Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why Correct Pronounciation is So Important

If you live in or near a diverse metropolitan area such as Washington, DC, you'll hear more than your share of weird names. By "weird," of course I mean "difficult to figure out how to say." However (at least here in the DC metro area), it is way more unusual to run into an easy-to-pronounce English, Jewish, or Latino name (such as Williams, Cohen, or Lopez) than it is to run into those harder-to-pronounce names of the rest of the world. Names are things each of us takes very seriously, especially when it comes to our own. It can be a source of great frustration if your name isn't easily pronouncable; I know that my North African last name isn't common, but it's not that hard to get correct, and I am very grateful when my name is pronounced correctly on the first try.

Of course, I can forgive people not being able to get my name right away. After all, my last name is unique to a family originally from the coastal town of Hammam-Sousse, Tunisia. But when it comes to names that we, as Americans, should all know how to pronounce correctly, I get very picky. I know I'm not the only one. On January 18, 2008, Michelle Obama's mispronounciation of Nevada elicited some dismayed reactions from her audience. To her credit, Ms. Obama immediately and fervently corrected her pronounciation.

It may sound elitist to criticize the pronounciation of certain words, but it is extremely difficult to take someone seriously when that person pronounces the word nuclear as "noo-kyuh-luhr." Or when "jaguar" is pronounced "jag-wire." "Birff-day," "ex-scape," and nowadays, "eye-rack" for "Iraq" are other examples.

But why bother? You might wonder who cares about the difference between saying "neh-VAAH-duh" (incorrect) or "nuh-VAD-uh" (correct)? Well, for starters, Nevadans do. Learning how to pronounce names as they should be pronounced shows a degree of consideration to others. Not bothering to care about what may seem small to one person is the antithesis to equivocation. In the end, it's about caring and respect.

Here are some places that I've learned how to pronounce correctly:
  • Helena, Montana. It's HEL-luh-nuh, not huh-LAY-nuh. I actually called the city to confirm. Coincidentally, it's the way my daughter's name should be pronounced.
  • Worcester or Gloucester, Massachusetts: It's "wuss-ster" or "gloss-ster." Think of the "worce-" or "glouce-" as one syllable. Ironically, citizens of those cities can't pronounce "Harvard" correctly.
  • Concord, New Hampshire. Pronounced exactly like "conquered."

Any other names or things you wish people would pronounce correctly?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Liberal Fascism?! Well, maybe...

On Wednesday, January 16, 2008, conservative author Jonah Goldberg went on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to discuss and plug his new book Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. As Stewart prefaced prior to its showing , the interview was heavily edited for time. In six minutes of an allegedly 18-minute interview, we were shown Goldberg's attempt to show how liberalism, in the neoconservative stereotype, is closer to fascism than liberals would care to admit. We were also shown Stewart's obvious disdain for that opinion.

Let this be clear: I'm a very liberal guy, politically and socially. I believe that homosexuals should be allowed to marry, and I believe that there should be legislation to prevent discrimination against gay marriage. I believe in the benefits of gun control and free speech. I believe that those who can afford it should be taxed higher. But there are times when attitudes no longer become simply liberal, but leftist.

While I don't plan on reading Goldberg's book, I can pretty much guess that he has a warped opinion on what most liberals in America believe. His stereotype of a liberal is a probably pot-smoking, organic-food-buying vegan atheist who supports an authoritarian welfare state and would sooner sympathize with a terrorist or illegal immigrant than with Larry the Cable Guy. Goldberg believes the organic-food craze is just like the Nazi urge to push for a pure existence to further the master race.

The thing is, I've seen symptoms of these beliefs in the posts, blogs, and discussions I've had with other liberals. Think about the organic food craze: we feel pressured to buy organic, especially for our children. Why? Will eating a non-organic apple or genetically-enhanced cow turn me or my child into a freak of nature? Of course not, but we'll pay the larger cost for the peace of mind that nothing "unnatural" is in our bodies. There absolutely nothing wrong with eating organic, but what gets lost is that there is nothing wrong with not eating organic. (Of course, when we get sick, we'll pop those pills and rub those creams to remedy our illnesses, regardless of whether or not they're organic.) It's about the fear.

We are quick to blame the neoconservatives in this nation for fear-mongering. They wish us to fear that illegal immigrants are taking our jobs and bringing crime into this country; fear that terrorist attacks are imminent; fear that welfare means higher taxes and breeds apathy; stricter gun regulation translates to less safety and more government control.

But what about traditional liberal worries? Are they any less about fear-mongering? What about the fear of global warming? The fear of religious autocracy? Eating McDonald's? So while neocons play upon the fears to promote their agendas, so do liberals. What liberal doesn't feel proud to buy at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's? What liberal wouldn't be feel good driving a hybrid? What liberal wouldn't feel safer with stricter gun laws or more secure with guaranteed government handouts? And all liberals are politically correct, whether they would admit to it or not.

No, political correctness, while a lot like Newspeak, won't lead to a dystopia like 1984. Eating organic won't turn you or your child into a Nazi. But liberals need to recognize where opposition to left-wing ideology comes from, because the opposition is not without merit. Each of us needs to take a look at who we listen to, and who we don't. Chances are, those that we ignore or summarily dismiss may offer some valid points once in a while.

Senator Clinton is a racist...NOT!

What do DVRs and headlines have in common? Both are a convenience to the average American who can't seem to find enough hours in a day to do everything. We can't watch all the television we want when we want it (writer's strike notwithstanding), and we can't read all the news that's out there. We can wait for television, so it's recorded for later consumption; news is a different story. Since news develops at such a rapid pace, we need concise headlines that are attention-grabbing and may not necessarily tell the whole truth. While we now have more time to devote to other pursuits, it comes at the expense of reason and deduction. Politicians use this facet of our reliance on instant gratification (whether consciously or not) to twist innocuous statements into something completely different. For example, I can say, "I once volunteered to work at a Boys and Girls club because I enjoyed the company of children," and it can be reported as:
  • 32-year-old Man Enjoys Company of Young Boys, or
  • Blogger Worked with Girls at Club

Take Senator Hillary Clinton's statement that was blown out of proportion: "I would point to the fact that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done...That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people's lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it and actually got it accomplished."

The statement was truncated into various forms, but the most repeated sentences and phrases were the first sentence and "it took a president to get it done." The Obama camp made Clinton out to be a racist for seemingly diminishing the impact that Martin Luther King, Jr. had in the Civil Right Movement. Charles Krauthammer wrote correctly that Clinton's comment was not racist, but erroneously inferred that Clinton was comparing herself to President Johnson and Obama was like Dr. King, a "charismatic dreamer."

Both the Obama camp and Krauthammer are inaccurate. Watching the video and reading the words offers a clear picture of what Senator Clinton was talking about: she was talking about how important it was to have a strong president to carry out the dreams and visions that needed to be realized. The Civil Rights Act was used as an example, and was not the subject of Clinton's statement.

I'm happy that the Obama and Clinton camps are putting this behind them, but this incident will fester in people's minds, because the knee-jerk reaction to truncated statements and headlines is so powerful that it overwhelms our sense of reason. It degenerates (as always) into a "you're a ," "Am not!" "Are, too!" "Am not!" that is easier to absorb and understand the complexity that is life.

And we also don't have the time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Birth of Helena Kara Latiri: Gross and AWESOME (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part 1...

The Birth.

I was surprised. As Dr. VanMilder got dressed for the delivery and the nurse was preparing all of the tools and instruments and lighting necessary, I must confess that my mind was not on anything specific. I thought about how quiet the delivery ward was. I thought about the consequences of having a child's birthday on New Year's, and how it was less than two weeks before my wife's birthday and only one week after Christmas, less than a month after our wedding anniversary, and how much budgeting would have to go into gift-giving each winter. I thought it was awesome that Heather's contractions didn't lead her to scream obscenities (which I was preparing myself for), but instead, took place while she napped. I thought of the wonders of modern medicine, while at the same time appreciating that females of all species have been giving birth to offspring for eons.

The nurse disassembled the foot of the bed, which slid away to reveal stirrups on either side of the bed. The nurse quickly assembled them, and I thought it was like a giant Transformer toy. Then I noticed that the doctor was still getting dressed. By this point, the doctor had put on overgarments over her scrubs, at least two pairs of gloves, foot coverings up to her shins, and a face shield similar to the one I wore when I serviced liquid oxygen to the LOX converters on F-15s. The nurse herself had on a pair of latex gloves, and I felt extremely contagious, because I was only dressed in my street clothes. No mask, no gloves, just a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Meanwhile, the doctor looked as if she was prepared to shoot tear gas into a mob as she stood between my wife's spread legs.

Heather's feet were on the stirrups; the nurse was on Heather's left side, and I was on the right. I had a clear view of what can now only be described as "birth canal." It had grown in size since I'd last seen it, and of course, that made sense. But I was surprised, because it's not something that anyone had ever really taught, whether in sex ed or in birthing class. We learn all about the uterus and even the steps of labor, but being a guy, that information really went in one ear and out the other. Guys are usually just grateful that they don't have to ever experience that. They should be, too, because to be honest, it was a bloody mess. Fluids were oozing out, and there was a smell. Of course, I didn't really care, but these are observations that people are afraid of making.

The doctor then instructed Heather to start pushing during the next contraction, and Heather did just that as the nurse and I held on to each of Heather's legs. When the doctor yelled "Push!" and the nurse gave an authoritative count of "One...two...three..." all the way to ten, I realized that this was it. This was what we all see in the movies and television, and boy this wasn't anything like that. It was quiet, intimate, private, comfortable, and safe. For my part, there was no animosity, no stress, just this act of biology that I was witnessing live for the first time. I wasn't watching Lifetime; I was watching Animal Planet.

After the fourth set of three pushes, I saw the generous amount of hair that signified my daughter's head was approaching. I wasn't sure which part of her head I was looking at, so I thought that the baby's head was just the size of my fist. The doctor's fingers were kneading and spreading, as the hair kept creeping closer and closer to the exit. On the seventh set of pushes, the amount of hair grew and grew and grew! When her face slid out from underneath, my jaw hit the floor. I was looking at the most unnatural sight I'd ever seen in my life.

There she was, my daughter's face, sticking out between my wife's legs, and the only thing I could think of was Kuato saying "Quaid...start the reactor..."

With the ninth and final set of pushes, the doctor delivered Helena out from the womb. The first thing that I needed to see was that Helena was, indeed, a girl. You see, ever since her 20-week ultrasound, I'd been concerned that she might be a boy. Nothing wrong with that by itself, but all of the pink clothes and dresses and tights and "It's a Girl!" themed gifts would be wasted, not to mention my embarrassment at preparing the whole world for something different. So when Helena came out, all I could see was her back, which made the wait for gender verification even longer. Even when the doctor exclaimed, "Here she is!" I still wanted to see for myself. When the doctor handed Helena to Heather to hold, I sighed with relief.

Helena was huge. I was shocked. I didn't think a human being could hold a whole other human being inside herself. Also, Helena was a cuttlefish. She started out whitish-gray, then as she started crying, her body turned a deep shade of purple. The purple gradually gave way to red and then to pink, and when I could see her eyes, they were blue like the Fremen of Arrakis.

The doctor handed Helena to Heather, and the cord was still attached, but clamped. The doctor asked, "Daddy, would you like to cut the cord?" I said, "Of course!" but in a tone that reflected the mood I snapped into when she asked me that. I became an enlisted man ready to execute the orders of my superior, and cutting the cord was simply another order to carry out. It didn't mean anything to me other than a medical procedure that I happened to perform. I cut the cord, which looked like a slimy blue coiled rope that reminded me of very thick rotini.

Helena was crying strong, and Heather instantly snapped into a soothing mother. It was a side of her I'd actually never seen before, and I was so happy to see it. Any lingering doubts I had that Heather would be a good mother disappeared without a trace.
Helena weighed in at an impressive 8 lbs, 10 oz. Helena was cleaned and swaddled and I got to hold her for the first time, and I looked at the milia on her nose, her prominent upper lip, and her flat nose. I listened to her crying as I rocked her, letting her lungs work for the first time in her life. I wasn't thinking about how my life was going to change. I wasn't thinking about how much sleep I was going to miss. I wasn't thinking about how many diapers I would have to change or how I was going to get her to eventually stop crying. I just looked at her in amazement and thought, This is my daughter. I hope she doesn't hate me too much.
It's been two weeks, and everyone is doing great. Being a dad suits me, I think. I rush to her side whenever I hear her cry, and I'm happy to change her diaper. I'm glad she's a strong girl, and seeing her go through delivery reinforces my trust in her strength. Right now, there are two things that I'm waiting for: her smile and her laugh. When those things happen, I'm pretty sure my ability to say no to her will be hammered away.
I wonder if Helena will enjoy Total Recall...

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Birth of Helena Kara Latiri: Gross and AWESOME (Part 1 of 2)

What you are about to read is the uncensored, undiluted truth about a man's experience witnessing the birth of his first child. Since most of my friends are parents already, much of what I will write will not come as a shock to them. No, these next few entries are meant to strip away the unnecessary sentimentalizing experience that is childbirth. It's about the realities of the moments that I as an expectant father went through during the 50-plus hours around the birth of Helena. It's about how I felt not just as a father, but as a husband, a son, an in-law, a friend, and a man. Much of what I will write may sound crazy, but keep this in mind: my daughter, wife, and I are alive and well and happy to have each other.

New Year's Eve.

So the due date of the 27th of December had come and gone, with no sign of labor. My hopes at claiming a tax credit for 2007 were dwindling fast. My father-in-law Charlie and my sister-in-law Jenny had been staying with us since before Christmas, and they were set to head back home to Alabama within days. Both Charlie and Jenny were sick with colds, and cabin fever was starting to take hold. Being in a holding pattern during the holidays was not the most stress-relieving experience.

Then that nesting instinct kicked in. Heather had the four of us running around cleaning and straightening. I cleaned up the backyard (something that I'd been meaning to do), and I decided to get a haircut. I did this for 3 reasons: 1) there was a distinct possibility that I would have to report for Air Force Reserve duty that weekend, regardless of whether or not Helena was born by then; 2) I wanted to look good for the inevitable pictures that would come soon (hey, if Heather can get her nails done and her hair did, I deserve a $10 haircut!); and 3) I needed to get out of the house.

I got my hair cut at a stylist in Aspen Hill. There, the stylist told me stories of how her nesting instinct preceded the birth of her four children by about 24-48 hours. (She also charged me $25; I'm never going there again...) I became convinced that I was going to be a father that night.

At around 5:30 PM, Heather's contractions started. Because we had been waiting so long, we dismissed the contraction as just a strong Braxton-Hicks contraction. When another one came about a half-hour later, I knew it was for real. Heather lied down on the bed to see if the contractions went away; they didn't, and became regular at around 7:30. We timed the contractions for another hour or so, and got the go-ahead to go to Holy Cross Hospital.

The four of us left with virtually everything we needed. Our baby bag had already been packed, but I did end up forgetting the boombox and music that Heather wanted to listen to in the delivery room. It turned out we didn't need it.

Heather was admitted for observation, and Dr. VanMilder, the Kaiser Permanente doctor on-call, noted that Heather had only dilated 2 centimeters. Heather was told to walk for an hour to see if the dilation would increase. It was at that point that my mother came in to see how everyone was doing. She played her "I'm a doctor" card to get through the waiting area, and while I know she meant well, the added stress of having my mother there definitely didn't help!

After an hour of walking, the contractions didn't the dilation, and the doctor gave us two choices: 1)go home and wait a little longer, or 2) stay and receive pitocin to speed up the process. We both agreed that going home would be way more trouble than it was worth, so we were moved up to the delivery room.

The delivery room was very nice. It was like a hotel suite with hardwood floors and a delivery bed and monitors. Heather was hooked up to the monitors, and the baby's heart rate was racing at around 185, when it should have been around 150. Fluids and 100% oxygen weren't helping, so Heather received an amniotomy, breaking her water at 11:30 PM. Immediately, the baby's heart rate dropped to normal, and I breathed a sigh of relief as the doctor whimsically remarked to herself, "Huh, who knew that's all it would take?" Taken out of context, the doctor might have sounded incompetent, but growing up with a physician for a mother, I knew that medicine is a lot of trial and error. Everyone also knew that the baby was big and strong and could take a lot.

Now that Heather's water had broken, the contractions became more intense. While previously they appeared to me a discomforting pain, they had increased to the point where Heather was vocalizing. I felt quite helpless, because there really wasn't anything I could do to soothe Heather through each contraction. In birthing class, we were instructed to soothe, help coach breathing, or rub/massage arms and legs. Jenny and I tried doing all that, but Heather wouldn't have any of it. So basically, I was forced to watch Heather moan in pain without touching or saying anything for two minutes at a time. Soon after we noticed that it was New Year's Day, Heather was asking for an epidural.

The anesthesiologist, Dr. Lee, administered the epidural at around 12:30 AM. (I challenge anyone to find me an anesthesiologist who is not an East Asian man.) Immediately, the contractions became observably less painful. It was at this point my father-in-law and sister-in-law decided to leave the hospital and wait at the house for the news. Charlie especially didn't feel well, and it was well worth it to rest comfortably at home than wait and feel miserable, quarantined alone in a hospital waiting room.

The epidural had a great effect. Soon after Charlie and Jenny left, Heather took a nap. I even managed to catch some shut-eye for a little bit. For the next three hours, Heather's uterus would contract and her cervix would dilate, all while Heather was asleep. At around 3:45, Heather woke up feeling like she needed to take a giant crap. I went to the nurses' station, and soon, Dr. VanMilder arrived. The doctor examined Heather, and while Heather was asleep, her cervix had dilated to 9 inches. "It looks like we're going to have this baby now!" the doctor happily told us.

Coming up on Part 2: 25 minutes of preparation + 20 minutes of pushing = the birth of Helena "OH WOW, SHE'S BIG!" Latiri.