Monday, May 28, 2007

The Next Generation (Llama)

Today is the first day on the job for our new intern. Her name is Kim and she is from Emory University. She's the third American to come, after myself and a woman from Washington State. We've also had 4 Australians and one fellow from Hong Kong. Ah, now he knew how to throw a party! Anyway, she'll be here for 3 months only.

It's interesting to talk to her, because she is quite young, but not so young. I'm guessing 22... she's firmly entrenched in the generation after mine. Gen Y? Gen Next? Whatever... when I look at her and talk to her, I am reminded of my own age. I am no longer "youth". She is... I am still immature though :)

Those of you with children probably don't need this revelation. Then again, those of you with children probably, in general, have a very different view of the world than I do.

Speaking of children, I highly recommend "Children of Men" if you haven't seen it already!


Sunday, May 27, 2007

apology and a link (paca)

Sorry to have been rather silent for... three days. N's father is in town; he came in yesterday. So we've been spending time with them, naturally, and then I have been dialing into work on the side, since we still publish our next issue on Friday. It's just sort of taken up my mental energy.

In the meantime, I don't have too many blogs I follow, but, if you like little snippets about travel in East and Southeast Asia, then you will like Pre Tamrai's blog. I am not sure what this guy does exactly. I once thought he was an English teacher in SW China, but now he seems to give lectures and classes on various internet technologies. Anyway, if you click over to the blog, you will notice that he's done 5 posts, and in each one he is in a different country - Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam. He will write mostly about food and little techie things he sees that are of interest.

Here's the link.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

B ain't gonna end up same as me (paca)

B and I were headed home on the bicycle today and as we were crossing the little bridge in Ala Wai park, there was a small family talking about the sting ray in the canal. So B and I stopped and sure enough, there was a Spotted Eagle Ray (not a sting) right below the bridge. Here's a picture of one, but it's not my picture:

Now, when I was growing up in North Louisiana, I was never riding my bike home from school and found a ray swimming next to me. I did however once encounter one of these:

That's a water moccasin (cottonmouth), which is highly poisonous, and so, based upon that fact, I prefer the ray. I do miss these guys though:

But I digress...

Anyway, I've been meaning to post some other ways that B displays the fact that he's been in Hawaii now since he was one and a half.

- When he yells "Dance!" and starts dancing, he often twists his hips in circles. And when there was a children's chorus on American Idol tonight, he declared they were dancing the hula.
- Sushi is a not unusual lunch food at day care.
- His favorite god or goddess to read about right now is Pele, and he can tell you that she lives in a volcano on the Big Island. We live on the "little island".
- The little kitten next doorr is a "baby popoki" which is the Hawaiian word for cat.
- We haven't seen them, but from ocean-themed books, he knows the difference between the narwhal and beluga; he knows of humpbacks and dolphins and orcas, sting rays vs. eagle rays (often), seals vs. sea lions, crabs, jelly fish, starfish, etc.
- He tells us it's freezing in the meat section of the grocery store - not the meat locker, just the aisle.
- He took one of his toys and put it on top of a block letter in the bath tub and declared that it was surfing.
- He really wants to go snorkeling.
- He's spent every Christmas but his first (which was in Tennessee or a family house) at the beach.
- He only draws about three things when he draws: his name, fireworks, and lion dancing.
- He owns an $8 ukelele.

Got the Movie Jonez? (paca)

I'm not sure what my title means.

If you've hung around writing forums at all, you probably already know about NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. It's a group in which authors sign up to vomit out a 50,000 word novel over the month of November. The emphasis is on quantity not quality. Just spew out 50,000 words and worry about the edits in December. (With my use of the words vomit and spew, I'm guessing the idea seems particularly unattractive right now.)

It looks like people have gotten the same thing off the ground now with in which your job is to write a 20,000 word screenplay over the month of June. Again, the goal is just to get it out of your head and into a computer. (I write by hand in first draft, but they can't certify hand-written pages.) There's no real contest and they don't particularly have ways to get your script in front of people who buy scripts. Instead, it's kind of like a support group. Nine thousand people so far have signed up to churn something out, and you can just feel part of the throng doing this, as well as read the bulletin boards and talk to people about the problems you are hitting, etc.

So I hereby encourage people to think of it, even if you haven't particularly been a writer in the past. Sammy Jankis, I'm looking at you - movie buff and theater person.

I haven't contemplated June enough to know yet whether I'm going to give it a whirl. Perhaps not. But yell if you do so.

And hat tip to Writtenwyrrd for the link.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A question for Paca (Llama)

I have noticed that lately I have started transposing the last two letters in a word. It's just a typo, but it is almost always the last two letters... not any others. Is this a documented phenomenon, and, if it is, what theories exist to explain it?

New specs (Llama)

So lately I've been having alot of headaches. Literally, not figuratively. Part of the reason is probably the amount of time I spend staring at screen... at work all day and then, more often than not, watching something on TV at night. But I've also noticed that my eyesight has gotten poorer, and perhaps the headaches are a result of that. Working on that premise, I stopped by one of Bangkok's numerous eye glass stores yesterday. I took the eye test and am not sporting a fairly fashionable frame from some company called "Navy Jack".

It's too early to tell of the headache frequency will reduce, but the world is certainly much clearer now. And unlike the last time I purchased a pair of glasses... over 10 years ago, I think... I actually want to wear these. So, it's a good thing.

The bad news is that I am not just near-sighted, but my right eye has also developed astigmatism. It's not that drastic, but the woman that tested me picked up on it right away.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

You da bomb! (paca)

So the plan is to set of a roach killer bomb in the apartment tomorrow morning. I've never used one because I don't like the idea of pesticides all over my house. Anyone ever done one before and do you have advice? We are already:

Moving food and plates as far from the bomb as possible and covering with newspapers.
Covering tables
Washing the sheets after done

Should that cover it? Pun completely intended.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Passing time (paca)

We spent a lot of time cleaning this weekend and B was therefore bored much of the time. N and I of course were not because nothing spells excitement like EZ Off Oven Cleaner. Anyway, B loves my Mac's "Photobooth" software which lets you take pictures of yourself with the built in webcam. You can add lots of silly effects as well. B's favorite is the Mirror setting.

But even more fun than taking a picture of yourself with one eye or three eyes was taking a picture of yourself as invisible! In this one you can see his body just a bit. When I brought up Photobooth to get these pictures, I found about 20 of the kitchen sink behind him.

Personally, I don't where he could gave gotten the inclination to take pictures of yourself that make you look really, really bad and then feel proud of it.

So thaaat's why people have been calling me "blockhead" lately.

For those of you who are new enough to not have seen a pic of me where I look fairly normal, here's one from last Halloween.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Language Instinct (paca)

Through a long chain, believe it or not related to Jerry Falwell's death, I ended up attempting to explain Noam Chomsky's importance to linguistics and psychology on The Moderate Voice blog. Near the end of that chain, I stated that I would explain the idea of the language instinct, which is one of Chomsky's main contributions to cognitive science, on my own blog if people were interested. The term "the language instinct" was made most famous by the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, whose book of that name was a NYT best seller. However, it is Chomsky who put forth the idea starting in the 60s that language is a biological organ like the brain or visual system. What could this possibly mean?

(Note: Instead of doing a thorough article with references and links, I'm largely going to write this off the top of my head. Also, I am going to do my best to only present some qualifications to the language instinct argument, instead of really considering it critically. The purpose of this essay is largely to establish what the theory is, not assess it.)

To understand why people think there is a language instinct, it might be best to state first what language is not. Language is not just a collection of words and sentences which people memorize through hearing them. Why must this be true? Because it's very likely that I have never in my entire life written many of the sentences I am writing right now. Moreover, I very likely have never heard all of these sentences in my life, and the same goes for you, the reader. And yet, here we all are, understanding each sentence with ease. In fact, language is so easy to us, we don't even realize usually that there's much to it. But the truth is that no computer in the world yet can really do with language what we are all doing unconsciously. In fact, infants who don't seem to do much other than pass liquids in and out of various orifices, cry, and stare can surpass our best attempts at computer language in certain ways.

But if we've never heard these sentences before, how in the world do we understand them? Clearly, it's because we understand how English works. Whatever that means. There's some sort of pattern or structure to English, which we all possess, and which lets us come up with an infinite set of utterances. This structure of a language is typically called its grammar or syntax. Now, sometimes a grammar is defined as any type of linguistic structure, be it the meaning of sentences, the sound patterns, and more. More often grammar is just about acceptable sentence structures and gets explained in terms of nouns, verbs, subjects, objects, etc. Since all of us reading this are able to understand it, it would seem that we all have some sort of mental grammar in our heads that we carry around.

This probably all seems really obvious and trivial, but it's not. In fact, arguing that this is the case was a revolution in the field of linguistics that was started in the late 50s when Chomsky reviewed the behaviorist B.F. Skinner's book "Verbal Behavior". With Skinner, language was treated like all other behaviors. People build some sort of associations between memorized words and the job of scientists who want to understand language is to just explain their behavior with words. Chomsky blew all that up by arguing that in fact the study of language is the study of people's minds. The job of linguistics is to figure out what the hell this structure, this grammar, that we all share is. And then Chomsky went on to make a proposal of what a linguistic grammar might be, called transformational grammar at the time, and refining and improving these models has been considered the central task of linguistics ever since.

So now we have some sort of description of a grammar, but we have a very obvious question. Where does it come from? Is there a unique English grammar and a unique Hindi grammar and a unique Japanese grammar, or is there any merit to the idea of a grammar for all human language?

The obvious solution is to say that each language has its own rules and that children just learn these rules by hanging out with adults. There's some good evidence for this as well, besides being just a good first guess. First up, it's clear that there is no genetic/ethnic relationship between a child and their language. You take any healthy child from anywhere in the world and put them in the right language environment, and, presto, they speak the language in a few years with no problem. Moreover, parts of language are clearly random and learned. There's no particular reason the word for dog in English is begun by putting the tongue up and behind the teeth, while in French it goes back further, and in Spanish is done by putting the lips together, and in Chinese is done by sticking the back of the tongue to the roof of the mouth. People must learn this stuff. There are unfortunately cases where children are not exposed to language, such as when they are abused and locked in closets, and they do not learn language in these cases.

But there are a lot of problems and limitations with this account as well. One set of limitations is that it doesn't explain so-called language universals, which means that languages aren't as random as they often seem. Let's consider basic word order of a sentence. The basic English sentence word order has the subject first, then the verb, then the object. Chinese does the same. So does French. A lot of languages like to put the subject first, then the object, and then the verb at the end. Japanese and German and Korean do this. And there are a lot of languages that start with the verb first, then the subject, and then the object. In sum, we often see SVO, SOV, and VSO word orders. But notice that the subject is always before the object. It's really rare to see the object first. Why would that be the case if language is just random things you happen to hear around you?

There are a lot of other peculiarities that are more persuasive. In English we stick our adjectives before our nouns. "Red ball". We also put our possessive phrases before what they modify. "Paca's essay". Also, in prepositional phrases, we stick the preposition before the noun, "on the chair". It turns out that these things often all go together. If a language puts its objects after its verbs, it will do everything else that seems completely unrelated just like this. But if you find a language that puts the verb after the object, it all flips so that adjectives and prepositions and possessors all go after the noun they modify. If language is just learned patterns, why wouldn't things be a lot more mixed up than this?

All of this however just hints that there is more to human language than random pattern learning, but it doesn't point particularly to a biological factor. Most of the evidence for language as human biology comes from how language is learned - or not learned as it will be argued. First up, every single healthy child becomes fluent in their language. Not every child learns to play the piano as well as others or play baseball. But all speakers of a particular language dialect seem to have the same basic grammar in their heads. Also, there seems to be something of a biological clock in when you can learn language. If you remember the child locked in a closet, when they are rescued, they don't seem to ever be able to learn a language's grammar at all. More every day examples come from second language learning. If you start a language as a very young child, you will learn it easily. Many adults only seem to be able to learn a new language with immense pain and still never become truly fluent. It's kind of like there's a biological clock that gets turned off around puberty.

A lot of evidence for language as biology comes from signed languages as well. Many deaf children can grow up in environments where the signed language they hear is inconsistent or sporadic. The most common reason for this is simply that you have hearing parents with a deaf child who also lacks constant contact with a native signing community. So the parents are there signing really bad ASL, as bad as my Chinese, to their child, but the child's sign language usually ends up better than the parents. The child has a way of ignoring all the screw ups she sees from her parents, and instead making the structure of the language much more regular, much more grammatical. In other words, the child, in a sense, is making up a grammar that she's never fully seen. The most extreme form of this is a case of signed language in Nicaragua. The children were put together in the late 70s in a school for the deaf, and there were no signers around to teach them anything in sign. And yet the children started to invent a language it seems, creating a grammar from scratch. That's completely amazing, isn't it? And the languages that these isolated children come up with isn't weird. It ends up being just like other human languages - languages they've never seen or heard.

The final and most important argument for a language instinct comes from normal, everyday language learning that occurs in the rich linguistic environment that most children grow up with. The problem is that speakers of a language all seem to end up with the same basic grammar of their language, and yet there is no way to choose this grammar from all the possible grammars that fit the sentences they are hearing. In other words, a child hears sentence A, and grammar A could account for it, and so could grammar B, and grammar C, and so on. And there's no clear way when you look at the sentences children hear to know that A is right, where B and C are wrong, and yet we all end up believing A. How is that possible? Moreover, children make a whole bunch of mistakes while learning their language, but there are some they never ever make. Mistakes that should be possible misunderstandings, but in fact never occur.

The classic example of this, from Chomsky, is called structure dependence and it has to do with forming questions. To form a question from the sentence, "Paca is boring me," you take the verb and move it to the front: "Is Paca boring me?" But remember the child is trying to learn the grammar, the pattern, not just one example. So they make a guess at the underlying rule, perhaps they guess "take the first verb and move it to the front." That's a good guess and it works most of the time. But then they want to make a question out of "Paca who is long-winded is boring me." If they follow their guess, they should say, "Is Paca who long-winded is boring me?"

But kids never do this. They don't try this out and then give it up when people look at them crazy. They never do it at all. But if they are just trying out possible grammars by listening to their language, some children should give this a try. But they don't. Why not?

Chomsky's solution to all this is that large components of language are not learned at all. They are part of our biology, just like the design of our eyes, and the way our hormones affect emotions, and everything else. Kids don't try out the weird "first verb" idea, because part of human biology is that sentences have structure with main verbs. And sign language children with bad linguistic input come up with a normal human grammar on their own, because the grammar is inborn in them. And that whole host of things that can come before or after the nouns always seem to follow the same pattern because a single biological parameter - right or left - controls all of them at once. Language then is only partly learned. You still have to learn all the words of your language, but as for the grammar, you already know what is possible in any human language, since we all share the same basic biology, and you only have to discover which of this very basic set is the one you will use. You don't have to start from scratch considering every logical possibility. Finally, like other biological organs, it grows and matures at a set rate. If you are in a linguistic environment while your biology is ready then you will learn like a native speaker. But after that you can only learn with trouble and perhaps never learn fully.

It is in this since that language is a human instinct like a beaver building a dam or a baby kangaroo who crawls blindly into its mother's pouch.

Is it right?

As I spelled it out here, probably no. I think that Chomsky is absolutely right that our biology determines the languages we can learn and how we learn. But it seems patently false that our genes spell out phrase structure or the rules on pronouns, which are indeed part of Chomsky's biological endowment until about 2004. One of the main problems is that it's not clear we have a very good notion of what a human grammar is like or if we all really share the same one, and so it's not much more than speculation on whether or not we can learn it.

The AC/DC test (paca)

I should start off by saying that AC/DC's Back in Black is perhaps the best rock album ever.

Now that that fact is established I would like to report that, while walking into the old office today, I saw a big newspaper headline "SHOOTING DEATH ROCKS KANEOHE." This made me recall a similar headline from several years back. "WAR ROCKS SERBIA".

I would like to propose a test for all newspaper headline authors. If you can take out the words "war" and "death" and insert the word "AC/DC" in its place, and after the switch, the headline makes even more sense...


... then you need to change your headline.

For instance, here's one: "War critic's soldier son killed in Iraq." Replaced, we get "AC/DC critic's soldier son killed in Iraq." See, that doesn't really work. It's a fine headline. How about "Four more years of war" becomes "Four more years of AC/DC." That's borderline. "Death sought for 'Chemical Ali'" becomes "AC/DC sought for 'Chemical Ali'". Chemical Ali sounds too much like a rock band name in itself, so that headline is right out.

And in case you haven't encountered it yet. This web site will let you listen to the comedian Jim Breuer singing an AC/DC-styled Hokey Pokey.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Paca made me do it (Llama)

Paca tagged me... and though I don't frequent enough blogs nor do I have the inclination to tag anyone else, I can at least give 8 random facts/habits about myself, right?

1) The hair on the top of my head is rapidly decreasing. I probably have 2 to 4 years max before shaving won't be necessary.
2) My favorite ice cream in Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey. I like it so much that, even though I enjoy other ice cream as well, I can never bring myself to purchase it when Chunky Monkey is available. The opportunity cost is just too high!
3) I once forgot to call my mother on Mother's Day. I happened to be driving up to Minnesota at the time. I found out later that she had the State Police looking for me. Oops. Love you mom!
4) In contrast to Paca, I've never learned to play anything. I took piano lessons for a while, but wasn't any good at it. Though I consider myself a good dancer, I can't find rhythm on a piano to save my life.
5) Language pet peeves: substituting "ironically" for "coincidentally", and "literally" for "figuratively" (Yesterday a CNN reporter said that troops were literally looking under every rock for the troops taken hostage... grrr...). Honorable mention goes to football commentators substituting "reverse" for "end-around".
6) One of my favorite and enduring high school memories was watching a regular reader of this blog play guitar and sing two original compositions on stage. I was proud to be his friend.
7) I find myself increasingly cynical and pessimistic, and I don't like it.
8) If Oprah ran for President, I'd probably vote for her. At least I'd get a new car, right?


Another illegal immigration debate (paca)

Every once in a while I get caught up in a debate over on the only political blog I regularly participate in, (The Moderate Voice), and I find myself saying things that seem worth preserving to me. This time the issue was that of a Dallas suburb voting to fine apartment owners who rented to illegal immigrants. The fine is $500 and there are a few exceptions, such as to mixed legal and illegal renters and minors. Everyone here is welcome to tell me how stupid my thoughts are, and they are likely to be stupid since I've never studied immigration or economics and that's what I wrote about.

There was a long discussion in the comments before I got involved. I will add new comments in all caps here.

I just wonder where the people are going to live if they are not in apartments. I know the answer I will hear is that they should all “go back home.” I think the more likely reality is that there will be shanty towns.(THIS IS ONLY RELEVANT IF THE RESTRICTIONS ON HOUSING WERE BROADER THAN ONE SUBURB OF COURSE. THE POINT IS THAT IF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ARE NOT LIVING IN APARTMENTS, THEY WILL BE LIVING SOMEWHERE.)

I think that 1) the market should control legal immigration to a large degree, and the current legal limits are far below market demand on both sides of the border, and 2) you control illegal immigration with border control and employment restrictions. You can’t address 2) effectively without fixing 1) however. Until there is a legal way to meet free market requirements, the illegal version will continue.

Commenter X then said:
pacatrue said:
“Until there is a legal way to meet free market requirements, the illegal version will continue.”

This assumes that companies want to employ legal workers, but are forced to employ illegal ones because of lack of legal ones. It goes back to “Mexicans do the jobs Americans refuse to do”. This phrase is correct, just incomplete; “Mexicans do the jobs Americans refuse to do for slave wages”. Believe it or not, fruit was picked, lawns were mowed and houses were built by Americans once, and would be again, if the possibility of employing an illegal for a fraction of the cost was not there. Once upon a time, oranges were picked by Americans and orange juice still didn’t cost it’s weight in gold. If you upped the number of legal immigrants, the companies would still try to employ illegals, they pay them less, take care of their safety less, don’t need to cover their healthcare, all profits that go back to them.

Commenter Y (who is typically 'left' on most issues) said:
The right wingers are about to love on me….

I fully agree with what the Dallas suburbs are doing, infact they should have gone further and targeted banks that loan to illegals (which is against federal law), and especially employers that hire them. When they don;t have lodging, employment, or ability to start up their own businesses/homes here they can go back and do it the legal way. If we really have so many jobs that americans won’t do I’m sure amendments to immigration numbers will happen.

Commenter X then came back in:
It’s funny, Commenter Y, on the immigration issue, there seems to be quite a few people who usually self-define as left who go over to the other side. Same thing in Spain; people who would recoil at the thought of being called conservative are VERY conservative on immigration. I can only guess that having to deal with the ugly realities of illegal immigration every day, and knowing that tolerance of illegal immigration is BAD for the countries poor and working families makes it an easier issue(I THINK SHE'S TALKING ABOUT THE VERSION OF THE LEFT WHO IS ANTI FREE TRADE, SOCIALIST-INCLINED, AND CONSERVATIVE ABOUT PRESERVING THE TRADITIONAL CUSTOMS FOR THEMSELVES). Illegal immigration only benefits the illegals themselves and the rich bastards who feed off their services.

And now me again:
I agree with Commenter X and some of what Commenter Y said (clearly not all). What I mean by market demand is simply that since 10 to 20 million illegal immigrants have come to the U.S. in the last 20 years, the U.S. has continued to grow its GDP at a moderate rate overall and kept unemployment at one of the lowest of non-socialist industrial nations. The main economic refinement I would put on Commenter Y’s point(AHH, REFINEMENT. TRANSLATION: I THINK YOU ARE COMPLETELY WRONG, BUT I'M GOING TO PRETEND WE ONLY DISAGREE SLIGHTLY SO AS TO GET YOU TO ACTUALLY CONSIDER MY POINT) is that it’s not as if a nation has a certain number of jobs and illegal or legal workers can take them. Instead, economies are highly dynamic. The number of jobs in the U.S. changes by the tens of thousands every month. And one of the greatest means of growing an economy is making production more efficient, i.e., cheaper. So producing all of the items that illegal immigrants produce with lower wages is partially driving the economy as a whole forward. I am not saying that lower wages are always good. In fact, I’m very interested in the idea of the living wage where you can lead a basic life financially if you work a 40 hour week.

Anyway, my main worry about simply forbidding housing to illegals without anything more comprehensive is that it is just not enough to dissuade immigrants from coming illegally. The incentives will remain high and now we will have immigrants living apart from everyone else, meaning they won’t be learning English and American customs, living in shacks and drinking diseased water. Instead you need to comprehensively make coming to the U.S. legally easier while also adding employment, housing, and financial restrictions to illegal workers. To make the prohibitions against illegality strong enough in themselves to be effective would require billions and billions (and billions) of dollars in enforcement machinery - which seems an odd way to spend money since our economy can clearly handle the workers. One thing to keep in mind is that the legal wait currently can be 10, 15, 20 years to get a visa. By that time, the children parents are trying to find opportunities for are no longer children. If we can reduce the burdens on getting here legally, then less strict controls on illegal arrival will be more effective.(THE POINT HERE IS THAT PEOPLE OFTEN PRETEND LIKE IMMIGRANTS ARE SITTING AT HOME, MAYBE A NICE HOME WITH FANS OR AIR CONDITIONING, AND THEY JUST GOT BACK FROM SAFEWAY, AND THEY THINK 'I'D REALLY LIKE TO GO TO AMERICA. HMMM... I WONDER IF I SHOULD GO LEGALLY OR ILLEGALLY? AH, SCREW IT, I'LL JUST GO ILLEGALLY AND NOT BOTHER WITH THE LEGAL HASSLE.' IN REALITY, FOR MOST PEOPLE, IT'S GO ILLEGALLY OR DO NOT GO. YOU WILL ALSO HAVE TO USE YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE OF THE ECONOMIES OF THE POTENTIAL IMMIGRANT TO ASSESS WHAT THE STAY AT HOME ALTERNATIVE IS LIKE. MOST OF US FORGIVE JEAN VALJEAN FOR STEALING A LOAF OF BREAD WHEN HIS FAMILY WAS STARVING. HOW SIMILAR ARE THE ECONOMIC CASES?).

And then a bit later I followed up on one of Commenter X' sentences:
Pacatrue said:
Quote from Commenter X: "Illegal immigration only benefits the illegals themselves and the rich bastards who feed off their services."
Does anyone know the actual stats on the economics of the people and companies hiring illegal workers? Some portion of them are large companies, such as people running industrial chicken processing plants. But my impression has always been that a lot of these workers are working for local family farms to help with a grape harvest, mowing the lawns and raising the children of the middle class, or working for a two person contracting company who need some extra help for a job. If so, that’s precisely the group of people you typically want to save money. Cutting expenses by 10% on the very wealthy indeed often has a low rate of return, because they don’t change their habits due to a 10% growth in their income. However, a middle class person might be affected enough by the savings to go spend some money they wouldn’t have otherwise, which then does indeed benefit the economy generally.

I'm done quoting now. No one ever responded to either of my two long comments which isn't unusual. The main point I'm trying to make is simply that unlike Spain and much of Europe, the American economy for the last 20 years of illegal immigration has been able to grow to support most of the new people coming to the country. Moreover, cheap labor may have been an actual driving force in the growth of the economy. Of course, of course, this has hurt many American workers whose wages are driven down by the cheaper labor option for employers. At the same time, because the illegal immigrants are often directly assisting the middle class in particular, the economy as a whole has grown as a result of the cheap labor. I am in favor of enforcing border controls if you accept the idea of immigration controls at all. You can't just pretend to have laws, which is the current situation. We pretend to have immigration control, but largely do not. However, I am arguing that if the laws do not reflect economic pressures at all, as is currently the case, they are going to be almost impossible to enforce. This is basically Richardson's take on illegal immigration, I confess. He supports increasing the number of legal immigrants immensely - up to 400,000 a year - which is a closer take on the economics in question, while at the same time increasing the border patrol enormously. Of course these sort of solutions will be of not interest to Americans who just do not want so many immigrants period. However, if the problem is illegal immigration in particular, and not all immigration, then it makes more sense.

Final thing. The reason I keep mentioning the middle class is due to my baseless belief that increasing disposable income on the middle class has the greatest effect on growing the economy. If a wealthy person makes $200,000 a year and they get a 10% boost to $220,000, would they change their spending habits much? They were likely already doing as they wished, and it would take a really large increase, say to $300,000, to get them to change habits significantly. For the poor making $25,000 a year, an extra 10%, or $2500, will be spent and will help, but a) it's a pretty small amount still and b) most of that money is already spoken for. However, if a $60,000 a year person is now making $66,000 maybe they would now go on that vacation they were putting off. Or they would now feel comfortable enough to risk starting that small business. Or they would just buy stuff they don't really need but like. It seems like the problem with trickle-down economics then is that most of the tax cuts are targeted at that $200,000 group, when they should really be targeted to the $60,000 one.

But then I've never taken an economics class in my life, so feel free to correct.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Toto, I don't think we're in Kasas anymore... (Llama)

Ok, so I just returned from a 5 day, 4 night stay in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I don't know how much news of Bangladesh you get over there in Yankee Land, but there's usually at least one story about the country in the Thai papers each day. That country is currently being ruled by a "caretaker government", which is constitutionally allowed when the democratic process fails to produce an elected government. You see, the two main parties have been pretty much at war with each other for the past few years, and when it came time for a new election, each party became so obstructionist that the whole system just collapsed. So the caretaker government took over, banished the party leaders from the country, and set about rooting out corruption. Elections are now scheduled to happen at the end of the year, but, frankly, the country is really better off without them.

Anyway, I've been there a few times already, but it has been a while since my last visit. This time I was struck by the armed guards everywhere. They are at the airport, outside department stores, in traffic circles... everywhere. They aren't carrying whatever high-tech weapon we see our troops with, but rather old weapons with wooden stocks and iron barrels... like old Soviet era guns.

Another oddity appeared yesterday on my way to the airport. I was riding in a CNG - a three-wheeled, open-air mini-taxi that runs on natural gas, when we passed this one fellow walking on the shoulder of the highway completely nude. Buck naked. His glory exposed to the entire world. It reminded me of ... what is that classic movie about the African tribesman that finds a coke bottle? And if that wasn't odd enough, no one was paying any attention to this fellow. No traffic slow downs, no staring by others on the shoulder... nothing. And this is a Muslim country, remember, where nudity, at least by females, is practically worth a beheading.

Speaking of nudity, a couple of nights before, after work, I was flipping through the TV channels. Asian cable routinely shows really, really bad American movies. Sometimes they even try to pass them off as blockbusters: CEREBUS, BOA VS. PYTHON, and the like. These are movies custom made for MST3K. Anyway, something like this was on and I stopped to watch. Not a monster movie, but some silly movie about a crazed movie producer who starts killing his competitors so that he can record the murders and sell "the best footage you've ever seen" to some ambiguous group of buyers. It is probably the worst movie I've ever seen. (At one point, to show how maniacal the producer is, there is a scene where he is rolling around in money. Presumably all the money he is making from shooting this footage. This footage that isn't yet complete and hasn't yet been sold.) I write about it now because, here in the middle of Bangladesh, a country almost entirely Islamic, they were broadcasting, uncensored, the crudest language you can imagine and even some female nudity.

On another channel, by the way, they were broadcasting Spiderman 3.

Anyway, I'm glad to be back in the BKK.


Richardson ad (paca)

I may be biased, but I think this is a great political ad. Amusing, too.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!

This post is for my mother. Here in the Paca residence, we will be making strawberry crepes for N. Since you are in Morocco, I cannot do the same for you, so here is a picture of strawberry crepes that will have to suffice.

And you, dear mother, are probably thinking, "well, it's good that I am not there to eat them, since I'm allergic to strawberries."

And I will say, "Omigod, I almost forgot that! I'm going to kill my own mother on accident on Mother's Day!" I mean, I may not always be the best son, but, wow, that would be taking it to a whole nother level.

And you will say, "But you did remember. You remember these sorts of things at the last minute. I know that about you, because I gave birth to you over 33 years ago."

And I will say, "You and I don't really speak like this, but it's fun to write in this manner, and you are indeed correct that I do things at the last minute."

And you would then say, "That would drive me crazy, but we are just two different people."

And I would say, "Yes, this is true. But we are very similar as well. I don't stand in front of the stove like you do at night, but I do often worry that I haven't turned it off and will go back inside to check when I'm halfway towards the car. I sometimes call out the wrong name for people I know quite well. 'N, I mean paca, I mean B, what are you doing?' And you ended up in business and me in linguistics, but I seem to be headed towards being a prof."

And you would say, "This is true."

And I would then start to say something like, "one never appreciates their own parents until they become one," and I think I read that today or yesterday somewhere. But then I'd stop and think, "no, that's not quite right." Children can appreciate all that their parents did even as children, but they don't understand it usually.

I was speaking with another blogger person over a year ago talking about the importance of children in their parent's lives, and I realized how categorically different being a parent is from most of life's other pursuits, even though those pursuits are often worthwhile too. Most parents would sacrifice their very lives for their child. Oh, many of us aren't strong enough to do it, but most of us think we should if the circumstances demand it. I can't say that about being a linguistics prof or going to Mongolia or learning to speak another language. But I think most parents feel the same. There are few things in life that take on so much value to us.

And you might then say, "That's a very noble sentiment, but you are still trying to cook strawberries for me on Mother's Day and I can't eat them."

And I would say, "ah, touché," because we often speak in just such a manner. "However, dear mother, I do recall in the little perturbations of my mind that you used to visit The Magic Pan in the Houston Galleria, which serves crepes, and so I know you like crepes. Therefore, I'll just dump these little allergy fests that I first tried to pawn off on you into the garbage, get out the nutella, melt a little chocolate, and voila!"

Une crepe pour une mere superbe! Bon appetit, madame! Je t'aime tous les jours.

Tagged!! (paca)

Blame Writtenwyrrd for this one. I've been Tagged!

Here are the rules:
1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I may not follow those rules exactly, but I'll do the eight things at least.

1. Cookies are quite nice. Cookie dough is nicer.
2. There was a time in 1997 or so when I was working in Tennessee and N had gone to get a masters degree in Seattle. We were basically "broken up" at this time, but after about a year I started going to visit again. There were two pivotal moments of a visit. First, we went grocery shopping together. Click. Second, I was carrying around adventure travel brochures. My favorite was the brochure from Nomadic Expeditions. I wanted to go trekking around Lake Hovsgol in Mongolia. When I read the one about helping on a dig for dinosaur bones in the Gobi Desert, N got the Look in her eyes. She wanted to go to. It wasn't just that she'd go with me to be supportive. She looked like she wanted to go for herself. The ring was just a matter of time after that. We still haven't been to Mongolia, but we do go grocery shopping regularly.
3. People seem to trust me when driving. On trips to Mt. Ranier and the Olympic peninsula, N and her mom snoozed away in the car as I drove. I hadn't had my license much more than a year and had never driven in the mountains until N and I drove from Minnesota to Seattle.
4. I have a borderline compulsive dislike of conflict. Dogs and cats fighting bothers me so much I have to leave the room.
5. One of the great old memories from childhood involved playing Killer with the llama and friends around the age of 10. Basically, it was a long and involved water gun fight that ranged all over town for an entire day. My equipment included a backpack full of grenade water balloons, a faux machine gun water gun in the hand, and two ordinary water pistols strapped to my legs.
6. I used to identify with Coke. I was so attached to the brand that in high school I even had a pseudo-nickname of Coke and was given a shirt with the word Coke across the back. There's a famous family picture which is me and my three best friends in high school posing in front of the limo after prom, me with a Coke can in my hand. I acted with Coke like a lot of teens act with music. Identity. I usually drink Diet Pepsi now. I just prefer it to Diet Coke. But if I find something else I like better, I'll switch. It's just a drink.
7. I have taken conga lessons, classical guitar lessons, jazz guitar lessons, piano lessons, drum lessons, folk guitar lessons, and I own 4 guitars, a bass, a set of congas, bongos, and timbales... a banjo, ukelele, MIDI keyboard, two microphones, wah wah pedal, and an effects board for the guitar. I pretty much can play about 3 songs all the way through.
8. I buy books for their potential effect upon me.

And the taggees are... all the writing / EE contacts have already done this. So I'll name a few people who I met through llama, but not all of them, so that they have someone to name. Let's go with Sammy Jenkis and -e. Throw in a katze and a J. And llama himself and my sister for good luck. That's only six, but I think the chain meme will survive. I, however, for not fulfilling my task will suddenly endure a host of bad luck. My dog will lose a leg. Bon Jovi will become popular again. People will decide that buffalo chicken everything was a dumb craze and it is now to be dropped like the amazing calamari at J. Alexander's was. And people will continue to take me up on all the offers of help that I give out.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hello world (paca)

When I walked out of my last final today, I originally thought, "I'm going to post a big picture of a butterfly on my blog, because it's like I'm emerging from a cocoon." Then I realized that I'm really more like this guy:

Anyway, I wrapped up a lot of stuff today. It saw some harrowing times -- from an academic perspective -- in that I for the very first time got my analysis-over-time to work in the Matlab programming language for my eye tracking class at, oh, 5:00 AM Thursday morning. But, work it did. I'm sure a real programmer would have wrapped it up in an hour, but I only know how to do the first 5 chapters of my how-to book, so everything is repetitive and long. I remember my CS prof looking at my program last semester and asking, "why didn't you just use the matrix algebra functions, as it would have been a lot faster and easier?" The answer is because I don't know matrix algebra. I also got a full three hours of sleep yesterday as well, so that's win-win, I say. It was enough to not have to take an Incomplete and get my little A as of yesterday afternoon, so go me. And then today was the math test. To do that, since I had only slept for three hours, I went to bed at 10:00 and got up at 5:00 to study, since I wasn't really much awake after 10. Again, there I was Mr. Wise in that I took the course "credit / no credit", and I did well enough to get the Credit.

I know I didn't get an A on the exam. How do I know that? Because at the end I walked up to the prof and said, "I'm all done, but I was wondering, since I've forgotten my calculus completely, what IS the derivative of 4/3(1-x2[squared])? Did I happen to guess right?"

"Hmm..., well, for the continuous function, you're supposed to take the anti-derivative, not the derivative. So you have it right, but you did it the opposite of what you're supposed to do."

"Oh. So that means I did the reverse on Part A too?"

"No, it looks like you did the right direction here -- but got the antiderivative wrong."

Oh well. I actually completed all the problems this time, though, and there's enough right buried in the derivative and anti-derivatives to get me a C.

On the larger front, how about finding the chair, the working paper, the comprehensives? I got my working paper back from the other reader, and the fixes are easy. I just need an afternoon to make them and then I can submit it. I still don't have a chair. The Computer Science prof who wanted to be my Chair was told by her Chair to just be my outside advisor and do an independent study with me. But I got some advice on doing a pilot experiment from a linguistics prof and I have a feeling that if I start doing the pilot with him, he'll be my advisor eventually. I have also selected for myself my three comps areas, which was the only thing I really cared about soon. Now, I can start reading over the summer as I assemble the committee. As always, I have committee members out the wazoo, it's just finding the chair.... And finding the comps areas means that at least I have finally decided on the dissertation topic. Now it's a matter of testing it and developing it into an official proposal over the next 4-5 months. And since you are all bored anyway, I will tell you my comps areas: phonology with a concentration on intonation, language acquisition looking at learning and phonological acquisition, and computational linguistics with a focus on machine learning and speech recognition. If you want to know what that means, yell.

What else? I still have a big work deadline. The journal's next issue publishes on June 1 and I need to copy edit all the short pieces still. All the main articles are done. So that's next. I also spent the afternoon filling out the forms for summer classes. I get one week off and then the next semester starts. Sigh. The good news is that I'm only taking one class - Japanese.

Japanese!! you say, if you have a really good memory. You're supposed to be taking Korean! And I sigh along with you, and say, yes, yes, I was supposed to be taking Korean. But, I talked with the prof and it turns out that Japanese is just a better language for my dissertation topic than Korean is. Japanese (with a couple exceptions) has an entirely Consonant-Vowel syllable structure, unlike English and Korean, which both allow Consonant-Vowel-Consonant. And I want to test people who speak CV structure naturally. And so Japanese seems to be the way to go. I'm only trying to learn the language because I might need to travel in Japan and work with monolingual Japanese speakers on a rudimentary basis. I am disappointed, though. I bought my Korean books over a month ago, already to go. I have been talking about writing with J-W, so I thought it would be good to learn a little Korean. Moreover, Korean has one of the coolest writing systems in the world with its hangul alphabet. Meanwhile, Japanese has perhaps the most complicated writing system in the world, using three different, really four, systems all at once, and, even worse, it means that Chinese characters are BAAACCKKK!! I dropped Chinese largely because I just got tired of practicing characters day after day. The good news is that I glanced through the book, and I know most of the 101 and 102 characters already. I just have to learn the new pronunciation of them. I seem doomed to repeat study of the same three languages over and over - Chinese, French, and Japanese. (I took Japanese after work once about eight years ago for the fun of it. I only remember the word "hajimemashite". And I can count to four, but I learned that from the Puffy Amiyumi cartoon.

In final news, little B also ends his semester today. He graduates from Anuenue class to Polu class. And then in only a year goes off to Kindergarten. Sigh. When I get home I'll try to find a picture of B when he moved here and him now.

And, finally, a big big Thank You to people who did really kind things during my two week nasty time. My mother sent two e-cards and a nice email message of encouragement. My sister called me to make sure I was doing well. And N sent me a nice little text message just last night. This was a very important text message, not only because it's a little emotional pick-me-up, but because I was snoring in my office chair and the beeping phone woke me up so that I could actually study. Oh, and she watched B extra each week while I was pounding away at everything. She's an enabler.

And that's the report! I'm already doing my best to overbook myself for the summer, so I will update people later, maybe some day at 3 AM.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Interesting read about the US missle shield (LLama)

Outside View: Responding to Bush on BMD

Lately I've been having a minor-revolution of thought regarding government. Articles like this are contributing to my growing skepticism and even distrust of our federal government.

The opinion piece posits that the US is pushing these ABM deployments in Europe as a way to spark another standoff with Russia, as it did with the cold war.

I remember once in grade school my teacher showing us a video about Nostradamus and his predictions. The video argued that, according to Nostradamus, there would be a third world war about the time that I was 20 years old. This terrified me. The nation was still bubbling with horror stories about fighting in Vietnam, and the idea that I could be put into that kind of bloody hell scared me, even traumatized me. I remember movies about post-apocalyptic societies, and other ones in which the US was invaded by Soviet forces. I remember frequent images of mushroom clouds and children ducking under school desks, in some feeble gesture of self-protection. My whole childhood was spent against the specter of global annihilation. And this was all in the late 70's and 80's; I can't imagine the terror that must have been in the American public during the Cuban missile crisis.

And now to think that people in Washington might be trying to intentionally start that up again, simply in order to somehow improve the US' power in global politics? And then to realize that, perhaps, the whole of the cold war was just as manipulative, that in reality the Soviet's weren't set on domination, but rather they were a crumbling society, a faux threat built up by our own government. That my greatest fears during childhood were intentionally created by our own government to serve it's own purpose? And finally, to realize that, if all of this is true, is it not also true that it is still happening today, but with Islam and faceless "terrorists" as the boogeyman rather than Russia?

The U.S.S.R.'s control of Eastern Europe was real, as were the missiles in Cuba. 9/11 was real, of course, and highly tragic. But, I'm now left wondering, if the responses that the US government took, both then and now, were really designed to primarily serve the best interests of the American citizens, or to serve the self-interest of American leadership.

Maybe it's time I buy a gun, move to some ranch in Wyoming, and stop paying taxes.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

That pesky Red Cross (Llama)

So I was having a beer and a game of pool the other night, and got to talking with this fellow that had a Hispanic look about him. Dark hair, dark skin, and, when he spoke, an accent that I couldn't place but new was at least near the US. So I figured south Texas, first generation immigrant maybe. But I was wayyy off.

Turns out he's from Hawaii. Mentioned that I had a friend at school there... "Old U of H" he says. "Can't imagine a better place to go to school," I offer. "Expensive!" he replies. He's in Bangkok for R&R, on leave from Iraq. He's in the Army Corp of Engineers. Complained a bit about how, even though he's part of the army, he still has to pay taxes (apparently most Army folks do not).

I asked him what he was building over there... mostly military projects or more infrastructure? He says he's building a prison. He builds lots of prisons. "What we really need to do is get the Red Cross out of there." Hmmm? The first thought enters my mind is this is one of those pro-Bush, pro-Torture, anti-human rights, America-is-Iraqs-savior-so-why-are-they-complaining type guys. Then he elaborates. "They need this, they need that. They need cigarettes. They need lighters... the Red Cross says we have to give prisoners lighters! And then what do they do with them? They burn down the prison. They burn them down as fast as we can put them up!"

So... hmm. I have lots of thoughts on this little story, but most are contradictory. And none are particularly enlightening. So I'll just leave you with the story, and let you form your own opinions.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Slow week (Llama)

I returned from Pnohm Phen last Friday night. Overall, that trip was stressful, as every trip to PP is. The data entry firm that was contracted has produced very poor results... so poor that the entire project is in danger of being scrapped. But at this point there's not much that I can do except wait and facilitate communication between those who have to decide if we should continue or not.

I'm ready to go back to Bangladesh also. Well, professionally I'm ready. Personally I'm never ready. The time there is usually less stressful than Pnohm Phen... though the days can be long. But as I've written before, it's not such a pleasant place to visit. Cambodia is much nicer, with better food. The Buddhist culture is so much more appealing to me than the Islamic one.

In the meantime, I'm pretty much just waiting around. I don't have much to do this week. I even took yesterday off to go see Spiderman 3 (a real disappointment). Today I'm back in the office, but might as well not be. So...


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May 11 (paca)

As everyone already knows, I'm rather swamped right now, so I think I am going to declare a two week hiatus on the blog. I'm sure it's possible to find 5 minutes to say something still, but somehow it seems right just to hold off for a bit. I hope everyone will show up again at that time. In the mean time, the llama will have to entertain you all.

May 11 is the big day. May 10 is the psychology presentation, and May 11 is the probability test.

I do keep plugging away at things. Another 12,000 edited words went out on Sunday. As of right now at... 2:00 AM, my experimental script is up and running and all pic stimuli are created. It's just the pesky sound files that are taking for ever. I'm using sentences that N recorded for me and then heavily re-synthesizing them in acoustic software. I also got my working paper back from my profs, which is great. Now I have to squeeze in the revisions to it so I can submit it officially before the semester ends.

See you all on... May 11. OK, could be may 12. It's not like I post every single day normally anyway.