Wednesday, August 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

Again, here's the new link.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

PhD Comics (paca)

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

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

And this one beats them all

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Four Corners Chocolate Cake (paca)

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

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lambchop Lyric 1 (paca)

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

Song: The Old Gold Shoe
Album: Nixon

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

Friday, August 17, 2007

Of Saints and War (paca)

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

On to the post....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Babies (paca)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the way, I'm having triplets.

In other family news (paca)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

1985 - Summer of Hurricanes (paca)

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mama! Mama!"

"What is it, my little sweetpea?!"

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

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

Mama grabs up her skirts and dashes to the window.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hurricane Flossie (paca)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sorry to go political on you but (paca)

Wow. Here is Cheney in 94 talking about reasons not to go into Iraq after Desert Storm. It's a laundry list of the exact problems we are dealing with today. What happened?

Dig a Hole (paca)

This is oddly interesting.

If you were to dig a hole through the entire earth, where would you end up?

Find out here.

Turns out I would pop out around Botswana. For you mainlanders, the answer is not China (which makes sense because of the whole hemisphere / spherical thing the Earth has going). I stuck in Louisiana and New York, but I won't tell you where they come out, since it's all about the same, thus ruining it for you. It appears that to actually dig a hole all the way to China, you'd have to start in Argentina or thereaboouts.

Looks like if I want to do a hole to the South Pacific somewhere around Tahiti, I'd have to start off in Syria or Iraq. Hmm.** I think I'll take a plane instead. Though I certainly will miss 7,980 miles of magma and core in my little drill car. I do loves me some magma.

Yes, I am putting off doing the last round of database changes for work.

** This makes a bit of sense, actually. If paradise on earth is Tahiti or Bora Bora, then the opposite of paradise would be... Iraq. Of course, I know I am not giving Iraq a fair trial. I hear that it's making progress and will become an earthly paradise again in about 6 months time. And if not then, then another 6 months. And another. Aaannndd another....

And another.

And another.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

2007 Concept Cars (paca)

The 2007 Geneva auto show just happened, and there are some stunningly beautiful concept cars on display there.

This one may be my favorite, but it's hard to choose.
Bertone Roadster Concept Somehow its infinitely cooler when the doors are up.

This one is a very close second. I'm not a huge fan of the look from the front, but when they take the photo from the rear angle, it's hard not to dream about being in that thing throwing it around some serious curves.


I don't really like the look of this one, but the lines are so smooth, there's something mysterious about it. It always looks like a painting at first glance instead of something real.

Fioravanti Thalia Concept

Then there's this one. When I think of countries that make amazing cars, Russo-Baltique is not the first area of the world, I think of. But talk about long and low slung. On the prowl in this one.

Russo-Baltique Impression

And here's one. Well, it sure is interesting.

Rinspeed eXasis

And last but not least we have this hydrogen cell car with the cockpit style seating. Two people sit on the one side.

Italdesign Giugiaro Vad.Ho

And while what I'm about to say isn't truly fair.... when Russo-Baltique can give us the Impression, and this is what we get from Ford... well, I wouldn't buy any real estate in Detroit for a while.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Update on the apology post (paca)

I just got a really nice, knowledgable comment on my apology post from visiting blogger "ello" who I sorta know from Evil Editor. (Before I forget, ello, do you know any references for the conversations you talked about - newpapers, blogs, etc. They can even be in Korean. I can't read them, but my research partner can.) This inspired me to provide an update on the apology question.

If you remember, there were three scenarios I mentioned:

1) Your brother is a jerk to the boss.
2) The mass murder by someone of your ethnicity.
3) One mother possibly apologizing to another when their children break up.

In the comments, as I had "hoped" pretty much everyone said they wouldn't apologize for any of these things. I think everyone who responded is American. I say I "hoped" that just because it matches my guesses on how Americans would react, being, well, American too.

As you all can probably guess, these examples are instances in which, based entirely upon my conversations with my research partner and former classmate, a Korean person very well might apologize. In fact, for the jerky brother, the sister actually had to resign her position as well due to his actions. I think she resigned as a partial step in restoring honor to her family. For the break up ones, these are based on Korean TV dramas, which are wildly popular across Asia now, including in Hawaii, and spreading slowly on the mainland, such as L.A. (This is the Korean Wave if you've encountered the term yet, where K-pop is becoming mainstream. I want to watch one, but I'm really afraid I'll like it and lose 70 hours watching Jeon Ji-Hyun in My Sassy Girl, or something.) There are tons of instances in these dramas in which an engagement is being broken off and one mother has to apologize to another mother for it. Our best understanding of the rationale is that breaking an engagement is an offense to the entire family. In fact, it's from one whole family to another family. This can be the case even when the two people actually in the relationship are happy it's over.

Finally, yeah, the mass murder thing was the Virginia Tech shootings, where the killer was Korean-American. My partner mentioned Koreans she knew apologizing to Americans they encountered for the horrible event. As ello asked in her comment, WTF?

I don't really know TF, but I can give you the explanation we are about to submit to a journal.

One of the biggest theories of "politeness" is called face theory. Politeness here is much bigger than holding your fork the right way. It's all about how people relate to one another and how they treat one another with respect. In face theory, an apology is needed to restore face to someone who has lost it. So if I harm your face in some way, then I can restore equilibrium between us by apologizing. In the classic conception of face, there are two kinds. Negative face which says that a person wants to be free and unimpeded, and positive face in which a person wants their wants to be approved of by others. Apologies are most common when someone violates a person's negative face. For instance, if I bump into you on the street, that's a basic physical attack on your desire to act on your own will, and so I very well might apologize to you if I felt responsible. The face threatening acts can be a lot more abstract as well, of course.

J-W and I are modifying these concepts in various ways, which I won't go into here. (I should emphasize here that the ideas of "face" are not Korean-specific or even East Asian specific. The original ideas come from a bunch of Brits and Americans, and some of the biggest criticisms of the definitions come from people studying Chinese and Japanese societies.) One way we are changing the theory, though, is to allow things other than individual people to have face, namely culturally-defined groups of people.

So going back to the above examples, the family seems to clearly be a group in Korean society and the family as a whole can both be insulted and take responsibility for an insult. I would argue that this is also the case for Americans, though it is different. Parents can definitely apologize for their children in the right circumstances, particularly when they are young and cannot do it themselves. I can also imagine a parent telling a teen or adult child that they are embarassing the family. Group face can pop up in other groups, too, I think. I was once in a bar with a friend and he was starting to act pretty jerky to a couple women near us, and I began to feel a need to apologize for him, for us. In a somewhat trivial way, it can pop up in sports and even pop culture. If someone insults a person on your football team, you might take offense as well, even though they didn't offend you. To me it also seems more direct than "you like the other person on your team and so you are mad". No, the jerk insulted the group of which you are a part.

So for the Virginia Tech case, it would seem that ethnicity is a group that has face in Korean culture. In the right circumstances, you can insult the face of the entire ethnicity and one of its members can shame the entire ethnicity. Another case we've found of this might be Dr. Hwang who was caught falsifying research a couple years ago on stem cell work at Seoul National U. By his act, he appears to have shamed not just himself or his lab, but his University and the entire nation. Therefore, he had to apologize to the entire nation to restore the nation's face. While I as an American definitely don't think of things quite like this, I'm not sure it makes any less sense than believing my football team or army infantry unit has a face to maintain.

I can make up a reason that nation / ethnicity is so strong for Korea, but it's just making one up. I know pretty little about Korea actually, and I've just started reading my first history of the nation. However, one point that the author makes is that Korea is rather unusual in that, by and large, for over a thousand years, the nation, the ethnic group, and the language had the same borders. In modern times, this is no longer true in a variety of ways, but not for most of the history. This just means that almost everyone who identified as Korean culturally was part of the Korean nation (Silla, Korye, Choson were the principal dynasties) and everyone in the Korean nation was culturally Korean. There were no large minorities who spoke another language (though Korean has a number of dialects which might be more diverse than people let on) and there have been no large migrations of other peoples into the Korean peninsula. I'm just guessing that in such circumstances one can develop a very strong sense of ethnic and cultural solidarity.**

Now, I'm always looking for ways that people are more alike one another than different, and so part of what we will argue is that some of these features which might be accented in Korean apology use can also be seen to lesser degrees in other cultures.

But we will see. And anyone can feel free to correct any of this. It's based largely on our one research project, which is pretty scant evidence.


** The Korean diaspora today is fairly large and growing. There are significant Korean populations in Japan, north China, Hawaii, and the mainlaind, California, particularly, and probably other places I don't know. Korean is no longer the main language for some of these groups, such as 2nd and 3rd generation Korean-Americans who only speak English or the thousands of Korean adoptees into English-speaking families. And of course there's that whole North Korea / South Korea thing going on.

Trivia Note: Why does the Kim sirname seem so huge in Korea? Part of the answer is that the dynasty which first unified most of the Korean peninsula was named Silla, and Kim was the dominant family/clan which ruled as its kings/emperors. It was good to be a Kim. (Again, please correct if there's a better explanation.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Managing friends and family (paca)

An old college friend and roommate of mine came through town this Saturday, and it was really nice seeing him. The last time was when he came to my wedding in 1998. He and his wife just had one day as they were headed to Maui for a conference next. We had a fine day with the two of them. B takes to all adults immediately, so the only question is whether they take to him, and they did just fine. We headed to the Windward side to the Japanese temple, the Pali overlook, and then a Macadamia Nut "Farm".

They also had two other close friends of theirs, another couple, who we were supposed to meet up with for dinner. It was here that problems arose. First up, we set the time for 7:30. Everyone checked the time with us, and we said it was fine, but as the time got closer, it became more and more obvious that it was getting too late for B. In the end, N decided she should stay home. I offered to flip her for staying home instead, but she declined. So that was no fun. (I made it up a little the next morning by going running with B so that she was able to sleep in a couple hours.) Then we went to the restaurant. I knew it was a nice one, but I hadn't realized just how nice. I opened the menu and the cheapest entree was $30. I'm a grad student and that is just a wee bit out of the budget. I was able to find a nice side salad and bowl of soup for about $12, which worked out. I think everyone realized what had happened, when I was eating my soup and they were finishing ahi steaks, and so, being really nice people, they insisted on paying for my dinner when the bill came, but of course that's really awkward to me as well.

In short, they were two couples, in their 30s with no children, and they were acting as normal couples do on a special vacation to Hawaii. It's just really hard to match that completely well with me on a grad assist salary and a 4 year old when I have not been saving up for this. If N and B had come, it would not have worked. It would have taken $80 to get the three of us out, and a 4 year old is good for about 30-40 minutes for dinner, while we talked and ate for two hours.

I'm still not sure what the correct answer was. You don't want to let the four year old dictate every single activity, especially for special friends whom you haven't seen in years. Perhaps there was a compromise place, like a Chili's, that could have worked more universally, but who wants to come all the way for a vacation to Hawaii and go to Chili's?

I don't know.

Feminist me (paca)

These questions are hopelessly biased towards getting most people to say they are feminist. But since I beat out J who was only 85%, I thought I'd post this for amusement. It has to be better than the academic disdain one, one of my most boring posts in a while.

You Are 96% Feminist

You are a total feminist. This doesn't mean you're a man hater (in fact, you may be a man).
You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It's a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Academic disdain (paca)

I've been working off and on for a while now on a research paper about what we can and cannot learn from certain psychological experiments with children's language abilities. They are called "poverty of the stimulus" arguments and relate to the whole "language instinct" debate that I discussed previously. If things go well, this will be the first paper I submit to an academic journal (followed closely by the apology one, J-W, I promise!).

In many ways, it's a really dumb or brave thing to do, because no topic brings out the worst in linguists more than the topic of whether or not language is "innate". Perhaps more than any other question, academics feel free to treat the other camp with the utmost disdain, and it happens on both sides.

I am reading a book called biolinguistics that is in "the Chomsky camp" that is chock full of such examples. One person whom the author seems to love disagreeing with is Steven Pinker, which is odd as Pinker (if you remember my earlier essay) is the one who popularized the idea of the language instinct, which pseudo-originated with Chomsky. Pinker's big crime? He believes that the evidence for language innateness is much stronger when a diversity of methodologies all support it instead of just using linguistic theory. In a footnote, my biolinguistics author states that Pinker fails to understand or appreciate the power of traditional linguistic data gathering. Not that Pinker understands but disagrees, but that he just doesn't get it - assumingly he doesn't have the stunning intellectual powers of the author.

I'm reminded of political debates where everyone is convinced that people with whom they disagree are just not getting the obvious. If only they'd understand what is so obvious, we'd all get along. Chomsky himself loves to move between seeming accomodating, open engagement with opposing viewpoints to throwing out that (literally he has said this) if you disagree with his theses, you must believe there's no difference between his granddaughter and a rock. No false dichotomies there.

But of course, this lack of regard for people with differing viewpoints is not just on the "nativist" side. One essay describes Chomsky's tradition of grammar analysis as baroque and nothing more than an amusing historical artifact. Others view it as mere magic and hand-waving, explaining nothing.

Where am I coming down? Well, I am going to be viewed as anti-Chomsky because my essay argues that a certain type of evidence that is basic to his hypothesis is weak. However, in fact, I am trying to push through the fighting forces to find a better methodology for answering the questions that Chomsky has rightfully posed.

Disdain for people with whom you disagree is of course not the perogative of academia. It's particularly acute in politics where part of the job is to belittle the other guy (I'm distinguishing politics from governance, which our current set of politicians appears unable to do). I think it is revealed more often in academia than in some other fields, though, because these remarks get published in print. If you belittle someone in your company's board room, only the people in the room usually hear it. But when you do it in your Oxford University Press monograph, it stays on the library shelf to be read for 30 years.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Excuse me for breathing (paca)

-e's comment on my post below reminded me of ways to say your language's apology words while not in fact apologizing at all. Some of them are clear.

"I'm sorry for having feelings" is a non-apology apology, I'd say. You also have charming ones like:

"I'm sorry you are an idiot."


"I apologize for having the stupidity to speak to you."

Then there's

"I'm sorry you feel that way."

Also, non-apology. Agree?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Apology? (paca)

I am currently working on a paper with my co-author about "politeness" theory in social relations with a particular focus on apologies. Almost all of our data is based on her work in Korean; however, we will make several comparisons with other languages, mostly English. So, with that in mind, would you personally apologize in the following situations?

Scene 1: You and your brother work in a large company. Your drunk brother insults your CEO by calling her a "royal bitch" at the company Christmas Party while you are working late in your office. When you learn this the next day,

1) do you apologize to your co-workers for this event?
2) do you apologize to the CEO if you ever see her?
3) do you not apologize but scream at your brother to apologize?
4) your brother quits his job; do you do so as well? If so, why or why not?
5) If you are inclined to apologize, would you bring it up spontaneously, or would you only apologize if the topic came up?
6) If you apologize, why are you apologizing?
7) What if it's a tiny business with only 5 workers instead of a large company?

Scene 2: You hear on the news that an American (OK, so if you are not American, sub in whatever country you are from so that you are citizens of the same country) with mental instability has snuck a weapon into Japan and committed a horrible crime, killing many people in a spree. It's one of the greatest crimes ever to occur in the nation and is traumatic to many. The next week, you run into a Japanese co-worker...

1) Would you think of apologizing for the American and the horrible harm he was responsible for?
2) How about if you were talking to a Japanese friend that you knew very well? A friend of a friend that you are being introduced to?
3) What if the murderer was from your state? From your city? If you were once his boss? If he was your cousin? Brother? Son?
4) Would it make any difference if the murderer was American by ethnicity but was born and lived his entire life in Japan?

Scene 3: You and your fiance(e) of 9 months break up. A couple weeks later, your mother runs into the fiance(e)'s mother at the grocery store. Would you
1) Expect your ex-fiance(e)'s mother to apologize to your mother for the break-up?
2) If there was an apology, is it a severe offense or just a mild one?
3) How about if you are terribly distraught from the break-up? What if you are happy with it yourself, even though you didn't initiate?
4) What if the fiance(e) did it in a cruel fashion - in front of your friends? with abusive language? What if he did it as nicely as such things can be done?
5) If there is an apology, what is it for? What's the offense precisely?

These are all situations that my co-author and I have discussed where I think that the American response would be different than the Korean one. I'd like to know if my guesses on behavior match others.

UPDATE 1: To answer some questions from the comments, I should have defined what an apology is. Makes sense. For these purposes, you don't have to actually say "I apologize". Almost any use of "sorry, apologize, or excuse me" would count. Sometimes people make apologies without those words, too. For instance, "oh! I didn't mean to do that! Are you OK?" could be an apology in the right situation. Generally, something is considered an apology if it 1) occurs with some sort of offense, 2) the person who offers the apology feels some sense of responsibility for the offense, and 3) typically expresses some form of regret. These don't have to be severe. If you yell "sorry!" as you push through a crowd of people to get on a train, that's an apology even if not a terribly heartfelt one. Of course, the perfect definition of "apology" is one of the great debates in people who study apologies.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What I've learned from Japanese Anime (paca)

1) Children are allowed to freely roam the countryside for months on end with only semi-annual check-ins with their parents.

2) Any and all robots will become sentient and have feelings at some point.

3) Intelligence is fine and all, but it's nothing compared to be being a passionate and untamed young man or a girl with a pure heart. Passionate untamed girls are a different genre that is filtered from view.

4) All problems can be overcome by just trying really, really hard, particularly if you have to overcome all powerful demons, spirits, wizards, or dragons. You can be tricky for hours on end if you like, but in the end running straight at the demon with a sword while screaming madly will always save the day. If it fails the first time, wait a bit, drag yourself from the ground, and repeat screaming even louder. If this fails, re-attach your limbs and do it again making sure to scream your girlfriend's name.

I think I will try this on my dissertation committee.

"So, Mr. Paca, in the end, your methodology through-out is weak, your results trivial if true, and your conclusions unfounded."


Too Soon (paca)

In a mere three years, I will have my 20th high school reunion. Even though it's still three years away, I find that unbelievable.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Gym time (Llama)

I joined a gym. I joined a gym! I joined a gym?

I've long held a distasted for what one friend once called "picking stuff up and then putting it down." But given that I'm now 34 and completely out of shape, I figured I should make an effort to take care of my body lest I end up at 80 with multiple tubes entering and exiting various orifices. So I joined a gym.

As most of you know, I have, in the past, made multiple efforts to exercise; typically involving push-ups, with a few other various activities (situps, jogging, weights...) thrown in for good measure. But I never stick with it. I never even really get close. The summer of disc golf was my most successful attempt, but that effort faded with the leaves.

So this time I'm actually financially engaged; perhaps that will add an additional impetus. One of the biggest obstacles to me joining in the past was this fear of appearing weak in public... by going to the gym with a bunch of muscle heads, I would, at least at first, look like that scrawny kid getting sand kicked in his face. Cleverly enough, all of the machines are designed so that the actual amount of weight being lifted is easily visible only to the lifter. So, I'm the only one that knows that I'm benching only 80 lbs and not 200 like Boris the Stud at the next machine. Of course, Boris' arms are thrice as big as mine, but never mind that!

Also, I've added aerobics to my regimen; in fact, it's what I'm starting with. I run or bike for 40 minutes, and then hit a few of the weight machines.

My first day, after using only 3 machines, I felt so bad that ran to the bathroom to puke up my lunch. Not a pleasant experience. So the following day I avoided the weights altogether and just ran. Then yesterday I returned to the machines after biking, and I was able to comfortably use 3 of them... although I didn't max out my muscles like I did the first day... rather, I chose a relatively light load. The idea, according to my boss the doctor, is to first get my body in good enough condition that it can take the stress of heavy weights. That involves cardio, and just getting it used to the range of motion of the weight machines I will be using. Then, after about two weeks, I should be able to start weight training in earnest.

We'll see how long it lasts this time!


Monday, July 30, 2007

Doo-doo time (paca)

Apparently, 4 years old is the age that you become fascinated with your own body.

First up, we cannot keep clothes on the boy. He wants to sleep naked, eat naked, go outside naked. Every time you look up he's pulled his clothes off and is running around the apartment au naturale. (sp?) So far we've managed to always have clothes on him when he's outside and when he's cooking near the stove with us. Other than that, all bets are off.

Secondly, B entered doo-doo land a couple months back. He just says the word (or pee-pee which in Hawaii is called "she-she") and giggles. We've got "Doo Doo Head" this and "Doo Doo Head" that. N and I just try to minimize the discussion in public places. Especially on blogs. B also likes to stick "doo doo" in a song.

For instance, we saw the preview for the Simpson's movie in which Homer sings, to the tune of Spiderman, "Spider pig, spider pig." B, naturally, turned this within hours into "spider doo doo, spider doo doo".


Of course he does it all the time, and I'm someone who sings songs I hear freqently to myself. So, unfortunately, a couple days ago, I was walking around the apartment to the laundry room and heard myself singing, "Spider doo doo, spider doodoo, does whatever spider doo doo does."

At least we haven't hit fart jokes yet. B loves cutting things for me with his plastic knife when we are cooking - mushrooms, zucchini, whatever. I probably won't be able to ask him to cut the cheese until he's in college.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

1421 and the duties of a publisher (paca)

Geoff Wade, a professor at the Nat. U. of Singapore, stopped by my blog entry on 1421 and left a comment. He maintains a web site debunking various aspects of the 1421 book, as well as, you know, doing professor stuff. (Dr. Wade, I'm a doctoral student and so I'm just being silly.) He also left a link to an Australian documentary which, well, let's just call it harrowing, about the book.

I'm not going to wade into the debate about the book itself as all I know is from reading the Wikipedia entry and browsing Dr. Wade's web site. However, as a number of authors read this blog, this whole scene raises a lot of difficult questions about the role of a publisher. I can't help but think of the firestorm about Frey's 'memoir' A Million Little Pieces from a few months back where he basically rewrote real life to make a better story and yet persisted in calling it a memoir. Many people criticized Frey's publisher for not checking that Frey wasn't making things up. No matter what you believe on that, I had assumed the publisher then stopped selling it when they discovered parts of it weren't real. However, a few weeks ago, I saw it sitting right there on a table at B&N still. The publisher has added a rather odd prelude about what memoir is and Frey adds a preface about reality and perception in the mind...; i.e., they make up something short to pretend they care about the issue and then go right back to selling the same thing they were before.

In the case of 1421, at a minimum, the publisher didn't care if the history they were publishing was accurate, if the Aussie documentary is to be believed. (I would have been happier if more of the scholars they quote to debunk the book were not participating in the 1421 debunking web site, but that's a separate issue.) Should the publisher care? A lot of questions pop up. First up, this is being sold as history, not as historical fiction; so there is an implicit claim to readers that the facts in here are largely true, or at least decently established according to the methods of the day. But if we accept this as a duty of a historical publisher, what does it mean precisely in practice? An acquisitions manager at a commercial publishing house has no ability to assess the claims. Are we ready to claim that nonfiction publishers must go through the anonymous review process that an academic journal goes through? Text book houses do in fact do this. However, external review for both journals and text book houses is strictly optional. We do it because it lends credibility to the work we publish, but nothing makes us do it. And academia has always used some research that has never been reviewed. Periodically an unpublished manuscript of a researcher circulates for years before it is published. This is actually increasing. In my field of linguistics, there is an archive established for a certain phonological theory that houses papers that are quite widely read, but no one reviews them, and they vary in quality from some notes that the linguist wanted to get thoughts on to extraordinary works of scholarship.

Anyawy, I'm not yet prepared to claim that national law should require external review either for academic journals or for the publisher of 1421. But if we agree that this is the case, what is to stop someone from making up the most outlandish claims just to sell books, as looks likely in this case? Can the market ever stop this from happening? One can imagine that if people who enjoy reading history books learn that one publisher's books are completely untrustworthy, then they might stop buying them. However, only a minority of readers ever check the publisher before purchasing a book. Also, is it the role of a publisher to only provide some semblance of the truth, or are they simply supposed to get stuff out there that people want to buy and then let the customer decide on quality? Part of me chooses the latter, but these fake claims actually do cause harm to people, so....

I don't know. It's all quite interesting and I am afraid my questions wander more than pierce.

As a final note, the 1421 author appears to have some new hypotheses, one of which is that the Maori of New Zealand are descended from Melanesians and perhaps Chinese people (actually the claim wasn't completely clear). As a linguist this seems utterly improbable. The problem is the Maori language. It's quite clearly Polynesian. I don't have the exact percentages on hand, but a majority of the vocabulary is easily seen as connected to Hawaiian. Now, Chinese is a completely different language family. Maori is as close to Chinese as Russian is to Choctaw. There's a little better shot with the mysterious Melanesian inheritance. Most melanesian languages are at least in the same overall family as Polynesian -- they are usually Austronesian languages. (The Austronesian language family seems to have originated in Taiwan several thousand years ago and stretches from Madagascar through parts of Papua New Guinea (that island is actually divided between Austronesian and non-Austronesian languages) into Melanesia, the Phillipines, Micronesia and all the way to Hawaii and Easter Island.) I haven't read the exact cultures and languages that the 1421 author is claiming, but I can't see how there is any timeline in which a non-Polynesian language evolves magically in the same way that the Polynesian languages did.

Well, I don't really know what I am talking about here. I do language acquisition and intonation, not Austronesian historical work. I just have a hunch that the 1421 author didn't even bother to make up a way for the languages to work. But maybe he did. Maybe it's on page 422.


tree alert (paca)

That was the subject heading for an email I just received from the university announcement email address which sends emails to some 20,000 people.

Tree Alert

What could a tree alert be? Have the ents come alive and are currently storming the chemistry building? Apparently, it is this:

"Several trees around the Campus Center are being prepared for a tree-climbing competition that is being held here on Saturday. Areas around those trees are marked with tape as a safety precaution, so please be extra-alert in that vicinity between now and Saturday.

Everyone is invited to attend Saturday's events, sponsored by the International Society of Arboriculture, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m."

So there you go. Tree climbing competition. I'm glad they send the alert out. I've always viewed trees with considerable suspicion. Damn stinking trees.

Friday, July 27, 2007

1421 (paca)

Many of you may have noticed in your local chain bookstore over the last few years a book that seems to re-appear periodically on a front table called 1421: The Year China Discovered the World (sometimes America). I've always thought it an intriguing book because of my old interest in Chinese history. There's very strong evidence that Chinese fleets had sailed around Southeast Asia, around India, Arabia, and very likely to the eastern coast of Africa before the great European explorations ever began. The 1421 book argues that one of these Chinese fleets sailed to America as well around 1421, 71 years before Columbus (and about 300 years after the Vikings and some unknown number of years after the Polynesians which has now been proven by chicken DNA.) Anyway, that's what I thought the book was about.

However, today, through a long chain, I ended up at the Wikipedia entry for the 1421 hypothesis, which comes from the book. And, boy, does the theory claim a bit more for this 1421 expedition from China. They not only supposedly discovered the New Word, but large chunks of Africa, Antartica, and Australia. Not only did they supposedly visit these places, but they left various colonies all over the world. Moreover, virtually every slightly mysterious structure the man had ever heard of appears to amazingly be a remain from this expedition.

One example is The Newport Tower in Newport, RI. I had never heard of this tower before today. It's quite fascinating reading both of these articles as a study of "conspiracy" theories for lack of a better term. The basic gist is that you take the theory with the most evidence and notice a couple things that may not make total sense. And, instead of realizing that you just can't reconstruct history from 400 or 600 years ago perfectly, just like you may not even agree with your own spouse about who kissed whom first, you make up a new theory and adhere to that, even though the problems in the new theory are vast compared to the old one.

Either way, both of these stories are great for setting the imagination on fire, wondering just how you can pick and choose facts to establish the most bizarre theories. By the way, if you like old maps at all, there are numerous links in the 1421 site to maps from hundreds of years ago that are all fascinating in their own right. I lost way too much time to this this morning.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Love it - Potter puppet pals (paca)

Answering Sammy's question in the comments: No, there are no spoilers. You could watch this after book one.

Nightmares -Updated (paca)

Ever since college, almost all of my nightmares have been largely of the same form. I most frequently get them when I am just starting to fall asleep, but they can occur in the middle of the night as well.

In all of them, something bad is happening around me and I am unable to move. My mind doesn't work; I cannot speak; I cannot stand or move a muscle. Actually, some times, nothing else is happening. I am simply frozen, stuck, and that itself is the nightmare.

The version last night started with mysterious creeping things going on around the apartment, which got closer. In my dream, I frequently know it's not real, but it escalates anyway. Last night's climaxed with my noticing that someone was in the apartment. I could just see a dim light-colored shape standing not 5 feet from the bed. When I saw him, I managed to yell, "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! NOW!" The figure started running, but then stopped when he realized I was unable to even rise from the bed. He seemed to hide in the closet, but I knew it was just a matter of time before he came out, more confident that nothing could be done. However, when I, in the dream, yelled "get out of my house," in real life I moaned something incoherent, waking N up who then touched my arm to wake me.

This happens enough that I think N is quite used to them and turns comfortably over after she has woken me, not terribly alarmed by my outburst. These sorts of dreams usually are set wherever I am in real life, though some details may not quite be right. For instance, when I woke up last night, I eventually realized that there was a chair in real life that was missing in the dream. That didn't stop me from eventually getting up, glancing in the closet, and checking B before going back to bed.

In another version a few months ago, I was not in my real life bed or apartment. Instead, I was in some sort of ornate library-type room. It ended with this disembodied hand slowly walking along my body, and I was unable to move or speak. In my dream, I knew I was asleep, and I struggled to wake myself up. But no matter what, I just couldn't. I was ready to grab the hand and slam it against the wall or punch whatever was attached to it, but I couldn't wake up enough to save myself. It feels like your head is going to burst with the effort to awake.

Like most of these, eventually I moan something out in real life in my attempts to wake myself up, and then N does the job for real. I often know when I am likely to have one. They occur when the bridge between being awake and already dreaming is very short. As soon as I close my eyes, there are images, sounds, and feelings that occur immediately. I am still basically alert, but already dreaming. It's as if there are two states of consciousness at war in these dreams. On the one hand, I am asleep and cannot control my body. On the other hand, I am awake enough that I know I cannot control my body, and therefore feel helpless.

I get one of these every few weeks.

Bunnygirl asked in the comments if I wasn't possibly having night terrors?

So I started doing research. I have heard the word, but wasn't sure what they are. And now, from reading, I can say that it really, really, really sounds like I have a form of sleep paralysis, in fact. It's characterized by being unable to move and often there is an ominous presence around. Here is a fun but frightening article on it from Science News. "Night of the Crusher" from Science News. Before you read it, know that I have nothing as severe as is described here. However, some of this is accurate for me, and this bit from some researchers on sleep paralysis seems exactly right:

"In a sleep laboratory, the Japanese team monitored the volunteers, whom they roused at various times during the night to trigger the phenomenon. The researchers found that during sleep paralysis, the brain, suddenly awake, nonetheless displays electrical responses typical of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement (REM).

Two brain systems contribute to sleep paralysis, Cheyne proposes. The most prominent one consists of inner-brain structures that monitor one's surroundings for threats and launches responses to perceived dangers. As Cheyne sees it, REM-based activation of this system, in the absence of any real threat, triggers a sense of an ominous entity lurking nearby. Other neural areas that contribute to REM-dream imagery could draw on personal and cultural knowledge to flesh out the evil presence."

However, the best site is this one from a researcher. Cheyne You can fill out a questionnaire at the beginning and about a quarter of the questions match my experience perfectly. What really convinced me though was this bit of one of Cheyne's own experiences of sleep paralysis on a page ominously called The Intruder. Quoting again:

The presence is not always immediately interpreted as something bizarre or frightening. Occasionally, the presence is thought to be someone who might plausibly be thought to be ready to hand.

'At some point in the episode, I also usually think that one of my roommates is trying to wake me up, but cannot.
I thought the presence was my roommate returning from class. '

Most of these experiences are reasonable attempts to interpret a feeling that someone or something is present in the room. Sometimes the presence may be associated with sensory experiences. During one of my own experiences, I sometimes thought my wife had come into the room, but subsequently realized that she was not there at which time the presence rapidly turned into a sinister presence. In this case I had been making a low moaning sound in an attempt to alert her to my condition. After a few moments I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, along the hall, and into the room. I inferred was that it was my wife approaching. The footsteps appeared to stop at the side of the bed and I waited for her hand to shake my shoulder. When this did not happen I realized that she was not there and, on reflection, realized that she was not even in the house. I was then immediately filled with a sense of dread and formed a distinct awareness of a sinister presence in the room.

I'm not sure I've heard footsteps, but the rest is exactly right for me. Sometimes the presence is ominous or evil, but it just as well might be a roommate or N. The eyes-watering moment though was when he mentions making a low moaning sound to alert his wife to his paralyzed state. Last night I moaned when yelling at The Intruder, but sometimes I am deliberately moaning hoping N will hear me and wake me up. I have often moaned so that I wake myself up. It's such a weird experience when you wake yourself up. I sit there trying with all my might to just raise my hand and I can't and the tension builds until suddenly, boom!, you pop up, the hold broken, with your heart racing a million miles an hour.

One connection I made from all of this bit about "The Intruder" is to some experiences as a child. I have no memory of ever having one of these sleep experiences as a child (I do remember a few key nightmares, but those were completely different). In fact, I distinctly remember the paralysis thing starting in 1992 during my semester abroad to China, being frozen in that bed, unable to speak or move, and the terrifying sensation of it. This is one of many differences between sleep paralysis and night terrors. While night terrors are experienced by adults, they are much more common in children. It doesn't appear from my cursory glance that this is the case with sleep paralysis.

As a child, I was very much always aware of spooky presences, not when asleep so much but when awake. As an example, I remember walking alone down my street in the Boro. It was dark and quiet, but I was within sight of my own home. However, I just knew there were other people watching me, following me. Werewolves or vampires, or just some spooky something. If I did not keep control of my emotions, I could end up running down the street to get away from the spooky thing. Of course, running was the absolute worst thing you could do, because as soon as you run, your worries break loose and the Things are chasing you faster and faster.

Of course, probably all children have such frightening episodes, but I really was very susceptible to them and slept with a light until... college? Many adults like to turn a TV on or something to avoid such fears. I seem to have gotten over those largely as an adult**, but now I have the sleep paralysis things -- if I've diagnosed myself correctly.

To anyone I've scared, from reading these sites, it doesn't appear I'm all that unusual. Some 30% of people report having at least one instance of this. I might be a little less usual in having them every few weeks, but some thousands of people have filled out Cheyne's questionnaire. They also don't appear to be associated with any other particular medical or mental condition. The occurrences occur more frequently with lack of sleep and stress, and I, due to HP7 indeed went to bed at 2:30 AM and then 4:30 AM the previous two nights. But they are not necessarily caused by stress; i.e., if you aren't a person who gets them generally, stress will not start them.

Maybe I need to drop attempts at comedy and romance, and switch to "Night of the Crusher." Bruhahahahaaaaaa.

I do wonder if a sense of humor could get me out of them more, or at least make them more enjoyable. One of the articles mentioned a Cambodian woman being suffocated by three furry monsters. If I get the furry monsters ever, can I ask them to dance?

Have sweet dreams! I know I will.

At least after I pull the Crusher off my chest.

** Well, maybe not. I bet if I was walking along one of my mountain trails at night with the wind blowing, I could convince myself something is following me. I'm not sure.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Done (paca)

It is now 4:35 AM and I have finished Harry Potter 7.

That is all.

Language differences (Llama)

Lately I have, once again, been attempting to learn some Thai. I've found a couple of differences between Thai and English that I find curious. Note: I'm no grammarian and even most of what I've learned from elementary school I have forgotten, so please forgive me when don't employ the proper descriptive terms.

Thais don't have a way to indicate future perfect or, it seems, future progressive. It's impossible to say that I will have done something by a certain time. The best Thai can manage is to say that I will do something at a certain time. In one conversation, this deficiency led to some stressful moments, as I attempted to explain that, though I did not know precisely when I would return from a trip, I knew it would be no later than Friday.

Thais do, however, have a way of expressing something that we can't express in English. They can take a verb such as "to go" (bai), "to love" (raak), "to eat" (gin) and "to scare" (glua) and precede it with "naa" (naa bai, naa raak, naa gin, naa glua). This new construction is an adjective that describes the potential for something. So naa rak, loosely translated, means "cute", but literally it means that something looks like it could be loved. Naa glua crudely translates to "scary", but it also means something that looks like it could be scary, even if we don't know yet if it actually is scary or not. Naa gin means that something looks appetizing. And "naa bai" can best be explained with an example of the negative... if it looks like it is going to rain, I might say "mai naa bai. fon ja dok.", which loosely means "It think it is a bad idea to go. It is going to rain."

I found it interesting, anyway :)


Friday, July 20, 2007

My weird memory (paca)

I am a classic example of why there is no such thing as intelligence.

I should end my post right there. What more is there to say?

What I meant, however was, "I am a classic example of why there is no single thing to be called intelligence."

A couple days ago, B and I were picking up N from her office at the end of the day. On the way out, N asks, "So, do you notice anything different?"

I am well trained, so I first look her over to see if I am missing a new haircut or something. No dice. I turn back around, and something looks vaguely different. "Ummm..."

N and her co-workers start laughing.

"See, he is just so focused on you, N, that he doesn't even see the rest of the office," says one of the co-workers.

I think. "Ah-ha! A clue! Something is different about the office." I look around. The coffee table is really red. Maybe I would have noticed a really red coffee table before. "Is it a new coffee table?"

More laughter.

Apparently, they'd gotten an entire new set of furniture and moved bookcases, maybe, in an entire section of the main room.

So I have no visual memory. (Oddly, I can tell you about some of the books on the coffee table, but not necessarily the coffee table.)

However, on the opposite end of the memory scale, I am working on a paper on politeness and apologies with former classmate J-W. And I'm currently trying to revamp politeness theory based on the concept of "Rectification of Names", which is a very important term in Confucianism. I even remembered that the Chinese word for it is "Zheng Ming", though I apparently did get the characters wrong. The point? I think the last time I ever discussed Rectification of Names was in a class in 1991 or 1992.

Why can I remember that, but not realize an entire room's furniture has changed in between Monday and Tuesday? No idea.

(Sticklers among you may point out that I have actually discussed two forms of memory, and intelligence may be something different, perhaps about the ability to manipulate variables, not recall them. To which I say, "touché", but also point out that manipulating variables requires that you hold a large number of variables in working memory, so there is some relation, and moreover, it isn't clear that true inspiration, the Archimedes' moment, is actually a function of variable manipulation at all. )

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Making fun of Wii Fit

The last game system I owned was the Oddyssey (why is that word impossible to spell? Oddessey, Odyssey, Oddysey,...) from Magnavox. A system that came out before the Atari 2600. But that didn't stop me from going into laughing fits from this video making fun of the new Nintendo Wii Fit. So many great lines in there. I picked it up from Alan's blog and am shamelessly reproducing the link here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Let's go Private (paca)

I submitted another guest post over at The Moderate Voice political blog, and I thought I'd like any thoughts from readers here as well. It's kind of a follow-up to an old post of mine here. So here it is:

Title: Let's Go Private

I have always been very open to the idea that many things which the government does today could be done privately. However, when it comes down to it, I frequently have a hard time coming up with much of a practical list. So, I'd like to open my conundrum up to TMV readers. Here are some questions that might bring up possibilities in your mind:

When you vote now, one reason is possibly because you think the government should be doing something that it is not. Go through that mental list. Can any of it be done without the government?

What does the government do now, inherently by force due to mandatory taxation, that might be done without force?

What are some things the government does that you agree are worth doing ethically and politically but that might be done without the government, by private citizens or organizations?

One thing not to put down, should you decide to respond, is lobbying. Any number of private organizations can be created whose purpose is not to solve the actual problem, but to persuade government to solve it in some way. We want to throw those out for now.

Some items seem inherently governmental. A private organization cannot change a law. But could we be doing something right now to solve the health care crisis without waiting for government? How about adequate psychological care for returning vets? How about improving diplomatic and cultural ties with other nations? How about making your city's worst schools its best?

My problem is I can think of a million reasons that a private citizen cannot do all these things. Not on the scale needed to have an effect. I want to be wrong about that. Even though the U.S. is already one of the greatest givers in the world to philanthropic societies, I want there to be a creative, non-coercive solution to problems. If government is broken, our culture need not be.

I'm particularly interested in going beyond the answer that "the government should not do X because it has no constitutional or moral right to do so." Let's not stop there, but move to the next step: "If not with government, then how do we get it done without government?"

I look forward to your thoughts. Thank you!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Our first movie (paca and N)

This is a very whimsical creation that may amuse you. It's almost entirely N's work. She bought these little wooden things that have a cylinder for a body and a little ball on top that could be a head. She then drew on them with colored pencil and added some clothing of origami paper and, voila, little dolls. B was playing with them today and I said something to the effect of, "I wonder if you could take a whole bunch of pictures of them and make a little movie." And N said, "Yes, you can. Let's do it." So I sat down and moved the dolls around almost randomly. B also participated and you can see his efforts with the items that flash in and out of existence. B and I then went out of the apartment for about 4 hours. When we came back, N had cleaned the living room and created this little movie using Apple iMovie, which we have now uploaded to YouTube. Enjoy!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Stairway to Hell (paca)

There's a hike on Oahu nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven, as it climbs up into a wet mountain range, often into the clouds themselves. Unfortunately, while the trail is open, the only access point to it is on private land and closed. The rumor is that to actually do the trail you have to trespass by ducking behind trees and crawling through tall grasses. Thus, it's effectively closed. If that, however, is the stairway to heaven, then what I did on Wednesday was the stairway to hell.

If you recall from the last hiking post, the goal was to get to the top of Koko Crater. Here it is from the top of Makapu'u point a couple weeks back.

The tall point in the back is named Pu'u Mai with pu'u meaning peak or mountain and mai meaning ummm ummm, anyone here know a linguist in Hawai'i? Koko Crater was pushed up at the same time as Diamond Head and the Punchbowl Crater (in which resides the military National Memorial of the Pacific) and so are extinct volcanoes. Within Koko Crater is a botanical garden. You cannot go up the walls inside, though, so our trail leads up from the opposite side of what you are seeing here.

Voila, the stairway to hell.

According to my hiking web site, Koko Crater is 1,206 feet, and there are 1,106 steps made of old railroad ties. You go for 550 steps that are up but not too steep. Then there's this bridge which seems odd for a highly traveled trail because the spaces between the railroad ties are big enough to fall through. And then you have another close to 500 steps that are much steeper.

Somewhere on this steep portion, I took this picture. The bay you can see is Hanauma Bay and is one of the great snorkeling locations. It's a national preserve and you have to watch a video about not destroying the reefs before you can go down into it. One way to get a sense of how high up we are is to look in great detail at the picture. On the left, the grassy area is a shooting range and you can literally hear gunfire the entire way up. (Ruins the peaceful image a bit.) On the right is a park and you can see the tip of a baseball field and a parking lot. In the parking lot, there's a dark dot, a red dot, and a gold dot. The gold dot is our car. Actually, if you are going to have your car stolen, this is a great place for it to happen, because you can see the car the whole time, see the roads for miles, and your cell phone works. But this picture isn't all the way up yet.

This one, however, is. It's a view west towards Diamond Head and the tip of Waikiki. It was hazy that day, however.

And then since you are at the top, it is now possible to see Makapu'u point, which is that rise of rock at the corner of the island. That's where N and I were for the picture that started this. It seemed tall when we were there. Now, I laugh at the girlyman point.

And just to prove that I was really there and am not bumming pics off my cool friends, here's me. Oh yeah, this is definitely me at my best. Haven't shaved in a week, shirt soaked through.

And then you are done. There are left over fortifications from WWII that have been taken down and the remains are now covered in grafitti. I presume that's why the staircase is here, too. Of course, after your lovely view, there's a penalty. You have to go down.

I'm far sorer today than from any of the other hikes, but then, if a "story" is 10 feet, then that thing would have been a 110 story staircase.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Relationships are not commerce (paca)

First up, llama has an update on his life below where he contemplates the bacteria in his feet. Normally, I'd wait a day to post in such circumstances, but I was already typing this one up when I saw that one appear, so I'm going with it. But please keep reading below this post. (I love my maliciious spin on his post. It's techncally true, but completely misleading as to the true content of what he wrote. I'm ready for negative politics!)


A couple days ago there was a post over at the romance writers and readers blog "Romancing the Blog" from a woman who is always being accused by her family of being brainwashed by romance books to have too great an expectation of men, since she is not already partnered up in a lifelong thing yet. Don't adult children love being bugged about this? I won't tackle her post here, which I agree with 95% of the time -- that this is a silly accusation unless we are also going to accuse people who love mysteries of being brainwashed into wanting to commit murder -- though I do think there's a 5% problem that is being ignored in such reactions. (For instance, we often do think that men can be influenced in their preconceptions of a normal attractive woman by looking at digitized, airbrushed bikini models all day long. ). However, there was one comment (not the original blog post author) that among other things included the following:

"If every woman on earth said: “You men aren’t getting ANYTHING from us (our companionship, love, sex, cuddling, cooking, clean homes, your laundry done, etc.) until the whole lot of you step up and start treating us like the goddesses we ARE,” how long do you think it would take before they straightened up and flew right?"

I completely get what her basic point was; i.e., all people deserve being treated as someone special by their partners. After all, it's the rough plot of Aristophanes' Lysistrata and I love all classical allusions. However, this still struck me the wrong way. Probably, my gut reaction was negative because it seems to declare that all men are currently louts. She's never met me or Sammy or llama or a lot of the even studlier amazing men in the world, but she knows we all suck already. I take that back. There are no hunkier men than the llama and Sammy.

However, I know that's just bad phrasing, and so I tried to figure out if anything more important than a little slap to men was putting me off. And I decided that what's bugging me most is that a love relationship in this view seems to come off as some sort of business transaction, or buying and selling of goods. The woman, in this view, walks among the men of her life and waits to be treated the right way (as a goddess). When someone does treat her this way, and presumably if she likes him too, she will then do his laundry, cook his meals, provide companionship, and offer a lot of hanky panky.

Here's my first problem with that. She is offering to do HIS laundry. In a certain sense, ok, sure, a spouse does the other spouse's laundry. But in a perhaps better sense, a spouse does the laundry for the family. The family is a unit, a single thing, and it generates dirty clothes, which someone must wash. And that someone washes them because they think it's important for the people they love to be clean. The point I am trying to make is that the people in a family must do the chores that are necessary for the family. Now, I admit, that N does 90% of the laundry for us. I happen to cook most meals right now. I don't think that, while standing at the stove frying up some eggs, the thought that I was cooking N's meals for her (but that she deserves it) has ever popped up. Instead I'm cooking the family meal and that means providing food for all three of us.

Of course, our household is not one constant state of domestic bliss. I am sure sometimes N think she's getting the short end of the stick with chores, and sometimes I think that, too. But it's only when things start falling apart that you start complaining to yourself about doing this and that for someone else. When it's all working right, each person is helping to support the family in itself, something greater than any individual person.

I also got the impression from the comment that she is going to give love to a deserving person. Again, in one sense, this is clearly correct. You have to be worthy of love and spend the energy to make your partner happy. In another sense, this feels just wrong. I don't think that someone treats you well and therefore you love them. You simply love being with them. They don't do something and you pay them with friendship. Instead, you love being with your best friend because of what being with them is like.

I am having a really hard time expressing this one.

I kind of feel like the commenter is expressing this notion that one person gives love to another, and then the other person gives love in return, since they now deserve it. This is what feels commercial about it. However, if you are really in love both of you adore being together because the feelings that are created when you are together are amazing. It's like the chore thing, where the partners don't take turns giving things to each other. Instead, they build a house together. With love and friendship, you are not exchanging warm fuzzies; you are creating a loving relationship together. This relationship is not internal to either person, but is something external, that you both participate in and that gives each of you fulfillment if it's a good one. Naturally, both people must contribute to the relationship, but it is how participating in this relationship makes you a better person that is the key. It's not a trade between people who stay separate.

And since she mentioned sex, sex sometimes happens because your loved one did something great, and so you give him a little physical reward. Yeah, I like that. Where's my To Do list again? But that's not usually the best reason to have sex. The best reason is because when the two of you do that TOGETHER, it



That physical contact and its feelings are something you create as a couple, not something you exchange to each individual's pleasure.

Is this where I talk about "one body and one flesh"?

Llama Land

I've been stationary here in Bangkok for a few months now, but I'm traveling again soon. Next week I go back to Bangladesh, and the week after that, to Cambodia. They should relatively stress free, as I'm going on both trips in a supporting role. I just have to make sure I'm here over the weekend so I can pick up the final Harry Potter book.

It's the rainy season here, which means that most afternoon most of the roads flood. It's fun to guess which bacteria would infect me if I had an open cut on my foot.

And on a political note, yesterday I read that Bush's first Surgeon General (a man with solid conservative credentials) testified before Congress that he was forced by the adminstration to edit or supress the scientific findings of his reports to serve the political positions of the president. And today, two adminstration aides are refusing to answer questions under Congressional subpoena regarding the firing of US prosecutors.

These are just the two most recent examples of the dangers of a Unitary President. His is not king; the president must be held accountable.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Balloon man (paca)

This sounds ultimately cool, and, yeah, as a kid I thought about it every time I held a balloon. Of course, if things had gone wrong, he would have been the number one story in the Darwin Awards.