Sunday, January 19, 2014

The hardest thing I've tried lately

Writing prompt: "Describe your last attempt to learn something that did not come easily to you."

My most recent and ongoing attempt to learn something hard is learning Spanish. My Dad seems to have been the first in his long Sanchez family branch to grow up knowing no Spanish, and I inherited his ignorance. In college my only language courses were French and Russian--Dad had suggested Spanish, but I had no intention of doing anything he wanted. What do parents know, anyway?

For eight years my wife and I have lived in New Mexico, where one might be hard-pressed to get a service job without being bilingual. The cashier at the local Wendy's will speak to us in English, then turn around and speak Spanish to her co-workers. Often I have overheard rapid-fire conversations that switch in mid-sentence from Spanish to English and back again, no problema. Our best friends speak Spanish, and we've traveled with them to Mexico.

So what am I doing, speaking English only? A year or so ago, I bought the Rosetta Stone Spanish CDs and joined a Spanish-speaking conversation group. It turned out that I wasn't ready for that, so I signed up for a class in basic grammar instead, supplementing my Rosetta Stone. No, learning Spanish isn't muy difícil, but it's plenty of work with plenty to remember. At age 69 I started late in life, so this learning project will occupy my brain cells for the rest of my days.

But I'm fine with that.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Let's chat about global warming

With most of the United States in a severe cold spell and TV watchers introduced to the term "Polar Vortex," this seems like a good time to talk about climate change and global warming.

Goodness, where to start? A young woman reporter stood somewhere in the blowing snow and announced that she was freezing in places she didn't know could be frozen. (Comic Jon Stewart had fun with that.) An expedition investigating the disappearance of Antarctic ice became stuck in Antarctic ice. I have seen two separate comments suggesting that  Al Gore's"fat ass" relates somehow to the global warming "hoax." A recent football game was played in the cold.

The climate issue isn't new. Long ago, back in the '70s or '80s, we had a bitterly cold January, and Time magazine ran a cover story asking if we were entering a new ice age. Since then, we have had some of the hottest summers on record. Anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes. You can find them to support whatever position you like. The trouble is, we can't base long-term conclusions on daily or even annual weather. That's like standing in the middle of the Sahara and concluding that the whole world must be a desert.

I'm not a climate scientist, but I respect what they have to say. They've been gathering data for many decades, and that data is incredibly complicated. Al Gore's presentations on global warming moved me not one iota, but I am even less interested in the mockery that comes out of Fox News. I would rather listen to scientists directly and tune out everyone else who looks only for data to support their conclusions.

So here's my understanding, after imperfectly filtering out a lot of noise. The climate is changing. It has always been changing. We did not get the Great Lakes, billions of smooth boulders and countless other geological features from a static climate. We got them from ice that covered the continents and then shrunk. So without human interference, we would likely be transitioning at Earth's own pace toward another ice age. But in the 1800s we humans launched the Industrial Revolution, changing the mix of chemicals in the atmosphere and affecting the climate. Are we getting warmer or colder? Warmer, apparently, if we credit scientific measurements of ocean temperatures over the years. Yet we keep getting spikes both hotter and colder. We have summers with dozens of hurricanes and summers with nearly none. Ocean levels appear to be rising, and polar bears appear to be losing their habitat. Indicators suggest to me a general warming trend, but that doesn't mean I "believe in" global warming. I believe in science and in data. Lots and lots of data.