NBierma.com File

Monday, October 25, 2004

Rico the dog's vocabulary restarts linguists' debate
By Nathan Bierma
Chicago Tribune

July 1, 2004

... But while there was no question that Rico's skills were remarkable, the
study did reignite a contentious debate among linguists about whether
animals can actually understand language. Rico can fetch different toys, but
does he understand what his owner is saying?

No way, fumed Geoffrey Pullum, author and professor of linguistics at the
University of California at Santa Cruz. "Nobody doubts that mammals are
capable of associating large numbers of aural stimuli with particular
behavioral responses," Pullum wrote at www.languagelog.org. "It's the
confusion of that with `understanding language' that drives me nuts."

Pullum was especially displeased with the Associated Press headline,
"Research Shows Dogs Understand Language."

"It is my belief that no dog ever actually understands anything, in the
special sense of recognizing that it has been told something that might be
either true or false, or understanding the meaning of something . . . or
even dimly appreciating that there is such as thing as meaning," Pullum
wrote in an e-mail interview. "With dogs, despite the high degree of
sensitivity to humans' social cues, it's all tied to immediate behavior,
like Rico's fetching behavior."

In a 1987 study of Kanzi the bonobo, another gifted animal with a vast
vocabulary, researchers wrote, "Our view is that Kanzi's behaviors are more
like the use of tools than the human use of language. Tools are the
instruments by which we attain certain outcomes. They are not symbols."

Kanzi, they said, "does not know that lexigrams [words and pictures]
represent, symbolize, or name objects and events; rather, he knows how to
use them in order to effect desired outcomes."

In a commentary in Science on the Rico study, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom
voiced the same cautions. Although the study "seems to vindicate" dog owners
who "boast about the communicative and social abilities of their pets,"
Bloom wrote, Rico "learns only through a specific fetching game." Unlike
children, who understand that words "refer to categories and individuals,"
Bloom said, in Rico's brain, there may be no difference between "sock" and
"fetch the sock."

For now, Bloom concluded, "It is too early to give up on the view that
babies learn words and dogs do not." ...


Friday, October 15, 2004

LCA Bulletin
Fall 2004
Lexington Christian Academy

A Way of Seeing
The Role of Literature in Cultivating Inquiry
by Theresa Morin

Honor. Morality. Truth. The acknowledgement of sin and the profession of faith. Tragedy, comedy, and everything in between. This is life. This is literature.

Like us, Achilles, the main character of Homer's Illiad, wrestles with what it means to be human and have to die. Like us, Sophocles Oedipus Rex struggles toward truth despite being blinded by pride and self-righteousness. Like us, Augustine, in Confessions, fights and then finds the freedom he is looking for in the will of God. And, like us, Elizabeth Bennet in Austen's Pride and Prejudice learns that the world is imperfect but love endures all things.

What I appreciate about literature is that it says what I can't say or haven't thought to say, and thus opens up aspects of experience, of life," says LCA English teacher Ellen Gabrielese. ...

"I think it's the very heart of literature to cultivate inquiry," states John Wilson, editor of Books&Culture and editor at large for Christianity Today. "C.S. Lewis said that we should not read literature because it makes us more moral. He mkaes the point that when we read literature we read things that we disagree with, and in some cases consider them wicked. When we read, we encounter an 'extension of being.' We see with someone else's eyes and heart. We connect with the inner life of other people. We'd never have those experiences and in some cases wouldn't want to. We implicitly compare their lives to our own experience and understanding." ...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Sports Illustrated
September 22, 2003
Houston, We Have Liftoff;

With a weekend sweep of the Cardinals, the Astros took command in the NL Central and gave a football town reason to believe in its baseball team

By Tom Verducci

Baseball in Houston is a cup of tea at Starbucks, an order of salmon at The Palm or a car ride through Venice. It has an odd ring to it. Forty-one years after the major leagues came to Houston and pandered to Texans by naming the expansion team after a firearm--the Colt .45s--the fourth-largest city in America is a backwater outpost on the baseball map.

"It's not a baseball town," says Billy Wagner, the closer for the team that has been known as the Astros since 1965. "Football is king. It's hard to compare it to St. Louis, Chicago and other baseball towns where the fans are knowledgeable about the game. Sometimes here they're not sure when to cheer and when to boo."

Says Houston general manager Gerry Hunsicker, "Last month we had a series against the Chicago Cubs with first place on the line, and we had nowhere near sellout crowds. Baseball has always taken a backseat to football here."

The Astros, of course, have been easy to overlook, even when dressed in those famously loud-striped 1980s uniforms inspired by laundry detergent boxes. No city has waited more seasons for its first World Series than Houston. Worse still, the Astros haven't won a playoff series of any kind, losing all seven while dropping 22 of 30 postseason games.

Last Saturday night, however, a roar went up in Houston that seemed to echo across all those empty years. A sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park stood and cheered, and this time the bellowing wasn't in response to the announcement of college football scores, the appropriately twangy version of Deep in the Heart of Texas during the seventh-inning stretch, or the prices of natural gas, crude oil, unleaded gas and heating oil that are posted like out-of-town scores on a rightfield message board. This time it was purely about baseball, as Wagner whizzed a 99-mph fastball past an awestruck Scott Rolen to finish a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Not only did the victory keep Houston in first place in the National League Central and virtually remove St. Louis from postseason contention, but it also gave Astros fans reason to believe that their baseball team might--hold on to your 10-gallon hat, pardners--command their attention deep into football season. Ace righthander Roy Oswalt, making his second start after missing six weeks with a strained groin, dominated the Cardinals for seven innings. That outing followed a 14-5 win the previous night, in which righthander Wade Miller permitted St. Louis just two hits and two runs over six innings.

It was only the second time this year that Oswalt, who hit 95 mph on the radar gun, and Miller, who touched 97, won back-to-back games. The combined line for the Houston rockets: 13 innings, six hits, two runs, 13 strikeouts and one energized clubhouse. "That's the best they've been all year," catcher Brad Ausmus said after Saturday's win, "and it's the best possible time for it."


Houston is accustomed to getting its Astros kicked. Twice in 1980 they were six outs away from the World Series, only to blow, respectively, two-run and three-run eighth-inning leads to the Philadelphia Phillies in Games 4 and 5 of the NL Championship Series. Centerfielder Craig Biggio, 37, and first baseman Jeff Bagwell, 35, who rank 1-2 in franchise history for games played, have come up empty four times in October, losing all but two of their 14 postseason games since 1997.

The Astros have such a low profile--the most attention they've received in recent years has been because of their ill-fated association with Enron, whose name was originally on Houston's new ballpark--that 13 of the team's last 14 postseason games have been played in the afternoon. The not-ready-for-prime-time players have had to battle odd starting times and twilight conditions.

"We'd like to win a postseason series for Bagwell and Biggio because they're Hall of Famers and you don't know how many more chances they'll have," Miller says. "Hopefully I'll be here for many years, but I'd rather not be around five to 10 more years and have teammates saying the same about me."

Says Bagwell, "If we get to the postseason, the middle four hitters in our lineup have to get hot and the starters have to carry us to the seventh inning and let our bullpen take over. That can happen."

Bagwell, second baseman Jeff Kent, leftfielder Lance Berkman and rightfielder Richard Hidalgo--the heart of the order--had combined to hit a subpar 103 homers at week's end. Bagwell led the team with 35, though he suffers from an arthritic right shoulder that requires a painful cortisone shot about every six weeks and prevents him from taking pregame fielding practice. Also, he sometimes has trouble "getting on top of pitches" that require him to raise the shoulder during his swing.


The Astros, meanwhile, seemed to be peaking at the right time, even if that time is football season. Author Nigel Goslin wrote in 1967 that "Houston is six suburbs in search of a center." Not much has changed. The six-county metro area is larger than Connecticut, and the downtown area near Minute Maid Park is dotted with crumbling, condemned buildings. The ballpark, though, was abuzz last weekend.

Saturday's sellout was the team's sixth in 2003. (The club expects to draw around 2.5 million, about the same as last year, though down from 3 million when the ballpark opened in 2000.) The victory clinched the fourth straight series win for the Astros, who were 10-3 in those series, including a 4-1 contribution from Oswalt and Miller.

Maybe the stretch run will turn out to be another empty promise. Or maybe the happy noise rising from Crawford Street was, 41 years after baseball came to town, a new beginning. At the very least it was the sound of baseball that mattered, deep in the heart of Texas.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Linguist Anatoly Liberman, on whether "cream" was a blend of "cramum" and "cresme," as dictionaries speculate:

To begin with, Latin CRAMUM was recorded only in the 6th century,
whence the reference to LATE Latin in most dictionaries. The word is
usually believed to be of Gaulish origin, but good arguments have been
advanced that it is traceable to Latin. This circumstance is irrelevant for
the history of the French etymon of Engl. CREAM, but I am mentioning it just
in case.

Second, it is seldom possible to prove that an old word is a blend.
Sometimes we KNOW how a blend came about. For example, EURASIA is certainly
the sum of EUR(OPE) and ASIA. Equally incontestable is the origin of
BRUNCH, SMOG, and MOTEL, because the words have been coined in the full
light of history, as it were. But when we are not 100% sure, we are not
sure at all. Perhaps SLENDER is a blend of SLIM and TENDER (a reasonable
hypothesis), but perhaps it is not. That is why CREAM need not be a blend,
though it may be one.

Skeat thought that Old French CRESME 'cream' is the same word as (a
particular use of) Old French CRESME 'chrism.' If he was right, blending in
the reconstruction becomes unnecessary. But he cited Latin CREMOR 'thick
juice,' which, according to him, inflluenced the meaning of the Old French
word for "cream." That part of his etymology is probably redundant.

Finally, we see a puzzling look-alike in several Germanic languages.
English dialects still have REAM 'cream.' It goes back to Old English and
has respectable cognates in German (RAHM), Dutch, and Icelandic. Old
philologists did not doublt that CREAM and REAM were related, but the
disappearance of initial c- and the existence of Latin CRAMUM invalidate
their etymology. The ultimate origin of REAM and its congeners is unknown.

To conclude, blending in the history of CREAM is not improbable but is not a

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Chicago Tribune REDEYE EDITION
February 20, 2003

Excuse me, can I ask a question?
By Jimmy Greenfield

The other night, on my way to the Red Line, a man who appeared to be in his early 20s stopped me to ask for money.

Actually, he didn't stop me. He approached me and I chose to stop. It was after midnight and there wasn't really anybody else around, so I'm not sure why I didn't feel more threatened.

Quickly, he told me how he needed money to get on a train after fleeing the mission where he was staying because of "a sexual thing."

That was all I needed to hear to hand over a few coins, just so that image could start to dissipate from my head.

Walking away, it occurred to me that it might be wise to re-evaluate my policy on giving money to beggars.

You may call them homeless people or panhandlers; I call them beggars. But this isn't about them. As usual, this is about me, but I suspect it's about you too.

My previous personal "policy" about whether or not to give a beggar some money seemed to be this: I didn't have a policy.

The new policy, in effect for 48 hours but yet to be put to use, is this: I still have none.

The only difference is now I consciously have no policy whereas before I never gave it much thought. I either did or did not give anything for no good reason.

Wondering if I was alone in this, I asked two of my closest friends, who are polar opposites, how they decide whether or not to give a handout. I'll call them Frick and Frack.

"It depends whether they annoy me or not," Frick said. "If I see them day in and day out I generally won't give.

"There was a guy who I saw every day at the Northwestern train station named Cecil. I used to talk to him and give him some money. One time I gave him a down parka. One Christmas I gave him a twenty."

I expected Frack to be virulently, uh, frugal, but his policy surprised me.

"I really don't have a policy," he said. "It just all depends. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I'm very unpredictable."

After hearing Frick's story about giving a twenty, I tried to remember a time I had ever handed out paper money instead of coins. Nope, never.

When I chose to give, it seemed to be based always on my ability to get past the beggar without feeling terribly guilty that I would be eating shortly and he or she might not be.

Another argument I've heard is that begging is all a scam. Beggars make up their stories to evoke sympathy and can have plenty to eat. Some may even have a decent place to live because they make a business out of it.

I have no idea to what extent that's true, and I'm sure you don't either. Some beggars are legitimately in need, others aren't.

Sometimes for my job, I have to hit the streets and ask people a question for what we call "man on the street" interviews. It's the journalistic equivalent of begging.

A few weeks ago I was out there, getting turned down while freezing my tail off, until finally somebody stopped and talked to me, only to ask, rather incredulously, "Is this what you do all day?"

Not all day, and not always from the street. Sometimes I do it from behind a desk, which brings me to a request.

I want to know how you decide whether or not to give money to beggars on the street.

Is it based on your mood? The beggar's sob story? If you're carrying too much change in your pocket?

Let me know your policy by sending an e-mail to jgreenfield@tribune.com and I'll sort through them to run in a future column.

Chicago Tribune REDEYE EDITION
March 6, 2003

Your 2 cents on how to handle handouts

RedEye columnist Jimmy Greenfield recently asked readers to write him and explain how they decide whether or not to give money to beggars on the street. Here are a few of the many submissions. To read about the story of one beggar, return to Page 2 for today's column.

If a beggar has on better clothes or shoes than I do, they get nothing.
Maggie Daly, 30, Logan Square

I was going into a Wendy's on Clark Street and this man asked me could I give him some change on my way out. I said I can buy you a hamburger. He said, "Nah, that's all right, I'm cool." So that's why I don't give money to "beggars"; because one bad apple does spoil the whole bunch.
Cheryl, 43, Blue Island

I used to give out money when asked, but it became too much of a safety issue to me, and I was never sure if it was going to be used for drugs or alcohol.
M. Lovejoy-Tillery, 40, Hyde Park

The thing I learned to do is to never look in anyone's eyes when walking downtown. If you make eye contact, they will come up to you.
Serge Dogar, 23, River West

My giving is religiously based. My faith calls me to "give to the one who asks you." From there, I apply wisdom.
Bill Verzal, 36, Grayslake

I seldom give change--it is likely that they get enough change in a day so that they have to walk crooked from the extra weight in one pocket. A paper dollar is the appropriate payment.
Roger DeGroot, 53, Oak Lawn

Out of self-defense I had to decide not to give money to anyone on the street. I believe them all and know that I'm fooled often. Where do you draw a line?
Jill Davis, Ravenswood Manor

I may give McDonald's coupons and food, but definitely no money. What are they using the money for, really?
Tricia Tvrdik, Schaumburg

There are two that just shake a cup with the coins clinking, thinking that will make me want to add to their collection. I never give to them because it is annoying to hear that clinking.
Jan Henn, 52, Arlington Heights

I don't usually carry much, which helps to determine what I give, if anything.
Chris Broholm, 32, Lombard

I am more likely to give to someone who is doing something that may be considered "earning" it. ... Street musicians in general garner more donations from me than others.
Charlene Vierke, 33, Crystal Lake

The Bible states: "Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach him how to fish, and he will eat for life." I look at beggars on the streets that I see every day as not worthy of receiving my money. Why? Because they don't want to learn how to fish. So I refuse to give them a fish every day.
Ross E. Bagwell, 33, Elk Grove Village

My "policy" that I have taken to over the years is this: Every time I give, I get a blessing in return. As the old saying goes, everyone is just one check away from being homeless.
Stacy Miller, 36, South Shore

I don't give money to anybody who lives within three blocks of my condo building or along business strips nearby. I figure that if the neighborhood isn't good for begging, the beggars will go elsewhere.
Fred Nachman, 53, Near North Side

I do not always have money to give, but I can always acknowledge them.
Sandy Armstrong, Loop

Chicago Tribune REDEYE EDITION
March 6, 2003

Policy on beggars hasn't changed
By Jimmy Greenfield

A couple weeks ago, I asked RedEye readers to send me their policies on why they give, or don't give, to street beggars.

The issue presented itself to me after I came across a beggar one night. It was late and I gave him some change.

He said it was for CTA fare, but I didn't stick around to see what he did with it.

For all I know he forwarded it to the Bears to help them buy a decent quarterback. But the fact is, once I handed over the money, I had no say in what he did with it.

Two central worries among readers who wrote in were what the beggars would do with the money and whether their stories could be trusted.

But does it really matter?

"The homeless are at least as honest as everyone else in society," said Michael Cook, executive director of Interfaith House, a West Side homeless shelter. "Everyone needs to eat regardless of the story that they're telling."

Cook suggests giving away food vouchers. If that sounds good to you, you can contact Chicago Shares, a non-profit that aids the city's homeless by supplying food vouchers. For more information, call 312-573-4469 or go to www.chicagoshares.org .

Looking for a beggar to talk to the other day (it took about 10 seconds once I hit Michigan Avenue), I found Timothy, a 35-year-old man who said he was a salesman.

He was hawking copies of The Onion--a free publication--to pedestrians.

I offered to buy him some food after we sat down in a nearby McDonald's, but he said he wasn't hungry. I'm not sure why, but I took that as a sign he would be honest with me about his situation.

"The very first time I did it I felt so, so bad," said Timothy. "Because I didn't feel it was for me. I felt so out of place when I started begging.

"For me in ... it all started with drugs. I'd get my paycheck, mess it up in a whole day and be out on the weekends on my days off begging for money."

Now that he's been on the streets for a few years, Timothy can't get into a program to beat his heroin addiction and he doesn't know any other way to support it.

"They're buying [The Onion]. How am I supposed to put it down?" he says. "The money is tempting. I'm poor. Here is somebody giving money for a free paper. What am I to do? I'm not going to stick anybody up and take anything."

I asked if there was any way to tell which people were more likely to give him money.

"You can just tell by the mood," he said. "If a person's got a happy look on their face ... you know you're going to get some money."

Around Christmastime a couple of years ago, a man Timothy had never seen before walked up to him and gave him $400.

"I bought myself a few things that I needed like shoes, a coat," he said. "I also partied. Heroin, cocaine, that's where most of the money went."

While telling me about his struggles to turn his life around, tears rolled down his face. While we were speaking, Timothy never asked for money.

When I wrote the first column, I stated my policy on giving to beggars was scattershot, based only on a whim. Nothing has changed in that regard.

"I don't have any answers," wrote Pam Crumb of La Grange. "I look forward to hearing what others think of this dilemma."

Please go to page 36 to see what RedEye readers had to say.

Chicago Tribune REDEYE EDITION
March 7, 2003

Giving from the heart

Read your article on the bus to work this morning and it's strange that you should ask this question.

While waiting at the corner of Adams and State Streets on Wednesday evening for my 145/146 northbound bus, I decided to run over to Berghoff and make use of the bathroom before getting on the bus and crossing my legs until I got home.

Headed for Berghoff as I eyed a beggar in his wheelchair panhandling the 5 p.m. crowd. My thought was "Should or shouldn't I give to him?" I passed him up as I headed into the restaurant, but as I came out I thought to myself how easy it was for me to use the toilet and what he would have to do in the same manner. So I reached into my pocket and gave him the spare change there, just over a dollar.

Here he is braving the cool temperatures, while we sit at a desk all day long to get paid. If my situation is right, I give from my heart.