Archives For Politics

Government & Baboons

July 30, 2013 — 11 Comments

I recently read an interesting article about battling terrorism from an international base in Djibouti. Many African nations have joined those from Europe and North America in trying to protect vulnerable villages from the ravages of violent extremism.

However, as readers of Mere Inkling know, we don’t deal with political matters here. Everyday life, yes. Writing and self-expression, of course. Faith, definitely. Imagination, most certainly. Current events are also on the table for consideration, insofar as they relate to the aforementioned subjects.

Politics though, as a subject in and of itself, is not on the Mere Inkling menu.

With that in mind, I want to share a passage from the Air Force magazine article. In a description of “a recent personnel recovery mission in Ethiopia,” it says,

The HC-130s landed at night on a pitch-black airstrip, but first had to make a “clearing pass” to scare a congress of baboons and a pod of hippopotamuses off the runway.

Quite a picture. However, the image itself only made part of the impression left on me by this sentence. More lasting was the reminder of what a group of baboons is called.

C.S. Lewis wrote a fascinating essay about government entitled “Democratic Education.” One of many of its many kernels of wisdom is this: “Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously; it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves.”

Returning to the subject of animals, the second chapter of Genesis tells us,

Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed[f] every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.

So, Adam named the animals, and I imagine that after her creation, Eve helped her husband refine some of those appellations. What I don’t know is this—exactly who decided how we label groups of the same species?

I would point out how apropos baboons being referred to as a “congress” is . . . except for two considerations. (1) The connection would be lost on many readers whose governments have parliaments, and (2) It turns out this is actually an error. The actual word for baboon bands is a “troop.” So much for their unfortunate association with an organization that has lost the confidence of nine out of ten Americans.

Here are a few of the familiar and unfamiliar collective nouns for a variety of animals, with some brief comments and questions.

Lions | Pride – Aptly named!

Prairie Dogs | Coterie – I never considered prairie dogs snobbish.

Kittens | Intrigue – I should have learned that from simple observation.

Finches | Charm – They really do, don’t they?

Wombats | Wisdom – Wisdom to Aussies, a mystery to me.

Pekingese | Pomp – Well, perhaps just slightly elitist.

Cobras | Quiver – Logical, given the prospect of meeting a group of vipers.

Peacocks | Ostentation – Much nicer than the “pride” option.

Barracudas | Battery – Same as electric eels, I suppose.

Crows | Murder – A term familiar to most literary folk.

Bullfinches | Bellowing – Huh? Sounds more hippopotamusish.

Cows | Kine – Have to thank the medieval English for this one.

Seabirds | Wreck – Beware when they fly overhead.

Bacteria | Culture – And what kind of civilization have they ever built?

Deer | Gang – Must be the teenagers, before they become a herd.

Cockroaches | Intrusion – Accurate, repulsive and ominous.

Guillemots | Bazaar – What’s a guillemot, and what is it selling?

Cormorants | Gulp – Didn’t their momma’s teach them to chew?

Cheetahs | Coalition – Wouldn’t “a ‘sprint’ of cheetahs” sound better?

Woodpeckers | Descent – Am I missing something here?

Clams | Bed – Not much else to do in the clam-world.

Turtledoves | Pitying – Meaning they take pity on us, not vice versa.

Bobolinks | Chain – Cute, but lost on Americans where they’re known as reedbirds or ricebirds.

Snails | Walk – Someone’s lacking a bit in creativity here.

Ravens | Unkindness – Speaking of unkind, who labeled them this?

Flamingoes | Stand – Come on now, isn’t that a bit obvious?

Giraffe | Tower – I guess the flamingoes aren’t the only ones.

Lice | Flock – That is way too nice a word for those vermin!

Alligators | Congregation – As a pastor, I simply don’t want to go there.

This is way too much fun, but I’d better stop now so I can revisit this theme in a year or so. Until then, if you learn who gave that unkind name to groups of ravens, let me know.

The Power of Names

June 10, 2013 — 18 Comments

babyC.S. Lewis was a man who recognized the power of a name. In fact, that awareness made the opening line of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader one of the most memorable in all of Christian literature: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Names are used, of course, for identification. Throughout history, different countries have had different naming conventions. A rather common one featured the giving of a personal name to a child, with the patronym added to distinguish between individuals of the same name.

This led to distinctions such as James ben Zebedee of the Christian gospels or Leifr Eiríksson the first millennium explorer of North America. Hearkening back to my own Scandinavian roots, I favor the innovative example Ole Olson, or more commonly Ole Olsen. (The only problem with this name was that it failed to distinguish one Ole from the thousands of other Ole Olsons who dotted the steep coastlines of the Viking fjords.)

God too reveals the importance of names. In the Gospel according to Matthew we read:

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:20-21).

In one of the most powerful prophecies ever recorded, we hear various titles—in essence, names—of the Messiah Jesus.

For to us a child is born,

   to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

    and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

                                                             (Isaiah 9:6).

The reason that names are on my mind is because recent research has revealed that in America (well, California precisely, and assuming that data can be applied to the entire country) . . . the choice of baby names can even evidence the political leanings of the parents. Now, we’re not talking about parents who name their children directly in honor of a particular politician; it’s much more subtle than that.

Here are a couple of interesting facts gleaned from the study.

The results revealed that overall, the less educated the parent, the more likely they were to give their child either an uncommon name (meaning fewer than 20 children got the same name that year in California), or a unique name (meaning only one child got that name in 2004 in California). When parents had less than a college education, there were no major ideological differences in naming choice.

However, among college-educated whites, politics made a difference. College-educated moms and dads in the most liberal neighborhoods were twice as likely as college-educated parents in the most conservative neighborhoods to give their kids an uncommon name. Educated conservatives were more likely to favor popular names, which were defined as names in the top 100 in California that year.

The sounds of liberal and conservative names varied, too. For both boys and girls, liberals tended to pick more feminine-sounding choices, such as Liam, Ely and Leila names that include lots of L sounds and soft-A endings, including popular choices Ella and Sophia. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to pick names with more masculine-sounding Ks, Bs, Ds and Ts, such as Kurt.

Beware of the temptation of attempting to jump aboard a naming fad. “Unique baby names can sometimes grate, however. In 2011 . . . an informal survey of hated baby names found that Nevaeh, or ‘heaven’ spelled backward, was the most commonly cited as a hated name. The name was invented in the 1990s and became the 31st most popular in the United States in 2007.”

My wife and I are surely in a minority. We chose the names for all three of our children based upon their meanings . . . a practice quite common in the Scriptures.

C.S. Lewis knew well the power of a name.

Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now.

At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in his inside. . . . Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realise that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer. (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

It comes as no surprise to any Narnian sojourner that the very name of Aslan should so move his followers. After all, we too understand Who the great Lion is. For, as he once said to Lucy and Edmund, when asked if he was here in our world as well,

“Are—are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” (Voyage of the Dawn Treader).