Thursday, 24 March 2016

Beauty and the Beast better ending

"I want to do something for her" said Beast on the first day, watching as Belle fed the birds in the walled courtyard.
"Well," said Cogsworth, who knew a thing or two about rules, "there's always the usual: flowers, chocolates, promises you don't intend to keep"
That afternoon, the Beast led Belle to the hot house on the castle grounds. "Open your eyes!" he said, excited. Belle opened her eyes. Around her were dazzling flowers, orchids from every corner of the globe, tall luscious ferns, flowers whose names she did not know. (But no roses. The Beast had been very clear to his watering can gardener on this. No roses).
Belle looked at the flowers, trapped in their pots, trained and tied to their trellises, bound within the glass walls.
"Do you like it?" asked the Beast.
"They are very pretty" said Belle.
"Then they're yours, all of them!"
"Thank you" said Belle, but she did not smile. And the Beast was angry in his heart, though he had learnt to control his temper and did not show it.

"I want to DO something for her" said Beast on the second day, watching Belle as she untied the orchids from the stems to which they were tied.
"Well", said Lumiere, who knew a thing or two about pleasing, "There is something special you could do".
That afternoon, the Beast led Belle to the library. "Open your eyes!" he said, nervous. Belle opened her eyes. Before rose books, thousands of books, tier upon tier of books in a room flooded with light. Overjoyed, she smiled with delight. How many stories to read! How many places to run to!
"Do you like it?" asked the Beast.
"It's wonderful!" said Belle.
"Then it's yours, all of it!"
Belle stopped.
"Thank you" she said, and though she smiled, it did not reached her eyes. And the Beast was sad, and he showed it, but this sadness Belle did not notice.

"I want to do something for HER" said Beast on the third day, watching Belle as she sat by the window, turning page after page of her book.
"Well", said the feather duster, who knew a thing or two about being a woman, "perhaps you should give her back what you took from her"
"And what's that?" asked the Beast, rounding on the feather duster.
"Her freedom" said the feather duster.
The other servants froze at those words, or hid. But the feather duster, who knew a thing or two about men, kept dusting.

That afternoon, the Beast went to find Belle. "If you would walk with me, I would like to show you something" he said. "Must I wear a blindfold?" she asked. "No longer" he said.
He walked with her to the courtyard. Philippe, her horse, stood there saddled and bridled. The gates of the castle were open. She looked at the Beast, and waited.
"Some months ago, I imprisoned your father for doing nothing more than asking for shelter. I was wrong to do that. You came to rescue him, and offered yourself in exchange for his captivity. I was ashamed at your bravery, but rather than release you both and beg forgiveness, I imprisoned you. In my shame, I wished to humiliate you."
She turned her head away, and bit her lip.
"Later, I threatened you and you fled the castle. I went after you, and finding you beset with wolves, I defeated them and fell in the snow. You carried me back to the castle, and tended to me until I was healed. I was ashamed at your compassion, but rather than release you, I bound you with guilt. In my shame, I hoped to keep you by my side."
Belle lifted her head, and looked at the Beast. Her face was set. Her eyes unreadable.
"I had no right to imprison you, or your father. And once you had reclaimed your freedom, I had no right to keep you by my side. I have done you wrong, and taken from you what was yours by force and by coercion." The Beast took a breath, and hand Belle the reins of her horse.
"I return to you what I stole, and I tell you to leave this place. I give you no magic mirror to watch me, no token of this place, only food and water to get you home. The gate are open, and will never close until you leave here".
Lumiere and Cogsworth leapt up.
"But master, what of us? Shall we remain forever trapped in this form? Keep her here for our sakes at least!"
Beast turned to his servants.
"I am sorry, my friends, but I do not think that true love can bloom from imprisonment."
He turned to Belle, and was silent. And she bowed to him, and bad him farewell, but did not thank him. And she rode through the castle gates, and the wood, and over the river. She rode and rode and never looked back. She reached the door of her father's house, and found him by his maps planning to rescue her, and she held him in her arms while he wept and wept for relief and joy.

Every so often, years later, sat in her own library (modest, perhaps, but hers) on cold, dark nights, she would find herself thinking of the magnificent library so full of light, and the huge fireplaces so full of warmth, and the great halls so full of splendor. And she would gaze out of the window to the distant mountains.
And then she would remember her father's ice cold hands, and the heavy door with iron bars, and the beautiful room that was her prison.
And she never went back.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Silly Blog Challenge: rescue me

@IHstreet challenged me, among others, to name five characters I'd most want to come to my rescue in a bad situation form TV or movies. I don't watch too much of either so my list has a bias:
1) Lin Bei Fong. I mean seriously, who else?

2) Lana Kane. As long as she can get away from the other idiots at the agency

3) Louise Belcher. Mostly because I never want her not to be on my side.

4) Valeria from Conan the Barbarian (the original movie with Arnold).

5) Bond, James Bond. Daniel Craig's James Bond. But only if I'm Bond girl number 2 the one that lives
Thanks for watching!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The language of science

This is a post I've been elaborating in my head for a long time. The recent retraction of a PLoS ONE paper with unusual language that may have been a translation error, and the associated debate, has prompted me to get it written down. It does not directly address the so called  #creatorgate, but it may help think about issues of language and power in science. If science is truly to be an international collaborative enterprise, then we need to become more conscious of what conducting that business in a language that is not the native one of many scientists means.

Languages matter to me. Like my siblings, I was raised fully bilingual. I can read and write fluently in both English and French, and at one point was an in-house translator for the channel-spanning company I worked at. Yet, when it comes to science, I am functionally monolingual: I cannot write about the work I do in French with any confidence that the words I use are correct, and that my explanations are meaningful.
Oddly, it was not always that way. My entire schooling up through highschool was in French, so I went to University knowing all my scientific words and concepts in French, not English. I had to cobble together an English science lexicon quickly, and for the longest time, there were certain things (integration and differentiation in particular) that I would do in French in my head. Yet, after 15 years of doing science exclusively in English, the French has been displaced. At this point, the only thing I do in French is long division, which is a skill I maintain much as one might practice fencing with a rapier. And here is the point: there is no incentive, professionally, for me to learn to do science in French. I already do science in the de facto lingua franca.
When I joined my PhD program, my advisor lamented that previous students had successfully campaigned for the  abolition of the language requirement. At the time I was saddened, because I am always sad when people pass up the opportunity to learn a second language (and because I had just missed out on an easy credit). Now I am irritated. Irritated at the myopa of native English speakers decreeing that language requirements are unnecessary for PhD programs that demand English as Second Language certifications for all non native-English speaking applicants.
Because, when we get down to brass tacks, science today does have a language requirement: speak English. I want you to let that sink in for a moment. If you want to work where the jobs and money are, if you want your work to be cited, you have to speak English. So hegemonic is English's position as the language of science that, in many Universities with global ambitions, one can be hired as a professor there without speaking the local language, as long as one speaks English. Before you tell me that this is a sign of the internationalism of science, let me point out that the converse is not true. Anything but.
Let us take a minute to think what it means that a language that is spoken natively by 6% percent of the population is a sine qua non of doing science. If you've ever tried to master a foreign language to the point of being able to travel in that country, you know it's hard. Imagine doing it to the point of being globally competitive in your field. And let's add that we offer no help: no science societies, or universities, or journals, pay for translation services, or language classes. And, in fact, we scoff and are suspicious of letters by applicants from those countries as not having been written by the applicant (as if English-speaking applicants did not get their application documents heavily edited). We grimace when people have trouble clearly expressing themselves in English, without acknowledging that this is a challenge we will never have to face with anything like the same consequences (jobs, publications) for butchering a talk we might choose to give in Japanese or Mandarin or Hindi or Urdu (which we would only ever do as an outreach exercise anyway). Now, I want you to realise that every single foreign postdoc or grad student or faculty member in your department has put in the work to be good enough in English that she can just about communicate science with you. If you tried to order lunch for her in her native language, how far would you get?
Yet, beyond the obvious dreaded-P-word that is attached to being a native English speaker, and the obvious selection bias for people with ressources that it places on scientists from non English speaking countries, there is a more insidious effect, which I alluded to in the beginning. When certain fields are conducted only in one language, other languages loose out. For example, my mother speaks Alsatian (the Germanic dialect of her region of France). As a dialect, Alsatian is a language that important humanistic scholars (and Goethe's mentors) would have used. But, as French and Hochdeutsch became the languages of French and German nationalism, Alsatian, along with other dialects, was squeezed out of law, administration, science. Recent censuses put current Alsatian usage at about 60 to 70% of the population of Alsace, huge for a regional language in a country whose relationship to regional languages is ambivalent at best. And yet, my mother, who learnt her Alsatian from a woman born in 1870, knows words no one now knows. As the sphere of topics discussed in Alsatian has shrunk over the centuries, all the language associated with abstract or technical constructs has been lost. Yes, many people still speak Alsatian, but only when discussing the most mundane of topics.
As a Franco-British person growing up in England, France's often ham fisted attempts to promote French neologisms against English borrowing were often lampooned. And certainly there is a contemptible side to a former imperial power lashing out against another imperial power that has awkwardly gained ascendancy. Yet there is something equally contemptible in the tendency of Native English speakers to view the hegemony of English as a "natural" process. If we stop to consider the historical forces that have lead to this state of affairs, is this something to which science truly wishes to unequivocally yoke itself?
Because there are other models. At least two international organisations, the UN general assembly and the EU parliament advocate multilingual systems with active translations, because they recognise that equal participation cannot require someone learning a whole new language. And yes, both the UN and the EU translation administrations are hugely expensive. But if, as a publishing company, you're making billion of dollars in profits while maintaining a 40% profit margin, maybe translation services could be part of the added value you offer? And, if you're fighting for the creation of publicly funded open access repositories, and repeatedly tell me (because I've asked this question) that you have the long term digital archiving question all handled, then maybe you can also find money to broaden participation by supporting translation services?
Because, if not, and you're a native English speaking academic talking about how you're broadening access while requiring an ESL certificate from overseas grad students in your department? Then don't conflate the dregs of 200 years of imperialism and naked political power play with internationalism.