Americans have gotten pessimistic

Engrained in the American character, it seemed, was optimism.  Liberals believe in progress and Conservatives believe in Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America.”  Now, though, we are seeing something very different:

Americans are deeply pessimistic about the state of the country and its future, according to a series of new national polls, a negativity that puts politicians in a difficult place as they try to woo voters and keep hold on office.

In the new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, 63 percent said the country was headed in the wrong direction, the highest number in President Obama’s term to date. A similar 67 percent said the country was headed off on the wrong track in a Washington Post/ABC News survey released earlier this week.

New Pew data paints an even darker picture of Americans’ views about our current standing — particularly in regards the economy. Nearly nine in ten Americans say the current economic conditions are either “fair” or “poor” and there is an overwhelming sense that we as a country are losing ground.

Fully 67 percent of the sample said the country was “losing ground” on the budget deficit — today’s expected House vote on the tax cut compromise won’t help there — while 64 percent say ground is being lost on “cost of living”. Two thirds (63 percent) said the country is losing ground on the “availability of good-paying jobs” and 58 percent said the same about the “rich-poor gap”.

The numbers are startling and make clear the challenge before President Obama — or any politician — hoping to convince people that better days are indeed ahead.

via The Fix – America the pessimistic.

So, are you pessimistic, or have you found some grounds for optimism?  Might this new pessimistic phase be healthy for Americans?  Or the contrary?  And what does Christianity have to say about this?

The nativity in online terms

Have you seen this?  (If the video doesn’t show up, hit “comments” so that you can see the post separately. You should be able to see it then.)

{httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkHNNPM7pJA&feature=player_embedded}

HT:  Mary

Medieval England was better off than many countries today

More stereotype-busting about the Middle Ages.  From Science Daily:

New research led by economists at the University of Warwick reveals that medieval England was not only far more prosperous than previously believed, it also actually boasted an average income that would be more than double the average per capita income of the world’s poorest nations today.

In a paper entitled British Economic Growth 1270-1870 published by the University of Warwick’s Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) the researchers find that living standards in medieval England were far above the “bare bones subsistence” experience of people in many of today’s poor countries.

The figure of $400 annually (as expressed in 1990 international dollars) is commonly is used as a measure of “bare bones subsistence” and was previously believed to be the average income in England in the middle ages.

However the University of Warwick led researchers found that English per capita incomes in the late Middle Ages were actually of the order of $1,000 (again as expressed in 1990 dollars). Even on the eve of the Black Death, which first struck in 1348/49, the researchers found per capita incomes in England of more than $800 using the same 1990 dollar measure. Their estimates for other European countries also suggest late medieval living standards well above $400.

This new figure of $1,000 is not only significantly higher than previous estimates for that period in England — it also indicates that on average medieval England was better off than some of the world’s poorest nations today including the following (again average annual income as expressed in 1990 dollars).

Zaire $249

Burundi $479

Niger $514

Central African Republic $536

Comoro Islands $549

Togo $606

Guinea Bissau $617

Guinea $628

Sierra Leone $686

Haiti at $686

Chad $706

Zimbabwe $779

Afghanistan $869

via Medieval England twice as well off as today’s poorest nations.

HT:Joe Carter

Man of the Year

Time Magazine has announced that its Person of the Year for 2010 is Mark Zuckerberg , the founder of Facebook.  And why not?  He had a good year, as his online nation reached 500 million members and he had an movie made about him that is getting Oscar buzz.

Do you think he deserves the honor?  Who would you nominate for Person of the Year?

Civil unions replacing marriage

Gays want to get married while straight couples want to have civil unions.   In France, the latter newly-invented institution has become a sort of marriage-lite, a temporary marriage without the threat of alimony or child support.  Though designed to accommodate gays, most civil unions in France are being entered into by heterosexual couples.  From the New York Times:

Some are divorced and disenchanted with marriage; others are young couples ideologically opposed to marriage, but eager to lighten their tax burdens. Many are lovers not quite ready for old-fashioned matrimony.

Whatever their reasons, and they vary widely, French couples are increasingly shunning traditional marriages and opting instead for civil unions, to the point that there are now two civil unions for every three marriages.

When France created its system of civil unions in 1999, it was heralded as a revolution in gay rights, a relationship almost like marriage, but not quite. No one, though, anticipated how many couples would make use of the new law. Nor was it predicted that by 2009, the overwhelming majority of civil unions would be between straight couples.

It remains unclear whether the idea of a civil union, called a pacte civil de solidarité, or PACS, has responded to a shift in social attitudes or caused one. But it has proved remarkably well suited to France and its particularities about marriage, divorce, religion and taxes — and it can be dissolved with just a registered letter.

“We’re the generation of divorced parents,” explained Maud Hugot, 32, an aide at the Health Ministry who signed a PACS with her girlfriend, Nathalie Mondot, 33, this year. Expressing a view that researchers say is becoming commonplace among same-sex couples and heterosexuals alike, she added, “The notion of eternal marriage has grown obsolete.”

via In France, Civil Unions Gain Favor Over Marriage – NYTimes.com.

How words are invented

We had an interesting discussion about the post a few days ago about how the blind Puritan poet John Milton contributed more new words to the English language than anyone else.  Some people asked questions along the line of “how come he can make up new words and I can’t?”  Or “how come he can use words as different parts of speech and my mean old English teacher marked me down every time I tried it?”  It was also observed that new words are entering the English language all the time.  I realized that the process of coming up with new words is not generally understood.  So I will put on my English professor hat and explain. . . .

First of all, there needs to be a need for a new word, a “semantic space” in the language that needs to be filled.  Let’s use some of Milton’s words as examples.  His day, like ours, had a lot of “worship wars” in the Church of England.  The word “liturgy” existed.  But, earlier, that was pretty much the only kind of worship there was.  There was a need for an adjectival form of that word to distinguish that type of worship from the alternatives.  So Milton turned the existing noun into an adjective by adding a Latin adjectival ending.  Hence a new word that we use today in our own worship wars:  “liturgical.”

An even better, because more poetic, example:  The new Copernican cosmology meant that the earth and the planets spin around in a vast void.  In Paradise Lost, Milton needed to write about Satan flying to earth.  Dante in the Middle Ages had imagined Hell as existing in the center of the earth.  Milton imagines it more like another planet.  The word “space” existed to refer to expanse, area, extent.  Milton took that word and made it refer to the realm beyond earth’s atmosphere.  Satan flew through “space.”  What great poetry!  Imagine hearing that poetic image for the first time.  But now we have a new word, one that names something that was nameless before.

This process still continues.  New inventions require new words.  Like Milton, we to this day tend to go back to the classical languages for help in coining them.   “Computer” is from the Latin.  “Telephone” and “Television” are from the Greek.  (This is why it is so helpful to learn Latin.  You can decode just about any English “hard word.”) “Internet” combines a venerable English word “net,” associated with the already metaphorical “network,” to describe poetically a complex set of interconnections.   Then was added the Latin preposition “inter.”  Voila.  We have a new word.  “Facebook” combines two existing words into a new one.  “Google” takes a whimsical name for a really big number for a company, and then it was morphed into a verb.

It isn’t always clear who the mute inglorious Miltons were (name that allusion) who first came up with the new words that come into existence today.  But the process goes back to Adam:  God brought creatures to Adam, whereupon he named them.


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