Category Archives: Uncategorized

Let’s have Gender-Neutral Pronouns

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This is a response to a recent Opinion piece by Geoff Nunberg published by WBUR-FM.

English’s third person pronouns really haven’t changed much since the Middle Ages. My biggest question with many of the alternative, gender-neutral, third person pronouns like “xe” or “ze” or “zhe” is how should they be pronounced? Between those three I can think of at least 9 different pronunciations that I would lean toward. So, is it up to the individual to decide how their preferred pronoun should be pronounced?

I recognise the need for gender neutral pronouns, after all there are many people who find the traditional binary system of understanding gender as constricting, if not baseless. Personally, I prefer that languages evolve naturally, without much influence from one particular linguistic authority. Thus, to find an answer to this question, my first inclination was to go into English’s past and look at earlier forms of English’s pronouns to see if there was a good third option. As it turns out, “it” has been the only third person singular pronoun in the history of English to date. Granted, for the first thousand years, or so, “it” was written “hit,” yet today “it” holds a particular set of meanings: it’s used to refer to objects, to animals, to things, but never to people. A number of other Germanic languages have a similar concept, such as German’s two verbs for eating: “essen” and “fressen;” the former is used for people and the latter for animals, after all we learn to eat in a civilised manner. I doubt one could teach a cat or a dog to eat with a knife and fork.

Historically speaking, “they” may be the best organic option for a gender neutral third person English pronoun. It’s one that has been used for generations already, and one that already exists in the language. Having lacked a gender-neutral singular pronoun for humans for a millennium and a half it makes sense that English speakers would develop this extension of the purpose of the third-person plural, just as the same Anglophones have done with “you,” eliminating the difference between formal and informal, and extending its usage from solely the singular to the plural as well.

All that said, how one wants to be referred to is an extremely personal matter, one should expect to be called by a name or pronoun that one is comfortable with in all circumstances. That said, language is inherently a communal thing, something that exists so that different people can understand each other and interact. Without a common understanding of what each other is saying, we begin to lose that common currency which has brought us together down the generations. A third person pronoun is a word that is intended to be used by others to refer to another person, and considering we don’t have gendered versions of our first person pronoun “I,” the issue of how well others will recognise or understand the pronoun in question ought to be thoroughly considered.

English is a collection of near-different languages that share common spelling and grammar. I’ve had conversations with other English speakers from other countries whose dialects were so different from mine that we had an easier time communicating through another language. Even within a country like the United States or the United Kingdom the varieties of English are different enough to limit a speaker of one dialect’s ability to understand someone speaking a different dialect from the same country. English plays as loose with its pronunciation as it is strict on its spelling. Even though English’s two main spelling variants: American and Commonwealth (UK, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, etc.) do have their evident differences, an American can still travel to London or Delhi and look at a sign written in English or read a book published in that country and understand what’s written there. If we move toward a fully phonetic spelling system, we’ll lose the biggest thing that keeps our dialects connected as one common language.

What is History?

I’ve been studying history for quite some time now. In undergraduate I was initially a triple major in History, Philosophy, and Theology, and in my current graduate work I am close to earning my Master’s in History. As a result, the question has come up time and again, what is it that I’m actually doing? What is history, and what does it mean to study history?

When I started seriously in this field as an undergraduate, I came up with a straightforward answer to this question that was entirely based on time. History, I said, is the study of humanity between the invention of writing and exactly one hundred years before the present. It made sense to me to place a limit on history closer to the present, because I found it difficult to accept that people that I knew in my own lifetime could be studied in history just like someone who lived two thousand years ago.

This method worked fairly well for me, considering that I never seriously wanted to study anything more recent than about 1870, and generally stuck to Ancient Rome, Medieval England, the Renaissance, or Colonial America. Why worry about the twentieth century when it wasn’t what I studied?

Yet as I started my most recent master’s programme, I came to a new conclusion for what can be classified as history. You see, the tricky thing is that if we define the start of history as being the start of writing, then that must differ on a timeline depending on the culture. After all, while I generally only wanted to make a career out of studying people who lived at least four or five hundred years ago, by my own calculations history began for my paternal ancestors when the first written records of their lives appear in the 1790s.

But if I’m considering only those documents written by the people themselves then there’s another catch, because the Irish Censuses from the turn of the twentieth century show my Keane second great-grandparents as illiterate, making the scale of my family’s history written by members of my family rather short, if not non-existent per my century-based calculation as my great-grandfather was born just over 125 years ago at the time of recording.

So, how to compensate for this complication? As I thought about this, in between papers in the Fall of 2017 I came across a new definition of history, one that made more sense in the extremely complex tapestry that is humanity. Today, I see History as the study of the human past through the methods and tools used by the historian as developed since the turn of the nineteenth century.

These methods, based off of the similar philosophies thought up at the same time, and inspired by the new scientific method help make History a method of studying and understanding the human past that can be adapted to different cultures and societies around the globe. The biggest remnant from my old definition of History that survives in this one is that History relies entirely upon the written word. If a society does not have writing then the study of that society’s past should be left to experts in studying the human past through their material remains, i.e. archaeologists.

Thus, someone who died fifty years ago like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Bobby Kennedy are just as historical as someone who died millennia ago like Queen Nefertiti or Zhuge Liang.

But what do you think? How do you define history? And which historical period or figure do you like the most?

“Son of God” – Appealing to its core audience

Kansas City – As a Catholic, whenever I think of the Life of Jesus the image of sitting in Mass when I was in 1st grade during the 1999-2000 school year springs to mind. Not only was the Church celebrating the new millennium, but also honouring the 2000th birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, at least according to the traditional calculation. For me, it still seems a bit odd to make a film about the Life of Christ, after all how does one find an actor to portray, well, the Son of God? In this way I do kind of agree with my Muslim friends and neighbours in using their arguments for not portraying Muhammad in art by saying that perhaps such a holy figure as Jesus should not be portrayed on film as He is God. However, Jesus was also a human being, and a fairly well-spoken one to boot, so in another way it does make good sense to depict his life on the screen.

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Diogo Morgado who plays Jesus. Courtesy of IMDb.com

To be brief, Son of God was not quite my cup of tea. I found myself laughing through much of the first half, between the corny dialogue, at times poor CGI, fairly unconvincing acting, and the fact that Jesus was wearing makeup. However, the film began to lose its serious tone when they introduced the characters by their modern English names. Yes, yes, I know, this film was made to be seen by the masses, much more so than Mel Gibson’s epic of 10 years ago, but at the same time it just sounds weird to hear a little boy running down a street in a small Jewish town shouting “It’s Jesus!” I feel that in this instance, as in any historical film, the best first step towards keeping the seriousness of the piece there is to keep the characters’ names the way they were in their lifetimes. So, rather than Jesus, call Him Yeshua (ישוע), or instead of referring to our narrator, St John the Evangelist, as “John”, why not call him Yovhann (יוחנן). I will say on that matter, that as an Irish speaker, referring to Jesus as Yeshua makes more sense as in Irish His name is Íosa. And while I’m on the topic of names, the whole “You are Peter, the rock, and upon you I will build my Church” loses its meaning when Simon Peter is referred to as Peter rather than Simon before that in the film. Also, I wasn’t aware that St Thomas was ginger until tonight. That must have made him stick out quite terribly during his mission in India.

My biggest complaint with the film is its directing. Firstly, we didn’t need the “hero shot” of Jesus and St Peter in the latter’s fishing boat just after making the big catch. After that is the repetition of captions whenever the scene changed to a different location. I think after the first time seeing the poor CGI overview of Jerusalem the viewer should be able to remember what they’re looking at, we don’t need reminding thereafter. Finally, there were some key elements of the Passion that were missing from this depiction: the Washing of the Feet, St Veronica fully enfolding Jesus’ face in her cloth, Jesus stopping to talk to the Women of Jerusalem, and the mixture of blood and water coming out of the wound pierced by the Holy Lance. Portuguese soaps actor Diogo Morgado gave a mixed performance as Jesus. Like the film itself, I found that his acting improved from when he arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

On the other hand, Son of God does a good job appealing to its target audience: Protestant Americans. I saw a few episodes of the original History Channel miniseries The Bible from which much of the footage in Son of God comes, and have to say that I was turned off of the show quite quickly by the fact that every time a commercial break came, along with it was at least one, though often two, ads for Christian Mingle. Honestly, the show’s creators did a good job at avoiding any major sort of controversy in this film, which is more than I can say about the miniseries, but in the attempted avoidance, so much of the reality of first century Palestine were lost.

For example, I find it hard to understand why there had to be characters of every racial background, except East Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Amerindians in the film. If the director was that concerned with avoiding racial issues, why not just make all of the characters, um, I don’t know… Middle Eastern? Then again, it might concern the core audience that Jesus and the Disciples were from a region of the world that today is by majority Muslim. After all, the present must be taken into account when portraying the past. Oh, and don’t get me started on some of the oddities involved in the film’s Romans.

In the end, I’d say if you want to go see Son of God, then go see it. It is an interesting film, that has a unique take on the Life of Christ. However, the full heart-wrenching emotion of the Passion simply is not entirely there in this production, nor is the true majesty of just how fully human and fully divine Jesus was. If you want to see that full emotion, my recommendation would be to watch Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.

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Abducted and Abandoned

Kansas City – Last night I finally finished a short story that has been a joy to write for quite some time. Abducted and Abandoned is about a man who finds himself alone, bare, in a unfamiliar hotel room in some city in the world. He must find the truth as to who he is, where he is, and how he got there. It certainly has been a fun piece to write, and I hope you all get a chance to buy a copy. It is currently available for Kindle only for $2.99 USD, £1.99 roughly in the UK. Click on the article title for a link to the Amazon page, or click here.

September – Thank God it’s over

Kansas City – After all the fun and adventure of this past summer, you’d think I’d take this semester a bit slower, a bit quieter, to recuperate and ready myself for the coming year. But then again, I’m not that sort of person. I started the semester with a bit of a bang – one month with event after event.

First there was Irish Fest on Labour Day weekend. Then there was a day of volunteering at the Irish Centre (Cúltúrlann Éireannach). This was followed by a 60+ hour week of academics, work, business, and other fun events. Then there was the wedding of two good friends in Lenoir, North Carolina. I returned to Rockhurst from the wedding exhausted, and ready for the quiet weekend to come. That came after another 60+ hour week, and at first it looked promising. But then something rather unfortunate happened. Saturday 21 September 2013 will always be one of those days that just didn’t have to happen – and yet in a big way it did. I woke that morning to an early alarm as I was going to be filming the Classroom scene for my film Sisyphus that day. However, none of the extras showed up to film – so I ended up having to postpone the shoot until this past Sunday 6 October. I left Rockhurst for my parents’ house, where my Mom was home alone getting ready for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s opening night premiere of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. The day before I drove my Dad up to the airport to fly to Chicago to see my Granddad, with plans of sorting out the plans to move him into hospice care by Sunday.

That, unfortunately didn’t happen. I was at 59th and Rockhill, heading back to my parents’ house after getting a shirt for the opera when my phone rang. My Dad was on the other end, at my Uncle Bill’s house in Suburban Chicagoland – my Granddad had died at about 16.30 CDT. From then on out, the entire world seemed to flip on its head. My Mom and I did go the opera that night, but the next morning I found myself driving her up to the Airport so she could fly up to Chicago to meet my Dad and work with the rest of their generation in the Kane family on the funeral arrangements. I stayed behind in Kansas City for a while longer, so that I wouldn’t miss too much class. That, as it turned out, didn’t really work so well. I missed my first class on Monday morning, Western Civilisation II, because I was taking the dogs to the vet for boarding for the time that I’d also be in Chicago. Then I skipped out on my Modern Political Philosophy class because I just didn’t feel like I could take it just then. Finally, I threw in the towel on school for the week when the power of what had happened to my family hit me like a bag of rocks in choir, when we were rehearsing the Jesuit hymn These Alone are Enough for the Family Weekend Mass.

I flew up to Chicago on the evening of the 23rd – weary, and ready to be with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. It was a short flight, and considering that I had no bags to bring with, as my Mom had already packed everything I’d need – I flew up in the first row on Southwest! The time in Chicagoland was very emotional for me. Between facing the fact that now both of my Kane grandparents are dead, and experiencing all of these places again that I remembered from my early childhood, a time which I cherish quite dearly, I found it hard sometimes to face the facts. Thus, when we were driving from place to place, especially in the traffic on the Tristate Tollway and with that awful construction traffic on Dempster at the Tollway, I slept. The wake and funeral were nice. It was especially great to get to see all of the more distant cousins on my Dad’s side, many of my grandparents’ friends, and some college friends of my parents (including my Godparents). But in the end, I was just ready to go back to Kansas City and sleep for a long time.

After that second exhausting trip, I was in no mood for work. I ended up being a fair bit behind in my work, especially when it came to French. I’ve only just caught up. My classes on Thursday and Friday were a blur, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have even had any will to go to them if it weren’t for the fact that I had nothing else to do at that point. By Friday 27 September, I had gone for at least 20 days with sleep worth only about 15 normal nights, and was in no mood for any more misadventures.

Thankfully, that weekend was anything but a misadventure. My cousin Ashley, who I’ve known for my entire life, got married! It was a very nice wedding, and a fantastic reception. That wedding was a good way to balance out the stress and grief of the month in which it occurred, as it showed me that even though all sorts of dour things happen in our lives, there’s still room for happiness and jolliness. Which on that note: Middlesex County Cricket finished 3rd in the County Championship! O, and the USA Men’s Team (the Waldoes as I call them) qualified for the ’14 World Cup in Brazil!

So, as I write this, safe and sound, now 7 days removed from that dreadful month, I have to say “Buíchos le Dia!” that it’s over. Less than 24 hours ago, I was able to shoot that scene that originally was intended to be shot on the 21st – and this time no one that I know died on the same day! September was about as poor at its’ game as Chivas USA is at soccer, which is saying something really sad about that month. But, on the plus side – I got paid at the end of it all, thanks to that week and a half of French tutoring that I did in August!

Hopefully I’ll be able to update a bit more in the future, as things may be settling down. We’ll have to see.