Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Of music and men (Llama)

Despite the fact that he has told me many times, and blogged about it extensively, I continue to be befuddled about what, exactly, our Paca is learning over there in Hawaii. But my best guess is that it has something to do with what's in this article from reuters:

Hominid's cave rave-ups link music and language

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reading Group Narrowing Down (paca)

Kristy and -e have both weighed in now on our reading selection, so I thought I would give the new very short list. Both expressed interest in items that were fantastic in some nature. I only put things on the list to choose from that I already liked, so they all work for me. Here's the new short list (I think):

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
The Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum
Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
The Time Machine - H.G. Wells

We also had some interest in Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beaovoir, MLK Jr, and Sophocles, but the above seem to be the more concensus items. I have an opinion on the above list, but I'm going to wait a couple days to see if the llama, who expressed mild interest, weighs in. Also, other people, now that they see what we might be reading, are free to join still.

So, everyone, how do you want to run this? We could set up a new blog for the reading group, or we could just do the entries here. The major benefit of the new blog is that all of you could become team members on the blog and make posts about the book. The major drawback is that it is yet another blog. I guess I had in mind rotating who did the first entry, and then after that it would be a Comments free for all. Has anyone seen a reading group blog already to know what works well? We could do the same thing here, people might just have to email me their main board post.

Finally, as a note, Kristy mentioned that all my books seemed very schoolish, as opposed to enjoyable. That's basically because I as trying to avoid a bad earlier experience. I joined a reading group at work a few years ago where we all read A Year in Provence about a couple's year in France. We then went to someone's house to discuss. Of course, half the people hadn't read it. Everyone who had pretty much sat around saying, "the food sounded great." I was hoping to find a book with a little more meat. I have enjoyed what everyone's had to say on moral, religious, etc. issues here, so I was hoping to get more of that from you. I think all of the books above have such meat, so I'm good. Of course, I think things could be very different on a blog. I at least have a lot more to say in writing than in speaking. I at least used to always be the silent guy in classes, but look how long my simple blog entries are.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Reading Group continued

It looks like we have, potentially, at least 4 people now to be in a Reading Group. Me, e, llama, and Kristy. Others are still very much welcome, so just send me an email or comment saying you are interested. E asked what book I had in mind.

I started off thinking it would be cool to read the Quran. I bought it a few years back and always intended to read it, but never got around to it. I think that would be a bad idea now. Mainly, it's really long. And I think llama is right that we should start with something short. One great reason to do something short is that we don't want to get bored and then be stuck for weeks on end, just being too polite to say "I'm out." So I decided to peruse some 100 greatest all time lists and came up with some things that I think are shorter. I am hoping for nothing more than 100 pages. My criteria are 1) short, 2) someone thinks its worth reading, and 3) I haven't read it too much, usually not at all. Here's a bunch of suggestions. Please choose some favs for others to weed through or cross off some.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
Symposium - Plato
The Autobiography of Malcolm X - X and Alex Haley
Sonnets - Shakespeare
Shakespeare plays I've never seen or read - King Lear, Othello, etc.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich - Tolstoy (think it's shorter than War and Peace....)
Oedipus Rex - Sophocles
Something by Poe other than the Raven and the Purloined Letter, oh not pit and the pendulum
Metamorphosis - Kafka
A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen (play)
In the Imitation of Christ... Author? It's old.
The Prophet - Gibran - yes I went to a liberal arts college and never read it
Anything short by or about Ghandi - I've only seen the movie
Confessions - St. Augustine - how long are these? Aquinas wrote too much.
Lysistrata - Aristophanes (comedy/play)
New Testament Apocrypha - Gospel of Truth
The song of Roland - may be too long
Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
One of Moliere's comedies
An Enquiry concerning human understanding - Hume (maybe too long)
The Federalist Papers - Hamilton, Madison, and Jay (some section thereof)
The Ancient Mariner or Kubla Khan - S.T. Coleridge
On Liberty - J.S. Mill (yes, I've read it, but geez it's worth reading)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
Walden or Civil Disobodience by Thureau - really never read Walden
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Grimm's Fairy Tales
Thus Spake Zarathustra - Nietzsche
One of Chekhov's plays like the Cherry Orchard
The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot
Animal Farm - Orwell (really never read it despite going to school)
The Story of My Life - Helen Keller
The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar named Desire - Tennessee Williams
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
Why We Can't Wait - Martin Luther King Jr.
Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar
The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir (length?)

Well, that's enough. Nice list of my lack of education, no?

Please add, delete, etc. If no one does, I will narrow it down to about five things and we can go from there. If you are studying for the bar or something, feel free to join in once it's done.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fact Finding and Global Warming (LLama)

I had commented earlier about how folks tend to find facts to support deeply held beliefs. I found another good example. Here's an article from Media Matters that discusses a misleading report from DuPont about global warming; Media Matters shows how DuPont cherry-picked information from scientific papers while ignoring other results from the same papers, including the conclusions of the authors.

I think this is an example of DuPont being delibrately deceitful; someone had to read the research and thus someone must have delibrately chosen to exclude information that doesn't support their assertion that petrol emissions are unresponsible for rising temperatures.

At the same time, MM quotes Rush Limbaugh claiming that an event that supports the global warming theory, the thickening of the Antarctic ice sheet's interior, actually refutes it. Limbaugh is an idealogue and I doubt seriously he read the study that he cites; therefor it seems likely that Limbaugh is not being delibrately deceitful but is simply parotting evidence that supports his belief: that human-caused global warming is a fiction.

Blogger Reading Group? (paca)

I am in a never ending quest to over commit myself, and so I now have a new proposal which will assist in this if anyone is interested. Llama earlier remarked on the person who is blogging their first reading of the Bible on Slate. A romance author, Brenda Coulter, whose blog I read (see link on the right) also commented on this yesterday. With such inspiration, I am suggesting to all of you that we create an online blog reading group and work through some cool book. We would all read this book, maybe a chapter a week, and then have one team blog for discussion. Any takers?

I had in mind some book that you always had an interest in reading but never got around to it. Ideally something, like the Bible, where you can read 5 pages and have a lot to talk about. It could be religious or philosophical or political or moral or whatever we agree on. It could be fiction or nonfiction, as long as there is something worth talking about. It might be nice to find something we are all equally ignorant on so that one person isn't the teacher, but whatever people think is cool works for me.

Any takers? If so, maybe comment here first so that others can see if there is interest. I am proposing this with a couple readers particularly in mind, but I won't put you on the spot. So let me know.

pacapaca

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More DaVinci Code

Here is an interesting article from Slate on "fallacies" in the DaVinci Code.

Be sure to read the two comments down at the bottom... one of them directly rebuts points asserted by the author in the article.

I'm a little surprised at the amount of negativity this story is getting (by the way I've seen the movie, it's mediocre). For me, apart from the censorship issue, nothing in the story is personal; I don't feel my world view threatened or reaffirmed in anyway. But perhaps that isn't true for others.

A quote of Clinton that is running on CNN these days is "In politics as in life, we must take the facts as we find them." I think that when we have an unshaking faith in an idea, we tend to only take the facts that we find support that idea. Case in point, the two different views of gnosticism presented in that Slate link (one in the article, the other in the comment).

Monday, May 22, 2006

Nice Llama Picture

Purty. It comes from here:
http://photos.soboring.org/f/a/photo/viewpic/5/741/1/

Link from Funjackals (Llama)

Here's an unusual link I found at Funjackals, reposted here for those of you that don't read his blog: An Apology From a Bush Voter.

I've also added Funjackal's link down there on the right.

I think this guy hits it pretty well, although I do see him propagating the RNC spin that current Washington corruption is a problem for both parties, while the reality is that by far the majority of scandals this season is in only one party. Which makes sense, because why would you try to bribe a democrate? Democrats don't control anything! Of course, leave it to our dear Louisiana congressman to try to even the score.

I also see him laying into Gore a bit. I know I'm on the losing side of this argument, but I really don't get the anti-Gore rhetoric that alot of people propagate. I think, in the end, Gore has been more damaged by Clinton's philandering than Clinton has. Gore is a very, very smart man who knows foreign policy as well as anyone in Washington, and he isn't afraid, at least now that he's out of office, to say what he thinks. Don't we always complain about the amount of double talk and equivocation that comes out of politicians mouths?

Hm, I guess I can understand it a little bit if I replace Gore in my thoughts with, say, Pat Buchannon. He says what he thinks too, I just can't stand his ideas. Perhaps the same is true with conservatives and Gore... his pro-environmental messages may be just be too far left.
To me they are sensible, but, I suppose if you are pre-disposed to not trust him then it may all be too much. I just hope we can get someone elected president in 2008 that knows what the hell they are doing from the get-go so that they don't have to spend their first term learning how to not conduct foreign affairs. McCain or Clinton seem to meet that criteria... I doubt Frist is up to the task, and he is too far right for me.

I wander, don't I?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

English as the official language? (paca)

I agree very much with llama (see below) that we need to think for ourselves on, well, every issue, and not assume certain "liberal" and "conservative" positions. So let's go with facts about English, English in the United States, and the impact on language use of having official languages. Unfortunately, you are not getting the most educated linguist on these issues because I don't really study language policy and planning. I just pick up some from people around me who do study it.

It might help to start with looking at the big picture of English use in the world. There are approximately 6,000 languages in the world; however, most of them are in rapid decline. One decent estimate is that about half of them or 3,000 languages will be dead by the end of the century. What it means for a language to be dead, of course, is that there are no native speakers anymore. The reasons for language death are extraordinarily complicated, but the single biggest factor is whether or not children use the language growing up. Do parents teach their child Hawaiian or Navajo or Spanish or not? When the children stop learning it, the language is dead, no matter what the policy is. There's a small cohort of linguists who travel the world doing what is called "salvage linguistics". A salvage linguist is usually working with someone, usually in their 70s and up, who is believed to be the last speaker of a language. It's essentially impossible to revive a language at that point. The linguist is simply trying to record as much of the language as possible for historical record before it is gone forever. Most languages of course are unwritten, so the linguist's few months with a speaker are all that will ever be known about that culture.

So, why do children stop learning the language that their own parents speak? It usually has something to do with social or economic prestige. Another language is viewed as the better language to speak if you want to get ahead in life. The languages which are replacing these small languages are the obvious candidates - Chinese, Indonesian, Spanish, French, Russian, and more than any of those, probably combined, English. Language communities all over the world are dropping their traditional language to speak English. Why?

One case study is in Guam, where Chamorro is the native language. Guam is a territory of the US and the US has a big military presence there. A couple decades ago people noticed that where before the number of people in Guam speaking Chamoro had been in the tens of thousands, the number of people speaking had dropped into the hundreds. The critical number is always the number of children speaking, not the number of adults, and that was dwindling to nothing. Chamorro was on the path to extinction. People concerned about this noticed that American policy actively discouraged the use of Chamorro. Everything was conducted in English; education was English only. I don't know if this was actually the case in Guam, but it is not unusual for countries to actively ban minority languages from being spoken in any public forum, such as the schoolyard. The USSR did this rampantly. Hundreds of languages are native to its territory, but only Russian was allowed in schools and the like. The reason was always to integrate these people with the nation state. Most of those languages are extinct now. There were periods in Hawaii where the same thing was done with Hawaiian. English of course was the replacement. Anyway, noticing these active prohibitions in Guam, American policy was actually changed. Restrictions on Chamorro were removed. Often such movements also come with the small language being played some on the radio or some minority language TV programming becoming available. Perhaps official documents are published bilingually in English and Chamorro.

In Guam, and it turns out to be the case generally, this didn't work. Chamorro stayed right on its path to extinction. The reason is that Chamorrans wanted a better life for their child. And in Guam where the economy is based around the American presence, the ticket to a good life is speaking English. And in a sense, the parents are right. If you want a good paying job their children needed to speak English. Until you could convince the parents that speaking Chamorro wasn't going to be a barrier to their child's happiness, you weren't going to make any progress in saving Chamorro as a native language. Now, there is something of a happy ending to the Guam story. The key is that the parents were making a false choice. It is fully possible for any healthy child to grow up bilingual. Childen, unlike adults, are language geniuses, and they quickly figure out things like, I speak Polish with my grandparents, and French with my parents, and English with all my friends at school. And there is little basis if any that speaking Polish at home has any hindrance on the child's adult competence in English. If anything, usually the home language gets dropped if the parents don't press it, because the child wants to be like his friends, not different.

I am going into all of this to give some indications concerning why people learn and abandon languages. So the question is: are there sufficient incentives to learn English in the United States? The answer is clearly yes. It simply is not possible to operate in the US as an adult outside of local communities without speaking English. This is not to say that there are not adults in the US who don't speak English and get by alright. They run shops, sit on city councils, and such. This has always been the case. People spoke French in parts of Louisiana for 200 years. You can live in San Francisco's Chinatown and only speak Cantonese. I was talking online to a man in his 60s who grew up in Niagara Falls, NY, where his first language was Italian. It is worth noting that he can hardly speak Italian now and just went to Italy as a retiree to relearn again. And this is the way things usually work in the US. To leave south Louisiana or Chinatown and get around, you must learn English. And the children almost always do. North America is in fact one of the hot beds of language extinction in the world, up there with Australia. What languages are disappearing in the US? Here is a list. Scroll down for an eye-opening listing and compare to other countries. These are almost all native American languages as you will see and all of the children in those communities are speaking English now.

Is the situation with Spanish speakers in the southwest so different that these same patterns which have repeated throughout American history will not repeat again? It's a possibility, but it is unlikely. Unless Spanish-speaking children are shut out or unless Mexican immigrants are the only people in the entire world who don't wish the best for their kids economically, the children will learn English, and English will continue as the common language for the country as it always has.

Will declaring English the official language help further this process? It's hard to see how. Parents already know that for their kids to become lawyers they have to take the bar exam in English. The benefits of speaking English are already apparent to everyone. Having Congress, on top of the natural incentives, say that English is "official" will have little impact. All it seems to really say is, "by the way, we don't like your language - officially."

Notice, however, that I have spoken almost entirely about children. It is possible that one could slightly increase English use among Spanish speaking adults with governmental policy, but the effects will be slight and probably not very long lasting if the purpose is genuine social integration. Parents will just bring their child to translate the form for them. And of course we all want to depend on a 10 year old to interpret tax documents for us. Or they will sign a form not knowing really what it says. Think about your two years of French or Spanish or German or whatever and what level your language was at after that time. Now compare that to reading a legal document in that language or defending yourself in court in that language. No way, right? If you want every adult in the US to understand English at that level, you are asking for them to study for at least 4-5 years. While they are driving from California farm to California farm harvesting for the grape season. It's not going to happen.

No, if the important thing is to have some language as a common language for the large majority of citizens, so that they are truly competent in it, you have to make sure the children are learning and not worry about the parents. For the parents, you make sure they can do well enough to provide opportunities for their child. I don't see any vote in Congress helping children in this process.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

English as the official language? (Llama)

I suppose the typical "liberal" position is to oppose having English as the official language because it is "racist" and could further marginalize hispanics, while the "conservative" one is to support it because, well, it's our country, damn it, and if you want to live here you should learn to speak like us.

I have always argued that we should promote English proficiency as a requirement for US citizenship. The US is a highly diverse country without a common religion or heritage. If we do not even speak the same language, then what bonds are there to hold these many different ethnicities together? Especially at a time when people seem to be identifying themselves first as part of some other group than their country... whether it be religion or ethnicity, if a person's first loyalty is not to his country then divide is created within the country, and that divide can lead to social unrest, violence, and injustice.

However, I also think that this new found passion for promoting the English language is completely disengenious. Time and again the GOP has motivated its base by getting them angry over some issue. Gay marriage, abortion, flag burning, infedility and now nationalism; these are emotional issues that get voters fired up and to the polls, ready to vote for the politician that has righteousness on his side, usually the Republican candidate. Poor democrats, with their relative morality and talk of vague warnings about complicated "social consequences", play right into the GOP's hands. I believe with every fiber of my being that if this were not an election year then this issue of a national language would never have made it to the Senate floor.

What's frustrating for me is when I see people with good solid conservative ideas... small government, fiscally responsible, cautious in foreign affairs, pro-military; get fooled into supporting an agenda that is diametrically opposed to those ideas. The GOP has been taken over the Moral Conservatives; people who are less concerned with balancing the budget than doing what they feel is morally just. In many ways it's like Jimmy Carter all over again; Carter was a pious man who made, for the first time in American history, morality and human rights a central plank in foreign policy. Bush II, for all his clumsiness, seems to really believe that invading Iraq and "liberating" its people was the moral thing to do - to help foster the spread of democracy in a region ruled by dictators. The result of Carter's approach? An sputtering economy and an anemic foreign policy in which the US, despite all its milatry muscle, was made to look impotent. Carter to this day is pilloried, especially by Conservatives, for these failures. But Bush and the current GOP agenda is suffering the same fate; rising oil prices and rampant spending leading to inflation (just like Carter) and an ineffective military engagement that has lead to increased tensions in the middle east (like Carter, but at a much greater level). Unlike Carter, however, Bush's morality doesn't seem to includer respect for the rights of non-Americans (re: torture).

Morality certainly has a role to play in government, but an effective government must first look at what is effective and efficient, and what best promote's our nation's interests in the long run. That means restrained spending on lean, effective social programs; it means a decisive foreign policy of achievable goals backed up by a strong, well equipped military; it means fostering good will with other nations of the world; and it means promoting unity with the borders of the US.

Here's the irony; The benefit of having English as an official language is to unifies the country, but instead it is being used by the GOP as an election year tactic to enrage passions and divide it.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I love Google


Google rocks. I know it's just a matter of time before they join Microsoft in the pantheon of evil corporate overloads, but for now, I'm continually impressed by the products they produce. Just check out my homepage (click on the picture for a bigger version).

On one page I have a slew information about stuff that interests me - my email, calendar, blog entries, bookmarks.... The downside is that Google also has slew of information about stuff that interests me, but I can live with that.

Blogging the Bible

In case you missed it, David Potz, a non-observant Jew, is reading the entire bible and blogging about it. He's just getting started and is pretty good stuff. I recommend it for skeptics and believers alike.

Here's a sample:

"9:9-17. God announces His first covenant with man, that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood. He doesn't rule out other catastrophes. (God, apparently, is the opposite of an insurance company. He offers flood protection, but no other coverage.) "

Introduction: Slate blogs the Bible
First Entry: Genesis, Chapters 1 - 7

Quotes, God, and Other People (paca)

Kristybox had a very nice section in a recent comment on this blog, which went thus:

"I think I only had absolute belief for one minute, and that was the first time I held Ander. It was fleeting, and unintelligent, and I'm not sure I can ever recapture it. It was like a glimpse of what I cannot have."

The only time I have ever truly believed in God or at least I really wished God existed and that there was heaven and all that was at in 10th grade, when my grandfather died. I liked the man and for just a flash I wanted him to go to Heaven. I wanted there to be more for him and not have death just be an end. This reminds me of the big question of the Meaning of Life. I think it is very easy to question one's own self worth. To question whether or not you yourself have any purpose in life. To think that it wouldn't matter one bit whether or not we ceased to exist. But it is very difficult to think this way about someone else that you care about - a child, a spouse, a parent. It seems perfectly obvious that the Loved One has some purpose, that they add value to the world. I guess we have to go on faith that someone thinks this is obvious for us as well.

To continue the quote trend, I just came across this passage from A.A. Milne's novel Two People. The protagonist is a first time author, Reginald Wellard, a man who is completely smitten with his perfect wife, Sylvia. His novel, which has become the rage of London unbeknownst to him, was published by Mr. Pump, a very Dickensian name for a swindler publisher who is taking far more than his fair share of the profits. Here's the bit:

"It would be nice to be certain of a God; not for myself, but for other people. 'God bless my darling Sylvia, and keep her safe' - well, I say it now, and oh! God, I mean it with all my heart, and it's the only prayer I ever want You to consider. No it isn't, here's another one. 'May she always go on loving me.' Oh Lord, that doesn't end it: "May I always go on loving her' - that's the important one. We can put those two into one if You like: May we always go on loving each other. There! And if You like, Pump can swindle me. I don't mind...."

Or as the first line of Dean Martin's Ain't That a Kick in the Head goes:
"How lucky could one guy be
I kissed her and she kissed me."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Terry Gilliam Quote (Llama)

"I couldn't distinguish my dreams from the dreams that were being sold to me. . . . A simple thing like walking down the beach -- sun setting, birds flying, waves lapping, the sand beneath your feet: was I enjoying it because it was genuinely enjoyable to walk along the beach with the sun setting, or because I'd seen it in ten hundred thousand commercials telling me, 'This is what life is all about'? And I couldn't tell. I had to get out." - Terry Gilliam, 1986

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Feather ruffling (Llama)

'Da Vinci Code' Protests Widespread

I had to laugh when I got to the part of this aricle where they report that "National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation expressed unhappiness with the film's heavy, a monk-assassin, being an albino."

I find it disheartening that some religious groups are calling for a ban or a censor of this movie. It seems to me that if an idea depends upon ignorance to be believed, then it's not much of an idea. The way to combat an idea that one disagrees with is to provide a counter argument; if the Holy Grail isn't what the story claims, then show us why. There have been countless books and TV shows that provide evidence of how the 'Da Vinci Code' is flawed. This is a much better path than just banning the topic entirely.

To me it's this kind of thinking that has lead to the recent examples of politics interfering with science. Religion's role should be to provide spiritual guidance, not intellectual dullness or delusion. If any idea, religous or otherwise, falls apart under scrutiny, then that idea should be discarded. If Christianity is dependent upon beliefs that are verifiably false (i.e. the Earth is the center of the universe, or it is only a few thousand years old, or that man was formed spontaneously from the dirt), then Christianity must either be discarded or adapt its teachings to these facts. If a way of life is environmentally harmful (fossil fuel emmisions contribute to accellerated warming, higher sea levels and changing weather patterns... see the melting of Greenland), then any political ideology that promotes that way of life should be either discarded or adapt to reality.

And if Catholicism is so flimsy that a single fictional story can punch holes in it's orthodoxy, then that orthodoxy must be re-examined.


P.S.

Unlike most church teachings, the effect called "Global Warming" is a scientifically falsifiable theory. I understand that many have doubts about its authenticity, and I do not intend to promote blind faith in anything. It is my understanding, though, without doing a full scan of the literture, that the preponderance of evidence (as well, at the risk of being inflamatory, common sense) does now support the proposition that our emissions are impacting the environment.

My meme (Llama)

I'm putting this in a new post so that those who are interested won't miss it buried down in the comments somewhere.

MY MEME

Accent: Middle America. Most people I've met are suprised to learn I come from Louisana. I think the only things I say that give me away are "ya'll", which is actually fairly mainstream these days, and "fixin' to", which isn't. I never consciously avoided an accent, so I don't know how I ended up this way.

Booze: Yes, please. Just not too much... I don't handle copious quantities very well.

Chore I Hate: Laundry.

Dog or Cat: Dog. I'm allergic to cats.

Essential Electronics: Cell phone. Or, as they say here in Thailand, "mobile". It's my only phone.

Favorite Cologne: Uhm... I think I have something by Ralph Lauren. It's in a blue bottle...

Gold or Silver: Silver.

Hometown: the 'Boro

Insomnia: Yeah... fairly freqently these days. But I can usually get to sleep by 2:00.

Job Title: My business card reads "TASC Fellow"

Kids: Just me

Living Arrangements: Apartments all my life. Currently in a 1BR, 1LR/Kitchenette combo, with hot water only in the shower.

Most Admirable Traits: Got me.

Number of States Lived In: Let's see... Just 3, I think: Louisiana, Tennessee, and New York

Overnight Hospital Stays: None recently, for sure. I was in a car accident at 15 that banged me up, I may have stayed in the hospital then. And I got really sick one time and they hospitalized me and then made me sicker by giving me some medicine I was allergic to. I think that was an overnight visit. And maybe when my arm was fractured in three places back when I was a kid.

Phobias: I don't think I have anything that qualifies as a phobia, but I'd rather not go into water where you can't see what's below the surface. And heights make me queasy.

Quote: Don't have the exact quote, but here's a paraphrase of Terry Gilliam. "Once I was walking down the beach, and quite enjoying myself, and I came to realize that I didn't know if I was genuinely pleased at the sound, sights, and smells of the sea or if I had been programmed to think this was pleasurable by the media. That's when I knew I had to get out of there."

Religion: Highly skeptical.

Siblings: 2 older sisters, Shannon and Paige.

Time I Wake Up: Between 7:00 and 9:00 (See question "B")

Unusual Talent or Skill: Tethering balloons to myself. Oh, and expanding. I am ever expanding.

Vegetable I Love: Sweet potatoes. Stewed tomatoes. Fresh green beans.

Worst Habit: Computer games. Ok, that's not really my worst habit, but it's the worst to which I'll publicly admit.

X-rays: Huh? No. My superpower is that I'm impervious to mosquitos.

Yummy Foods I Make: I have, in the past, been known for my bread pudding. In the past :)

Zodiac Sign: Aries & Ox (Chinese)

paca in time (paca)



We have been doing spring cleaning of the apartment because N's mom arrives tomorrow. In the process, I discovered a series of old photos lying around. This is also the 1 year anniversary of paca as a serious, or at least relatively consistent, blogger. So in memoriam (hee hee) I have added a pictorial review of paca as he has developed unto today. It would be ideal if I could start with a baby pic or something, but it looks like all the old photos are in a warehouse in the Boro. Therefore we have to start in late high school. Captions are under the picture.





I think this one is late high school. I am guessing 1989. That's actually the llama's old truck. Am I helping him move some stuff to LSMSA? Am I helping him take some stuff from his T-Tom's house? I don't know. I assume llama is the photographer.





This is June 1990, because this is high school graduation. I would be 16. The other guy with the cool hair is Steve and the woman is the theatre director. We are in front of the seal of the prep school that I have already discussed. Virtus Semper Viridis - Virtue Always Growing. What's up with the jacket? My sense of humor. Chris and I decided to find the ugliest jackets we could for the grad ceremony. Mine might be from the Salvation Army. We had some illusion that we were continuing a plaid tradition, but I think we were just annoying our parents.





1993. College days. I would have been 19 and my sister there would have been 13. She looks older than me there, doesn't she? I had spent the earlier fall semester in China and purchased my great Mao cap on the Great Wall. I bought it as a piece of kitsch to make fun of the collapse of Maoist China. My father was pretty sure it was a sign of my imminent conversion to communism.





Saying hello to a local in Ketchikan, Alaska. I don't really know when this is. I'm guessing 1996 or so. When my grandmother was getting older and in worse health, she couldn't walk much, but she still wanted to see us kids and do something interesting. The result was a series of cruises that she took the family on. Alaska was the first.





The next Bond? June 20, 1998. Wedding day.





My mother got remarried in Inverness, Scotland. Why? Because it's freaking Scotland! She even got her Texan dentist husband to wear a kilt for the ceremony. N and I travelled around afterwards. I think this is St. Andrews. Why the pose? Because, you see, about 7-8 years earlier, there was a silly sign in China with a figure in that pose with the big Circle X across it. Therefore, we have a series of pictures of us doing the illegal pose. Apparently, I had no new ideas for rebellion 7 years later and was repeating the in-joke.





Also, in Scotland. This time in Edinburgh, probably, in front of the Scottish philosopher David Hume. I love how the sculptor put the actually stuffy, staunchy Hume in a toga and removed about 150 pounds from him.





This is the Bermuda cruise, I think. Some time in between my masters in philosophy in 1996 and before... today. I know it is after the M.A. because I am wearing the Sheraton Casino shirt. When I was a grad student, the last time, I worked at Victor's serving pizza. Our pizza shop owner apparently gambled away all profits from the restaurant at the casino in Tunica, MS. Therefore, when the shop closed, he took us all to the casino for the evening, where we had $100 to blow in the gift shop, due to his high rollingness. This shirt was my gift. The tie is actually from my Dad who got it in Thailand. There was once a slim chance of a Thai company opening a garment plant in the Boro, and my father and a couple others, somehow, ended up going to Thailand to try to persuade them. This was before we had the llama living there. What you should take from all this is that I rarely purchase my own clothing.





Here we are getting more recent. N created a little picture book for B to look at so that he would know what all his relatives look like. We don't see them much out in the ocean here. This is me, B, and my mom, visiting them in Virginia. This is Christmas, 2003. B would be 11 months and he still gives this look to people he's not too sure about.





B and I at the 4th of July parade in Spring Hill, TN, in 2003 as well. If you are wondering why N is never in these pics, it's 1) because she's taking them and 2) I haven't run posting her pic online by her yet.





And here we are about 2 weeks ago. This is my Field Methods class. I only have one Hawaiian shirt, so I had to wear it for the semi-formal occasion. Ironically, that Hawaiian shirt was purchased at Target in Nashville, not in Hawaii.


There you go. From 15 to 32.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

John Gibson is a silly, silly man but does that make him a racist? (Llama)

I've been a long time reader of Media Matters, but as they've grown in prominence I think they are losing their credibility. Which is a shame, because we need organizations like them to debunk the misinformation foisted upon us by those who are "factually impaired." But organizations like Media Matters can only function if they maintain their credibility; otherwise they become the exact thing that their opponents try to paint them to be: a biased smear factory. Case in point, this article:

Gibson: "Make more babies" because in "[t]wenty-five years ... the majority of the population is Hispanic"

Now, if you are a like I am, this headline seems to claim that Gibson wants white people to have more babies so that the US remains majority caucasian. The problem is that, while the article cited does reveal Gibson to be a demagogue who is completely ignorant of demographics and even basic math, it does not reveal him, at least overtly, to be a racist.

That sentence never appears in his article. "Make more babies" is in a completely different paragraph than the phrase "Twenty-five years and the majority of the population is hispanic." In fact, while there is a subtext of racism, the fact is that when Gibson writes that "we need more babies", he is referring not to whites but to the entire US population... so that we don't end up like Russia with a population decrease of 33% within 45 years. He specifically singles out hispanics for already "doing their part."

I think Media Matters has nailed Gibson's intent, but they did it dishonestly.

P.S. Defending Gibson is giving me acid-reflux.

My Very Own City of Angels (Llama)

3 sounds common to Bangkok but not NYC:
  1. Rooster crows
  2. Elephant trumpets
  3. "Hellooooo! Massaaaaaaaage???"
3 sounds common to NYC but not Bangkok
  1. Air brakes
  2. Show tunes
  3. "Hey, you want some flowers? Rose? Carnation? Weed?"

Friday, May 12, 2006

He-Man's Gay??? Whaaaa???? (LLama)


Apparently there's some question as to He-Man's sexual preferences. I had no idea!

You gotta watch this video. Fabulous!

$$ (Llama)


Congress's solution? Legalize increased borrowing and give a $70 billion tax cut

National Debt Clock

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mochi balls! (paca)

It's funny how environment can change your eating habits. Three years ago, if someone had asked me, "hey, paca, you want a seaweed flavored mochi peanut ball?" I would likely have responded, "Would I what?" But now I can say, "yes, please."

I had a massive number of hits yesterday and there were a couple reasons why. First, Jill linked my way since she too is in exam hell and her kind, but silent friends all headed my way. Secondly, I mentioned the words "naked women", "pictures", and "sex" in a blog entry. So I've had a slew of people looking for pictures of naked women here reading about the hypothalamus and subject pools. I'm shocked that no one chimed in with their own tale of EEG imaging madness.

For the life update, I have two papers done and one to go. I am doing everything I can, well except for writing it since I am spending time on my blog apparently, to finish the complete draft tonight. Then I can edit and turn in tomorrow. That will put a wrap on the semester, though I will still be doing my job. Also, N's mom is coming in to Hawaii for a conference next Wednesday. They will be our first actual visitors here in the two years. So, go, them. This means that I will be cleaning the house like a mad man for the next few days. When they leave, it's back into class with French. Ahh, vacation, I hardly knew thee.

pacapaca

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Neurology and sexual desire (paca)

This study just came through Yahoo News. It has the exciting and ultimately misleading title:

Study: Lesbians' Brains React Differently

I am always quite wary when I read an article like this. It is intended to be a biological study of sexual behavior and the article has a scientist saying something like, "we are likely to have more and more indicators in the future that many things related to sexual orientation have a biological basis." Apparently, this current research is a follow-up to a previous study on gay men, and I remember a study a couple years back about lesbian women blinking at different rates than straight women. In the current experiment they had women (and previously men) sniff certain chemicals, which may or may not be human pheromones. These pheromones may or may not have a relationship to sexual desire in humans, though they do in other animals. The scientists did a brain scan, probably functional MRI but the report doesn't say, to see which areas of the brain had increased blood flow while sniffing the chemical.

Now, it turns out that the lesbian women had a slightly higher activation rate in the hypothalamus than straight women did when sniffing the female pheromone. The article mentions that the hypothalamus is the base of a lot of sexual drive behavior. They don't mention that it is also the base of a lot of other things as well. For instance, long term memory goes through there to a large degree. Very likely the real research had a more specific region than the hypothalamus, but we don't know. There was less activation in the hypothalamus in straight women, who had instead increased activation in areas related to the general sense of smell instead. In short: lesbian women use sexual centers when sniffing female chemicals, while straight women use general smell centers like they might with a flower. This article and the blinking one always go on to say something to the effect of "lesbian women therefore behaved more like straight men." That sentence is always there. Of course, everyone knows that certain behaviors between lesbian women and straight men are similar - generally both think that Angelina Jolie is hot. But this neurological work seems to show that the basis for such beliefs about Angelina is biological, neurological, perhaps genetic, not social. Does it really show this? If you want to assess this article, you should ask a bunch of questions:

1) How did they define the subject pools precisely; i.e., how do you get the labels "lesbian" and "straight"? Is it "I fell in love/lust with this other girl 2 days after I hit puberty and it is all I have ever wanted?" Is it "I am attracted to women?" Is it "I kissed a girl 8 years ago?" Is it "I have thoughts about other women but I don't really want to act on them?" The point is that women don't come with sexual orientation labels stamped on their foreheads and the subject pools here could be almost anything. If a woman is madly in love with her boyfriend, but, sure, that woman at the coffee shop is pretty cute, which pool does she go into? Does one have to actually vomit when seeing a naked woman to go into the straight category or what? The actual research will have this spelled out. The popular news article does not.

2) What areas of the hypothalamus are involved exactly and what else do we know about them? Moreover, why exactly do we say there the hypothalamus is related to sex? To give a language example, for over a hundred years, psychologists thought this one area in the brain was particularly related to language syntax, grammar. In the last decade or so, we have discovered that we weren't asking quite the right question. That area really has more to do with processing long strings into chunks, kind of. It's not specific to language really at all; it's just that language has the sentences that you must decode. It is very, very likely that whatever the hypothalamus does is not exactly sex and sex alone. It could be that whatever makes women in today's society identify themselves such that they end up in a certain subject pool is not sex related at all.

3) How does the hypothalamus develop over the life span? Would we expect the same differences in pheromone behavior at infancy? At the age of 6? At puperty? Or does it fluctuate a lot throughout life?

I have a speculation. I bet that if you took straight men from, say, the highlands of New Guinea and showed them pictures of women who are particularly sexually attractive in their society, as well as pictures of some other ideal from another part of the world that they have no exposure to, I bet you would find different neurological activation patterns compared to American men. Does that mean that American men are biologically inclined to like one thing, while New Guinean men are not? Probably not. Because the human brain doesn't pop out of the womb complete. It continues to grow based on the experiences it has, and it is, on the face of it, equally possible that differences in hypothalamus activity are modified as people fall in and out of love with others. I am not denying that biology pushes our sexual desires in certain directions. Biology pushes the way language works, the way we hear music, the way we see, the way we imagine, everything. But it is almost certainly the case that there is no genetic or biological switch which stamps us forever in a certain way. Sexual desire changes as people grow. Some people love blondes and then 5 years later, they only want brunettes. And, believe it or not, the same thing is true about gender desires, though in a much deeper way than hair color. Here is a book that explores this issue in often heart-breaking stories (and yes I have read it).

Unexpected Pleasures: Leaving Heterosexuality for a Lesbian Life by Tamsin Wilton

So, anyway, I never said why studies like the ones reported here make me wary. They are studies to examine roots of sexuality and that's fine. Frequently, they are being done by lesbian or gay researchers. My main concern has always been that a search for a biological explanation for orientation is "the easy way out." The argument is that if orientation is biological then discrimination makes no sense. However, that avoids the apparently harder question for many, which is "If it is not biological, then is discrimination OK?" The biological question is easier because it is just updating your mental database with knowledge about the world. "I used to think the world was flat, then Magellan sailed around it and now I know it is round." That's a relatively painless change. I used to think something based on decent evidence and then I got new evidence. However, if orientation is not biological, then you have to question your own morals. "Apparently, I have always had all the evidence I needed and I was wrong about the way I acted." The latter is a much more difficult place to go.

Wow, I just think I did a rant. How'd that happen? OK, back to Micronesian language documentation.

Daily Grind (paca)

In case anyone is wondering what I am up to in my daily life at the moment, it's pretty straightforward.

Today at 2:00 - Psycholinguistics paper due.
Tuesday at 12:00 - Field Methods paper due.
Thursday at 12:00 - Optimality Theory paper due.

So that's how I am spending my days... and nights. Then the semester will be done.

pacapaca

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Laconia Corporation (paca)

For some random reason this morning (one of those long chains of thought where you end up in some place seemingly unrelated to where you started), I was thinking about my older bro's band, Laconia Corporation. I carry instruments around, playing one for 6 months, but never really get around to actually playing anything. I think the highlight of my intrument playing life was at a company party when a bunch of us put together a band. I joined one year but wasn't really able to play anything. The second year, there were fewer guitarists, so I actually had to do something. I remember being on stage during the picnic, playing the rhythm guitar riff for U2's Where the Streets Have No Name and I distinctly heard Ruth, who had played bass the year before, say something like, "paca's been practicing." That was awesome.

Hm. Somehow this ended up about me rather than about my brother.

Anyway, my brother has actually been recording with a friend of his since high school, off and on, which according to their band web site started in 1983. Geez, he's old. I wasn't in 9th grade until 1986. They've recorded a bunch of albums by pressing play on the tape recorder and doing something. I think he, his friend, and me are the only owners of these albums, though the llama has heard them. However, in 1998 and 2000, they spent tons of money on digital multitrack recorders and such and put some serious production effort into something. The results were two albums Petroglyph and, believe it or not, Still Life with Llamas. However, I just re-read the notes and indeed this is a different llama than our beloved killer llama. In fact, it is a reference to the guitarist's girlfriend, in college perhaps, who I do not believe was our llama. Anyway, if you are interested, the link to their web site is:

Laconia Corporation

There are lots of sample downloads here, but they appear non-functional. Therefore the only place you can hear the tunes is:

CD Baby

I recommend trying Green-Tinted Glasses. One thing about the music is that it is the most 80s sounding thing I have heard since, uhhh, the 80s. It's like all those English pop-new-wave bands that weren't manly enough for me when I was 12. Think Alphaville, Howard Jones, and OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark). It think it's just all the treble and echoing in the production. It also sounds nothing like the music they did in the 80s.

I will also reveal that the llama and I at 11 had a tribute band to my brother, who would have been 16. You see, my brother's first tune was "Latin" to the tune of Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages" (oobin gleebin gloutin glotin, or whatever). The llama and I had "Bandin' Bait" to the tune of "Latin". We had two other tunes. "Heathcliff" which was my lyrics on top of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll" and "Garfield" which was the llama's pure original - lyrics and tune. I should add that neither of us played any instruments. It was mouth guitar. A few years back, after my realization that my lyrics were horrible but that I had lots of musical ideas in my head, I had llama send me some lyrics to a couple songs. But I was lame and never put them to music as I said I would do. I am the one who asked him for the lyrics. Kind of like I was supposed to do the music for a short film of his when he was in film school in Nashville. I never got around to that either. Noticing a trend? If that ABC Meme had a "worst trait" part, this would have been a prime candidate.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Nike running club and a meme

There's a Niketown store about 3 blocks from our apartment, and they have a running club on Wednesdays. I have wanted to join for almost the two years I have been here, and I finally did it tonight. I strapped on my old Nike Pegasus running shoes from marathon days where the sole is falling off one of them, put B in the jogging stroller, and walked over there just before 6:00.

I liked it. Pretty low key thing. They have some silly sales gimmicks, but not too bad. You can keep a running chart there with them that you fill out each time you run. After 100 miles, I get a t-shirt. Then they have various routes, starting at 2 miles, and up to 7 something, I think. Since I haven't run in a year at least, B and I did the two miles. You start off together, but you can do whatever pace pleases you. I may have been the only person jogging with a stroller, but there was one pair walking with a stroller, and another mother with an infant strapped to her chest. I surprised myself that, except for some stops for red lights and getting new toys out for B, I was able to run the whole way. The best part though was the return where they had a little plate for you with pineapple, orange, watermelon, and a bagel fragment, plus a bottle of water.

ABC Meme from Errant Apostophes (Katze) and Yellow Snapdragons (Jill)

Accent: Basically, Mainstream American English with some remaining hints of Louisiana, such as in certain vowels. For instance, pin and pen rhyme for me.

Booze: I don't drink often, but I like things where the alcohol is covered somehow. Amaretto sour, margaritas, long island iced tea sometimes. And I had one non-bitter beer once. Wish I remembered it's name. Truth is I am too cheap for alcohol and would rather spend the money on an appetizer.

Chore I Hate: Ironing.

Dog or Cat: Dog, I guess.

Essential Electronics: I guess I do get on a computer everyday. I'm coming to enjoy my I-Pod nano my father gave me.

Favorite Cologne: Obession, not that I even own any right now.

Gold or Silver: Whatever.

Hometown: Winnsboro, LA

Insomnia: Only when I am away from home or really excited about something. Like that tense/subject thing last semester.

Job Title: Graduate Assistant

Kids: 3 year old son

Living Arrangements: 1 bed room apt with spouse and offspring

Most Admirable Traits: Never intentionally belittles another. Unintentionally is another matter.

Number of States Lived In: Uhh... six. LA, MS, TN, NJ, MN, HI. Does 6 weeks in Austin count? How about 4 months in Tianjin Autonomous District?

Overnight Hospital Stays: yes. some bug in 5th grade and pneumonia in 9th grade. I also slept on a lot of couches and pullouts during the pregnancy.

Phobias: None, but I have begun to really dislike flying. I drove from Nashville to Toronto for business trips. However, it looks like I am going from Hawaii to Montreal in June, so I'll be flying again.

Quote: Wherever you go, there you are.

Religion: Entertaining all, convinced by none.

Siblings: 1 bro, 1 sis, and 5 step sisters. If you count the inlaws that brings in 5 more brothers. B has 8 grandparents. All the steps came in while I was an adult.

Time I Wake Up: 7:00ish

Unusual Talent or Skill: I can snap my fingers in the Lone Ranger rhythm. Snap, snap, clap. It took practice. I can also whistle blowing air in or out.

Vegetable I Love: How about corn in cornbread that is not on my current diet? Otherwise, artichokes. Not those marinated heart ones; the real thing.

Worst Habit: Goofing off, then making up for it with insanely long hours. Like now.

X-rays: Yes. And now I am a superhero. I can make people fall asleep just from reading my blog.

Yummy Foods I Make: Cheese grits, bi bim bop, crepes of various sorts.

Zodiac Sign: Virgo

Sometime behave so strangely (paca)

OK, I know I spend my life researching language and music, but still this is the coolest thing ever.

Track 22 link

Click on the Track 22 bit and read the text around it.

Notes (paca)

1) People may be wondering again by now where the llama is. Again the answer is that I don't know. There have been no views from Thailand in a couple weeks at least, so I conclude that he is back in Bangladesh with flickering electricity.

2) I've discovered that one of the things I am best at is seeing the connections between things. At least between things that I am interested in. No matter what class I take or article I read - phonological theory, intonation, arguments for innate language, working memory, theories of discourse, musical ability - I am always finding stuff to connect together. That's partly a talent. (I like to see how everyone is the same more than different.) But it's also just what happens when you are interested in the stuff. What we see in the world is often less a matter of what is out there than what we bring to it, meaning that all parts of the world have cool stuff going on. The question is do you find it cool yourself?

3) This reminds me of a paper I wrote back in college for a philosophy class on musical aesthetics. Basically, I tried to argue against relativism in art. Some art really is better than other art. Muddy Waters really is better than Generic Blues Band. But that isn't the end of the story. The music is better because it is more liable to cause deeper, more fulfilling experiences in a listener. That very last word is the key. There is also a listener, and they bring their own experiences to the situation. Their life and likes and dislikes and phobias and hangups all come to be part of the musical experience. This is why people have different opinions of music. It isn't that music is all the same and relative (to what?) or whatever. Cole Porter was really a better song writer than me. But when Cole Porter hits the ears of different people, those people will experience it differently. A personal example for me is the Monkees versus the Beatles. Now, I freely admit that the Beatles on the whole were far superior musically to the Monkees. But I don't own any Beatles albums and I have owned, at one time, every single Monkees album. That's not because the Monkees are actually better. It's just an accident of my personal history. I like funny things. I got hooked on the reruns on Nickelodeon in the 80s. I slowly graduated from their silly songs to the better stuff, usually written by my man Papa Nez. But that's just me. It's not John Lennon's fault. "In My Life" versus "Last Train to Clarksville"? Not a difficult decision.

4) Bambi. I don't think I've seen Bambi since I was a kid. And really I had no desire too. I always assumed it was just a bunch of sappy overly sentimental scenes of a baby deer talking to a rabbit. Oh yeah, and his mom dies. Who wants to watch that? Anyway, we rented it for B this last weekend. It's really quite an extraordinary movie. It is sentimental, but not sappy really. It exudes this pure love of life. From a child's birth to watching rain drops fall to seeing a possum hanging upside down to the joy of snow, all infused with a sense that it could all disappear one day, represented primarily by the unseen but omnipresent Man who may take your life one day - or may not. People always make some comment when people go deer hunting about going off to kill Bambi, but I didn't get the impression that the actual movie was some overt anti-hunting statement, intended to show the injustice of hunting. Instead, the invisible hunters were an expression of the ever present possibility of death which hangs over all of us. The same idea was present in the scenes of the long winter, where Bambi and his mother slowly strip all the bark from the trees until no more can be had. At that point, there is nothing to do but sit down and be hungry until Spring comes. It is not that Winter is evil and unjust. It is the way the world is, and it makes you realize just how amazing Spring can be. There are also lots of really wonderful images in the movie. The main one I remember is when Bambi's mother has been shot and he is looking for her. Suddenly, out of the snow the Father is there, just a dim silhouette in the dark snowy night. It's a better movie than I had ever realized.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Seemingly completely random (paca)







Paca's creature-nemesis:

The Dreaded POSSUM
QuizGalaxy!
'What creature will become your nemesis?' at QuizGalaxy.com

Stormy Weather Sports Reporter (paca)

I mentioned once before that I pretty much only report sports news when things are going well. For instance, the last time I mentioned the Nashville Predators (hockey), they had moved into a tie for first place in the Western Conference with the Detroit Red Wings. I kept true to my word and did not bother to mention that they fell after that and ended up in 4th place in the Conference, heading into the NHL playoffs.

Well, now I am going to break my promise of only reporting good stuff and inform you all, and I know you all care deeply about this, that the Predators have lost their first round of the playoffs to the San Jose Sharks and are now out. Season Over. Done. In other lousy news, it is looking more and more like Steve McNair, the QB for the Tennessee Titans, will no longer be a Titan. There's a slim possibility, but not much of one. He costs so much against the salary cap that the Titans organization even locked him out of working out at the facility in case he got an injury. Can you imagine the 49ers locking Joe Montana out or the Jets locking out Joe Namath? Anyway, to add insult to injury, apparently the team with the most interest in McNair is none other than the Baltimore Ravens.

If you are a Titans fan, you hate, hate, hate the Baltimore Ravens. The coach Brian Billick is an arrogant jack-ass. It was bad enough when our premier cornerback and receiver went to play for them last year. But McNair?! That's like the Red Sox trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees. (Not that McNair has earned the cred of Babe Ruth or Joe Montana, but you get the idea.)

Sports suck.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Venture Philanthropy (paca)

So I wrote something about my own weight loss and below this, if people are interested in such fare. On a different topic:

I was browsing the Amazon listings for Jane Jacobs' books, spurred to think about her due to her recent passing. The main book I remember is Systems of Survival and one of the reviews has the best synopsis of the premise. I have put an excerpt here:

"This is a most insightful book, in which the author convincingly expounds her thesis that the world uses two systems of ethics as systems for the survival of mankind: the commercial system, and the guardian system.

The commercial class lives by production and exchange, primarily by means of honest, binding contracts and voluntary agreements, and where initiative, inventiveness and efficiency are prized, along with industriousness, thrift and investment.

The guardian class is prevalent in governments, benevolent trusts, charity organizations, universities and schools, military and police. They shun trading and exchange, and live by taking, in the form of taxes and donations, and sometimes expropriation. They are dispensers of the good things, in the form of grants and largesse. Guardians issue commands and expect them obeyed, with courage if necessary, which they in turn are subject to themselves, for a hierarchical command structure is honored. And they use force and deception where necessary to accomplish objectives.

The greatest sin, and the cause of all corruption, according to Ms. Jacobs, is when the two systems are merged in one organization. I have read several books on ethics, but this is the first that points out that there are two systems in operation in society. And it explains so much that has been a puzzle for me."

This got me thinking back to 2002-2003, when I was the President of this local community theater in Spring Hill (it was tiny, don't be impressed. It means that I showed up a lot.) I wasn't a great president. I was mediocre but decent until the day little B was born. Then I pretty much never showed up again.

One of the ongoing concerns for the Arts Center was the location. We could never afford rent for the most part and spent our time in the old school woodshop that was loaned to us. It was basically abandoned. We kept trying to raise money to get some sort of home. One possibility that was presented was to buy the Old School itelf. It was a run down place but fairly large. The key was that to make it work, we would have had to rent out rooms to businesses, maybe have some apartments in it. Basically, it would have been a non-profit theater company that was also a business.

I could never decide if this was a good idea or not. I really like the self-sufficiency of it. I did some reading and discovered the concept of Venture Philanthropy. Here are some links:

Venture Philanhropy Partners
Center for Venture Philanthropy
Kirsch Foundation
An article about philanthropy in the arts

The basic gist of venture philanthropy is that the donors are heavily active in the organizations they sponsor, and not in the sense that they serve mashed potatos behind the counter. They act like Silicon Valley venture capitalists, helping establish the growth patterns, the business plan, the marketing, etc. for the non-profit. They also continuously measure the success of the organization. Is it actually accomplishing something? And it has to be something you can measure in some way. In a nutshell, you run a philanthropy like a business.

I am very sympathetic to the idea. Particularly in the sense that you have objectives you try to meet and you have long range plans to meet those objectives. I like the idea of throwing everything and the kitchen sink at a problem for a short time, solving it so that the affected people don't need your help anymore, and then getting out. But, at the same time, if Jacobs, above, is right, this seems to be a classic blending of the commercial and guardian systems, which should be doomed for failure. Any thoughts?

Weight Change (paca)

So as revealed here a couple months ago, I put myself on a low carb diet that for about a week and a half was just me making it up. Then N and I went on the official South Beach Diet together. This includes a 2 week no carb phase 1, then a supposedly weight-loss-generating phase 2, with some carbs (fruit and whole grain stuff). I guess we are in Phase 2 now. It's been working fairly well. Over a couple months, I have lost around 13 pounds or so, which is great. Now, this is nothing like the 7-13 lbs that they promise in Phase 1 alone, but I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

You know, I think that might actually be how you use that idiom, but I still don't know what it means.

So, after losing this weight, it seemed like I was getting close to my goal, which has always been 175 pounds. I kind of pulled that number out of... a hat, but it seemed a good one.

However, following links on blogs, I took this quiz that estimated my weight should be 160. I am 5'10". That seems rather low. I only weighed 145 when I got out of college at 20, and I was thin as a rail.

Then last night I got screwed up even more by weighing myself on a different scale (put a quarter in, get your weight). And instead of weighing 177, which is what the bathroom scale here says, it went for 190 or so. That's where I thought I started.

So now I no longer know how much I actually do weigh or how much I should weigh. Being moderate me, I am going to split the difference and claim I currently weigh 184 and that my goal should be 170. It's still annoying, because in a couple days I have gone from being 3 pounds off my target to 14.

I won't complain though. I was going over 215 not more than a couple years back. So whichever works for me.