Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The king is dead, long live the king! (paca)

I received an email today from the llama, who has decided that he may cease posting to the Goat skin Pants blog. He might do some work on his original blog still from time to time, Left of Reality, and I hope that he does. I still like reading his posts.

So, due to this, I am going to move back to my original blog, pacatrue. I hope this does not cause too much trouble to all of you with your links and bookmarks. This post will stay here, so you can use it to link that way. This blog made it almost two years, which is mighty impressive in blog lifespans. I could keep posting here, but I do think of this as llama and paca's blog, and so I will preserve it as such.

To coax you over to pacatrue.blogspot.com, I even finally updated my template there, as well as my links, and each of you has a bizarre little nickname. To see it, you will just have to click that way.

Again, here's the new link.

Pacatrue.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

PhD Comics (paca)

This comic strip, PhD Comics, is pretty much the Dilbert of academia, at least for anyone who's been on the grad school side of things in the last five years. Posting some strip on your door is required of all teaching assistants. I like this one quite a bit.

And this one
And this one
And this one
And this one

And this one beats them all

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Four Corners Chocolate Cake (paca)

B declared over and over on Wednesday and Thursday that he wanted to bake a cake. And so, on Thursday night, we did.

I am certainly no cake expert, having created maybe four in my entire life. Moreover, the last one I tried was dry and lame. However, this project wasn't about making good food; it was about having an activity for B and I to do, and so we pulled out one of his two recipe books. This one was Kitchen for Kids by Jennifer Low. I found the first chocolate cake recipe in the book, but I had a dim memory that this may have been the recipe used for our last really bad cake. Therefore, we flipped and found Four Corners Cake, and when we were all done (which took about 10 minutes longer than B was able to keep his attention on the project), it was remarkably good. I mean, it was actually a pretty decent cake, which shocked me.

The only modification we made was that the recipe calls for a tsp of white vinegar. We didn't have it, and so subbed in red wine vinegar. I have no idea if this made any difference. By completely random chance, I heard a little bit about vinegar in cakes on NPR's All Things Considered a couple days earlier, and supposedly the vinegar acts with the baking soda as a leavening agent. The cake was indeed pretty poofy. We also made an icing from scratch, but either I really messed up on the recipe or the recipe was deeply flawed. I was actually attempting to cream butter into a half cup of condensed milk. How can you cream butter into a liquid? Is it possible at all? We ended up with a cocoa soup that we tossed and went to buy a can of icing at the store. Here's the recipe that worked and worked pretty darn well for the cake.

1.25 c. flour
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1.5 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 c. white sugar
1 large egg
1/2 c. SOFTENED butter (How could anything with a cup of sugar and a half cup of butter turn out bad?)
1 c. milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white (or red wine) vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease an 8 x 8 in. baking pan and line with parchment paper (we used wax paper).

Dump the dry ingredients in a bowl and sift/mix.

In a second bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Use a whisk to stir in the egg, milk, and vanilla (but not vinegar yet). "Don't worry if it is a little lumpy."

Still stirring with a whisk, add the dry ingredients a little bit at a time to the wet stuff. When batter is smooth, stir in the vinegar.

Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake about 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. (We ended up cooking longer, but, to keep a long story short, our oven cooks at a setting +/- 50 degrees.)

To unmold the cake, run a dinner knife along the edges, and then carefully lift it out using the parchment paper. Let it cool completely, and then ice the cake if desired.

In case you are wondering how a four year old helps with this, he does things like hold the measuring cup over the bowl while I measure out a cup of flower. He also can stir, and we crack the eggs together. Yeah, it's prone for errors, but if he's not sometimes messing up dinner, he's off by himself, where he might, oh, just taking something completely off the top of my head that most certainly did not occur earlier today, like, stick a chopstick into a fan, setting off this hideous cracking and grinding sound, destroying both the fan and the chopstick. Something like that. That's your choice. Inexact baking or chopstick in the fan. I'm just saying.

Lambchop Lyric 1 (paca)

I'm starting a continuous series, which is to give little snippets of great lines from songs by the band Lambchop. They are often still designated alt-country, and they once probably were, some 10-15 years ago. Now they are just their own thing, combining country, soul, strings, and a whole lot of eclectic. In my mind, their songs rarely hang together as whole songs, where it's just great from start to finish, but they very frequently have great moments. So I'm going to share those moments with you, sans music.

Song: The Old Gold Shoe
Album: Nixon

The kids
out on the streets
take their toys and break them
then look at them and walk away.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Of Saints and War (paca)

First, I want to say that "Of Saints and War" is my best title ever, and I am now going to drop any writing projects I have ongoing just so that I can write something which I can title "Of Saints and War."

On to the post....

J, on her blog, quoted from the novel Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, which is a fictional account of the battle of Thermopylae, made famous most recently by the movie 300. (Can a battle that has been known for 2,500 years be 'made famous' still?). The quote:

"War, not peace, produces virtue. War, not peace, purges vice. War, and preparation for war, call forth all that is noble and honorable in a man. It unites him with his brothers and binds them in selfless love, eradicating in the crucible of necessity all which is base and ignoble. There in the holy mill of murder the meanest of men may seek and find that part of himself, concealed beneath the corrupt, which shines forth brilliant and virtuous, worthy of honor before the gods.

Do not despise war, my young friend, nor delude yourself that mercy and compassion are virtues superior to andreia, to manly valor."

I was not initially reading this as a novel of Sparta, but as a real point about humanity and morality, and it is from this angle I am writing today. It's fascinating because in some way, it's absolutely right. In war, many men and women find their greatest virtues shining forth, virtues that had been disguised by whatever other foibles they had, virtues uncalled for in peaceful times. It is precisely in times of war that they become their own selves at their best, an example of what a human can be.

If this is true, though, what do we make of it? Should we actually desire war as a crucible to polish up the rough diamonds of our soul? Is war particularly important to this? Is it special?

The trouble is that we often only truly distinguish ourselves when disaster, of many types, is at our doorstep. However, just because we are often able to rise to the occasion, it doesn't mean that the disaster is "good". When a person or someone they care for gets cancer, many virtues can come forth. They discover depths of self-sacrifice in caring for another that they never knew they possessed. Their perspective on what is most important to them becomes clearer. But, this in no way means that we should wish for cancer. There was a guest columnist at a Philadephia paper who got brief notoriety a few days ago for essentially hoping for another 9/11 to bring the country together. This is, of course, muddle-headed at best.

And yet my refutation is not the whole picture either. We clearly do need things to fight for, obstacles to overcome, mountains to climb, gauntlets to run. If peace is just stasis, a pretty little nothingness, then it is a spiritual killer as much as anything else. But who says this is what peace must be? Can not launching a starship to Mars be something to fight for? Exploring the trenches of the deep ocean?

To give a novel-writing perspective on things, if peace is just a setting, but there are no obstacles to overcome, then there is no story. From a computer science perspective, there are two situations in which nothing can be learned. When things are completely random and when things are completely repetitive. If peace is mere repetition, there is no way to grow. Or from a religious perspective, this world is described as one of soul-making. We are born as biological humans and our goal is to grow into spiritual, divine humans. But surely there are other ways to grow than choosing war. As much as one man grows spiritually for fighting selflessly for the life and freedom of his family, another man never has the chance as he is lying dead in his house due to a stray bullet.

Saints.

One of the most profitable discussions in moral philosophy in the last 15 years is the discussion of saints**. Saints can be religious figures, of course, but the terms has expanded to be shorthand for "moral saints", exemplars of virtue, who may or may not have religious beliefs. What's most fascinating about the study of saints is their diversity. Even if you narrow saints down to canonized Catholic saints, the virtues they exhibit are horribly varied. One saint is an intellectual scholar (Aquinas), another conquered his base self (Augustine), another is a social recluse finding closeness with God directly (Theresa), another exhibits profound compassion for others (Francis), another dies for defending his beliefs (More). In fact, there seems to be little that they truly have in common. This variability is common across cultures and traditions. Jewish wise men (tzazikim, I believe, but I don't have the book with me), Confucian scholar-sages, Boddhisatvas, and other exemplars, such as MLK Jr, Ghandi, and Schindler, are all very different types of people. Even in everyday life, seemingly opposing traits can both genuinely be lauded, such as one person being a joy for her gregariousness and friendliness, and another person being a blessing for her calm and quiet manner.

What do we do with all this? If we are to emulate the saints, how can we ever do so if they are all so different? What does this mean for our own personal goal of living up to our own potential?

One intriguing fact about moral saints is that there seems to be a bit of luck in becoming one. Let's take Oscar Schindler, who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. He was in fact a deeply flawed human being who only had a factory because it was taken from the original Jewish owners and he happily went over to run it. He liked drink and womanizing. And, moreover, one of the only reasons he was later able to save so many people was because he was able for some time to hang out pleasantly with Nazi commanders and SS captains. If the Holocaust had not occurred, it is very possible he would have passed away into the world having never encountered a situation that required him to become more than he was. He was "lucky" in that what was needed at that point in history were the virtues that he happened to have. If his greatest strength had been as a bold and strident fighter for what he believed, he likely would have been killed and saved few.

Returning to war, when one man is bravely desperately storming the beaches of Normandy with bullets flying, one of his comrades fails and collapses into the water, unable to function. Perhaps he will by luck survive, perhaps he will die, but he did not have the virtues that this battle called for. However, maybe he would have saved a hundred men by dressing their wounds. Or he might have turned a battle by sitting in a room in London calculating statistics and breaking a code. But he never had those chances, where he could have been a successful hero. Instead he was in a place where he could not cope and was washed away in the reddening surf.

**This discussion of saints and Schindler is based entirely on a single book, but I do not have it with me. I will dig up the title and author for you when I am in my office again.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Babies (paca)

No, not that! I mean, no news like that.

I mentioned below that B was into babies right now, which he is. He likes to talk about how he used to be a little baby in mommy's tummy and then... poof! the baby comes out!

We've spelled out that babies grow in mommies' tummies, but so far we've left out details of how they get in there in the first place and how precisely they get out. I think N did once tell some story about a mommy and daddy loving each other for the first part. I changed the subject. For the second part, it's magic! Hey, B still says that the difference between a girl and a boy is that girls have no bangs, while boys do. Moreover, he's wanted to grow into a tall woman and explained how mommies become daddies and... well, I'm not going to worry about accuracy at this point. I do hedge my words somewhat, for instance, explaining that a few daddies become mommies but the large majority do not. (A mommie and a daddy are just adults.) However, I have wanted to pop out the line a few times: "Where are you going to keep the fetus? In a box?"

As far as I can tell, children at this age just say whatever enters their consciousness, no matter what. This has likely always been the case, but now he can actually say a lot of things and so it's more intriguing.

He will speak to every single person walking by him about whatever is going on right now. In the parking garage at a medical clinic today, he told the person walking by "I'm going to see the doctor." (He was having his TB test for school checked. It's required for all.)

"My shirt has a lion on it."
"Doo-doo! That's gross!"
"Spiderman shoots webs."
"That house is pink."
"Hiro has two mommies. I have a mommy and a daddy."
"Milk is cold."
"I use the little knife. The big knife is for mommies and daddies."

And on and on, not just to us or his teachers, but to any person in the world near him.

The reason this is coming up is that, as I said, he is into babies. Apparently, he has two girl babies inside his tummy right now. And virtually every person walking by does as well. You know where this is going. Every single overweight person in Honolulu has been told by a four year old in the last few days that they have a baby in their tummy.

On the way home buying milk today, a rather large man was coming towards us.

"He has a baby," B starts before the man is very close.

"No, he doesn't and do NOT tell him he has a baby."

The man approaches on the sidewalk and B points directly at his overhanging stomach and says, "you have a baby! me too!"

The man gives a "heh, heh, that's real funny, kid" smile as he passes.

By the way, I'm having triplets.

In other family news (paca)

That's the problem with this blogger format. I'm writing this entry in reference to the one below it, which I wrote first. Of course, you, as the readers, will read the last one first. I could reorder all of them by changing the times, but you will all catch on.

Anyway, today N headed off to San Fran for the next three days. She has a mini-conference there and will be back on Saturday night. So it's just me and B until then. Friday is a state holiday, Statehood Day in fact, so we will have a lot of one on one time together. B and I do pretty well together when there's an activity, even if the activity is just walking around the block. It's when we are stuck in the apartment together that we go at it.

Tonight nothing special happened. I'd like to say that we went all bachelor pad the way that dads are supposed to do when alone with children. You know, we should be eating cold pizza for breakfast and tossing back brewskis -- non-alcoholic ones for B, of course. What kind of father do you think I am?

So far, though, things have been pretty normal. We cooked up a little steak (which somehow came out really well) and a mushroom/scallion/onion/zucchini thing together. This could have happened on any N-present day as well. The main way to tell that she was not here was that I immediately tossed some kochu jang (chili bean paste) into the vegies, which I wouldn't have done with N around as she's not all that into spicy.

We even ate around the table instead of in front of the TV.

However we did go all Guy after that, because B wanted to watch Darth Vader, which means the Empire Strikes Back. I offered, no truly I did, to watch The Nativity Story instead, which I rented a couple days ago. B has really gotten into babies lately, and we've read a bit about baby Jesus in his Beginner's Bible**, but for some reason he wanted to watch light sabers instead.

So we did. I don't know what he gets up to at school, because he also informed me today that Yoda has a green light saber and lives in a mud house. Now, the mud house, he can get from Empire, but as for the green light saber, he's never seen Attack of the Clones. What do they do at that school precisely?

**Hah! You all thought that when I said I was agnostic that I was really a qualified atheist who couldn't admit it to himself. So... take that! Beginner's Bible and renting the Nativity Story.

You know your father is a linguist when...(paca)

A lot of dads get excited when their children, I don't know, hit their first baseball or something. Apparently, I'm an unabashed linguist weirdo, however, because of how happy I was tonight. B and I were cooking together as we usually do for a few weeks now, and I pulled down the sesame oil to add to some vegies. We discussed that it was sesame oil and then when I was putting it back up, B said, "That oil's Japanese." (Remember B is 4 and a half.)

I looked at the tin with oil and it's covered in kanji. I immediately gave him a big kiss on the top of his head.

I had never discussed Japanese writing with him, but he had picked it up enough that he could recognize the characters, almost certainly at school.

Now truth be told, he wasn't exactly right. The sesame oil was from Taiwan, so it was Chinese characters. Of course, they are the same things, basically, (because both Taiwan and Japan use traditional characters, as opposed to PRC which has 'simplified' ones), and the main way to tell Japanese writing from Taiwanese writing (without being able to read either) would be noticing some hiragana or katakana scattered throughout the characters for Japanese. (The giveaway is often the grammatical particle 'no' in Japanese, which is very simple and almost always there around a noun. You don't need to be able to read a single word and can identify the writing's language just by looking for 'no'. By the way 'no' is the pronunciation; it doesn't mean no. It's a bit of grammar used to connect other words to nouns and doesn't mean much of anything. Confused, yet?) Still, he's four, so I give him a pass on only being able to identify characters on sight and not yet knowing his hiragana.

"How'd you know that?" I asked.

Of course, he rarely answers a direct question, and so he just told me another fact about Japanese that came up in his mind. "Lion dancing is Japanese."**

Alright, that's actually Chinese, too, at least the way he's learned it, but that's not bad.

I am still amused at how excited I was when he was able to recognize a different writing system and name it (almost). I think we'll start drilling IPA next week. Right after he masters hangul for Korean, anyway.

**Most of my readers might be a bit surprised that a four year old is talking about lion dancing at all. They made a pretty big deal of the Chinese New Year at school this year, and they had a book about a boy going to lion dancing school. We've also watched them in parades a few times. B likes lion dancing only at a distance, however. It's still a bit scary, even though he and I repeat over and over. "It's not a real lion. It's just people inside." Last night, we actually had a sheet on our heads and were doing our own lion dancing around the apartment, as we went "boing boing boing" in imitation of Chinese gongs. It just kinda happened. He likes to put himself and a parent under a sheet, and we had to do something. Why not lion dance?

Here's some Chinese lion dancing if you've never seen it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

1985 - Summer of Hurricanes (paca)

First, the quick update on Flossie is that it is passing south of the Big Isle today and should pass south of Oahu tomorrow sometime. Afternoon or evening, I think. The prediction is that it will be far enough away to not be a huge concern. They are forecasting sustained winds of 25-30 mph with a few inches of rain here. Hopefully, this will be the correct forecast. Apparently 15 years ago a hurricane was supposed to pass south of us and then at the last moment turned straight north and zapped Kaua'i and O'ahu**. But they all swear that isn't going to happen this time.

I should have known better than to travel to an island to live, because yours truly is in fact a hurricane magnet. They will literally follow me around the world. Picture if you will....

***Imagine me waving my arms here, going "doo boo doo, doo boo doo" to take you back in time***

It's 1985 and DuranDuran's The Reflex is playing in the background. A young lad of 11 is playing outside under the clothelines, white sheets blowing in a stiff breeze. The boy with crew cut hair spins round and round on a tire swing holding a paper airplane making it fly. "Zoom! G.I. Joe to the rescue! He swoops down and trains his guns on the evil Decepticons! But, oh no! Megatron hits G.I. Joe's plane which crashes to the ground! What will he do? Da dum da dumm!! It's the Thundercats to the rescue! Thundercats! Ho!"

But suddenly the boy notices large gray clouds out of the corner of his eye, passing slowly over the soybean fields, advancing towards the house! What could it be?

The boy dashes into the house, the white screen door slapping the doorframe hard behind him.

"Mama! Mama!"

"What is it, my little sweetpea?!"

"Mama, a hurricane's a'comin'."

(Notes: I have never in fact had a crew cut, a tire swing, or a clothesline at any house I lived in. I'm just pretending to do 80s nostalgia meets a Michael Bay movie.)

Mama grabs up her skirts and dashes to the window.


OK, I can't keep it up. The brief version is that in one summer I was hit with four hurricanes in four different states. First up, one comes through Louisiana where I grew up. Later, we go visit the grandparents in Houston and another hits it directly. Tired of all this Gulf Coast crap, I (and the llama) go to the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Virginia. What happens there? Another hurricane. We were all moved from our tents to stay in the trailers of big rigs. Finally, I come up with a full-proof plan. I know! I'll leave the South and go to boarding school in New Jersey! How many hurricanes come up to New Jersey?! Apparently, at least one does, because Gloria heads right at me.

About halfway through this last paragraph, I realized I've told this story before. Oh well. It'll only get worse as I get older, so you all might as well get used to it.

"Smoochie, I'll eat anything!"***

**What the heck are all these apostrophes that paca keeps inserting into Hawaiian words, like Hawai'i and O'ahu?
That is an okina according to the Hawaiian term for the letter and is one of the consonants of the language. It's a glottal stop phonetically, which means that you constrict your vocal cords (the glottis) temporarily, preventing them from vibrating and from any sound coming out. They are a really common consonant in the languages of the world, just not so much in English, French, Spanish, etc. English actually has them, but they aren't consciously heard. The most common way to say the word "cotton" naturally and quickly, not carefully and slowly, replaces the [t] sound in the middle with a brief glottal stop. Also, if you are trying to say words that begin with vowels in a hyperarticulate manner, an English speaker will often add a glottal stop at the beginning to make the vowel burst out and be very separate from whatever is before it. And, yes, I am supposed to be the teaching assistant for Articulatory Phonetics here starting just next week.

*** I'll explain "Smoochie, I'll eat anything!" at a later time, mostly when I get bored doing real work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hurricane Flossie (paca)

I don't know if it is on national news or not, but Hurricane Flossie is headed this way. It's a category three hurricane right now, but it is expected to weaken as it moves northwest towards us. They were saying it would be a tropical storm by the time it got here, but it could be category one still.

It's rather unusual in that it really isn't clear what we are supposed to do about this. Are we supposed to go to the evacuation centers or not? Am I in a safe place in Waikiki or not? Just not obvious. We have picked up some water and food that doesn't need cooking in case electricity goes out. The hurricane's supposed to track about 70 miles to our south, though I don't think of 70 miles from the eye as terribly far away.

Anyway, there's more time before action. It should approach the Big Isle tomorrow (Tuesday), and all the schools are closed there. Then it would approach Oahu late Wednesday, early Thursday. I suppose they will wait to see what happens to the Big Isle and then decide what to do with us. N is supposed to fly over to San Francisco for work on Wednesday afternoon. Can one fly away when a hurricane is approaching or not?

The odds are high that we are simply going to have a windy rain storm for a few hours. But they are predicting 20 foot waves on south east shores on Hawai'i. It's hard to know what to do with that info. 20 foot storm surge sounds bad. But the North Shore gets 40 foot waves every winter in big wave season. We aren't below sea level. Who knows... We'll wait and see.

I think people are afraid to get too worked up because the storm's name is Flossie. It's hard to admit to being scared by a Flossie. It's like being beaten up by a Wilbur. You just don't admit to it.

Here's a place to track satellite images of the storm as well as wind speed probabilities.