“It is a stain on America’s honor”

I served in the US military from 1979-1988.   I spent a little bit of that time working in the engine room of a guided missile cruiser, and a lot of that time delivering medical care, mostly to people with heart and lung disease.

I was, and am, proud of my service in the American military.  The reason that I was (and am) proud had nothing to do with my individual actions—the world was relatively quiet during that period, and the closest I came to combat was the Gulf of Sidra incident—and everything to do with the fact that the American military is one of the most moral armed forces in the world, and perhaps in the history of the world.  We do not commit rape in the territories that we take.  We do not kill unnecessarily.  We treat prisoners humanely.  We do not torture.

I was horrified to learn of the CIA’s torture of prisoners after 9/11, and even more horrified when the news came out that they had spied on a Senate subcommittee that was investigating their activities.  The CIA has a long history of valuable service to the United States, and I have no question that many CIA agents, analysts, and others have served honorably.  However: this is terrible.  Completely un-American.

The harshest critics of torture that I’m aware of are US servicemen: specifically, pilots.  They are perhaps the most at risk of being captured, and they know that hostility against them is likely to be the strongest of all hostilities towards enemy combatants: bombs kill indiscriminately, and sometimes pilots are responsible for bombs.

Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate for president in 2008 and a military veteran who was captured and tortured by the North Vietnamese, said this about CIA torture: “It is a stain on America’s honor.”  I couldn’t have said it better.

One French sentence, three new words: scheduling a talk

Part of academic life in every country that I’ve visited in an official capacity is going to people’s talks.  I found this to be a great way to practice my French listening skills, and I always learned new technical vocabulary.  I didn’t usually have to struggle through the talk announcement emails, but the consequences of Zipf’s Law are never far away, and this morning I ran into three words that I didn’t know just in the first sentence of an email announcing an upcoming series of talks by the LIMSI interns:

Les prochaines séances de séminaire du groupe ILES seront consacrées à des exposés des stagiaires, qui présenteront leur travail au sein groupe.

These are especially fun words, since all three of them have English cognates with totally different meanings:

  • la séance: session; in the context of the theater or movies: showing, performance.  I’m pretty sure I saw a wider range of uses in France, but don’t remember any off the top of my head.
  • consacré: dedicated to, devoted to, dealing with.
  • un exposé: report, account; in the context of a conference: talk, lecture; in the context of a class: presentation.


Today’s headlines in Guatemala

According to Wikipedia’s page about Guatemalan newspapers, the most widely read paper in Guatemala is Nuestro Diario.  Let’s see if I can make it any further in this paper than in a French newspaper… Nope, can’t even get past the headlines.  Let’s see what new words Zipf’s Law brings us today.  Nuestro Diario is a tabloid, so not surprisingly, the headlines are all about violence and Miss Teen Guatemalan Mayan.

  • baleado: shot down, shot dead.  Headline: Baleados en la terminal.
  • arrollado: mown down, swept along, dragged underneath.  Headline: Mueren dos hombres arrollados por camión en Guanagazapa.

The anatomy of the hand in Spanish

I can make it through the first sentence of the Spanish-language Wikipedia page on hand anatomy, but by the second sentence, Zipf’s Law strikes…  Here are the first two sentences:

Las manos forman parte de las extremidades del cuerpo humano, siendo el cuarto segmento del miembro superior o torácico, están localizadas en los extremos de los antebrazos, son prensiles y tienen cinco dedos cada una. Abarcan desde la muñeca hasta la yema de los dedos en los seres humanos.

  • abarcar: in this context, to span.
  • yema del dedo: fingertip.  Other meanings of yema: talking about eggs, it’s the yolk; talking about plants, it’s a bud or a shoot.


The risks of hand surgery

Informed consent is important anywhere that you practice.  Getting informed consent includes explaining the risks of the surgery to the patient.  Zipf’s Law applies to the vocabulary of surgical risk, of course (although I don’t know if it applies to the actual adverse effects themselves or not).  Here are some words that come up in the discussion of risks of hand surgery on this web page about hand surgery:

  • conllevar: most of the meanings are in the area of entailing or bringing (as in power bringing responsibility), conveying or carrying (as in a feeling), or implying or involving.  Another sense is to bear or put up with.  La mayoría de las cirugías conllevan los riesgos de la anestesia y de hemorragia.
  • la sensibilidad: feeling, sensitivity.  Pérdida de sensibilidad o movimiento de la mano o los dedos.
  • coágulo: clot, blood clot.  Pueden formarse coágulos de sangre.




Stuff that I didn’t know about Kent State

For me, part of preparing myself for any trip is a lot of listening to the radio.  Yesterday I heard a long story about the Kent State shootings.  I learned a lot that I didn’t know–in particular, that the shootings came in a period of rapidly increasing anti-left-wing hysteria in the region.  I guess I had always thought of them as happening out of nowhere.  What a sad story.

Zipf’s Law strikes in tragedies as much as any other time.  Here are some words that I learned from this story:

  • tropas: troops.
  • disparo: a shot.
  • prever: to anticipate, foresee, forecast, plan.


What is hand surgery, anyway?

Last year I spent a lot of time working with a wonderful hand surgeon, and want to make sure that my hand surgery vocabulary is up to snuff in case I end up with him again.  Last year Zipf’s Law pulled its usual crap on me—like, when you go to see a hand surgeon, the first question he asks is, “are you right-handed or left-handed?”, and I knew how to say “left-handed”–zurdo, which everyone learns in school because it’s easy to confuse with sordo, “mute”–but, I had no clue how to say “right-handed.”  (Turns out it’s diestro.)  For today, I’m starting with a web page that gives a general description of hand surgery.  Zipf’s Law raises its ugly head in the very first sentence, of course.

  • amplia: adjective with a range of meanings including wide, spacious, loose.
  • gama: range, spectrum.  Having looked up these two words, I can finally understand THE FIRST SENTENCE of the web page defining what plastic surgery is: Cirugía de la mano es un término general que incorpora una amplia gama de diferentes tipos de cirugía de la mano. 
  • colgajo: flap, as in colgajo de piel, “skin flap.”
  • suministro: supply, as in suministro de sangre, “blood supply.”
  • ubicación: location, whereabouts, position.