Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Justice System at Work (paca)

There are so many things wrong with this trial in so many ways. I have no idea where to begin.


Monday, January 30, 2006

Our wonderful media (Llama)

A couple of items to complain about this morning...

After returning from Bangladesh Friday evening, I slid into my apartment, plopped my bags on the chair, slouched into a chair and turned on the tube. I had just spent more than an hour stuck in traffic (even though I had paid the extra 60 baht for the "expressway") and just wanted to calm my agitated mind down. So I flip over to VH1, and they are just beginning the "Big in '05" awards.

I've never heard of this, so I keep it on. The first award was for the big "it" girl. I don't know much of anything about Clara Bow, but wasn't she the original "it" girl? I'm pretty sure no one actually gave her a trophy for it... anyway, the nominees were Lindsy Lohan, Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, and one or two others. Now this is where I start having issues. As they were going through the accomplishments of these women and why they were deserving of the title of "it" girl, both Lohan and Ritchie were praised for having lost weight. Neither of these women were remotely fat to begin with, but they showed before and after shots and, sure enough, both now seem to be emulating Paris as having the perfect body type. I always thought Lindsy Lohan was quite attractive as she was... now she looked anorexic... and this was being celebrated! Lindsy even won! Imagine, an award given out that actually legitimizes being fashionably unhealthy. To her credit, Lohan seemed to realize the absurdity of the award. She made some cynical comment about not being to lift the award because of all that weight she lost, and then thanked her fans, who really are the only ones that you can legitimately thank when you win what is really nothing more than a popularity contest.

The second award was for the big hookup. The winner was Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. After their victory was announced, one of the VH1 commentators, referencing Cruise's Oprah appearance where he jumped on the couch, stated that once Katie gives birth and has stretch marks on her belly and thighs that Tom won't have as much to jump around about. I found this to be about the most shallow comment I have ever heard in my life, and promptly turned the TV off. Ugh.

OK, so then this morning, as I'm getting ready for work, I turn on CNN. Wolf Blitzer is interviewing Benazir Bhuto about these Interpol notices. He asks her if she is afraid she'll be arrested because of the Interpol warrants. She corrects him and says that they are not warrants, they are notices that she is wanted in Pakistan but do not mandate that she is to be arrested internationally. Blitzer proceeds to ask the very next question by beginning "But these arrest warrents, or whatever you want to call them..." OK, Blitzer is a journalist. It's his job to report facts. There is no Interpol arrest warrrent for Bhuto. They are notices. I'm sure his staff is aware of this, I'm sure they informed him of this, and it's indisputable that he was just corrected on the air. So why is he still referring to the notices as warrants? Of course there are several plausible explanations, but none of them would be to fulfill his role as a journalist.

A little bit later he set up a trap for Bhuto. He asked her, if she were still President of Pakistan, what would she do differently to combat terrorism than Musharef has? She then responded by talking about going after the local tribal lords that rule parts of Pakistan, citing her record of doing just that in the 90s. Blitzer's follow up question was then, "So are you saying then that Musharef has not done everything he could to help combat terrorism?" In other words, Blitzer her to criticize Musharef's policies, Bhuto answered it directly, and then Blitzer accused her of criticizing of Musharef's policies.

I'm honestly coming to the opinion that TV news is utterly and completely useless. For reporting that is still driven by news, and not ratings, print seems to be the best (if imperfect) choice.

10 things to do (paca)

This sounds like a meme, but I'm actually making it up myself.

Somethings I would do if I had more time:

1) Spend more time with just N. We have a lot of N, B, and me time, but that's different than just N and me.
2) Actually play those musical instruments that I keep carrying around from state to state.
3) Do some more writing for fun.
4) I am sooo not taking advantage of Hawaii. I want to be a good swimmer instead of a bad one. And then after that maybe a little surfing. I'd also love to be part of an outrigger canoe team.
5) Learn Tahitian / Hawaiian drumming.
6) Take a small job somewhere with fun people to earn a little extra cash.
7) Make friends and go out with them. My life is family time and work time. Even though those are the two most important things to me, it would be nice to hang out with friends some. I think N feels the same.
8) Do something spiritual. Probably experiential. I read enough. Time to do.
9) Lay about the house doing nothing and not feeling guilty. Maybe play a computer game. I haven't played a game on the computer in a couple years. Have I, N?
10) Lay on a bed with headphones on, listening to something great.

Some things I will actually do in the next couple of days.

1) Finish reading "Probabilistic Phonotactics and Neighborhood Activation in Spoken Word Recognition".
2) Read Chapter 2 of Rene Kager's Optimality Theory.
3) Send emails with questions on both readings to the appropriate class lists.
4) Send emails to all authors of the Vol11, Number 3 issue of our journal saying whether or not their abstracts have been accepted.
5) Update the Status Report and send it to the Editors.
6) Send emails to all the reviewers who haven't bothered to reply to us yet.
7) I think I will be cooking Mandoo this evening, which are Korean dumplings. (Think Chinese Potstickers.)
8) Probably go on a walk with N and B through Waikiki. This could be an exercise walk or just a get out of the house walk.
9) Read through parts of Elizabeth Selkirk's Phonology and Syntax: The Relation between Sound and Structure.
10) Perhaps hack through some speech samples of the language Mortlockese that we are researching in Field Methods. Do some basic acoustic analysis of the geminate consonants and their impact on adjacent vowels.

People might be curious what a geminate consonant is. Geminates are consonants that are twice as long as non-geminates. English doesn't really have them, but lots and lots of languages do. So the Japanese word for Japan is "Nippon". The P in the middle is a geminate. To say it correctly, you go "nip....(hold it, hold it) pon". If you just say "nippon" with no holding, you've said something else. English does have these, kind of, but they are called false geminates. Imagine that you were trying to say "carpool" and "carp pool" to someone who isn't undertanding. To distinguish, people often hold the p extra long in the second. Now Mortlockese doesn't just have these consonants in the middle like easy old Japanese. They also have them at the beginning and end of words. So "po" and "ppo" are different words, as might be "ap" and "app". It's really hard to hear, and that is part of the point of the acoustic analysis.

What the heck is Mortlockese you ask? It is a language spoken in the Mortlocks, a group of atolls in Chuuk state in the Federated States of Micronesia. Where the heck are the Federated States of Micronesia? Well, Micronesia is one of the major areas in the Pacific. You have Polynesia, which includes Tahiti, Bora Bora, Hawaii, and, yes, New Zealand. The Maori people of New Zealand, the first migrants there, are Polynesian and their language is closely connected to Hawaiian and Tahitian. Then you have Melanesia, which is a large area sort of extending out east into the Pacific from Papua New Guinea. Where the heck is Papua New Guinea? OK, you've got Australia and..., oh, just get a map.

Finally, you have Micronesia, which is north and east of Melanesia. Saipan and Guam are in Micronesia. It also includes the nation, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marianas Islands, and the Gilbert Islands. It's a series of a couple thousand tiny islands, hence the name Micronesia, extending over a couple thousand miles. If you add all of them together, Hawaii is still bigger in land mass. The Bikini Atoll, where we did nuclear testing in the 50s, is in Micronesia. A major claim to fame of Chuuk state is that during WWII, the Japanese stationed most of their Pacific fleet in Chuuk. The U.S. successfully trapped the fleet there and sank it with air bombing. Over 50 battleships still sit at the bottom of Chuuk Lagoon today, some of which are so close to the surface that you can snorkel them.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Gender, sexuality, and conservative me (paca)

This is probably a dumb post for me because I have several people of different orientations who stop by here. I admire a couple of them quite a bit and hope I don't offend anyone. I am about to do a post on orientation that is competely off the top of my head and uninformed.

So, about a week or so I was in a parking lot picking up little B's new bed. Yes, the one discussed a couple posts down. On the radio they were discussing the Golden Globes in which Brokeback Mountain won, I believe, Best Picture Drama and Best Director. And Felicity Huffman won Best Actress for Transamerica. The showbiz reporters discussing this made a joke that if the trend continues, it would be the all gay Oscars. They didn't say this in a disparaging way. However, I began to wonder if being transexual really had anything to do with being gay. There's a good reason to confuse them and a bad one. The good reason is that groups which work for gay rights also often work for transexual causes. You have names like "LGBT Alliance" with the letters being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, and the like. So it's not completely silly to put the two things together. Now, the bad reason to conflate the two is the lingering erroneous perception that a gay man is taking on a female gender role or a lesbian a male gender role. But isn't that simply false? Plenty of gay men are more sterotypically masculine than old straight me and many are more feminine. Who you are attracted to has little to do it seems with gender roles. If you think being gay has to do with being feminine, and vice versa, then being a transvestite or transexual would seem related. But there is really very little connection. Being a transsexual seems to relate to changing one's own sexual or gender identification. But no matter which way you change, you can still be attracted to people of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both. Being gay or lesbian often has little to do with your own gender identity and is purely about what is attractive to you.

Now it is possible that currently many gay men display secondary feminine behaviors (and the opposite among women) in a slightly different proportion than straight men. Often stereotypes come from somewhere. But my guess is that this is largely a passing cultural thing, if it exists at all. I am reminded of Plato's dialogue, the Symposium. It is his meditation on love and is the story of a dinner party in which each participant gives a speech on the nature of love. They cover friendship, sexual love, love as a force in the Universe, and for lack of a better word divine love. The final is Socrates' presentation and is the highest form of love. One of the speakers is a man named Alcibiades. Alcibiades was a man's man. He was a kick-ass Greek warrior who never lost in battle. Historical figure. He fought with the Athenians and they won. He fought with the Spartans and they won. He was a muscle-bound hottie general who commanded fleets and was idolized and hated by thousands. In the Symposium, Alcibiades tells a story about once lying on a sofa with Socrates, basically getting all excited. He tries to put his moves on Socrates and get some action. Socrates, however, either falls asleep or wanders off. The point of the story, and it is supposed to amuse, is not that Socrates resisted the advances of a stud. It's that Socrates got more excited contemplating Beauty and Truth than Alcibiades' muscular torso. The point? Gender roles are cultural and come and go. It isn't clear that sexual orientation is bound to them in any fundamental way.

Last week on MLK Day, there was a parade through Waikiki which N, B, and I attended. I should say that there is almost always a parade in Waikiki. There were 20-odd parades in 2005. Most of them have a very specific form. It is one high school band after another. If it is a big parade, then you have band trips from the Mainland who march. (It's fascinating to see the dispersion of ethnic groups in America viewed through their high school bands, but that's another topic.) If it is a small parade, then you have local bands. If there is a Hawaiian theme, you will get some hula schools walking down who do a dance periodically and some women with sashes around there chest saying "Oahu" and "Kauai" wearing large dresses, lots of greenery, and riding horses. The MLK parade was completely different. Instead, there were about 2 bands and social / political group after social / political group. The UAW marched; the Republicans and Democrats marched; LGBT marched; the anti-war Not In Our Name group marched; Pacific Buddhist Academy marched; the Krishnas marched.

What was interesting to me most was my own very conservative reaction. I don't like politics and I don't like people telling me what to do or think. I felt like the whole parade had this veneer. It was strange that I had this emotional reaction even with groups I agree with most of the time. A couple days after the 2004 election, I called the Hawaiian Democratic Party up and asked to volunteer, having never volunteered to help a political group in my life. (They have yet to give me a ring, so I feel so empowered by that action. Really making a difference, I am.) But I still didn't like those annoying Democrats walking down the street holding up signs telling me their opinions. My reaction was very mild actually for the Democrats. Later we got Not in our Name, a super-anti-Bush anti-Iraq-War group that I think is national. About the only time I ever write about politics here I am writing anti-Bush anti-Iraq stuff, so I should be a natural ally, right? But instead my gut reaction was "that's not me; I'm not beating on drums and shouting and holding Bush is Hitler signs." (Actually, I do beat on drums; I own a set of congas and timbales, but they are for a different purpose. Music.) So, this group, instead of gathering another member who might help them, alienated me because of the way they present themselves. (The same group has posted ads for rallies with drawing of fat pigs in tanks rolling over citizens. Yeah, that's a great way to start a mass movement on an Island with one of the largest military establishmens in the nation. People with friends and faily in the military are going to want to join a group portraying their loved ones as baby killers.) Now my reaction was only that, a reaction. And I tell myself that if I only want to work with people I always agree with then I will be working by myself. So maybe I will overcome my emotions and do something anyway. But hasn't the group failed miserably if I have to overcome something in me to join them? They should be trying to make it as easy as possible if they actually wanted to accomplish anything.

Finally, tying all this back together, the group PFLAG-Oahu had a trolley and waved at people as they went. This is a group that I have very seriously thought about joining. The two biggest issues in the 2004 election for me were the Iraq War and the legalization of same sex marriage. As almost everyone knows, I am a No on the former and a big Yes on the latter. Since I don't seem to be of much use to the Democrats, and most of them just want the same sex marriage issue to go away anyway, I was thinking I should join PFLAG. It stands for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or something close. So my reaction to the PFLAG trolley was largely positive. However, not competely. Honestly, there weren't many people in their group, which is more evidence that I should have been there. But there was one woman who was a stereotype. She was larger, dressed all in black, covered in piercings in ears, nose, and eyebrow, and such. I couldn't help but thinking that she was fighting several battles at once. There were going to be many people in the audience who looked at her and thought, "I don't want my daughter to be like that," and identify this with acceptance of sexuality. This was going to be a gut reaction in many because lots of parents don't want their daughters to look like that regardless of whether their daughter is dating the male Harvard MBA grad in a power suit, or his sister. My own sister got a tattoo recently and my understanding is that my mother was not pleased.

My instinct is to fight one battle at a time. Thus when I got in a discussion with a "Family Values" lobbyist in Tennessee, I presented my case as one of legal equality. I tried to get her to separate religious marriage from legal marriage. I pitched it that way because I thought it was the only chance I had to reach her. If I had started questioning her religious and moral beliefs as well, then the conversation would been a no-starter. Of course I also disagree radically with her moral views on sexual orientation, but there was no reason to go there.

So, I don't know. It still seems that if you could fight one battle at a time, you would have more luck. First get parents to accept their daughter no matter who she is in love with, and then worry about them getting over a nose ring. After all, when I traveled to visit clients in my old job, I always wore a suit and shaved, even if it was the only time I ever wore a suit or shaved regularly. I could have gotten all excited about this and said, "I don't want to pretend about who I am and dress the way other people want; I am going to be myself. It's just clothes after all, who cares." But that's just it. It's just clothes. If it makes your life a little easier, just wear them and fight over something more important. However, 1) I have never successfully fought any political battle so what do I know, 2) again if you only work with people exactly like you, then you work alone, and 3) if a woman in leather and lots of piercings will work with me to argue for things we both believe in, I would be an idiot to say no.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fair Weather Sports Reporter (paca)

I am not a good fan of most sports, because I don't take losing very well. Now, I'm not like a crazy Vandy fan I once worked with who would be morose for days (yes, you SEC people, a Vandy football fan who had a tough time with losses; I think that is the definition of masochist.). But I can be grumpy for a few hours when a bunch of guys I have never met lose in a game to a bunch of other guys I have never met. As Seinfeld said in some sketch, "We cheer for laundry." I really only like winning, and I only talk about sports when "I" am. For instance, when the Titans were in their SuperBowl run and playoff-caliber days, I was reading message boards, subscribing to Titans sites, etc. Now that we suck, I check the score the next day, periodically put on my Eddie George jersey, and do my best to avoid any discussion of them.

All that was said to explain why I am about to do Sports Reporting on here again. What exactly?

The Nashville Predators beat the Red Wings, the Red WINGS!!!, twice in the last two nights to take a tie for first place in the Western Conference (with the Red Wings). YIPPEEEE!!!

The lowly Predators who were supposed to be a model of failing NHL franchises are leading the entire Western Conference in points. I am in dancing a little jig as we speak in my mind.

If the Predators lose tomorrow? You won't hear a word.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

It's the mattress, stupid (paca)

Well, it turns out children are people, too. B has been waking up for the last few months quite regularly and coming to join N and I in the big bed. Now, B, who just turned 3 on Saturday, has been sleeping on his crib mattress with a pillow next to it pretty much since we moved here. N had a theory that maybe the crib mattress wasn't all that comfortable anymore since he has gotten bigger and bigger and likes to twirl around in circles. I admitted this was a possibility but really thought he just liked to be with us. Well, we bought an actual bed for B last week. It's a Flexa, which is this Danish brand that is extendable (you can buy bunk bed platforms and railings and even a slide). After this PC that I am typing on, it is the most expensive piece of furniture we own. (We just bought the basic bed for B. N and I have never owned a bed. We had a frame for a while in TN.) It also comes with a mattress. Well, since we got it, we've hardly seen B since. He sleeps quite regularly now on his mattress until 7:00 AM. Moreover, in the old thing, if one of us ever got up before he had fallen asleep, he'd almost always come after us, so we were lying on pillows until he was out. The last three days, we just sit in a chair next to him reading stories (Green Eggs and Ham, of course). Tell him a couple stories (Pigs and the Wolf, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Hen, and Girl (little red riding hood)). And sing (Do-do le petit chat, le petit chat va faire do-do). Or however you spell that. Then we leave. B is awake. He doesn't follow. It's all completely amazing. So apparently, children are like everyone else and like comfie beds as well. And most importantly, and for the record, N was right and I was wrong.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Ask her (paca)

So scrawled along the sidewalks all over campus this week we have the words "Ask Her" in chalk. I thought, "hmmmm... maybe it is a campaign against date rape." You know, telling people to make sure you communicate before getting it on to make sure it is mutual. Yeah, ok. Then I saw written "Have you asked her?" I thought, "hmmm... I am not sure that makes sense with my consentual sex theory anymore. If I should have already asked her, then it can't be a reminder to always ask in the future. Is there a Big Dance coming up or something? Is this in fact a campaign for guys to get over their shyness and ask her out?" So campaign against date rape or an exultation to go to the Big Dance. I don't think this campaign is working. So what does "Ask Her" mean?

Little B turns 3 tomorrow. He's getting old. I think it was right around this time that I got a voice mail message from N saying that there's a problem and they are going to induce in the morning as a precaution, so she is gone to the hospital. I then had to call the Ob/Gyn to sheepily ask, "ummm, hi my wife says she's having a baby and is in the hospital, so can you tell me which hospital?" There was a slight chuckle on the other side, but I think I wasn't the first to call with such a question. (To people who think this means I was just completely uninvolved with my wife's life and pregnancy, she had been in a big hospital in Nashville for a few weeks previously for precautionary measures, so I didn't know if she had headed off there again or to the local one; it was local. Also, there were no serious problems for either N or B, if the above sounded ominous. I just decided I didn't want to discuss actual medical issues on the blog. If N wants to discuss the pregnancy online, she can, but I won't make that decision for her. And I mean the old pregnancy that resulted in B, there is no B 2 on the way at the moment.)

Also, I need people's input on socially appropriate behavior in grad school. So, in my psycholinguistics class, we are supposed to email in questions about the day's reading before class. The professor also encouraged us to use the email list to answer each other's questions. Now today's article, the first one, happened to be on a topic that I took an entire course on last year (Parallel Distributed Processing models of language), so I am actually relatively knowledgable on this topic. So I did what the Prof said and wrote several paragraphs answering some of the questions that had come in. So the question is, did I just commite a social faux pas and will be perceived as some sort of blowhard show-off who thinks he has all the answers? Or will people actually like to read answers to their questions not from a prof? I guess I don't particularly care either way, but I was curious.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm not dead (Llama)

Just a post to check in, let everyone know that I'm still alive. Once again my posts have been infrequent, but it is just temporary. I post in spurts, you know!

I haven't been posting because I have been very inwardly focused the last couple of weeks. Last week I had some kind of respiratory infection that had me coughing for about 10 days straight. That has pretty much sorted itself out now, but this week I've been struggling with a couple of female issues. First of all, in a fit of madness I called up Jah and asked her if she was interested in trying again. Though the initial call was impulsive, the resulting flood of emotions left me a bit dazed and confused. I still haven't sorted them all out; that sorting is one of the major reasons I haven't been posting. "Did she say yes?" surely is the question you are asking yourself. Well, no, she didn't. But it is complicated, and I believe that, should I put I bit more on the table, she would say yes. She is concerned about the future... and although I would love to have her back in the now, promising something longer is a very scary thought. So that's what I am working through.

I actually thought I had that all figured out when I got an email from Yummy. She's getting married in June. But I don't think she's quite ready to give up the long-distance flirt-a-fest she has with me... she quoted to me this poem by Cummings that was quite ripe with sexual metaphore. It was quite unexpected. And though she is effectively off the table now, her brief re-emergence has made me rethink what I thought I thunk about Jah, and thrown my whole perspective into a twist.

So, while I spin my brain around these matters I'm also working, of course. I head to Bangladesh next week, so expect another period of infrequent Llama posts. My program is finally showing some progress... I have 2 forms completed now, about another 17 to go. They should come fast now, though... I expect to complete one form every 2 or 3 days, maybe faster.

Politics... ugh. Sports... ugh (at least the Colts lost!). Movies... ugh. I saw Syriana; I recommend it, though it is a bit predictable.


Gross National Happiness (paca)

I got an announcement for this talk. Apparently, it was yesterday and I already missed it. Anyway:

"Gross National Happiness"
A presentation by
His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Y. Thinley
Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs of The Kingdom of Bhutan

Lyonpo Jigmi Yoser Thinley, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Bhutan, is currently serving as the Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs.

What is the true measure of a country's prosperity? For Bhutan, an ancient kingdom secluded high in the Himalayas tucked between China and India, Gross National Happiness has been the guiding philosophy of the country's development process. It is rooted in the Buddhist notion that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness. The King of Bhutan has declared that
"Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product," and it is now an official policy passed by parliament.

According to Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley: "While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH is that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other."  The four pillars of GNH are sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, environmental conservation, and good governance. Recently, SAARC ministers adopted the concept of GNH among the strategies for the eradication of poverty in South Asia.

In some ways, this almost seems silly, but in other ways it is very intriguing. I agree completely with the idea that the measure of a successful society is not simply GDP. There is something more. After all, Maoist China, Nazi Germany, and Stalinist Russia did some impressive things with GDP, but it should not be by that measure alone that we judge them. At the same time, can happiness be measured and should the government be concerned with it, or should government stay the hell away from it?

I'm reminded of two conversations I have had. One was with a co-worker a few years back. Somehow the topic of Appalachian culture came up. No idea why. But we got in a dispute where I essentially asserted that it would be a shame if the distinctive Applachian culture totally disappeared. He talked about some of the horrible poverty that he had seen in Eastern Ohio and how it wasn't a shame to try to get rid of starvation, no education, etc.

Another conversation was with the llama, also several years back. He was arguing that the US was in fact what the politicians always say "The Greatest Nation on Earth." I was not so sure. Upon his challenge, I was not able to come up with some place else that was clearly better. The best proposal I had was the Scandavian countries, so now you can just mark me down as a rabid Socialist if you like. Today, I would agree there is no great case for, say Sweden, as the Greatest Nation on Earth. But the reason I was thinking of it as a possibility is because I was not convinced that the US' power truly made it the greatest. If the US is the greatest nation, it is something else that gives us that title. Is it political freedom? Maybe, but many nations today have comparable rights of free speech, robust democracies, etc. Is it the big achievements? Maybe, but which ones. Perhaps the Moon Landing. Plausible. But at the same time, Stalin launched Sputnik and I'm not going to live in his Greatest Country. The trans-continental railroad? But China, Russia, and Canada have similar things. Maybe it is all of it together. We do Moon Landings and have freedom of speech (unless you are comforting the enemy of course). In the end, maybe it is a silly debate like trying to decide who the best person ever was or the best song.

But there does remain a very important issue. What makes a country truly great? Should government be concerned at all with Happiness and trying to measure it? And, llama, if you are around, as the international development guru, does GNH as adopted by SAARC work?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Woohoo Academic Excitement (paca)

I met with the professor that I did all my intonation research with today. I wanted to find out whether or not the paper I worked on last semester could be revamped into something submittable to a journal. One of her earliest comments was something like "I think the question is which journal you would like to submit to." Woo-hoo! I don't write utter and complete crap! It's nice to hear. Of course, it is a long way from hopeful comments from one of your own professors to actual publication, but still. At least she didn't say, "well, if you work on this and this for the next 5 years and cut this whole section that is completely unjustified, you might have something not wholly embarassing." That's closer to how I felt about it. You may wonder why I would get so excited about the mere prospect of a publication in an academic journal that no more than a few hundred people in the whole world will ever glance at. The first reason is that I have no sense of perspective and what is truly important in life. The second reason is that publications get you jobs, beginning and end of story. And I really didn't have in mind that N, B, and I would live the rest of our lives in a one bedroom apartment, chewing up the savings that my grandmother kindly gave to me several years back. The fact that I will be making about the same or less than I did before quitting my old job and going back to school is irrelevant, I'm sure.

Friday, January 13, 2006

World Peace, Go Away! (paca)

Well, I am going to do the same thing I did last post and elevate some items from a comment to the main page. Both kristybox and naughtyloki put nice Comments in the post below and in thinking about what they said, I came upon topics which I had been meaning to discuss previously. I won’t copy all that they said here, because that would be the entire post, so please read their stuff in context in the Comments. The main bit I wanted to talk about was this from naughtyloki:

“The sad fact is, homeless people die every day. I'm not sure that our programs actually do much. That's my biggest problem with our current social programs; we throw huge sums of money at problems without putting very much thought into root causes and actual solutions.”

Here is the reason for my title, which isn’t entirely sarcastic: A temptation I get into all the time is to want to solve problems in the abstract. We want to prevent Homelessness; we want to do away with Unemployment; we want to abolish Domestic Violence; and (the biggest of all) we want World Peace. These normal sounding desires are I think very dangerous. The easy to see problem is that often these Big Problems are so Big and so abstract that there is nothing you can actually do to move towards them. To be useful goals, you have to be able to take some step towards actually accomplishing them.

The bigger problem with Big Problems is that such goals forget about actual people.

Here is a way I am tempted to think all the time. “What’s the point of sending money to feed the children since there’s always another hungry child? What’s the point of working in the Soup Kitchen on Saturday since it doesn’t really solve the root causes for why they are there in the first place?” I think these thoughts of mine make complete sense if I am trying to solve a problem like Hunger or Homelessness. But what it actually shows is that I have forgotten about the actual person who is hungry. No, I can’t cure Hunger, but I can make an individual person not hungry for a few days. And isn’t that worth it? Maybe we can’t solve a problem for all 24 million people who suffer from it, but if we can solve it for 2 people, those are two real people who have been helped. It is not a failure at all to only help 2 of 24 million. It is a partial success.

So World Peace is dangerous as an idea because I think it prevents us from useful action as much as it inspires us towards it.

Naughty Loki again: “I don't have any answers myself, but I do often wonder if the warm fuzzy which many people get by saying, "I vote Democrat and we're doing something for the people." just stymies productive thought. I am certain, however, that the political reactions to any attempt to modify standard operating procedure for either party stymies productive thought.”

I basically agree and I definitely agree with the last sentence which was the primary focus of Loki’s comment. I guess I would like to see things work kind of like this: We see a real case of human suffering that we want to prevent. So unless it is clear that we are causing more damage, you do whatever the obvious step is. So, if people are starving, you give them food. As Loki sort of points out, this is where we usually stop. But really we should keep thinking. OK, they aren’t starving now, so what is the real solution? Why didn’t they have food in the first place? Etc. But because these are real people who are hungry now, we don’t wait to feed them while we figure the latter part out.

Loki of course also brings up the basic fact that a lot of government programs don’t work well at all. I think I see three different types of programs. 1) Government programs that government can do well and in fact are doing well right now. People can generally agree on these; not much to say without bringing up gigantic other issues. 2) Government programs that government can do well but doesn’t. There are surely lots of these. I would guess that feeding hungry people in the US is one. I don’t see any real reason the government couldn’t do this because governments are good at big massive programs. They could dump food everywhere, since we grow plenty of cheap food. There would be tons of waste likely but people would eat. We could then work and work to decrease the waste without destroying the program. 3) Government programs that government will never do well because governments by their nature suck at that sort of thing. Typically anything which requires creativity and unpredictability falls here. Entrepreneurship, art, science usually, but I bet there is a lot more too. It seems like we would all be served enormously if we could figure out what is in 2 and what is in 3, because the solution to the former is to tweak the program and the solution to the latter is to find an alternative and dump the government as fast as possible. However, as loki points out, most politicians have a vested interest in us never finding out which is which.

And, yeah, Ted Stevens is a loonie.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Musings on government at 4 am (paca)

Well, I am up at 4 AM with all these useless thoughts going through my head. Since I can't make them go away, I might as well dump them here. I went through a whole chain of random things before ending here including feminism, abortion, debate-for-debate's sake, and finally government.

So I basically vote Democratic for social justice issues. It seems that in the 20 years or so, since I became a teen (turned 13 in 1986) the Democratic party has been more frequently on the side of those with less power traditionally, be it gay rights, shelter for the homeless, affirmative action, rape shield laws, medical care for the poor, etc., than the Republican. And for whatever reasons, those were the voting issues for me.

None of this means of course that I always agree with everything. I am more gun rights than the party platform. I also have a libertarian streak which can be at odds with the above issues, because the most common solution to a problem from the Democrats is a government program. The Republicans like to point out this all the time. The problem is that most of the supposed alternatives they offer are inadequate. For instance, private charities do a lot in our nation and many of them do it more efficiently than the government. However, my understanding is that Americans as a nation already give far more to charity than almost anyone else. (Though perhaps the Islamic tradition of giving to charity as a religious obligation rivals, I don't know.) So unless there is a way to massively transform that system, boosting it to 3 and 4 times its current size, it really isn't an alternative. So while the libertarian in me is very open to other ideas, unless other real solutions are provided, I am going to fall back on the only choice we seem to have right now - another government program. Just letting homeless people die because of our beliefs on the proper role of government isn't much of an option to me.

But all that said, I do remain convinced that government isn't very good at lots of things they do. Is there any reason that, I don't know, road construction MUST be part of government? Or maybe the Department of Education? Or urban design? Of course, there are plenty of reasons that it must be that way in the current system. And there are plenty of reasons that we need someone to fulfill that function - we need roads, education, and urban design - but must they be part of government?

I was thinking about garbage collection. Twice a week a truck owned and operated by the City and County of Honolulu drives down my street and takes away my garbage. But surely someone else could take away my garbage. Perhaps someone could make a little money by getting people to pay $5 a month to get their garbage for them. Since the city seems incapable of starting curb-side recycling, I could very well imagine paying someone a couple bucks to take away my recyclables. Why should I wait for the government alone to do it? Voila, reduced government and more recylcing. Win, win.

But of course there are problems. For public health reasons, the garbage must be collected. You can't just let it lie around for weeks. So the government is obligated to send a truck around. Maybe they could send it around less if some garbage was being picked up privately? But we all know the result of that. Wealthier neighborhoods will pay for the premium service, poor ones won't, and since now the truck only comes by once every two weeks, the poor neighborhoods become covered in waiting garbage, becoming part of the destruction of a neighborhood and all of the social problems that come from that.

The point? Yeah, I'm open to non-governmental solutions to things as governments suck at a lot of things they currently do. Can we say customer service? But I want a real alternative. I would much prefer to reduce the size of government, not by slashing 7% from everyone, but by killing all the things that someone else can do better.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Reason and spirituality - Part I (paca)

This was a huge comment on llama's post below, but it was so big I decided to make it a real entry. However, it is a continuation of the discussion in llama's post, so you may wish to start there for this one to make any sense:

Howdy, llama,

I am operating a lot like -e here in that I left all my books on religion, except for one or two C.S. Lewis of course! - in a warehouse in the Boro, so this is all coming from memory, much of it dim.

Part of the problem, as always, is that there are hundreds of different beliefs all being lumped together as Buddhism and Hinduism in our discussion. In India alone, there are a series of Buddhist schools with very different views of the soul and rebirth. Most of my memories of Buddhism are based on a particular school, known as Madyamika, or the Middle Way, inspired largely by a Buddhist philosopher named Nagarjuna, though of course followers would say they are continuing the pure teachings of the Buddha himself. This is the school that largely got imported, well this is too simple but I will say it anyway, into East Asia, taking various forms, most famously Zen in Japan (Ch'an in China). Since you are in Thailand, it is worth stating, as you likely know, that this is a very different tradition than the version of Buddhism in Thailand. The distinction is often made between Mahayana (Great Wheel) Buddhism found in East Asia, and Theravadin (can't remember the translation) found in Thailand and Sri Lanka mostly. Tibetan Buddhism kind of fits into the Mahayana tradition, but it's pretty much it's own thing, sometimes called Tantric.

So anyway, in Madyamika philosophy, there is no thing called the soul. It is in fact the belief that there are souls that is one of the primary sources of suffering. But there is no such thing. In one Buddhist Sutra - a really famous one with a King, King Asoka maybe? - there is a discussion of chariots. Is there such a thing as a chariot? In the form of sutras and lots of religious texts, they go through each thing that might be the chariot - the wheel, the axle, the thing you stand on, the harness - and find no chariot. They also move into more nuanced ideas - is it the arrangement of wheel and axle and standing thing, and still find no chariot there either. The same sort of analysis can be done on the soul. It isn't any part of our body; it isn't our emotions; it isn't our thoughts; it isn't all of these things together. There is no soul. Nagarjuna in his Mulamadyamikarikas (Great Verses of the Middle Way) offers a series of arguments that are intended to show that many things we think exist do not. These include the soul, but also causation (to show how abstract he got), and a kicker for a Buddhist, nirvana. There is no nirvana and no samsara (samsara is the daily world).

When these people are saying things don't exist, there are a couple points to keep in mind. One is that they aren't trying to do natural philosophy and give an account of the world like I might. Nagarjuna is trying to provide ways for you to escape attachment. They have spiritual purposes, like Zen koans, and are not treatises on physics. Secondly, they mean existence in a certain sense. They mean things don't exist in themselves. They do not have eternal essences. Souls aren't infitnite ghosts which inhabit bodies and move them around.

This same debate goes in in Western philosophy and journeys back to at least Plato, as all Western philosophy does. In Western philosophy, the most common way to view the world is with the idea of Substances. There is some sort of stuff and that stuff has properties. It can be little, yellow, different, etc. But when you start taking all the properties away and get back to this Substance, which is supposed to have these properties, so say the critics, you don't have anything left. Buddhists are kind of saying the same thing. You take away the body, the thoughts, the emotions, etc. and you won't find some sort of soul lurking underneath. The soul just is the emotions, the thoughts, the body, and nothing more. No extra stuff. And this is what I mean by the soul emerging from becoming and dying. Thoughts come and go. Much of our body comes and goes. Yet something we call "I" keeps sticking around.

To give this a little bit of plausbility, you might want to check out work on complexity theory and self-organizing systems, though you probably know this stuff.

So, how does reincarnation work if there is no soul to transfer from body to body? I should say that I never bought reincarnation much myself, so I never really bothered to learn how it worked, but my best understanding is the idea of the pattern. Over time, the emergent non-essential soul, or just us, gathers a way of behaving. You could call it our personality, I guess, but again it isn't a thing which behaves in a certain way, it is just a way of behaving by itself. And so in reincarnation, no thing moves to inhabit another body. Instead, this manner of behaving appears again. A new creature emerges with the personality pattern of a creature that went before. If there is a difference between saying this is one creature, one pattern of behavior being reincarnated, or two creatures behaving similarly, I don't know.

I do agree with naughtyloki that your argument is stronger if you can get estimations of general biomass at different times instead of humans. I do wonder, however, what to make of the great extinctions like the Great Dying where some 80-90% of marine life perished. But one could always just point to other worlds that have existed in various forms of Buddhism forever. In various traditions, there are circles of hell, and heaven after heaven, and a million other things that could always be used as a way out.

I do find that sort of discussion to be a how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin thing, meaning, for me, who cares, or put better - is it important to understanding the basic beliefs of the religious tradition and its relevance to our life? I think this finally gets back to your point about not needing an account of the physical state of the world from religious traditions, since a physical account can provide one.

Earlier I said that I didn't find the idea of rebirth terribly important to me, so I never really bothered to study it. This should strike some as really weird if I was studying Buddhism, because isn't the whole concept of Buddhism that we are reborn over and over until we reach a state of Enlightenment and then poof no more rebirth? Forgetting about rebirth and studying Buddhism would be kind of like being Christian but ignoring that whole Easter thing.

This gets back to the bit earlier in Nagarjuna when he argued there was no Nirvana. Nirvana and Samsara are the same place. The best expression I know of all this is in the Zen tradition, particularly as expressed by Dogen (12th or 13th century). He is the founder of one of the two main Zen traditions, known as Soto Zen. Anyway, he argued that one did not practice meditation to become enlightened. You don't do something and then suddenly bang, enlightenment. Instead zazen, meditation, is enlightenment. It is practicing enlightenment right then, right now, at this moment. Nirvana is not another world, or non-existence, but is a way of being.

Only once in my life did I have a chance to meet and speak with a Tibetan Buddhist teacher. I piped up and asked a question which I knew was a bad question, but I couldn't think of any better way to say it. Anyway, this guy was at a level where he could say, kind of, that he was enlightened. He wan't just a professor or someone like me who read books. He was the real thing. My question was basically, "so what was it like?" I don't remember his answer. But as I write this I realize why it was a dumb question. If being enlightened is a way of being, you might as well ask someone, "so what's it like being kind? or honest? or aware?" I don't think such a question is answerable.

So if you break down what nirvana is and what the soul is to a way of being, then perhaps rebirth in the end isn't a physical account at all, but a spiritual one, as you advocated.

FYI, for the most part I have only been talking about what I remember. But I actually believe the last few paragraphs. I think Dogen nailed it.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Reason and spirituality, part 1 (llama)

There seems to be a fundamental flaw in the buddhist and hindu belief in reincarnation.

The theology behind reincarnation is simple - individuals earn merit, or karma, as they live their lives. Accrue enough good karma in this life and you can come back as a higher life form in the next. Treat people badly, violate various precepts, or just ignore your spirtual self and you accrue bad karma. Accrue more bad karma than good karma and your role in the next life will be in lower in stature. Once you have accrued some maximum amount of good karma you can achieve enlightenment and thus free yourself entirely from this cycle of death and rebirth. If you accrue enough bad karma, presumably, you are doomed to be born again as some terribly lowly creature, like a dung beetle or a talk show host.

By 1 AD the global human population is estimated to have been about 300 million individuals. As of 2000, that number had swelled to over 6.1 billion. So for every 1 of us back at the time of Christ there are now 20 of us living today. Where are these extra souls coming from? The cycle of reincarnation is, for the most part, a closed loop. There may be a small decrement of souls as a few each year achieve liberation, but by and large the rest of us are floating in the same sea of life that has existed in perpetuity. If we have a 5.8 billion more people in the world now then in the past, then that implies that there must be a decrease of 5.8 billion lower life forms.

Have we, as a species, eliminated that many other creatures over the last 2 millenia? I suppose it's possible... but is xenocide the kind of thing for which we would be rewarded with good karma? To my knowledge the theology of reincarnation does not address where the world's souls come from or if more are constantly being created, but I think the implication is that it is, in fact, a mostly closed system. No one gets in, and only the liberated get out. This doesn't jive with a 20 fold increase in the human population. I could probably rationalize this discrency if I wanted, but that's all it would be, a rationalization. In the search of spiritual truth, the eastern concept of reincarnation is, at best, incomplete.

Friday, January 06, 2006

15 hours down 9 more to go (paca)

Woo-hoo! Over half way done with the old Prelim exams. It's not completely clear what they are prelim too, since I only have a semester or two more of classes. There's another nasty test before the dissertation - the comprehensives - so it's all very unclear. Actually, amusingly, the comprehensives are a detailed test on 3 topics of my choosing, while the prelims are about almost anything having to do with linguistics. I think we all need to go look up these words again. The prelims aren't very preliminary and the comps aren't very comprehensive. And we study linguistics?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

3 hours down (paca)

Three hours of testing down. 21 more to do.

In other news, here is another dance video which amuses me.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Now, only at the end, do I understand (paca)

The beast is released. The issue for the journal that I have been working day and night on, literally, is published. It's largely over, as far as I am concerned. Long live the issue! It's a full 139 pages of nasty academic editing. I had no idea.

Now, would you like to know how I will spend my next 4 days?
Tuesday 8-11 Test
Tuesday 1-4 Test
Wednesday 8-11 Test
Wednesday 1-4 Test
Thursday 8-11 Test
Thursday 1-4 Test
Friday 8-11 Test
Friday 1-4 Test

That's right. I will be taking tests 6 hours a day for the next 4 days.

Grad school ist wunderbar. L'ecole est tres magnifique! Yanjiuxue hao ji le.
Guess which language isn't Indo-European. That's correct. It's German.

tee hee hee

I'm becoming delusional.




And, no, I don't speak German.

Or French.

Or Chinese really.

With the liberal typos in my blog entries - and for an editor! - I am a little iffy on the language of the Angles. Whatever happened to Germanic Anglia. Is it still around? Saxony is still there. I bet Anglia is too. Maybe it is part of Denmark. And don't give me any of that East Anglia crap! That's freaking England! I want me some land on the continent! If it wasn't ever ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor, it's crap!

That's the Big HRE, you know. Or as I like to call him Hray! Hip-hip-Hray! Hip-hip-Hray!

That's where it comes from. It was a traditional cheer for the HRE on Michael Mass. Just read old Jacob Grimm. He'll tell ya. Everyone wore little red riding hoods and gave cheers for the super cool, double hip, HRE.


Or was it Hree!? Damn, Great Vowel Shift! I curse you and all of your kind!

I'm done now.

Role models 2 - The Series (paca)

Back on November 16th on the pacatrue blog, I declared the intention to have a series highlighting very impressive people. The first one featured Harry Chapin, a songwriter and activist for feeding the hungry across the world. It's time for person #2, who is.... Jim Henson. I had been thinking about him for a while, then a big train of events happened to seal the deal. 1) I stumbled across the Mahnamahna video, which is linked below. I have always loved the Muppets and puppetry in general and within days I went out and bought the Muppet Show Season One on DVD. Reviews of it will follow. Then Jill mentioned Henson as one of her 10 Best Americans. Finally, Katze changes her blog template to feature the Swedish Chef, and it was a done deal. I have added several links to Henson related items.

Find out here about Jim Henson's life and projects.
And a longer bio here
Jim Henson keeps giving to us through supporting puppetry. http://www.hensonfoundation.org/
A wonderful, wonderful place in, of all places, Atlanta, Ga. Unfortunately, I have only made it one time, but if you are ever in Atlanta, look them up to see what they are doing. http://www.puppet.org/
You can find out a million things about the Muppets here at The Kermitage. And with a name like that, who wouldn't visit?

Monday, January 02, 2006

New year's eve pluses and minuses (paca)

Not a bad New Year's Eve really. There were good and bad things.

Good: I spent almost the whole weekend with N and B, which is good. I usually go to the office on Sundays so this is a change.
Bad: Fireworks outside the windows until at least 2:30 AM. Especially, I have to say "down with Chinese tradition" here. So many gigantic strings of firecrackers going off that lasted for ever.

Bad, I guess: We didn't do anything in particular for New Year's Eve. We could have paid $250 a person and gone to a hotel ball but we did not.
Good: This may sound weird but this was the first year I didn't bother staying up for some ball dropping somewhere. I always stay up to midnight to ring the New Year in, but this time we all just went to bed. Or tried to with the fireworks going off. It was a liberating experience. Apparently, holidays are not obligatory. You don't have to observe them. It is OK to go to bed if you are tired. Next thing, someone will tell me that I don't have to eat turkey on t-giving. Yah, right! (Actually, we had a yummy salmon in hollandaise with asparagus for Xmas eve.)

And I don't believe I've ever made New Year's resolutions, so let's give it a go. Let's see. How about less soda yet again. Yeah, that's good. That resolution is so good I plan on making it again next year.