” was in fact a narrow street between rows of houses. But it still was more fun to imagine it the other way.


1. Japanese title: 赤い繭 (Akai Mayu), published 1950 or 1951. There have apparently been two translations into English, one by John Nathan in 1966, and the other by Lane Dunlap in 1987. Needless to say, Abe’s story line goes in an entirely different direction than what preoccupies me here.
2. Retrieved from Abe’s obituary in the New York Times (23 Jan. 1993). I did not find the story available online.
3. During the hot season, people would often sleep on their roofs – but when you wake up in the morning on your roof, you always ignore neighbors who are awakening on theirs (in general one never says “good morning” to someone before they’ve had a chance to at least wash their face and take care of their morning essentials anyway). Also one doesn’t peer over the edge of one’s roof into the adjacent courtyards. As such this was different rooftop environment than either Çatalhöyük or what I imagined from that line in Red Cocoon.
4. J.B. Jackson, “The Discovery of the Street,” in N. Glazer & M. Lilla, eds. The Public Face of Architecture: Civic Culture and Public Spaces, The Free Press, 1987. An article in The Atlantic about this essay by Charles R. Wolfe – “City Life: Revisiting J.B. Jackson’s ‘The Discovery of the Street’” – is a useful complement.

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International Mother Language Day 2017 & the Linguapax Prize

The 18th annual International Mother Language Day (IMLD), observed today (21 February 2017), has as its theme, “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education,” which seems to carry on the focus on language in education from last year (presumably still with an eye on Sustainable Development Goal #4).

The definition of multilingual education given on UNESCO’s IMLD page is worth copying here…

Multilingual education facilitates access to education while promoting equity for populations speaking minority and/or indigenous languages, especially girls and women:     

  • It emphasizes the quality of teaching and learning with a focus on understanding and creativity;
  • It reinforces the cognitive aspect of learning by ensuring the direct application of learning outcomes to the learner’s life through the mother tongue;
  • It enhances dialogue and interaction between learner and teacher by allowing genuine communication from the beginning;
  • It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, thus ensuring a harmonious interaction between the global and the local.

Linguapax Prize

This year’s Linguapax Prize, announced today (as it is annually, on IMLD), was awarded to Dr. Matthias Brenzinger, a German linguist specializing in African languages (notably non-Bantu click languages) and endangered languages, who is currently at the University of Cape Town and heads the Centre for African Linguistic Diversity (CALDi), which he founded. Dr. Brenzinger has also worked in Japan.

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Two language museums in Washington

PW logoOn the eve of International Mother Language Day (IMLD), here’s a quick look at the news that the Washington, DC area will get a second museum dedicated to languages: Planet Word Museum. This project began several years ago, based on the vision of Ann B. Friedman, a philanthropist and former reading instructor, and was incorporated in 2013 as the Museum of Language Arts, Inc. On 25 January 2017, the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development announced an agreement by which (pending DC Council approval) Planet Word and its partners will convert an old landmark school building into a museum space. Opening is planned for 2019.

PW logoThe first museum in this genre in the DC area, and in the entire United States, is the National Museum of Language (NML), which despite the name is also a private non-profit venture. Its origins go back to Dr. Amelia C. Murdoch and a “group of expert linguists, language specialists, and language enthusiasts” in 1971, but it wasn’t until 37 years later that a small museum space was opened in College Park, Maryland (Multidisciplinary Perspectives featured an article about their opening in 2008). Unfortunately, the recurring cost of the museum space turned out to be too high to maintain, so in 2014, NML closed its permanent exhibit and shifted to a strategy of moveable exhibits, an enhanced online presence, and other activities.

A tale of 2 museums

The first question that comes to mind on learning of the new language museum project in this metro area, is whether it and the older one are in communication. The answer, according to NML president Dr. Jill Robbins, is yes.

A second question or set of questions has to do with the relationship between the two – both in terms of missions (similarities, differences, complementarities), and in terms of practical links (such as connections among people working on the two different projects). These seem to me to be harder to answer. In part that is because one is new and the other still relatively young. And there are other differences between the two that would figure in any collaboration.

In terms of their respective missions, my impression is that NML is somewhat more focused on aspects of language diversity or “unity in diversity” (the themes of the museum include “universal aspects of language,” “language in society,” and “languages of the world”). Among various exhibits, they have done some interesting work presenting dialect research in the US, for example. From NML’s mission statement:

Our mission is to inspire an appreciation for the magic and beauty of language. We seek to lead our visitors to their personal discoveries of language and languages. …

My impression is that Planet Word is somewhat more concerned with language arts (note the incorporated name mentioned above) and applied linguistics. Literacy figures as “The Big Issue” on their “About” page. We can expect more details as the project develops, but in the meantime, an article in Chronicle of Higher Education by Planet Word board member Prof. Anne Curzan offers some insights into their thinking. Planet Word’s vision (from the About page):

Language is what makes us human. From earliest childhood we weave our words into speech to communicate. At Planet Word we inspire and renew a love of words and language through unique, immersive learning experiences.

On the organizational level, there are some obvious differences. For example, Planet Word is clearly able to access funding at a level several orders of magnitude above what NML has ever obtained. It also has a much larger board with a wider geographic and institutional representation than the smaller NML has.

On the other hand, NML has a significant experience with the practicalities of running a language museum – albeit on a smaller scale than Planet Word evidently aspires to – and in developing relations with educators and institutions in its vicinity and more widely. The latter include, for example being a founding member of the International Network of Language Museums (INLM; see also addendum, below), participating in events such as the IMLD 2013 celebration at the Bangladesh embassy in Washington, DC, and having a wall exhibit – about American lexicographer Noah Webster – on display at the Noah Webster House in West Hartford, Connecticut.

From the descriptions, however, it seems that Planet Word is modeling itself on certain larger museums – the National Museum of Mathematics in New York was mentioned in one article. Also, Planet Word is expected to have a major impact on development of its immediate neighborhood (see article in City Lab, which includes a comparison with the National Building Museum in DC) – not a role that NML has had to play.

All that said, these two language museums do occupy much of the same terrain even as their emphases and some of their angles may differ. The field of study of language(s) and linguistics after all is broad, and there are diverse approaches to organizing museums. So basically, it’s no surprise that “language museum” can mean different things.

A question at this point is what kind of collaboration might be possible and make sense from the points of view of NML and Planet Word, and also for the public, for whom even one language museum is still a novelty.

We’ll see how this develops, but it will be interesting to see an interview of Ms. Friedman that I am told is planned for publication on the NML website. One question I’d like to ask of both efforts is how they would celebrate IMLD, an annual observance that is not that well known in the US.

Addendum (Feb. 21)

Thanks to NML’s Dr. Robbins for feedback on this post as originally published, leading to some corrections to copy and also a clarification on her institution’s range of activity (which I further expanded on). A key element in that range is the INLM (a list of the members of which appears in an NML blog post).

In the interests of economy, I did not get into the subject of language museums worldwide in this post, even though they figured prominently in my compilation of resources on the International Year of Languages 2008. The global dimension of this class of museums (within the larger class of “locations” about language, to use David Crystal‘s term from “LADDA“) is to a certain extent unavoidable (some articles about Planet Word have mentioned the Mundolingua in Paris, for example), but important enough to merit a separate discussion.

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WAWDT: USDA, animal welfare, and responses

On February 3, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) abruptly removed from its website access to inspection reports and other information on animal welfare, citing a review process. This is the kind of action about which I’m asking “Why are we doing this?” (WAWDT).

SDG logoAt issue, according to Science, are “tens of thousands of reports that document the numbers of animals kept by research labs, companies, zoos, circuses, and animal transporters—and whether those animals are being treated humanely under the Animal Welfare Act“,” as well as “inspection reports under the Horse Protection Act.” National Geographic has more on why these reports are important. This information had been accessible on the website maintained by the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The USDA’s action elicited a “swift” backlash, and restoration of a small number of the documents two weeks later. There is also a private effort to collect and publish all the removed information.

Although USDA says the review process leading to removal of the information was started last year, and there is speculation that a lawsuit by some horse trainers catalyzed the move, this action does seem to confirm fears about such removal of access to data and information long made available to the public by the Federal government.

Personally, when I heard this story it was hard to see an angle from which one could give USDA the benefit of the doubt. Such a vast amount of documents (from almost 8000 facilities) simply removed from view, when there may have been issues of legal or other concern relating to only a handful. From the descriptions, it seems the information was (is) a very important part of assuring humane treatment of animals in diverse contexts where they are used commercially or for research.

Data copying efforts

The abovementioned effort to copy (and at this point retrieve) and publish (on the MemoryHole site) the information deleted by APHIS is part of a larger semi-organized movement begun before the new US administration took office last month to copy data and other information from government websites. A major concern has been climate data, with DataRefuge site evidently playing a coordinating role (see also the presentation on PPEH Lab‘s site).

Other concerns regarding data

In addition to loss of access to data, there is a longer term concern, per FiveThirtyEight, that “the the integrity of U.S. government data could be compromised more subtly and more systematically over the next four years.”

 

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“Security triangle” without the triangle

Having in the previous posting referenced the security triangle used in development and humanitarian work, I thought it would be worth taking another look at the concept. As I mentioned, the three elements in this model are (with brief definitions I adapted from other sources):

  • Acceptance: Reduce the threat by fostering acceptance and positive image in the community.
  • Protection: Reduce the risk (but not the threat) by addressing vulnerabilities – hardening the target.
  • Deterrence: Counter the threat through reliance on appropriate and legitimate force.

As I also mentioned, this model represented new thinking when it came onto the scene around the turn of the millennium – a way to reframe the traditional approach or posture of aid work – “acceptance” (and a range of positive human and community relations) – and bring in practical dimensions that were always in the background but imposing themselves to varying degrees in different work environments – “protection” (which may previously be limited to bars on the windows and locking doors to deter theives) and “deterrence” (a last resort).

Having been away from scenarios where this model was discussed, I hadn’t been aware that the triangle itself, as a way of presenting these 3 factors – which are still the basis of discussion for security in aid work – was downplayed. “Downplayed” is my term reading the Humanitarian Practice Network’s (HPN) 2010 revised edition of the Operational Security Management in Violent Environments (GPR8). HPN’s webpage about the report actually uses the word “abandoned.”

So what was the problem?

The below diagram, from a 2011 post entitled “SSOS – A Concept to Mitigate the NGO Security Dilemma” illustrates, I think, the kind of issue that GPR8 had with the triangle – that is seeing the 3 key factors in security in terms of trade-offs.

The details of the SSOS approach illustrated in the diagram are not the issue – the question is whether and to what degree a security strategy sits in one place or can shift reliance on the different factors as implied by this kind of diagram. Which might be compared to a very different use of a triangle with three elements that indeed are in trade-off relationships: a soil texture diagram:

Sand, clay, and silt are physical substances in soil that exist in different proportions with the result being different soil textures (there are more complicated versions of this diagram). So you can have a soil like sandy clay loam, which apparently has 74-80% sand and 20-35% clay. But an analogous breakdown of emphases on different security factors would be hard to imagine (protectiony acceptance safety?).

So the way I understand the current GPR8 thinking, one can accent more than one factor in different ways at the same time. Can one emphasize acceptance in a security strategy while approaching protection in a way that is effective, but relatively unobtrusive from the community point of view?

Even the SSOS example I cite can be interpreted in that way when it suggests using technology in the form of a “low profile tracking device” with a vehicle or team to effectively bring deterrence into the equation while not displaying it in the immediate picture.

In other words, the three elements of a security strategy are not mutually exclusive, as a 2015 discussion of “Acceptance strategies in conflict” also points out.

It is also worth reiterating GPR8’s observation mentioned in the previous post that acceptance turns out to be the most important factor in security for development and humanitarian work, even as protection and deterrence are recognized as also being essential.

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