The Politics of Language
The information in "Language Becomes War by Other Means" (Dec. 10) truly kept my attention. But in keeping with the spirit of the article, I object to some of the language used.
To refer to Great Britain as the "English-speaking rulers" of Northern Irish republicans is to imply some sort of subjugation. Such terminology is akin to calling the United States government the English-speaking rulers of southern California Hispanics. In both cases a democratically elected government is in place to represent the entire populace, not "rule" them.
Regarding "Why an American Professor Bids Quebec Separatists Adieu" (Dec. 10): The Bloc Quebecois is not cutting social programs in Quebec. The Bloc does not have the authority to do so because it is an opposition party. Rather, it is the Parti Quebecois government in Quebec City that is legislating cuts to welfare in the province. Moreover, social programs are generally under the jurisdiction of the provinces in Canada anyway.
The story was very interesting, but it lacked an account of the most important evidence of tribalism within the Quebec nationalist/sovereignty movement. Two years ago, after a second defeat on a referendum to secede from Canada, the then separatist leader of Quebec, Jacques Parizeau, blamed "money and the ethnic vote" for impeding the realization of a separate state. Although Mr. Parizeau has since resigned from politics, he recently reaffirmed his belief that non-French speaking Quebeckers (mainly Jews, Italians, and Greeks) were the chief impediments to the dreams of the pure, old-stock franco-phones. The divisions between "we" and "them" on the Quebec provincial territory that are being created by nationalism suggest a potentially messy situation of ethnic strife. I can only hope that the traditions of tolerance and accommodation persist in Canada.
Separating news from science hype
"NASA Probe Gives Glimpse of Martian Ponds, Mega Storms" (Dec.10) makes an unconvincing argument for the past existence of water on the planet Mars. Serious scientists must lament the fact that so much hype and fantasy has developed over such possibilities.
A more critical approach is overdue. For instance, a recent issue of Astronomy magazine even noted that similar dendritic patterns on Venus's surface suggest that lava flows rather than water etched out valleys on the surfaces of our airless, lifeless neighbors in the solar system.
It is also time that we stopped applying such tantalizing terrestrial words to outer-space objects (or at least put them in quotes) as "world" (whose etymology links it to mankind), "pond," "ocean," "river," "flood," "sea", etc. to describe phenomena that appear to have no relation to Earth or its unique processes. Selenologists were on the right track years ago when they invented special terms for lunar features. We need more neology for outer-space objects.
Bottom line for the coming century: less fantasy and more cool, clear science, especially by science writers.
Another message: The fact that we may be alone or unique in spawning life universewide is no reason to fear or lament our solitude in that respect. In fact, this assumption might just focus more attention on preserving what we have down here in the form of our biosphere.
Such respected, philosophically minded scentists as Einstein, Jeans, Shklovsky, Monod, et al., were not afraid to make that assumption.
And they were better scientists than the nuts-and-bolts technicians and pop-sci publicists in such abundance today.
Albert L. Weeks
Your letters are welcome. Letters for publication must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published and none acknowledged. All letters are subject to editing. Letters should be mailed to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, faxed to 617-450-2317, or e-mailed to email@example.com