November/December 2006 | Volume 57, Issue 6
According to the Foundation for Endangered Languages, half of the world’s 6,500 languages are “moribund” and likely to disappear. With that, quite a large body of the human experience will be gone forever, since language is not, after all, just communication but a reflection of the mind’s framework.
This year one dwindling language, at least, has been pulled back from the brink. In March the Lakota Sioux language was formally declared safe from extinction, because of the commitment of the Lakota Language Consortium to record the talk of the elders and find ways to pass it on to the youngsters of the tribe.
Which means, as any schoolchild in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, might tell you, “A rainbow has appeared in the sky.”
As for the other 3,249 languages, those apparently still doomed, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation are continuing an effort started in May of 2005 to fore-stall the silence. In one example cited by the NEH, the University of Chicago is helping the Washo tribe along the California-Nevada border to record the voices of all those who still speak the tribal language. They currently number 20.— Julie M. FensterSports Trend Real Americans wise up
O.K., the World Cup starts when? Weren’t a few people excited about it earlier this year …
or was that last year? Anyway, we haven’t heard much soccer talk lately. Things were a lot different four years ago, when the United States made the World Cup quarter-finals and some newspapers devoted half a page to each day’s developments—not to mention 1999, when our women’s team won the world championship and that lady showed her bra. Those were the days that made you fear for the future of the Republic. Fortunately, Americans have returned in remarkably short order to exercising their God-given right not to give a hoot about soccer. Sure, it’s great for kids, but when you get to be a grownup, it’s time to put away childish things, grab half a dozen brews, sit in the bleachers, and spend three hours watching a 2–1 baseball game. That’s the American way.— Frederic D. SchwarzTechnology Atoms for Peace
Civilian nuclear power died in March 1979. The Three Mile Island accident finished it off, but its demise was not sudden. In fact, nuclear power had been on the decline for years, as the mounting costs of building, maintaining, and decommissioning reactors wiped out its advantage from low fuel requirements. Yet for something that’s been dead for a quarter-century, nuclear power shows remarkable vigor. Today about 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation is nuclear.
What has made nuclear power respectable again? Two factors that were unheard of when the technology was invented: the greenhouse effect and worldwide terrorism. As concern over global warming continues to rise, nuclear power, which produces no greenhouse gases and has become reliably safe, is looking much less icky to the granola eaters who protested it so vigorously in the 1970s. And generating more power from uranium will provide flexibility that can reduce our dependence on oil imported from hostile states. No one is predicting, as people did 50 years ago, that nuclear power will be endlessly abundant and “too cheap to meter.” But as a safe and reliable source of ecologically and geopolitically sound power, it may be an idea whose time has come again.— Frederic D. Schwarz