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Solipsism, Politics and Facebook

I read a lot.

This is not meant as a brag or a boast but rather something that has occurred with this addiction I have formed to my tiny black information box called the Iphone.  Over the past couple of years I have come to the habit of repeatedly pressing the home button, entering my code and then staring at its bright beautiful screen.  

These actions often occur by themselves and I wonder why I am looking at my Iphone, what was it that I definitely need to know?  It is at this point that I find myself opening the folder with all my various news outlets of which I read not only one or two, but usually four of them plus a few articles of a magazine.  

In the past I would have set aside a specific time to read the news or magazine.  I would have sat down in my favorite chair and spent the next thirty minutes to an hour doing nothing else.  

With the Iphone however I find myself checking the news in 5 – 10 minute spurts repeatedly throughout the day.  Through such tiny yet frequent feedings of my intellect I come to feel as though I have satisfied my addiction only until I find myself pressing the home button again because some random thought passed through my mind and I need to know the answer.  

When one reads as much as I do and has studied languages one pays special attention to the types of words that are used.  If there is a word I do not understand, I take the time to look it up and examine its parts.  

One of these words that I have noticed appearing quite frequently is “solipsism.”  The word usually spreads quite quickly when used in a major publication like The New Yorker and soon we will see that word over and over again.  I imagine part of this has to do with the news subjects of the day and a specific word just being perfect for the topic.  But I also imagine that writers just like to use big, fancy words and when they see a big, fancy word appear in another article it gets added to their list of “ready words,” at the front of their brain and so more easily spills out onto the page.  

Lets deconstruct Solipsism! (If you haven’t read Speak American – Fun Lesson in Language you should and will understand my obsession with language.)

Sol = self.
– Spanish – solo
– French – seul

Definitions:
1. the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist
2.  extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one’s feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.

I am most concerned with the second definition.  

It has occurred to me that we are all solipsistic.  It simply cannot be any other way!  We live our own life, have our own experiences and process them through our own unique thoughts.  

I cannot see your thoughts anymore than I can see what goes on at the center of the earth.  Conversely you cannot see my thoughts either.  

As I re-read the definition and examine each word carefully perhaps I am stretching my meaning of Solipsism a bit.  I imagine a Zen monk can dispense with feelings and desires quite effectively.  However, I think we have no other choice but to be “self-absorbed.”  I only have one consciousness and I cannot experience any other firsthand.  Even if we take someone who is constantly doing good for others, they do so because in their own mind it pleases them, it is what they wish to do otherwise they would not do it. 

Scientists tell us that one of the emotions that separates us from the animals is that of empathy.  Yes, I understand we can empathize with others and feel their pain but it is rather weak compared to the emotions of the person with whom we are empathizing.  We are still self-absorbed but we can dip a toe or even a whole foot into the minds of others.  

It is this talent that I hope evolution will strengthen and fortify.  We are quite terrible at it now and I believe that advancement and progress means being able to relate very clearly and strongly with one another.  

If you’ve seen the movie Avatar it would be like the natives plugging into their horse which enables them to experience everything the animal experiences.  

As I’ve said, we do not do this so well in the year 2012.  

I’ve told you I read a lot but I also watch a lot of documentaries thanks to Netflix.  I rehash the horrors of war, the pain of the civilians and as my metaphor above states, I “dip my foot in.”  

It is at this point I realize just how primitive we are as a species.  I realize how quickly we can be convinced to kill.  I try to tell myself that the wars I am watching were during a different time, that we are much more advanced and educated now. 

I then see another drone strike on the news and read in my social networks that we kill in other nations to “protect our freedoms” and “keep us safe.”  

There is no empathy here for the dead.  There is not even any inquiry so long as our news tells us the dead were “terrorists.”  Our minds do not ask if there were children killed or even what these “terrorists” did to be labeled as such.  

We are also apt to simply take sides.  If one prefers Israel than a dead Palestinian is no big thing, they were probably a terrorist anyway.  If one prefers Palestine than a dead Israeli soldier is just a consequence of the rotten occupation and oppression.  

It is during these times that our empathy simply does not exist.  We do not dip even a toe into the mindset of those we consider wrong.  And in terms of geopolitics, drone strikes, and even all out war, we justify all the death and carnage to whatever slogan the government has told us recently.  

Protecting our freedoms indeed. 

Well, I really did not mean to get that deep into the meaning of solipsism or take it as far as I have done.  I meant to dive into Facebook much more quickly!  

Now we have the social network which is simply a small soapbox with the magical powers to reach everyone you have ever known.  If we were told we would have this power only 5 short years ago, I imagine that many of us would have more than a bit of stage fright!  

What would we say to everyone we have ever known?  Would we try to come up with something profound or would we tell a joke?  

I think this experience would have been akin to walking out on a large stage with bright lights shining in your eyes so everyone can see you clearly.  Only you cannot see your audience’s (family, friends, acquaintances, met once) reactions so perhaps you start off with something light, something funny.  Then as you speak more and more you become more comfortable and throw out EVERY SINGLE THING THAT CROSSES YOUR MIND INCLUDING SUBJECTS YOU WOULD BE MORE CAREFUL WITH IF IT WERE AN IN PERSON CONVERSATION AND SOME OF YOU WRITE IT ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS WHICH IS HIGHLY AGITATING!

Now being an election year and the state of politics being as it is I find more than a few political statements being thrown about online.  It is kind of like crack/cocaine; the first time we are a little cautious but as we do it more and more we find ourselves almost to the point of an OD with long rambling posts that simply echo whatever talking points were heard last.  

As for me, I have stopped posting anything political or religious in the social networks.  I have realized that these people are my friends/family and are in my social network because of this fact.  I have no need for each of them to see eye to eye with me politically or religiously.  I am always up for a good debate but I just hate to do it online as the tone of the conversation is much more difficult to moderate when so many of our natural social skills have been taken away and we must rely only on the written word and occasional smiley face.  

For an ever increasing number in my social network they appear to be going in the opposite direction.  The posts have become more direct, more confrontational and much more bellicose. 

In our current environment, the moderate tones have been washed away by a deluge of extreme viewpoints all wrapped up in various talking points, statistics and other outright lies.  The only moderates I have seen in the past week are quite spineless with their declarations that “All politicians are clowns!” 

What we are seeing is not only the advancement of “solipsism” but the eager willingness to let everyone you have ever known know exactly how you feel about subjects that were formerly taboo or at least handled gently.  

The Sonorous Solipsist?  

As I mentioned above, I do not believe we can be anything other than a solipsist for the reasons previously mentioned.  But should we want to evolve and increase our understanding, it would do well to dip that foot into the mindset of someone who completely disagrees with us.  

As this can be very difficult for the beginner let me give you a few things to think about.  

1.  Political affiliation

- Weather Democrat, Republican, Independent or other each group compromises a very large amount of people.  Within each group it can be said that there are large amounts of rather intelligent people!  

How prideful and self confident we must be to simply think that all of these people are wrong!  To make matters worse we judge them not through meticulous study of the issues but rather what we heard on our cable news channel of choice!  

We then take these talking points to our social network and repeat what we have heard in effect saying “You are wrong because cable news station X told me Y.”  Then, your conversation partner says “No, that cannot be right because cable station Z told me A!!!”  

We believe we are actually thinking but in fact we are not.  We are simply repeating what someone has told us is true, comparing and contrasting that with another option someone else told us was true and then and thennnnnnnnnnnn

MAKING OUR DECISION BASED ON WHAT OUR FAMILY, FRIENDS, COMMUNITY OR RELIGION HAS TOLD US TO!    

Ok, this may not be true for some but it is certainly true for most.  I would say that only 15% of the population has shed the barriers of family, community or religion and actually think for themselves.  The problem is that everyone is going to think they are part of that 15% who think. 

A great example to prove my point is the Red state Blue state separation.  If everyone thought for themselves then wouldn’t it make sense that every single state would be a swing state?  After a really great convention each state should get a bounce one way or the other as people digest what was said and we should see each state changing from red to blue quite frequently!  

But no, red states tend to stay red states and blue states tend to stay blue states.  Even if we get down to the micro level with all the gerrymandering (rigging of elections) we see it for what it is.  It is the grouping of certain communities who have been told how to think.  If everyone thought for themselves than even at this level we should see a bunch of red and blue dots all mingled together.  

2.  International Experience

- Let’s use Japan for this example.  Say we send a couple of Midwesterners to Japan and have them do two things, eat natto and pray in a temple.  Almost 100% will not eat the natto because to them it looks bad, smells bad and probably tastes worse.  However, almost 100% of Japanese people eat natto.  The Midwesterners will not eat it because they have been trained to only like specific foods and will refuse to try something so completely different.  If they used logic and thinking, they would know that it is a highly nutritious food and one can actually come to like the taste of it!  

But they will never get there, just like in our current political environment, we have simply fortified our own opinions and will only listen to those that agree with us.  The Midwesterner will look to his buddies and they will all agree that natto is gross.  

As for praying in a temple, some will downright refuse as it is not their religion while others will be respectful and perhaps say a prayer to their own God even though it is in a house constructed for another.  

Push come to shove the Christian Midwesterner will have to admit that just about the entire Japanese race is praying to the wrong God.  

What is my point here?  My point is that we do not compare and contrast very well, we are self-absorbed (solipsistic) and mostly believe in what we were born into, raised with and what our communities and friends believe. 

So what do I think personally?  

I think this post has gone on quite long enough and I should end it with a bang.  

In order to escape from the prison known as self-absorption one of the best things to do is travel.  Get out of the familiar go somewhere completely foreign and stay there for a while!  

Learn a new language as in doing so the thought process will change!!!  The feeling of traveling, as my fellow international friends well know, is that of escaping from a small, musty house to the great outdoors!  The senses become incredibly stimulated and without realizing it old biases and opinions start to slip away.

To experience a foreign culture for a great length of time and learning the language is almost akin to being reborn.  You have changed and do not remain the same person as when you entered.  

And what do these enlightened people become?  

LIBERALS!

These are the people who are not afraid of change, who have had their minds opened! These are people who have adapted to great change and become stronger!

Let us DEFINE Conservative!!!   

- Holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in politics or religion.

These are the same people who will crash and burn in another culture.  These are the people that do not hold passports, these are the people who get upset if you change their vanilla ice cream for chocolate!!!!!  

Conservatism means that people want things to stay the SAME!  They are afraid of change, afraid of the new, afraid of anything different. 

“No, no” they say.  “Things are just fine the way they are!”

Things were fine during slavery, things were fine when women couldn’t vote, things were fine when the US was at war for a lie!  (Gulf of Tonkin, WMD)  If Conservatives had their way we would still be stuck in the Middle Ages as things were JUST FINE THEN TOO!  

Being an international person, ie. Global Citizen is incompatible with conservatism by definition.  They are not open to the new and should just stay home.  

I take that back, they should get a passport, travel and let the metamorphosis take place!  

I would say that 90% of the “international” people I have met while living in other countries would be considered “liberal.”  They are open to change as proven by their life in another country.  They support gay rights and healthcare for those that cannot afford it.  They are against war.  They have a greater understanding of history.  They enjoy learning and experiencing.

I would say the current extremist GOP is against or on the other side of all of these things.  

Moving forward and evolving means breaking free of solipsism as much as possible and strengthening our empathy.  Pure understanding, compassion and the noble idea that we are all one (we are brothers for you religious folk) should be our final goal.  

We cannot reach this goal if everything is fine the way it is now can we.  

Liberals are the way forward.  

So come ye, one and all to the light.  Put away the hatred, the bias and the selfishness.  

There is a party that encompasses these things and one that does less so.  

I would choose the less of the two evils come November.  

History is Alive

In my short 35 year life I have had the great fortune to travel a good portion of the world and experience a great many things. Most of these travels occurred during my twenties but it was not the travels alone that contributed to these fantastic experiences. It was the study of language that gave me very deep insights into the various cultures and changed me forever.

Find here the music which sets the tone for this post:

Once you have enjoyed the music you can find the historical reference here

These languages which changed my life were Spanish, French and Japanese. Spanish and French gave me unique insight into the history of Europe and gave me confidence. That is to say, I thought I actually new something after becoming proficient in these languages. Yet, it was the study of Japanese that really humbled me and taught me that the more I learn, the less I realize I actually know. With Spanish and French I had only learned about the European part of the world. With Japanese I made a small splash into a completely different and wonderful world known as Asia. I was amazed by the insights learning Japanese gave me. It was then I realized that language can really open up a different way of thinking and change how one views the world. I now knew four languages but out of the 6800 or so languages in the world I could only comprehend the mindset of very few.

Furthermore, I never felt as though I mastered any language other than my native English (and that is debatable as well!) No matter how good you think you are at a language, the natives are better.

This post however is not a biography on my experiences and discoveries. Rather, it is something that carries a bit of the same magic that one can experience in their own home without setting foot in another culture.

Almost.

There is nothing that will take the place of travel and learning other languages. One gains so much insight that it is near impossible to explain to others who have not had the same experience.

But, one can come close.

This post is about Netflix and the historical entertainment it offers us. Never in the history of mankind have we had such access to history portrayed as entertainment. Yes, yes, the plays and theatre of old are spectacular yet, those performances were never on demand, starting at the push of a button. Never have the masses as a whole had the access that they do now to rather accurate historical entertainment.

Unfortunately, even though such entertainment is now available, I wonder how many of the “unwashed masses” actually pay attention. There are so many other shows (of rather stupid subject) that history and historical fact now have to vie with the vulgar prancing around hoping to draw even more attention.

Forgive me, I continue to be extremely upset that even though we have more access to knowledge than ever before in the history of mankind, my brethren choose to entertain themselves with the equivalent of a Cockney lass with huge boobs who just happens to dance or sing surprisingly well. This cockney lass comes not from East London but from Jersey, the new one.

That was cruel. Some are actually very talented. My anger, nay, my disappointment stems from the seemingly endless support for current wars when most of the population do not understand history and choose not to educate themselves, preferring to watch henceforth mentioned Cockney Lass equivalent from Jersey, the new one.

Makes me upset. People are getting killed and the only people that could stop it choose to watch dancing and singing.

I digress. As you know I rarely stay on point and enjoy the frequent side-tangents. :)

Regarding Netflix, it has given me access to a lot of history that I can use to supplement my previous travels. In fact, it brings it alive!!

Yes, I know it is entertainment, but being a big fan of history, I use my Iphone to check the accuracy on Wikipedia.

*Sidebar – I wrote an argument Wikipedia Inaccurate? when many were calling it inaccurate back in 2006. Just wanted to give props to myself in that my judgement seems to stand the test of time in this case. :)

So I check Wikipedia and see that the historical truths match up pretty well with what I am seeing on Netflix.

So what am I watching on Netflix? Enough of my rambling already, lets get to the good stuff!!

The shows I’ve recently watched are the following. I thought a Youtube trailor might be able to give you a better impression than my simple explanations.

1. The Tudors

2. The Borgia

3. Rome

4. The Virgin Queen

I think four examples are enough to show how efficiently this new service called Netflix can really bring the past alive!!!

I would imagine there are two schools of thought on this. The first being those that prefer not to study at all and simply watch a show and believe they know something. A show is just a show and does not really confer any knowledge. Well, maybe a little knowledge but it really helps to read a quick biography and historical account about the show to really know what is going on

The second school would be the detractors. Those that believe they understand too much and will not give any standing to some theatrical performance infringing on their focus of study.

Not being an expert myself, I would imagine that the screen writers and movie studios employ enough financial firepower to employ those that do have expert knowledge in these historical matters and thus keep the story pretty accurate n’est pas?

So, for a plebeian such as myself, albeit a rather well traveled pleb and one who knows how to use his Iphone, I am inclined to believe these historical shows so long as they match up with what I read in Wikipedia.

What this does for me is absolutely brings the past alive!!!!!! The past was never brought alive for me in school as it entailed simple words on a page, ideas, places, people that meant nothing to me and were simply things that I must memorize to pass a test.

This changed of course when I actually visited such places.  However it was never brought alive as much as it has with Netflix!

It is now time for picture sharing.

Welcome to the Tower of London.  I did visit, I took the tour and I payed attention to everything my “Beefeater” guide said.  I also read my “Let’s Go” book to inform myself about the history.  Yet, the history of the place never came as alive as it did with the Tudors series and Elizabeth the Virgin Queen.  I could read a thousand historical books and I believe nothing would leave as deep an impression on me as these various TV (Netflix) series.

I think it was Ben Franklin, although I could be completely wrong, but one of the founders predicted that with the invention of the moving pictures books would no longer be necessary.  I have it in my head that it was Franklin but of course I could be completely stupid on this one.

My point is, I visited the tower of London, I tried to feel the ghosts there, I tried to feel the history.  I understood what happened and I tried to let it in.  I didn’t feel anything. It really didn’t come alive for me.

The only time I ever felt “ghosts” and the sense of history completely washing over me was in Toledo, Spain and I described the ghost part rather clearly in my post Ghosts.

So where else could I find “ghosts” and a real sense of history?

No, I didn’t feel anything in Rome.  I experienced neither Cesar nor the Borgias in Rome.  I just experiences ruins and various vagrants trying to seal my wallet. The glory of Rome has indeed vanished.

Actually, I did enjoy meeting a lot of young Italians at Piazza di Spagna but that was a rarity.  There were more opportunities for bad people to take my wallet than for me to meet the young vibrant youth of Rome at that time.  :(

Well, as you know my posts are never long and I grow tired after a few short paragraphs.  I guess the lesson for this post is that after watching so many shows about medieval Europe I can now more clearly understand the roots of Catholic vs Protestant, English vs France vs Spain and so on. By understanding the origins, I am able to much better understand the present.

***Quick mind dump ***

I grew up Catholic, a descendant of the Irish who were long oppressed by the English.  Why did I grow up this way?  Well my ancestors escaped the potato famine and came to the USA.  The English on the other hand used to be Catholic but Henry VIII decided to not be Catholic anymore because he wanted to marry another.  Throw in a bunch of politics and England didn’t want to be under the Pope anymore.  The Pope had gained his authority from an ancient “Cult of Christ” from long ago Rome that never really went away.  It was the religion that like the Duracell battery refused to die.  Since it was the only one that stood the test of time people took it as the truth.  And oh yea, it was the one that had the most military force behind it, so if you didn’t convert, bad things happened.  But even before bad things happened most were convinced bad things would happen after they die if they didn’t believe.

So anyway, our friend King Henry the VIII didn’t like the pope telling him what to do.  Some people agreed (Protestants)and over time these people eventually came to America.  These are the same folks that become our Presidents.  Well, except for JFK but he got shot.  After that we had more Protestants. Now we have Barack Obama who many believe is Muslim (lol).  The Republicans are still crazy incensed that he got elected and have now gone off the rails.  Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann?   For God’s sakes, all you supporters of them should never be allowed in a gentleman’s club again. Wait, the GOP is no longer a Gentleman’s club you say? It is full of idiotic hillbilly Jesus freaks you say? Boy, I really miss the old GOP. The heathens and unwashed are not only at the gate but have been invited in to sit down to dinner! >:(

I’m sorry, I’ve gone off the rails again.  I’m terrible.

I’m also tired and become tired of this post.  I really should write a book but am absolutely sure it would offend so many that it would stand no chance of being published.

No matter, I live in my own world and prefer to keep it that way.

I guess I’ll end this post with the truth that there is so much to learn. The trick is to keep it interesting which is something these shows and Netflix is very good at! They bring the past alive and make learning about history much more entertaining!

Penance, Happiness, Language and Poison Oak

It has recently occurred to me that in order to achieve happiness, the opposite is first required.

How can we know happiness when we have never experienced pain or sorrow? As I look around, I see people with a very high standard of living, which the Kings of the past could only have dreamed. I see people who should be happy or even content, slogging through life continually reaching for that elusive state of joy.

Perhaps we have reached the apex of diminishing returns in that we have acquired so much yet the more we acquire the amount of happiness that accompanies it seems to continually recede?

Perhaps the secret is not to continually strive to acquire more, to continually consume, but instead seek the opposite for a short while?

This thought occurred to me the past week as I am currently suffering from a torment that only the devil could have conceived.

I have gotten ahead of myself. Let me return to the events that have lead up to this discovery.

Recently, I have acquired a bit of land which needed some care. Part of this land is actually a forest which was overrun by untended nature. My desire was to trim it back quite a bit and make it a beautiful place in which to take walks, plant vegetables and herbs and learn about the wildlife which call it home.

So, last weekend I set about clearing a relatively small patch which was covered in various plant life and dead underbrush. My goal was to terrace part of the hillside in which I could plant pumpkins and a variety of herbs. I cleared away the dead vegetation, pulled out planks and construction debris which I found buried and with these materials was able to make the land presentable.

After the work was done and a thorough shower, I sat down on my couch and found a relaxation that I had not encountered in a very long time. This was not unlike the feeling after a good workout at the gym but as I had used each and every muscle for the past five hours, the amount of satisfaction and peacefulness was intensified.

It then occurred to me that perhaps what I was experiencing is one of the lessons the Puritans and other religious folk were trying to express by their steadfastness for hard work. For them, work was a way to praise God not only as a way to account for their sins but also become more in tune with their creator.

Perhaps as a side benefit, the feeling one receives after a hard days work, real manual work, is one of complete tranquility and peace. This is exactly what I was experiencing.

For too long, I had languished in the city, with every modern convenience at my disposal I had not done any hard labor for a very long time. Yet, even though life was very easy, I had not felt as good as I felt after five hours clearing brush.

As I was pondering the lives of the Puritans I also recalled an interesting linguistic fact. That is the word Penitentiary comes from the word penance. For those in their society who had done wrong, they were required to spend some time in a penitentiary to commit penance. That is to say, take a time out and reflect on what they had done. Take the distraction of the world away from them and let them reflect.

Further, a bit of hard work was required which could have been to help them experience the euphoria of peacefulness after the work was done and perhaps be more in-tune with God?

Now, as those times are long gone, we still maintain the tradition of the ‘penitentiary’ but the hard work has been taken out. In fact, the hard work (manual) labor has been taken out of the lives of even those not in the penitentiary. As I had languished in the city I found myself less happy than I should have been which no amount of new purchases or night time divertissements could restore.

So, I had found a bit of happiness, but I did not realize what lesson was in store for me.

 

Two days later I found my arms and legs completely covered in poison oak. The itching, the constant oozing which stuck to my clothes put me in complete agony.  I couldn’t sleep because of the itching, then when I did sleep I found my clothes stuck to my body which required another shower at around 1:00am.

I put the caladryl on it but then the ooze would mix and it would run down a bit further creating a new infection.

There I was, in the middle of the night trying to employ mind tricks to simply get through the torment.

I then realized that all I wanted in the world was for this affliction to go away and I would be in ecstasy.

Now being the middle of the night with silence and darkness all around, one tends to have different thoughts.  I realized that should I survive this horrible period I will be extremely happy to simply not have poison oak.  I do not have to buy anything or seek out any temporary pleasure.  I will be happy to simply not have this horrible malady anymore.

Imagine, all I have to do is remind myself that I no longer have to wipe any ooze, nor bear the awful constant itching and I will be grateful!

Perhaps this is a lesson, perhaps I was pre-determined to suffer a relatively minor (yet awful) marathon of agony to remind myself that we should appreciate simply being alive a bit more.  We should take a minute to be thankful that we are alive, can have experiences and appreciate this beautiful home we call Earth.

I would imagine those with worse conditions such as cancer are in tune with this way of thinking.  It is not uncommon for those that have come out survivors to be able to appreciate life quite a bit more than those who have never experienced the fear of life being taken away from them.

Thankfully, my case of poison oak is no where near cancer but it did serve as a reminder that I will be thankful to have a healthy body once again.  However, being human we are soon to forget and slip back into a mode of complacency where our minds continually tell us we should be happier and in doing so never gets us there.

Maybe I should plant a sprig of the oak in my office as a reminder?  I think not, perhaps a picture of it would be safer.

Now, on to language as promised by the title.  After I found both my arms sleeved in oozing blisters, I hopped on Google to get some answers.

I found that the ‘poison’ in poison oak is an oil called “urushiol.”  Then, being the language enthusiast I am, I realized that it sounded an awful lot like a Japanese word.  If I translate back from Japanese it would sound like this “Urushioru.”

So, I was curious to see if there was a Kanji character (the Japanese/Chinese symbol) associated with it.

Unfortunately, the word was the exact same spelled in Katakana.

Urushioru = ウルシオール

If you don’t know Japanese let me give you a quick explanation of how their writing works.  They have four ‘alphabets’ which are not really alphabets but is how they put sounds down on paper.

1. Katakana – This is for foreign words which are an approximation of how the foreign word sounds to Japanese ears.  They are simply trying to say the word as it sounds to them.  The above word “Urushiol” is in Katakana

2. Hiragana – This is the “alphabet” for Japanese origin words

3. Romaji – You can also write words with the Latin (just like English…with a few variations) alphabet.  However, you call it Romaji because it is the “Romanized Alphabet.  Ro-ma-ji (ローマ字)

4.  Kanji – 漢字.  This is the Chinese symbols the Japanese imported.

Combine all four and you get Japanese.  And look at that, as I looked up Kanji, Google offered a concise definition of all four.

“|漢字 are the Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese logographic writing system along with hiragana (ひらがな, 平仮名), katakana (カタカナ, 片仮名), Indo Arabic numerals, and the occasional use of the Latin alphabet (known as the Romanization of Japanese, or “Rōmaji”). …”

So, for ‘Urushiol’ which is pronounced in English as you-ROO-shee-ol becomes oo-ru-shi-aw-ru (trying to spell it as an English speaker would understand it and you write it in Katakana.

But, my investigation didn’t stop there.  I was certain that this was a Japanese word, which somewhere along the line became an English word which the Japanese then adopted as a foreign word.

So, I just took the first part “urushi” which was definitely Japanese and found my Kanji character.

漆 = Urushi

Then I dissected the Kanji into it’s parts so I could derive the ancient meaning of the word.

1.  On the left is the Radical for water.  I cannot write it here because the computer won’t let me write just a radical.

2. 木 = Tree.  This is on the top right hand portion

3.  人 = Person.  This is in the middle of the right hand side

4.  水 – Water.  This is the regular Kanji for water.

So basically, tree water gets on a man.  This must be the ancient meaning.  However, it is not obvious for the beginner because if we look up this Kanji (漆) it means: lacquer, varnish, or seven in Japanese.  But if we examine more closely it is also used with other Kanji to mean lacquer poisoning.

But what is lacquer?

Lacquer – a black resinous substance obtained from certain trees and used as a natural varnish.

Therefore, I have found something very interesting regarding the Japanese language, Kanji and English.

The beginning of the word is “urushi” which has a Kanji character associated with it which in its original meaning is “tree water” but is only currently used for lacquer.  Isn’t it a coincidence that the word “urushiol” in Japanese ウルシオール has the exact same pronunciation as the Kanji for lacquer?

It could be just a coincidence or perhaps I have discovered a linguistic fun fact.

In closing, I mentioned that my case of poison oak could be a pre-ordained lesson to teach me the meaning of happiness.  Or perhaps the universe wanted to teach me a language lesson?

Or it could be that I’m just a doofus who should have known better than to go play in the woods without knowing what poison oak was.

Life is a grand mystery.

Did the WSJ get an idea from The Global Citizen?

Did the Wall Street Journal obtain an idea from The Global Citizen?

I always love when a respected publication confirms what I have always believed.  I was very enthusiastic to read the WSJ article entitled:

Lost in Translation

“New cognitive research suggests that language profoundly influences the way people see the world; a different sense of blame in Japanese and Spanish”

The WSJ article puts forth the same idea on July 24th, 2010 that The Global Citizen posted on June 5th, 2010 – “Speak American – Fun lesson in language

Just compare:

WSJ: “Do the languages we speak shape the way we think? Do they merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express?”

Global Citizen: ” The question is, does language form our thoughts or is it the other way around?  I would argue that our language is what gives structure to our thoughts.  Therefore, when we think in English we also “reason” in English.”

“When we learn another language, we are also learning a completely new “mentality.”  The way one thinks about things changes along with the language.  It is true that we can “translate” with great accuracy but there are subtle changes to the meaning.”

WSJ: “In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall.”

Global Citizen: “I’m not sure if I can think of a super great example to demonstrate but I’ll give it a go.  I won’t use English/French/Spanish because they are too close on the linguistic tree.  Instead, let’s do English/Japanese.

-  English – I want to eat spaghetti
The stress of this sentence is on “I.”

- Japanese – Spaghetti tabetai – Spagetti wants to be eaten
The stress is on the Spaghetti

-Of course it is translated “I want to eat spaghetti” but really the focus is taken off the person who wants to eat the spaghetti and put on the spaghetti itself.  And the real kicker is it could mean “Do you want to eat Spaghetti!!”  All you have to do is change the inflection at the end as in a question.”

Where are my royalties??

Just kidding.  It does feel very good however when a respected publication confirms what I have previously written about and then I know I am not completely crazy.

There was also something very surprising in the article which I did not know.  I am a big fan of Noam Chomsky and apparently he did not believe that language begets mentality.  He believes the following:

“Dr. Chomsky proposed that there is a universal grammar for all human languages—essentially, that languages don’t really differ from one another in significant ways. And because languages didn’t differ from one another, the theory went, it made no sense to ask whether linguistic differences led to differences in thinking.”

Again, I love Noam Chomsky and this is the first idea I believe he is completely wrong about.  It is my opinion that language does give structure to mentality and not the other way around.  We see the world differently due to language and therefore, our mentalities ARE different.


Letter to American Language Learners

This post is for students in the USA who have ventured to learn a foreign language.  This is something I know quite a bit about and felt an honest post from someone who has shared the same experience might be valuable for current students.

Learning a foreign language can sometimes seem like a very daunting, if not impossible task.  I’m here to tell you it can be done, but more importantly how to set realistic expectations and to not become discouraged.

Having spent a lot of time abroad and in language classrooms, I have to tell you the one question I really do not like is when people back in the USA ask me,

“Are you fluent?”

The true answer is yes and no.

The reason is that there are varying degrees of fluency and it is important to realize this so as not to become discouraged and give up.  I’ll separate my reasoning into the following points in order to make things very clear.

1. English

English is both a blessing and a curse for language learners.  It is a blessing because one can go to many countries and “get by” on English.  Therefore, we as Americans have it a bit easier in that so many people in the world speak English.  We can thank the British for that.  It is a curse however because it can become a crutch as well when learning another language.

To really learn, one has to fully immerse themselves in the language.  Yet, while living abroad so many people want to speak English with you and this can be hard to get away from.  The best way is to find friends who do not speak English and practice as much as possible.

2. Fluency

In America we think of “fluency” as someone who can speak another language just as well as they do English.  Yet, it is more complicated than that.  I have always preferred the British categorization method which is:

a. Bi-Lingual
b. Fluent
c. Conversational
d. Beginner

For me, I would fit into the Fluent category here in that I can have a conversation and it would appear that I am “fluent” to a non-speaker.  But to the native, they will hear my many mistakes and the language might seem a bit bumpy.

I would also be able to walk into a high level college class and not have any problems.  But for the serious language learners, we tend to compare ourselves with the natives which can be very frustrating at times.  It always seems that we are not good enough and it can be difficult to keep the confidence levels up.

However, this is the path to “fluency.”  To become really fluent in terms of native speakers, it would take at least 10 years of living “in country” to get that good.  As for me, I was in various countries a relatively short time.

Returning to America, I would say that only in French do I really feel I have lost something.  Spanish and Japanese still get plenty of workouts so I have not lost nor gained anything.

Bi-lingual means that you can speak two languages equally.  Fluency, put in the proper context is that you can have normal, flowing conversations without too many pauses.

So, to really illustrate this  I’ll share what I do and do not understand in Japanese

1. Anime – This is relatively easy
2. Women – They speak very clearly and most of my teachers were women.  Therefore, I understand normal conversations with women around 80%.  But with men it drops to about 40%.
3. News – 20%  -  I do not have the vocabulary to really understand the news very well

But, for day to day life, there is no problem.  In a business setting I would have to learn all the business words which I have never done so it would be a challenge.

To further illustrate this point, language takes a long time to learn and it may be a surprise for some to realize that their English levels are actually not very high even though they are natives.  Language is full of rich word choices which describe and illustrate ideas, actions, objects, emotions and so on.  In daily life we use the same words over and over but if we read something more difficult, The New Yorker for example, then many more difficult words are used.  Therefore, the level of understanding will be different depending on the “fluency” of the reader.  The question is, how many words will simply be skipped over with more words skipped equaling less of an understanding and less skipped words equaling greater understanding.

I tried to look up how many words are in the English language but instead found this wonderful example which illustrates the complexity of language.

“There is no single sensible answer to this question. It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning ‘a kind of animal’, and a verb meaning ‘to follow persistently’)? If we count it as two, then do we count inflections separately too (e.g. dogs = plural noun, dogs = present tense of the verb). Is dog-tired a word, or just two other words joined together? Is hot dog really two words, since it might also be written ashot-dog or even hotdog?

It’s also difficult to decide what counts as ‘English’. What about medical and scientific terms? Latin words used in law, French words used in cooking, German words used in academic writing, Japanese words used in martial arts? Do you count Scots dialect? Teenage slang? Abbreviations?”

One of the great secrets I uncovered is that through my studies of Spanish and French, my English level actually improved.  I wrote a bit about this in a former post.  Instead of simply trying to memorize all the “difficult” words, it is much easier to find the root in Latin based languages, learn to speak one of them which will cause your understanding of English to skyrocket.

3. Europeans

I would guard against American students comparing themselves to Europeans.  It would seem that Europeans can all speak English but,

a. This isn’t true
b. Their countries are closer together and they have more interaction with different languages.  English is a good one to learn then one can travel more easily
c. English replaced French as the language of business

If comparisons must be made, find a European that can speak an Asian language and then compare fluency levels.  The playing field will be leveled a bit.

4. Benefits

The main benefit of being able to speak another language is that people will think of you as “smart.”  The believe this because many people think of language as something you learn in class which they have experiences as being “difficult.”  What they do not know is that if you have the opportunity to study abroad and really immerse yourself language is not as difficult as they think.

The reason is living abroad, you have a very real and serious motivation to learn as you simply cannot communicate unless you do.  Therefore, what you learn in class is immediately used once you step out the door.  Couple that with fun situations such as finding a girlfriend/boyfriend, making friends, doing activities, going to bars etc are very enjoyable and become much more so when you can participate.

Learning Japanese in an American classroom = boring GPA killer
Learning Japanese in Japan = ENORMOUS AMOUNTS OF FUN!

Then, when you come back to the USA people will think you are smart because of their experience with language.  Little do they know you spent time having FUN and it became easy!

5. Where things stand now

Spanish – As I live in San Francisco, I’m still able to use Spanish on a variety of occasions.  It is not really used much as a means of actually communicating for business but rather to warm up to the customer very quickly.  If you speak their language it is much easier to see eye to eye and you get a special status.

Japanese – I still have many opportunities to speak Japanese here but not enough that it would actually improve.  To really get better I would have to be back in Japan.

French – Yea, I don’t feel very good at French anymore.  I can still rattle off enough to impress French people but that is not saying much because they are expecting absolutely nothing.  Very common words and conversations are still easy but if I find myself in France again I would have to a lot of studying to do.

5. Conclusion

Do not get discouraged if you feel that your language abilities are not up to par.  If you are a serious language learner they never will be unless you have the opportunity to spend the next 10 years in another country.

Out of all the people I studied Japanese with, I know of only one who remained in Japan, married a Japanese guy and now she is someone I would consider “Bi-Lingual.”  The trick is to set a realistic goal and just have fun with it.

SPEAK AMERICAN – Fun lesson in language

The title was just to get your attention.

I do not plan to get into politics at all with this post, (well maybe a little, I can’t help myself) but rather the VERY INTERESTING revelations I’ve had during my language studies.  These are the enlightenments which really made language learning fun and keeps the passion burning.  I am certain these will be as entertaining for you as they was for me.  The only difference is that it took me 10 years to learn these lessons and I’m going to show you in one blog post.

Further, these are FUN!  I wish my teachers would have pointed these things out from the beginning.  Academics often have a very serious talent for quickly making subjects boring.  :-(

As for speaking Amerikan, how much attention do people pay to their own language?  For most, it is just a bunch of sounds arranged in a certain order to express a thought.  But how were these sounds formed, where do they come from?  Can one language be “better” than another?

I don’t know the answer, I just hope this post will open a few closed minds to the joys of language.

I.  Kanji (The Chinese/Japanese symbols)

I’ll start with Kanji (漢字) as many might find this interesting.  Kanji is a picture symbol which represents an actual idea or physical thing.  Most of us would know what hieroglyphics are and Kanji is like that.  They can be put together to form a language but also have an actual meaning by themselves.

Learning Kanji can seem very difficult.  In fact, basic Kanji is very easy because they are just pictures.  The fact that there are tens of thousands of Kanji and they become very complex is what makes them difficult.  But exploring the basics, let me relate a few examples that are very easy.

a.) 人  -  This means “person.”  It is just a stick figure of a person.

b.) 大 -  This one means “big.”  It is the stick figure with his arms stretched out.

c.) 木 –  This looks similar to the top two but it means “tree.”  The bottom lines are the roots and the top are two branches and a top

d.) 本 – This means “origin.”  We can see the tree but there is a horizontal line at the bottom.  This line asks you to pay attention to a certain area which is the root.  It is drawn across one root and this root came from a seed.  Since a seed is the origin of the tree, this kanji means “origin.”

Now, let’s do my favorite

a.) 大 – You know this one already.

b.) 羊 – This means “sheep.”  How the heck did they get “sheep” out of this?  Well, just draw the outline of a sheeps face around the bottom half and the two pointy things on top are the horns.

c.) 美 – This one means “beautiful.”  The sheep is on top and the kanji for “big” is on the bottom.  Therefore, one would think it means “big sheep,” but no, somewhere along the line someone thought a “big sheep” might be beautiful and so that is what it came to mean.  Perhaps a larger sheep could be sold for more money which is beautiful?  I don’t know, I’m really reaching here.

-On a political side note, Kanji was imported into Japan from China.  Chinese/Japanese relations have been less than friendly for as long as one can remember but from reading “The Tale of Genji” (源氏物語) we see that 1000 years ago the Japanese aristocracy considered Chinese writing as superior to Japanese.  Just don’t point this out to any Japanese today (@.@)  It’s a great read and perhaps the most famous novel in Japan.  Genji was a playboy and got all the girls!

Back to Kanji, now you will never forget any of the above Kanji.  See!!!  Wasn’t that easy?  Now just learn 10,000 more and you’ll be fluent.  :-)

The interesting fact about this is that in Japanese class they would just have us memorize the Kanji as a whole and tell us a certain kanji means a certain thing.  Yet, one day, a Chinese classmate pointed out the origins of the individual pieces which made it really easy!!!  I was amazed to learn that the Japanese cannot do this but the Chinese can.  So, at the bar that night I informed a Japanese friend of mine about this and was making fun of him.

Yet, he promptly turned the tables on me which brings me to my next point

II. Deconstructing English

What my Japanese friend was so kind to point out was that we English speakers cannot do this the English language!  Many English words (especially the difficult ones) are constructed by combining various “parts.”  This really becomes apparent if we understand the Latin root of the word and if one has studied say French or Spanish (or Latin) then even very difficult English words become easy.  Let’s do an example.

1. Con – In Spanish, this means “with,” or “together.”   A variant is “com.”  Now that we know this, anyone can understand the meaning of the following words:

a.) Combine
b.) Construct
c.) Computer
d.) Conglomerate
e.) Congeal
f.) Conflagrate-  This one some people might not know.  Yet, if we understand what “con” means then we can come very close to guessing the meaning
Con – with, together
Fla     —- Flare, Flash, Flame
Ate – A past action (as a suffix)

2. Mal – In Spanish this means “bad.”  So in English we can figure out the following

a.) Malediction
b.) Malfeasance
c.) Malicious

- They all mean something a little different but the basic meaning is something “bad.”

Going off track a bit, what are the origins of “good” and “bad?”  My favorite explanation comes from Nietzsche in his “Genealogy of Morals” He argues that the high ranking people consider “good” simply succeeding or perhaps doing something worthy of God (A connection between Good and God here?) Whereas “Bad” is not achieving, doing something unworthy of “God.”  Here is a quick excerpt:

“On the contrary, it was the “good people” themselves, that is, the noble, powerful, higher-ranking, and higher-thinking people who felt and set themselves and their actions up as good, that is to say, of the first rank, in opposition to everything low, low-minded, common, and vulgar.”

But I do not intend to go down the rabbit hole of philosophy.  So going back to deconstructing words my last example is the following:

3. Mort – In French it means “death.”  This time, instead of trying to understand what each word means, let’s just concentrate on how these words make us feel.

a.) Morticia
b.) Mortgage
c.) Mortuary

Therefore, if you have to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) then instead of just trying to memorize everything, just learn Spanish or French and it is easy as pie.  (metaphors are a whole other ball of wax – pardon the pun)

Finally, once we really get into the origins of the English language we can see the various influences each invading tribe (of England) had on the language.  Saxons, Romans, Germanic tribes all contributed to the English language and therefore made it a complete mess in terms of linguistic purity.

III. Country Names

One of the most fascinating facts I learned is that the origin of country names simply come from the name of the tribe of people who lived there.  Or, in some cases, a symbolical meaning.

1. England –  Eng Land.  The land of the English
2. Germany – In German it is Deutschland.  Deutsch Land – Land of the Deutsch.
3. Pakistan – “Stan” means “land.”  - Land of the Paks
4. Afghanistan – Land of the Afghans
5. Turkmenistan – Land of the Turkmen (and so on with all the other “stans”)

It changes a bit when we get into East Asia.

1. 日本 – Nihon (Nippon) This is Japan in Japanese.  The English people couldn’t say “Nihon” but they tried and came close.  Over time this eventually just became “Japan.”

If we look at the Kanji we can see the true meaning:

- (日)  This is just a a drawing of a sun.  It used to be round but was squared off over time then a line was drawn through it
- (本) – Remember this meant “origin?”  Therefore, Japan means “The origin of the Sun” or translated more properly “Land of the Rising Sun.”

It seems to me some translator along the way took some liberties with including “rising” in there but it does sound better

2. 中国 – This means “China” in Chinese.  The meaning is “Middle Kingdom” because since China was so powerful, they considered themselves in the center of the world.  (and still do!)

- 中 – This Kanji means center.  It is a square with a line going right through the center.

- 国 – The square is the land and (玉) means jewel or Jade.  I could be a little off so please correct me if I’m wrong.  I’m guessing if we deconstruct the Kanji for “country” then it would be a jewel in a “land,” if that makes any sense.

3. Vietnam (越南)

This one takes some explanation.  First of all, in ancient times, Vietnam was called “Au Lac.”  It was also known as Lac Viet.”

I have trouble finding out where “Viet” comes from.  My guess is that it was the name of their tribe.  When we look at the Kanji above the first one (越) means “Viet” and the second one (南) is pronounced “nam” and is the character for “South.”

Therefore, my theory is that the Chinese called the country the “Viets in the South.”

IV. Mentality Change

The question is, does language form our thoughts or is it the other way around?  I would argue that our language is what gives structure to our thoughts.  Therefore, when we think in English we also “reason” in English.  In the English language there are biases and limitations to what we are able to conceive.  If we desired to be “rational” it would most likely be beneficial to dispense with any spoken language and just “speak” in mathematics.

When we learn another language, we are also learning a completely new “mentality.”  The way one thinks about things changes along with the language.  It is true that we can “translate” with great accuracy but there are subtle changes to the meaning.

Perhaps a decent example would be something I just saw on Youtube.  This guy downloaded and uploaded a video file 1000 times.  Eventually, you cannot make out anything in the video as it is so distorted.  The same would happen if one tried to translate an idea into another language and then continued on from the second language to others and repeated a number of times.  Eventually, the original meaning would become completely lost.

I’m not sure if I can think of a super great example to demonstrate but I’ll give it a go.  I won’t use English/French/Spanish because they are too close on the linguistic tree.  Instead, let’s do English/Japanese.

-  English – I want to eat spaghetti
The stress of this sentence is on “I.”

- Japanese – Spaghetti tabetai – Spagetti wants to be eaten
The stress is on the Spaghetti

-Of course it is translated “I want to eat spaghetti” but really the focus is taken off the person who wants to eat the spaghetti and put on the spaghetti itself.  And the real kicker is it could mean “Do you want to eat Spaghetti!!”  All you have to do is change the inflection at the end as in a question.

“Spaghetti tabetai?”  - Do YOU want to eat spaghetti!!!!!

In fact, we basically have to guess who it is that wants to eat spaghetti since the pronoun (I, You, He, She, It, We, they) is completely missing.  When I first started learning my mind would beg me “WHO WANTS TO EAT THE SPAGHETTI??? I NEED TO KNOW!!!”  But over time, we learn to infer from the context who it is that wants to eat the Spaghetti.

It just goes to show that the people who invented “English” which just happen to be the English are very self-centered bast…. er, people!!!

The Japanese on the other hand are very sensitive to the feelings of the group.  Therefore, the language revolves around building consensus and it is very rude to say things in a straightforward manner.  (although it can be done).

Why are the Japanese like this you ask?  Well, one theory is that they have very little arable land and therefore cooperation was necessary to ensure the survival of the village.  So, in order to minimize conflict they structured the language to be very polite and get along with each other.  Guess it all makes sense why the English fought so much against themselves and other nations.  Maybe if they spoke Japanese they would have fought less? !!!  HA!!

But, I’ve gotten off track.  The point of this, um, er, point, is to simply show that mentality changes in other languages.  Therefore, just because we have reasoned a problem out in “Amerikan” doesn’t mean the rest of the world sees the issue in the same way.

Damn, there I go with politics again.

V.  Language Changes

I have never really gotten along with Grammar Nazis.  In school, they teach us that grammar is static and cannot be changed.  Therefore, if I said, “Spaghetti I want to eat” and argued with the teacher that it is perfectly correct, I would have gotten detention.

Language changes over time and an easy way to understand this is trying to read “The Canterbury Tales,” by Geoffrey Chaucer.  (eow rædan þes?).  I picked it up for a read and it seemed as though it was in a different language.  Here is just one sentence.

“Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne.”

The grammar is not in the order we think it should be and just forget about understanding most of the words.

So, fast forward to today, the language will continue to change and one thing I would like to see is to drop “a” and “the” completely from the English language.  If we think about it are these necessary?  Asian students have a terrible time with them and I do not believe they really add any value to the sentence.  It doesn’t matter to me if you are “going to the store, “or “going to a store.”  In either case, “store will be visited!”

VI. The Sanitizing of English (Well, American English anyway)

I have noticed a trend in the past two decades of using certain phrases to “sanitize” or make less harsh the true meaning of an action or idea simply to make it more acceptable to the masses.  This was started by the politicians and instead of trying to justify the action as it actually is, they just changed the words to make the action more acceptable to the masses.

1. Boots on the Ground –  Increase in soldiers
2. Battle for hearts and minds – No longer war and death but instead something that would seem positive
3. Protecting my freedoms – Now, any military action is supposedly justified by this statement.
4. Loss of Life – Usually murder but just sounds so much better this way
5. Collateral Damage – Again, killing
6. Shock and Awe – Drop a big bomb on someone that kills many

and finally one that is not sanitized but is really active in our lexicon lately.

7. The FIGHT against (input here) – It seems that just about everything needs to be “fought” against nowdays.  From a linguistic perspective, it would appear that we are a very aggressive culture.  I don’t suppose “the collective solution” or “the path towards a peaceful resolution” hold as much power as “FIGHT.” If I were to try and list everything we are supposedly fighting against, I wonder if just about everyone and everything would be an enemy?

Well, it is late and I can think of no other things I would like to share.  Therefore, I’ll leave off with a final political point which I simply cannot resist doing.  For those of us who insist on everyone speaking only English, I’m afraid we would have to erase the following words and come up with “English” equivalents.  To show I’m a good sport, I’ll even offer some suggestions

1. Spaghetti – Thin strings in sauce
2. Taco – Meat in a shell
3. California – Land of the weirdos  (ROFLROFL)
4. Sushi – Raw fish on Rice
5. Hamburger – Meat paddy

Ok ok,,, I won’t leave off on a political point but rather a fun one.  And I’ll even stick with the food theme.  Let’s translate from English to Japanese to the Kanji literal meaning

1. Breakfast – Asagohan  - 朝ご飯 – Literally — “Morning Rice”
2. Lunch – Hirugohan – 昼ご飯 - Literally – “Afternoon Rice”
3. Dinner – Yuuhan – 夕飯 – Literally – “Evening Rice”

- AND if we make things even more complicated, Lunch, Dinner and Supper can mean different things in England.  Or is it Britain.  or is it The United Kingdom?  LOLOLOLOLOL

That’s all for now.  Ya es todo, Sayonara

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