Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Political dialogue

This is a comment I put over on the RINO blog (see links on right) about Cindy Sheehan.

This discussion brings up one of the great debates I have been having with myself lately about exactly how to have an impact in a national political dialogue. I have been opposed to the war since the get-go, but have never wanted to join the anti-war movement that I know of, because it seems either ineffective or counter-productive. An example is a poster we had here from the Not in Our Name - Hawaii group. The poster had a US tank being driven by pigs with guns running over Iraqi children. While I have always thought that our government does not take innocent deaths in wars seriously enough when they make the decision to go or not go, this sort of poster is hopelessly wrong-headed. For a movement to have an effect, we need thousands upon thousands of typical Hawaiians making their voice heard. How in hell is a poster demonizing our military going to find broad support in a state with the number of military families here? The entire Pacific Armed Forces are run out of these islands. At the same time, what I am good at - sitting in a room or on a blog debating issues in a meaningful, understanding manner - has no effect either. I loved Wesley Clark's letter that you provided to us. It made me wonder if I wanted to start, or join, a Clark 2008 campaign. But we who care about reasoned letters in a newspaper are in the huge minority. We aren't mass movements. I have not yet discovered how to bridge this gap.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The big 32 today

Is 32 big? I don't know. But I am now, in fact, 32, as of today. Soon I will be officially old. To celebrate, I am going to... umm... do nothing, but I think N has a cake for me. Well, I know she does. It's sitting in the freezer. I am guessing the little group of us will sing the song and then I'll do homework or something. Oh yeah, then I will go out drinking and get totally wasted, dude. Or maybe not.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Best Wishes for New Orleans

Just sending my best wishes to New Orleans, South Louisiana, and Mississippi. I've heard the doomsday scenarios for years for the Crescent City that amount to losing the city forever if hurricane conditions are just right/wrong. Now it looks like Katrina is going to test them out. Hurricane Category 5. So good luck, Louisiana, you are in my thoughts today. I just hope the evacuees can get off of I-10 before Katrina hits. Hear the whole thing is gridlocked for miles. You don't want to still be in your car 24 hours from now. And since I have at least two Baton Rouge readers and several family members there, my thoughts are with you as well. Maybe I better go read up on that Hawaii tsunami evacuation plan again....

Friday, August 26, 2005

Another wedding proposal of sorts

In my continuing attempt to write really badly:

Henry slowly descended to one knee before his beloved and took her hand in his, which she so gracefully offerred unto him, symbolizing the union that he was to propose and how she would give anything if he merely requested. "Hester," Henry began as Hester's cheeks blushed the color of a delicate rose in a manner that only the fair sex can manifest.
"Yes, Henry?" Hester asked as her querulous lip trembled with anticipation.
"Hester, my one, my only, my true beloved until the stars tumble from the sky."
"Yes, my darling Henry?"
"Hester, the personification of all that is right and good in this little world of ours."
"Yes, Henry? What do you wish to ask of me?"
"Hester, my beauty, my heart's desire, my sublime creature."
"Henry, the question?" Hester said beginning to tap her delicate right foot wrapped in the finest Flemish lace and donned with a Parisian slipper.
"Hester, in my eyes, the sun is nothing but a rock at the bottom of the sea covered in barnacles soiled in the droppings of starfish when compared to your undying radiance."
"Yes, I know. You said that on the gondola earlier, Henry. But I wish you would leave out the starfish thing."
"Yes, Hester, I did say it, and I say it again. I will speak of nothing other than your beauty until I pass from this earth, for I know nothing can rival your grace other than a creature from heaven, which is surely from whence you came."
"Oh forget it! Taxi!"

Most Boring Marriage Proposal Ever

I was reading a nice writing blog (see Blue Ridge Writer link on the right there) and wrote this little bit in an inspired moment. I think there could be a nice continuing blog theme here to see just how badly I can write. Feel free to add your own awful scenes as you see fit. Here it is:

"You wanna?" said John.
"What?" said Mary.
"You know. Get married," said John.
"Are you serious?" said Mary.
"Yes," said John.
"Why?" said Mary.
"Because." Silence. "You brought it up last week," said John.
"So I did," said Mary. "Well, alright then."
"So that's it. We are going to get married now?"
"Yep." John twiddled his thumbs.
"Why again?"
"I don't know. I'm bored. Seems like something we could do. I'm tired of sitting at this buffet."
"Is that a metaphor?"
"No. This fried fish is awful. And I think the cocktail sauce is ketchup."
"How can you see how I am spelling?"
"Oh. I guess I can't."
"Can you remember which one of us is talking?"
"No, we all sound the same."
"Yeah." John and Mary sit quietly.
"I'll go call the minister."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Wacko Environmentalist

While my father has called me a tree hugger for years, the truth is that I have never really been all that interested in the environmental movement. No reason. Just never got into it. I was mostly just accused of that because I went to a liberal liberal arts college, and so everything liberal has been attached to me in the family perview (sp?) since. And it would still be a stretch to attach that label to me, since I take virtually no actions in the official movement other than recycling when convenient. However, I have realized I do hold certain beliefs:

1) I don't want to be poisoned, even slowly over years, by the food, water, and air.
2) I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to see many of the natural things that my grandfather grew up with.
3) I believe in economic growth and job growth, and I want my descendants to also have jobs, meaning the job today cannot destroy the basis for jobs tomorrow.
4) There are limits to what is around us, and so there will be time we have to limit what we use in order to keep the supplies available later.

You can all decide whether or not these beliefs make me a tree hugger or not.

Poorly Analyzed Experimental Findings

So, Scientific American just published a review of an article in Science. Basically, they had Chinese students and American students look at pictures and used a tracking device to see where they looked. It turned out that the Americans looked at some focal point for a longer time compared to the Chinese students who looked at more of the whole picture. So that's OK. Simple experimental result. The next step, however, is the explanation of why, and that's where things get really fishy. Basically, they say that Chinese people all think societally, while Americans are rugged individualists. I won't go into that gigantic stereotype repeated so often. Here is the kicker sentence:

"There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that whereas North Americans tend to be more analytic when evaluating a scenario, fixating on the focal object, East Asians are generally more holistic, giving more consideration to the context."

That might seem OK, but it definitely puts a value judgement on the results. Americans who look at one thing are analytical. They are the ones who are making the important distinctions, seeing what is significant. You might say this is just what analysis is - breaking things up - but analysis is almost always a good thing in our culture. No one ever uses analysis to mean something bad. You have to stick "over-" on there to get "overanalysis" to mean something bad. Meanwhile, the Chinese are supposed to be "holistic" which is strongly associated with mysticism and irrationality in our culture. OK, this might be a bit of overanalysis, so to make the point, let's give a different explanation that seems equally valid from the data:

"There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that whereas North Americans tend to ignore most of the information presented to them in a senario, fixating on the focal object almost to the exclusion of the object's environment, East Asians are generally more observant, giving more consideration to the complete picture."

They might then go on to say how supposed rugged individualism blinds us to the very facts in front of our eyes, while East Asians can still see clearly.

It's worth stating that it is not clear of the analysis/holism thing is from the actual experimenters, from Science, or from Scientific American. The simplistic explanations might be from the popularization of the article, not the researchers.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Off to the Races

It's that time again. Semester began today. There are all these students now, cluttering up the campus. Used to be so quiet.

So here are the courses:

Phonology - one of the last reqs
Historical Linguistics - language families, language change, evolutionary language
Intonational Typology - research to document previously undocumented language
Language Acquisition - Prof is Chomsky-ite; we are opponents; charge!

I did learn today that I seem to have turned a corner in my academic career. The classes today were all fine. I will learn a lot. But, well, they are just classes. I feel like it is time for me to be doing research. The last two are seminars and will be research-based, so that's nice. This isn't putting the classes down. They will be good classes. It's just time to be working.

Due to transportation issues, B went with me to my 7:30 class today. He wasn't the best co-teacher. Fortunately, all I had to do was tell them what Linguistics was, and then that they would get a new teacher. Actually, the Chair decided this afternoon to just cancel my section, since I don't have enough for the class to make. However, the registration system is so overloaded right now, I can't get in to get the email addresses to tell them.

I did see my office today, the one I get for being editorial assistant. It's killer for a GA. In fact, many faculty are in similar offices around me. The mere fact that I have an office to myself with a computer supplied is pretty stunning. Granted it is in the portables, but I ain't complaining.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Picture Power

Here are Bran and I back in April. Amusingly, N is the one with the Mac. I created a song in GarageBand the first week we got it and haven't touched it since.

Here we are in June waiting for the King Kamehameha Day parade. I think we all know that book. I can't tell if I still have the goatee at this point or if I just haven't shaved in a week or two.

B insisted he wear my hat and that I wear N's. I don't seem too happy with the suggestion. This is at the KCC farmer's market next to Diamond Head in July. Goatee is definitely gone here.

And here is N and B at the Foster Botanical Garden.

Foster Botanical Gardens

About 3 weeks ago, B, N, and I went to the Foster Botanical Gardens here in Honolulu. Turns out our Zoo membership gets us in there free. It was nice. This is a picture of B that I particularly like. We also figured out a trick. Turns out you can buy a membership to the Gardens and get free access to the Zoo for cheaper than you can buy a membership to the Zoo and get free access to the Gardens. So, in 2006, we can save like 10 bucks or something. Genius.


Saturday, August 20, 2005

Nice little experiment

I had an idea for a nice little experiment that could be enlightening in several ways about language. The experiment essentially weaves together 3 different works I have been reading. On the one hand, in the study of sound in language, phonology, there is a distinction often made between a phonological process and a morphophonological rule. Those are the terms of the school called Natural Phonology, which my advisor happens to adhere to. Other theories make similar distinctions under different names. What they are talking about is systematic, constant changes in speech due to pressures of articulation and hearing versus memorized rules of sound change. So a classic example of a process is an /n/ becoming an [m] before another labial consonant. (Trust me, or ask me and I will explain.) Making this change makes the sequence of sounds much easier to get out. A classic rule, on the other hand, is opaque becoming opacity. Notice how the k sound at the end of opaque becomes an s sound in opacity. This is no easier to say. It is just a rule of English we have all memorized - at least those of us who say opacity. This distinction is item one. I was wondering all last semester if there was an experimental way to verify a neurological distinction between processes and rules.

Then I've been reading Joan Bybee's Phonology and Language Use, which I love and will purchase soon. She states several times that phonology should be thought of as procedural memory - especially phonological proceese, but perhaps not rules. She nicely even states that if she is right, then phonology should behave with similar characteristics to other bits of procedural memory.

The final step is that I have been glancing through Eichenbach and Cohen's From Conditioning to Conscious Reflection. It's kind of a cognitive neuroscience look at memory. They have a discussion of procedural memory and note on the first page that procedural memory has been known for decades now to reliably follow the Power Rule of Practice.

Ding! Lightbulb.

I want to have subjects practice and learn a phonological process. Do they exhibit the Power Law of Practice as they learn to say the sequence? If so, this is good evidence that procedural memory is in use. Do they do the same when acquiring a rule? If not, then this is good evidence that the distinction is real. If the experiment can be simple enough, it is potentially a very useful tool of phonological analysis.

I hope I can work on designing this, if it's a good idea and not done already, in the Spring.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Happy Acceptance Day

Today is a state holiday for Hawai'i, so we are on vacation. In fact, the holiday is State Acceptance Day - the day Hawai'i became a state. Hawai'i has all the federal holidays, plus a few extra, including this one, King Kamehameha Day and Prince Kuhio Day. In other news, I was offered, and have accepted, the editorial assistantship position with the journal. So after allll that about teaching and ling 102 practice, I won't be teaching at all now, since I am not allowed to hold both positions. But this way, I double my money, and I think I will have health insurance for the first time in a year. If I don't get fired, I could in principle keep this assistantship all through my dissertation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bounty Buff

So I am something of a Bounty buff. What is a Bounty buff? It's actually not that coconut and chocolate candy bar you sometimes see. It is His Majesty's Ship Bounty, which sailed in the late 18th century from England to Tahiti to take the breadfruit tree from Tahiti to the English Caribbean plantations, which was intended to be a food for the slaves there. However, along the way there was a mutiny, the mutiny on the Bounty, in which some of the men, lead by Master's Mate Fletcher Christian, took over the Bounty from Lieutenant Bligh. Bligh and his loyalists were put adrift in an open boat in the South Pacific. They then made one of the most remarkable sea journeys ever, crossing over 2000 miles to a Dutch colony in what is now Indonesia, only losing one man in the journey. Ironically, several of them died from disease while in port. Meanwhile, the mutineers searched for a place to hide for the rest of their lives. In time, they, along with their Tahitian wives and some Tahitian men, settled the tiny island called Pitcairn's Island. The descendents of the mutineers still live on Pitcairn to this day. There were also a group of men who stayed on Tahiti, later captured by the HMS Pandora to be taken back to England for court martial. Along the way, the Pandora ran against a reef and sank. And then the men of the Pandora also had to make a similar journey in open air to port, though not as long of one.

It is the myth of the Bounty which is attractive, less than the reality, in many ways. No one is really sure why the Mutiny happened. But English sentiment created a myth to explain it.

Bligh became an overbearing arrogant beast of a man beating his sailors at the slightest whim. Christian was a romantic man from a good family; he would not commit an act of piracy without good reason! In fact, Bligh might have been overbearing or arrogant, but the corporal punishments on the Bounty were less than almost any similar ship in its day.

Tahiti was a paradise, the women like sirens that could not be resisted. The men were completely bewitched by this heaven on earth and could not abide to leave it behind. Tahiti is a wonderful place, I am sure, but in the myth of the Bounty, it took on all the good qualities which England lacked. Tahitians were the beautiful noble savages that we were all meant to be if it wasn't for our culture.

Fletcher Christian became an icon of the romantic, moody, noble man who would risk all for the love of his Tahitian wife. This romantic image of Christian became such that he was not allowed to die over on Pitcairn Island. Legends grew that he has escaped Pitcairn and was actually seen in England again. Another legend grew that Christian had not died in fights on Pitcairn, as is almost certain, but lived on as the Patriarch of the island. When the American ship Topaz discovered Pitcairn about 30 years later, there was in fact only one sailor named John Adams or Alexander Smith left, but the English were sure that this was in fact Christian.

Pitcairn itself took on the image of a new Garden of Eden. There, the best of English society and Tahitian merged to produce a new paradise - man as he was meant to be. The people of Pitcairn were carefree, strong, healthy, and Christian (the religion, not the man). In many ways it is remarkable that this legend grew, and persists, since in the first few years on the island literally every single man who had arrived on the Bounty was killed through violence, sickness, or madness. Upon discovery, there was only one man left alive, various Tahitian women, and the remaining children. One can see some of the seeds of their destruction in John Adams' description of who arrived on the island. According to him, there were so odd many English sailors, so odd many Tahitian women (all wives of the sailors), one child, and so odd many black men. What is remarkable about that description is that the black men were in fact Tahitian men. In the English mind of the time, they could see that their wives were women from a place, but in the men they could only see a non-white skin color. Much of the violence was between the wifeless, assumed-to-be-a-sservant Tahitians and the sailors.

As much as I can see the myths, and how they are created by the hopes of my culture, I am taken by them still. The myth of Tahiti holds me, for what it is pretended to be, not for what it is. The University here, being in Polynesia, like Tahiti, teaches many Polynesian languages, including Hawaiian, Samoan, Maori, Tongan, and Tahitian. I still hope to study Tahitian before I leave, in large part because of this mythology.

Though there are some good linguistic reasons too.

I learned of the story through reading Nordoff and Hall's historical fiction in 8th grade. Maybe it is because I was 12 and just liking girls, but I was totally smitten by the main character Roger Byam's wife Tehani. Roger Byam is a pseudo-fictional character who was taken on the Bounty as a teen midshipman to make the first Tahitian dictionary. If you are looking for the real story, you can try Carole Alexander's The Bounty. She is the same author who wrote of Shackleton's Endurance adventures, which was a best seller. For an account of life on Pitcairn today, which is less than romantic, you can try Serpent in Paradise. Another account if interested in why the Mutiny happened is Bligh's Bad Words. In the end, for me, the mutiny itself is rather boring. It is possible that Christian just got drunk one night. It is what came from the mutiny - the Pandora and court martials, Pitcairn, the open boat voyage - that is fascinating. The mutiny is just something that happened to them. What they did next defined who they were.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Mentalese - Reading 1

So, here we go with Reading One for my course this semester - Intro to Linguistics. Since it is my first semester, I am using the course book they give to me with little change. Reading One is Mentalese, a chapter in Steven Pinker's nonfiction bestseller The Language Instinct. Before we get into it, here is a discusion of Thomas Jefferson.

This comes from an NPR interview with someone who had written a book about the American Founding Fathers. He made the point that it is too simple to look at Jefferson's flaws and simply pronounce him a hypocrite. On the one hand, he writes of the equality of all men, but on the other owns slaves. Horrible, right? Well, what is weird about it is, in this author's terms, the language we use to condemn Jefferson is due in large part to Jefferson himself. In other words, it is the thought of this hypocrite which let's us see his flaws. He helped persuade us all of man's equality and without him, we might not see slave owning as wrong at all.

Take that as you will.

The topic of this reading is "what language do we think in?" As an English speaker, do I think in English? And does an Apache speaker think in Apache? Pinker starts and closes the chapter looking at Orwell's Newspeak (1984 - that's a book, not a citation), which, according to Orwell, is a carefully designed language created so that thoughts not approved by the Government would be impossible. Pinker also mentions reform movements in language to help improve our thought. And then the popular perceptions, associated with the names of Sapir and Whorf, that Eskimos think differently because they have 100 words about snow or such. All of these people are saying that we literally use language to think. But, according to Pinker, "it is wrong, all wrong." (P, p.46).
Pinker says there is no scientific evidence "that languages dramatically shape their speakers' ways of thinking." This concept of linguistics determinism (language determines our very thoughts) is associated with the names of Sapir and Whorf, though Pinker largely praises Sapir's work on Native American languages and curses the arguments that his student, Whorf, made from them. Quoting Whorf, a la Pinker:

We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds - and this means largely by the linguistics systems in our minds.

So Whorf does OK here, until he makes the mistake in the last sentence. Yes, our mind has to organize the sensory input, but why is this using a linguistic system?

Pinker goes on to show how many of Whorf's claims are faulty. For instance, Whorf claimed that Apache people think differently because when you looked at their language, it was structured differently than English. But Pinker mentions that Whorf's translations are deliberately awkward. You could just as well translate them into a more familiar sounding sentence, and, moreover, you can express English in a terribly obtuse way as well, but that doesn't mean we think differently. Pinker then looks at color words. Not all languages slice up colors in the way English does. "Latin lacks generic "gray" and "brown"; Navajo collapses blue and green into one word." There are even languages with only black and white, and nothing else. Does this mean they perceive color differently? In the end, no, we all see color about the same due to the way our retina's are constructed (Pinker doesn't deal with color blindness). Moreover, there are patterns common across all languages about what colors will be missing. Finally, they asked a New Guinean group whose language only had black and white, to identify reds and the fire engine red we all know was considered by them to be the most red of all the reds shown.

Whorf also just had some plain false claims. He claimed that the Hopi had no words about time, and that they thought of time differently than English speakers. However, Hopi actually do have words about time and they are quite common. No one knows how Whorf came up with this.

Then finally the myth of the Eskimo's hundred words for snow turns out to be pretty much bogus. He traces how the urban myth developed. It turns out that the Inuit don't have many more words than we do for snow. Then, he makes the bigger point, quoting an article by Geoffrey Pullum, that, in the end, so what if they did? Printers have hundreds of words for fonts. Horse breeders name different types of horses. Interior decorators have names for a variety of mauves. So what? Does that mean that we all think differently than printers, horse breeders, and interior decorators? (There is an equivocation, or at least loose thinking, here that Pinker is making which we will come back to.)

Pinker then turns to various experiments which have purported to show that language changes how we think. The most dramatic is Alfred Bloom's experiment. English grammar has a "subjunctive" mode, which is for things that might happen, but didn't. You use it by saying things like "would, might, may, were to" etc. Not all languages have this. Chinese is one that does not. So Bloom constructed a story with tons of subjunctive sentences, which he had both Chinese and American students read, in their native language. Then he asked them if the things descibed actually happened. 98% of the Americans said 'no'. Chinese students only got it right 7% of the time. However, there turn out to be problems in the experiment. First, it was really bad Chinese that he had provided to the Chinese speakers. Second, there were in fact ambiguities in the story that the Chinese students all picked up on, while the Americans missed it. When you fix these problems, the differences disappear.

Pinker moves next to showing all of the ways that we think without language. Babies do all sorts of amazing thinking before they learn to speak. Monkeys can identify clanship and extended causality through time. He discusses people who have never spoken with anyone but clearly still think. People think in images as well, all sorts of scientists and poets have discussed their thinking in images. Morever, there have been experiments where it is clear that people are mentally rotating an image in place to solve a problem.

Pinker then presents the Turing machine, the invention of the all around CS guru Alan Turing. The Turing machine can, given enough time, solve any problem by taking inputs and restucturing them into an output following a set of rules. No individual item within the Turing machine is intelligent, but the rules governing the manipulation of the symbols creates intelligence. Then Pinker comes to a bold, and now quite controversial, claim:

"This, in a nutshell, is the theory of thinking called "the physical symbol system hypothesis" or the "computational" or "representational" theory of mind. It is as fundamental to cognitive science as the cell doctrine is to biology and plate tectonics is to geology." (P, p. 68)

So, now Pinker has told us how our minds really work, how we really think, and it is through the manipulation of symbols. Are these symbols for English speakers in fact English symbols? Actual English words, which our brain moves around to reason? For a list of reasons, the answer is clearly no.

Pinker finishes by coming back to Orwell and saying that NewSpeak will not be the end of all thought, since we use language to get our thoughts out, but we don't think in it. Languages change, and the children of Newspeak speakers will change the language to do what they need.

Most of this is all fine and good. Here are some problems.

1) The simple symbol manipulation theory is wrong. I'd recommend Andy Clark's Being There to see some useful alternatives to Pinker's theory, especially as he addresses neural networks and embodied thinking.

2) Pinker has clearly set up Whorf to be absurd - typical straw man argument. While Whorf's original claim, quoted, goes too far, he obviously doesn't believe we are all literally brain dead without language. In the quote he even throws in the "largely" caveat - "largely by our linguistic system". So the fact that monkeys and babies have a mental life doesn't show that language has no impact upon our thinking. In fact, it would be quite surprising if it had no impact at all. Learning, learning anything, is literally a restucturing of the brain. Much of the restucturing is small - learning a single word to go with the 20,000 we already know doesn't rewire large portions of our brain, but some learning is quite large. There are even gross experiments where they send visual input to a cat's auditory areas of the brain and through time the brain rewires itself so that the hearing parts of the brain transform into being capable of some form of sight. Or just thinking in folk philosophy terms, we learn to be who we are by our experiences, largely in childhood but beyond as well (yes, yes, of course mediated by our biology in quite constrained ways; see Pinker's Blank Slate). A traumatic experience with a banana and a monkey makes you afraid to go into an ice cream store. Why would language be unique in having no impact whatsoever on our thoughts and beliefs, and thus on the way we think. So Pinker's basic mistake goes hand in hand with the symbol hypothesis. In his conception, we have a processor, which is universal to all humans. This is Pinker's "thinking". Then we have a bunch of things we think about, which have no impact on the processor. That processor is how we think, and it does not change, Pinker appears to assume. The problem is that there is no absolute distinction between how we think and what we think.

3) The equivocation is on this basic word "think". There is no such single thing. Remember the interior designers and printers from above with tons of words for things that all seem the same to us? I would argue that in fact they do "think" differently than us - about interior design and printing. Of course they do. Theoretical physicists think differently about stars than I do too, because they are trained on this topic. This only becomes alarming if we think there is one thing "think" and "oh no it is now different! I have no hope of ever understanding a word a printer says ever again!"

(Reminds me of a personal event several years back. I had spent a semester studying in China, and some family members wanted me to make a comment on "the Chinese mind". I think there are books with titles like this. I couldn't think of anything useful to say. How do you categorize 1.2 billion people? As far as I could tell they "think" they same as I do. So I said, "I have nothing intelligent to say on that." Now that answer was a good one if the point of conversation is to pass information across. Of course, that is not the entire point of conversation. It is also a social even, and on that account my answer was terribly rude. Hopefully, I'd do bettern now.)

So Whorf and Pinker make a similar mistake. Whorf sees that language has an effect on parts of our behavior and argues that language is thought. Pinker sees the universality of thinking apart from language and claims language has no impact on thought whatsoever. Both are wrong.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Hawaiian Hotties Handbook

A few weeks ago I had an idea for yet another book. In the

firm belief that there can never be enough fad diets in the United States, I have a new Hawaiian Hottie diet book I am ready to hawk. Well, after I write it, that is. The idea came about sort of in this way:

Sometimes it seems such a mystery how to have a healthy attractive body, right? No matter what you do, you never look like THAT, whatever that is. But parts of it may not be such a mystery. I mean, when is the last time you were in the candy aisle at the gas station buying a bag of cheetos and a Super-Snickers and looked over to see that guy inthe picture next to you buying the same thing. When? Never. And I think that's because that guy doesn't munch on bags of cheetos and snickers every day. Ok, so that much is obvious. Then what does he eat?

Why not just ask him. In fact, why not just sit out next to the AlaWai canal where all these people go by and when you see someone who you want to look like, stop them and ask them. How the heck do you look like that? And just write it down. Do they exercise every day? Do they eat whole-grain rice? Do they eat Snickers and just have the best genetics ever? So, there is no real diet in the book in the sense of - eat this and do this exercise. Instead, you find people who are obviously doing it right and just write it down. Of course, you have to make it cool and seemingly new.

Now, there are lots of questions to doing this. Where do you meet them exactly? If you sit by the jogging trail, then it seems likely that your subjects will all write down jogging as their exercise. So you have to get out there. You also don't want to just get 24 year-old perfect specimens. You want to know how the person who isn't training for their 3rd Ironman does it. We all know that if you devote your entire existence to training the perfect body, you will get somewhere, but that is not what we are after. What sorts of people do you ask? Again, you don't want all the 20 year old college kids as your model body. Doesn't help many people who aren't 20 anymore. So you need 45 year old hotties too to help you out.

Finally, the biggest question of all. How the heck do you stop some woman trying to jog along after work and ask her to keep a 6 week detailed record of her diet? I mean not without frightening her that there is some weird stalker asking her things that aren't his business. My only defensive idea is to have B with me. After all, if I have a 2 year old with me, I can't be hitting on her, right? Maybe I need to rig up a big flashing arrow pointing at my wedding ring too. Basically, this is just the fact that I am shy.

So there you go. I will never actually do this, odds are, so if you take the idea and run with it, I won't sue you, but if you could send a little trinket my way after you make your first million, it sure would be appreciated.

Ugh. What an awful headline!

Just saw this headline over at Yahoo:

U.S. to lower transit terror alert level-sources

It took me forever to figure out what this was. What were level-sources I kept asking myself. Are they different than escalating-sources or were they opposed to not-on-the-level-sneaky-sources? But, in the end, I realized they were just saying that someone, sources, had told them that the terror alert would be lowered. Which makes you wonder why the word "sources" is in the headline at all. It would seem to indicate that typically they have no sources for their articles and completely make them up. But this time they were so proud that someone actually was a source, they prominently displayed it in the headline.

In other news, today is the last teaching day. I'm pretty excited. Have to figure out a way for us all to do as little as possible, and yet still be a good person who does their job. And that's where I am off to now.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Summer in Review

Back in May, I posted all of the things I was thinking about doing over the summer. Next week is the last week of summer break, so I thought I would review how it went. Here were my ideas:

1) Write a complete novel and start sending query letters to agents. The novel is essentially about a woman running an underground railroad in a sort of fantasy setting.
2) Form a band, including teaching myself to play bass, so that I can be the bottom anchor for said band. The band has serious Polynesian style rhythm underneath a type of power-pop guitar.
3) Write a web site called Tonal Research, which gathers information about various ways pitch is used by the brain - so this is linguistics, music cognition, auditory scene analysis, audiology, etc.
4) Learn the French language well enough to pass a test in October.
5) Work at least 30 hours helping to keep a roof over my family's head.
6) Write a publishable article on intonational groupings in English rhetoric.
7) Do the research to help design a music/lang experiment that I am assisting a couple profs on in the fall.
8) Breathe.

How or what did I do?

1) Novel. I actually made some good headway on this for about a month. I decided I was going to do an outline no matter what, and while I did not finish it, I made some nice headway. It got bogged down at one point, then got pushed aside. See below.

2) Form a band of power garage pop on top of Tahitian rhythm. OK, this got nowhere. The most that happened was I emailed with a guitarist, who liked the idea, but in the end I had to say I had no time.

3)Tonal Research web site. Yeah, no where on this either. The original idea was to create a community interested in my interests, but I have never figured out what to do. With the insane schedule I am contemplating for this fall, this is never gonna happen until next summer if then. It is unnecessary and was my attempt at networking.

4) Study for French. Did this some. Went through about half a French textbook and learned 2-300 words, but no where near enough. N's mom sent me a book specifically on reading French, though, so I am going to switch to that. I also decided to keep working on this slowly over the year, but not take classes. I keep saying I am interested in language acquisition, so I decided it was more important to take an actual language acquisition class this year. You have seen me prepping for it in the huge posts here. This also has to do with slowly getting ready for the comprehensive exams next year. I will likely not take the translation test in October, maybe in the Spring or next October. I think that will be fast enough. I only have to have it done before I take comps.

5) Working. This is what I did - the teaching thing. Basically I stopped working on the novel when I started working on making money.

6) Write an article on intonation. I did not do this. I did meet with my prof about it, and she made some suggestions about how to go forward. The first step is some literature review, which I will be doing in the next 2 weeks. I will be taking an Intonational Typology 750 seminar with her this fall, which is a research class. I hope that I will do this work for that class.

7) Research for music/lang thing. Made a start on this. Found some musical pieces which other psychologists have already verified for happy and sad emotions. We also wanted to do angry, but that has been harder to locate; however, one of the faculty on this sent an email thinking this may not be necessary. Tackling this will be a higher priority in the next few days.

8) Breathe. I am happy to report I successfully drew breath all summer long. Well intermittently. I mean I did not breathe in and out with no break for 3 months straight. Sometimes I would wait a few seconds between motions.

In other news, I made the shortlist for the editorial assistant position. I have an interview next Tuesday at 9:00. I don't know if I will get the job, but it is always nice to be on a short list, assuming the short list is not identical to the mile-long list. So this weekend's job is to actually learn what the APA format is, since I have to say on Tuesday that I can edit a journal into APA. I also have to figure out how to ask about a work schedule without sounding like I won't have time to do it and scaring them off. I will NOT accept the job unless I honestly think I have the time to do it right. At the same time, I need to know how long it will take, and when, in order to make that assessment. I also have to figure out how I would handle a half-time GA-ship and a quarter-time GA-ship teaching. Will they even allow 30 hours? Will they strip me of teaching and give it to someone else to distribute money around more? Will I have wasted tons of time prepping for teaching and bugging profs about it, only to resign and take a different job because it pays more? Not gonna worry about it until I get an offer. We are chewing through our savings so I hafta look at the position.

Language and Cognitive Science

When I applied to grad schools, I applied both to linguistics programs and cognitive science programs, depending largely on the faculty at the school and the research they were doing. So I always thought of myself as interested in cognitive science, and I said so periodically to people when I started my linguistics program. What I did not know was that there is a particular school of linguistics called "Cognitive Linguistics." It has a set of associated beliefs or hypotheses which it is exploring, and moreover, one of our faculty members is a "Cognitive Linguist." Whenever people here hear the word "cognitive" they think of this school. I like this prof, having taken a course from him, we organize the cognitive science colloquium together, and he is the prof I will be doing the music/language research with this fall. I debated forever on whether or not I wanted to ask him to be my advisor. However, I don't really belong to this Cognitive Linguistics school, and I am only sorta interested in meaning, which is perhaps this school's central topic. Since I don't affiliate with this "Cognitive" school, I have had a hard time explaining how I am interested in cognitive science to people who equate the two. All I could say was that I am cognitive in the sense that I think studying the brain has something to do with studying language. Over the last few weeks, I have begun to figure out exactly how I am a cognitive linguist, though perhaps not a Cognitive Linguist.

I believe that the way language works will depend upon exactly how its pieces fit together in the brain. It is these interfaces among neurons which will be part of the true explanation of language. The exact way that the inner ear transforms frequency into neural impulses will have an effect on how we use intonation. The way that the brain controls the muscles of the tongue will be important to understanding phonology. The way that the brain remembers words will be important to understanding morphology. If speaking uses procedural memory and not declarative, then there should be similarities between speaking and other behaviors which are procedural. And it will make a difference if procedural memory is in fact different from declarative. When information is passed from one part of the brain to another, it will pass it in a certain form, and this will be important to understanding language. It is in this way that I am a cognitive linguist.

A week or so ago I had a dream dissertation; a dissertation which I am almost 2 years away still from even starting. I recently reviewed a paper on tonal languages called a Formal Functional Theory of Tone by Myers and Tsay. It is part of a trend in phonology lately to make phonetic facts explicit parts of a formal, testable phonological theory (Boersma, Hayes, Steriade, etc.). I like the idea better than any other theory of tone I am yet aware of, though I have my doubts about the formalism, Optimality Theory, in its present form. This model had been developed for other parts of speech, but not yet for tone. Extending it to include tone is what Myers and Tsay did here. I am interested in intonation, and so I have dreamed of extending this model into intonational phonology. My dream dissertation would do this, but went one step further. It would ground the actions (such as lower voice box, tense vocal folds, push more air through larynx) in their neurological controls. It would do the same for how the changes in pitch are heard through the cochlea and passed up the central auditory pathway. I even had a title for the dissertation: Formal Functional Intonation: An Essay in Theoretical Neurology.

Sounds cool anyway.

I should note that I am in no way prepared to manage such an undertaking at this time. I guess that is what classes are for. Actually classes are often for learning why this is a dumb idea before you embark.

Language Without Grammar - Grammar 2

First, if you aren't into language, there are a couple shorter posts below this about my life which you should skip to.

OK, here is my notes on William O'Grady's Emergentist Syntax specifically as it relates to learning languages. (The "here is" above is a little joke based on these papers, where the coming grammaticality of "here is" is mentioned when it should be "here are.") The notes are largely based upon his 2003 talk "Language Without Grammar." They are supplemented by the 2002 manuscript "An Emergentist Approach to Syntax" as well as the language acquisition and concluding chapters of his 2005 Syntactic Carpentry book. The first two can be downloaded from his web site at the University of Hawai'i. The last can be purchased or checked out from your local academic library, though it is brand-new and may not be there yet. Dr. O'Grady is actually a professor of mine. I took all of last year's syntax courses from him, and he is one of my references when I apply for jobs. He is also a great teacher, and I am planning on modeling my teaching this semester to a large degree on him. That said, I will not always agree with him in my notes below. However, these are just informal notes to get me ready for the semester, so there will be more questions than criticism.

OK, so some quick review. In the last essay about language acquisition:


we introduced you to the amazing abilities children have in learning languages, far surpassing the greatest artificial intelligence, bonobos, etc. We also introduced the classic argument called "the logical problem of language acquisition" or "poverty of the stimulus" argument from Chomsky et al. The argument is basically:

1) Children are able to use certain pieces of grammar without error.
2) They never ever hear these types of grammar used.
3) Since they never hear it, they cannot learn it from experience.
4) The ability to employ this grammar must be innate or inborn.

The last article was by Brain MacWhinney and was called "A multiple process solution to the problem of language acquistion." MacWhinney's solution had 2 main parts - 1) it turns out that these grammatical structures are in fact heard by children, and 2) there are several ways that children might learn to use them. Much of what we discuss with O'Grady will fit into this context.

A second background distinction should also be discussed before jumping in. It is the distinction between language performance and language competence. This distinction is at least as old as Saussure - 1920s? or was it turn of century? - but yet again was made a principle pillar of linguistic thought by, you guessed it, Chomsky. One actually gets tired of always having to position yourself as in some sort of agreement or disagreement about Comsky's views, but that is largely the state of the field. Language Competence according to Chomsky is what people know, not necessarily consciously, about their language. It is what allows you English speakers reading this to know that "Mary hit the ball" is a good sentence, while "ball the Mary hit" is not. It is what lets you know that in "Sue says Mary loves herself" herself refers to Mary and not Sue. (By reference, I mean simply that the person Mary loves is Mary, and not Sue.) And tons of things like that. Performance is the part of language that just lets you get the words in and out of your head. So I might know the sentence should be "Mary hit the ball" and due to performance errors say "Mary hit ball" or "Mary hit the - uh - chair, I mean, ball."

Performance versus competence is a simplifying assumption. If you can remove all issues of performance, then you can explain what it means to know how to speak English natively. You can explain what knowledge it is that we all share which a French speaker doesn't have. Simply put, you can explain language competence. It is a good and useful concept, distinguishing the two. However, I have had the idea for a few months now that when you remove performance you remove too much. What if performance explains most of the things you want to know? It turns out Dr. O'Grady has had similar ideas, apparently, (he is a good prof in that his intro classes are not indoctrination classes into his theory; this stuff never came up in the whole year of classes with him; the most he ever let on during the Intro Chomsky class was that he didn't think Chomsky was right.), though, of course they are far more developed.

Now it is time for O'Grady.

O'Grady asks the question: "Do we really need a grammar anyway?" Almost all theories of language assume we do. We all learn English grammar in school and teach it to people learning English. Linguistics libaries are full of books named for one grammar after another - Universal Grammar, Head-Driven Phrase Stucture Grammar, k-valued grammars, functionalist grammars, embodied construction grammars, etc.

When O'Grady is speaking of grammar, he has something specific in mind. All of the above theories of language argue that there is some set of principles, blueprints, guidelines, rules, etc., that tell English speakers how to speak correctly. It lets them get the words out in the right order and makes the words agree with each other and the like. This grammar is something apart from the performance part of language - the little bits of neural machinery which get the words out of your mouth. It is an abstract set of principles that make you speak right. Chomsky himself is quite clear and adamant that his Grammar is something more than the artefacts of performance. (O'Grady 2005 for the Chomsky citation) If you are a Chomskian, you think these rules are literally specified in the genes - part of the genetic endowment of humans, like walking upright and having opposable thumbs.

But what if these processes which allow you to speak are all there is? What if all the traditional concerns of linguists regarding grammar can be explained by looking at the processor needed to contruct sentences? In O'Grady's metaphor, what if there are no blueprints and no architects, there are simply carpenters, putting the sentence together as they go, and it is how they happen to work which gives the appearance of rules. The carpenters don't have a plan, they just do it, and the grammar falls out or emerges - hence, an "emergentist theory of syntax."

(Those of you scientifically inclined might notice that this sense of emergence is different than the strict one of properties emerging from complex networks, meaning complex in the technical sense. In the sense here, grammar emerges from a type of non-linguistic behavior, the need to efficiently manage working memory, but there is no argument that there is a self-organizing system a la complexity theory. Grammar, here, emerges from simple processing.)

O'Grady's concept is quite elegant, especially if you have any familiarity with traditional grammars. He posits a simple neural processor, which puts together words from left to right. The words it puts together have various requirements that are language-specific. In English, a verb must look to its left for its subject. Then it looks to the right for its direct object, if it has one. The processor reads these requirements for the verb, and when it follows the lexical instructions the word order of English shows up - subject, verb, object. A language with a different word order, say, Japanese, would use the same processor, but the words in the language would be set to look left for both subject and object, yielding the subject,object, verb word order. Next, we specify the Efficiency Requirement (O'Grady 2003, 2):

'Dependencies' (lexical requirements) must be resolved at the first opportunity.

This is a really super-big important rule in this theory. The processing motivation for this is to minimize the use of working memory. In order to keep how much is loaded into working memory, you have to get things out of it as fast as possible. So the processor tries to follow the lexical requirements as soon as it can, and then dumps it from memory. Remember this for the language learning stuff later. It is worth repeating here that there is no grammatical or processing rule that says words should be in a certain order, so of course children never learn such a rule. Instead it is specified for each and every word what its requirements are. So, for instance, kick will look for 2 noun phrases, one left and one right. That is not a specification for Verbs nor for transitive verbs, etc. It is a specification of "kick" only. (This echoes MacWhinney and Tomasello's item-based acquisition concepts.) When a person learns the word "kick" they also learn these requirements. That is not to say, of course, that they may not realize that "kick" is like "hit", but it is still a lexical specification.

So to compose a simple English sentence, you don't have sets of grammatical rules, you just:

1) Take a verb 'speak' which requires a noun phrase to the left and one to the right.
2) Find the first noun phrase to the left. This resolves the first requirement. This noun phrase is the subject.
3) Find the first noun phrase to the right. This resolves the second requirement.

This occurs in time, with the first noun being grabbed first, and the second a little later. The result behaves as if the subject is higher up in a structural tree, if you ever drew grammar trees in school, but there are no trees and there is no grammar. The subject just got grabbed first to satisfy the efficiency requirement.

O'Grady then goes on to show how many of the central topics of grammatical theory, especially those of concern to generative (Chomskian) grammarians, can be explained with just these simple rules. No other grammar is required at all. One very nice solution has to do with forming questions. In the Chomsky tradition, you have to move words around a lot. So the question "Is grass green?" starts off as "grass is green" and the "is" moves to the front following a set of principles. O'Grady drops the whole movement thing - hoorah! - and simply proposes that certain words like "is" can look to the left or right for their first argument. If you let "is" look to the right, then it can appear first "is grass green?" Notice that this is different from MacWhinney. MacWhinney assumes that there is movement and provides explanations for how children might learn it. O'Grady instead does away with movement and provides a different mechanism for allowing verbs to appear at the front in questions.

Now we get back to the "logical problem" argument. Chomsky's classic example deals with sentences such as:

"Are Americans who are rich happy?"

In a statement this is:

"Americans who are rich are happy."

Chomsky argues that children never hear such sentences, and yet they never ever mess this up. MacWhinney argued in his paper that children do hear this stuff, and there are ways to learn it. O'Grady disagrees with both. While it turns out Chomsky was wrong, children do hear this, they still don't hear it much, and there is no evidence they ever learn it. We don't hear children trying different things and finally getting it right with more examples. They NEVER say "Are American who rich are happy?" So, according to O'Grady, both Chomsky and MacWhinney are wrong. There must be something that prevents children from ever saying the ungrammatical sentence.

According to O'Grady, it is, of course, this efficiency-driven processor, not a rule. First, remember that in this system the words don't move. There is no matter of moving the right or wrong word to the front. Nothing moves. The question is: can the grammatical and ungrammatical sentences both be constructed with the processor that us humans have?

The grammatical one can be built easily. To build "Are Americans who are rich happy?" you take the first "Are". You immediately look right for the first argument "Americans who are rich" and add it. Then you add the second and final argument "happy." Voila, done.

What happens if you try to build "Are Americans who rich are happy?"

It is impossible. The first argument cannot be built because there is no verb in it. If you get around this, you try to add the second argument, but the only choice is "are happy" which is a verb, when you are looking for a noun. It simply cannot be done, and that is why children never create sentences like this. O'Grady also points to a study of Japanese speakers learning English. While they made all sorts of errors, none of them ever tried to move the wrong verb to the front. The indication then is that this is not learned, but comes simply from the way sentences are built.

O'Grady goes on to build arguments for relative clauses and pronoun interpretation. He shows that whenever a word's requirements can be resolved quickly, there is a corresponding ease of learning with children and second-language learners. Whenever, the requirement cannot be resolved quickly, the burden on working memory becomes large and errors increase. This is also the case with people, typically after strokes, who lose the ability to understand some grammatical structures of language. If they lose working memory, then they have a harder time understanding, for instance, pronouns whose antecedents are a long distance away.

So those are the basics. Here are my questions, some of which O'Grady might answer in his book, but I haven't read the whole thing yet.

1) I would like to develop to a greater extent exactly what constructing left to right means. Left to right, I would think, is only a metaphor based on how we happen to write. (Remember other language traditions write up to down, right to left, etc.) It would seem like we are basically talking about time, but it is not just time. The first argument gets dumped out of the working memory into the phonetic implementation first in time. But the idea of being left also seems to have some positional idea in that the first argument has to wait in place while a complex argument is being built, and then it is dumped. It's like the processor has to keep in mind that the argument needs to stay "over there". Moreover, there appears to be some concept of "slots". If the processor is forming a question, it appears that the 2nd argument is dumped to the right or "after" the 1st argument, since it shows up second. You can't just say that the 1st argument is dumped out for speaking first, because the whole thing is waiting on the verb, which is even earlier, and the verb cannot be dumped until the 2nd argument is found. In other words, the verb finds the 1st argument, then the 1st argument waits "in position" until the second argument is located, and then and only then the whole sentence is pushed out for phonetic implementation.

2) This all depends to a huge degree on the requirements in the lexicon. O'Grady points out in his book that this is nothing special about his theory, and he is right. When taking Chomsky grammar from him last semester, I thought the whole time just how much is required of the lexicon by that theory. At the same time, some idea that the lexicon really has all this information in it would be extremely helpful in accepting the theory. In particular, the arguments that words take seem to be rather flexible. Sometimes they need adjectives in the predicate, sometimes they need nouns, sometimes they look left only, sometimes they look left and right. Is it a separate word each time the requirements change? Or does this all come from some interface with the meaning the person is trying to express? Finally, is there any evidence that children get the dependencies for a word wrong and then correct them?

3) O'Grady positions himself apart from what he terms "eliminativist connectionism." I won't go today into what connectionism is. This is just too long already. And he makes his theory quite specifically "symbolist" in that the processor manipulates symbols. I was thinking when I started this note that the problem was that he never justified this position. However, I guess the justification is the theory itself. If his theory indeed explains a lot, then he has shown that manipulating symbols works. I, however, am very suspicious of symbol manipulation as the explanation of cognition. Connectionist neural networks always seem more biologically plausible. That said, I do have serious issues with the learning algorithms that connectionist models use, none of which seem to have actual instantiation in the brain.

4) I have been reading the stuff mentioned here, as well as books like Probabilistic Linguistics and Bybee's Phonology and Language Use. One trend of this research over the last 10 years or so seems to be the re-emergence of the lexicon. For a long time, issues of the lexicon have gotten shortshrift (sp?) in linguistic theory in favor of the rules of semantics, syntax, and phonology. But increasingly, the processing - the phonology, the syntax - are getting tied into the lexicon again, such that soon lexical specification will be perhaps the central topic of linguistics.

5) O'Grady's account ties in really well with a paper from Elizabeth Bates (and someone else) called "The Emergence of Grammar from the Lexicon" or some such. It provides wads of statistical data showing that the best possible indicator of a child's syntactic development is their lexical development, i.e. how many words they know. This is the case in normally developing children as well as children with less common development patterns like those with William Syndrome. Bates's statistics make sense in O'Grady's theory.

Good news. I will be posting more language stuff, but it may become less technical, as it will be my notes for the Linguistics 102 class coming up. First reading "mentalese" from Pinker's The Language Instinct, in which he argues, well states, that manipulating symbols is the foundation of cognitive science, like the cell theory for biology. Sigh....

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Blogging for class

My title sounds like I have no class and that I hope to gain some through blogging. Good luck to me.

The real subject is that I am toying with using blogger for my Linguistics 102 class this semester. It has become rather fashionable in classes for students to email questions to the professor before class about the reading. The main purpose is of course to get them to make some attempt at actually reading. The emails are graded very leniently. Basically, if they send something in that isn't completely random - in other words, mildly constructive - they get the credit. The virtue of a blog is that in theory you might start a dialogue among some of the students. Moreover, you could have my notes as the Instructor up as the main blog entry. I don't know. There are actually school administered web sites for classes with discussion boards and such that we could use instead. I will have to investigate them. The main advantage at the moment of a Blogger version is that this interface is pretty simple; the school one, less so. I don't know. I should read some of the links on blogging for the class room that are provided here:



B's first movie

B is just over 2 and a half now, and we took him to his first movie this weekend. He discovered the March of the Penguins trailer, or we discovered it for him, this weekend at http://www.marchofthepenguins.com, and he loved it. All day long it was "more penguins!" or the 2-year old pronunciation of that. So we took him to see it. It went pretty well. He made it through about half of the movie. At that point, he and I went to a toy store in the mall, while N finished the movie. B maybe would have made it all the way in a noisy kid's movie, because you can talk during Sponge Bob, but you can't in the adult Penguins' audience, which was deadly quiet.

Something awful happened to me!

OK, not really, but my readers seem to have eaten up the bike-stealing episode, so I decided to headline everything now with details of horrible proceedings. I could be a journalist:

Pet dog nips toddler's hand in food bowl


Baby eaten alive by Flesh-Mangling Chihuahua!

Shortfall in 50-year revenue projections for Social Security


Social Security's Utter Collapse Imminent!

Actually, on the bike thing, there is an upside. I test-rode a new basic bike yesterday and the new $150 bike seems to be worlds better than my old $350 one. The bike guy says that the technology has just gotten better since I bought the old one about 9 years ago. Well, good. I was able to move faster with less work and more comfort last night than my old bike ever did. However, that of course may change once we install a toddler seat and a toddler on the back. The breaks were even better too. I had a sort of love/hate relationship with my old bike. The feelings were pretty predictable, though.

I am driving through the bike lane past all the cars sitting in traffic on a lovely sunny day with the temp around 75 - love it!

I am pumping madly at the pedals going up a steep hill while the rain pours down on me - hate it!

I actually also got in a wreck on it last Fall too. Some car pulled in front of me and I had to slam on my breaks to avoid it, flipping over. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to catch myself with my face. The police wanted to call the ambulance, but I declined, because I could not afford it. They said I would need stitches within 24 hours, so N drove me to the Emergency Room. At the time, I was pretty happy with Queen's Medical, because all these people were there to help me. The doctor, the technician who performed the requested CAT scan to make sure my head was OK, the nurse who did the X-rays on my chest, the nurse who cleaned my wound, etc. In the end, I was OK. I had a bunch of superficial scratches on my face and hand, and a deep one on my chin, which required 5 stitches. So, not a big deal in the end, I needed a few stitches, and I was good to go. Or so you would think. The bill comes - $4400. It was really annoying when they send you this bill for $4000, and then the doctor's bill, who actually gave the stitches, arrives later. I can't afford health insurance, so this was all out of pocket. (For those of you concerned, N, through her work, and B have health insurance; it is just me who does not. But I do have some life insurance. Hmmm....) So in the end 5 stitches - 4400 dollars. I didn't tell this story to family before - the whole in-a-wreck-going-to-emergency-room thing, because after telling it over and over again at school, you get tired of telling it.

It is good that I ride my bike around in order to save money.

For people who think of riding a bike in traffic, here are my tips:

1) It is not the cars on the road with you that are a danger, it is the cars turning. Many of them don't see you on the road or the sidewalk, and some who do see you seem to think it doesn't matter.

2) Speed. It is not how fast you can comfortably go without losing control; it is how fast you can stop. A car will pull in front of you at some point when you are going down the hill. Can you stop in the 5 feet they give you? (This was my mistake in the wreck. I should have assumed some college kid was gonna pull out in front of me, and they did.)

3) When travelling along the sidewalks, you are no safer than on the road, because, again, the dangerous cars are the turning ones, and they don't look at the sidewalks.

4) Imagine you are on the sidewalk of a main street. A car is waiting on a side street to turn into the main street. If the car is being driven by someone under the age of 22, assume they do not know you exist, and just stop and wait for them. Do not cross the side street until they have gone. This is doubly true if they have anyone else in the car with them. Why? Because they indeed do not see you.

5) With people over the age of 22, don't go in front of them until they literally look you in the eyes. Most of them are too frantically looking for the first break in traffic to dart their car out that they could care less about you.

6) Assume that your city's traffic engineers gave almost no thought to bikes on the roads. My favorite in Honolulu for a while was this bike lane that went across a bridge out of Waikiki. Great, right? The problem? Not a single road leading to the bridge has a bike lane, and it's a $60 ticket for riding on the sidewalks.

Have I complained enough? I do like my bike though. Easy parking, right next to wherever you are going, get good exercise just getting around, lose weight, develop heart and muscles, breeze in the hair, etc.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

4 days and counting

Friday is my last day as a middle school teacher. I confess that I am looking forward to it. Teaching 10 year olds just takes a whole different form of energy than reading linguistics articles. Then I have one week "off" until classes start up again. The big difference is that I will be, ahem, teaching a section of Intro Linguistics, so it is off to the races again. I have actually applied for a position as an editorial assitant for an online language teaching journal. I have yet to figure out how I possibly will have time, if offered the position, but the money is too good to not apply. (Apologies for the split infinitive to those of you who follow such rules.) It pays twice as much as the teaching job. So note that the University will pay me twice as much to work on an academic journal than it will to actually educate its students. You know education, the supposed reason the University exists in the first place.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Arrghhh! Bike Stolen!!!

My bike was stolen on Friday, and I'm still angry about it. I used it to get to work, to go on rides with the family, and periodically to pick Brannon up from daycare. It had a toddler seat on the back and a basket in the front for the nap blanket and books. Very hip. Anyway, I have been parking it behind the parking attendant at my school all summer, because there are no bike racks anywhere near. Anyway, I came out Friday to see it gone. The attendant thinks it was taken when she went into a cafe for 15 minutes.

So some shmuck is gonna sell it stolen for $20 somewhere, and I'm gonna pay $300 for a new bike, seat, and basket. The seat alone is $100. To put that in context, I make a little under $600 a month for providing a university education, and the rent for our 1 bedroom is the same as the old mortgage on the 3 bedroom house we used to OWN. Arrrgghhh!!!! On the other hand, I cheer up everytime I say Aaarrgghhhhh because it lets me pretend I am a pirate.

Avast ye,


Crazy hippie peacenic

I recently came across this quote from another America-hating left-winger who seems to think that American foreign policy should attempt to address root causes of terrorism. Here ya go:

"And the second way to defeat the terrorists is to spread freedom. You see, the best way to defeat a society that is — doesn't have hope, a society where people become so angry they're willing to become suiciders, is to spread freedom, is to spread democracy." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., June 8, 2005

Eloquent, eh?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Collection of things

1) If John Robert's appointment to the Supreme Court were not yet a sure thing, I think this probably does it. Turns out he did some pro bono work for a gay rights case on the right side; i.e., for keeping individual rights for all Americans. It's gonna be even harder for the Democrats to say this guy is a crazy ideologue and filibuster - not that they really seemed inclined to go that way anyway. Sounds more like a good lawyer with a Republican political background, just the kind of guy the Republicans have a right to nominate. Teaches us to lose the election.

2) I used to think I was patient. Then I became a teacher. I'm not patient. But I'm following my father-in-law's advice and not giving up on any of them. On the other hand, I only have to finish out next week, and the summer teaching gig is up. I will miss some of them. What is it about elementary age girls and being sweet? When one of them left, I got a key chain with my name. Another spontaneously brought me a V8 in class, not even her class!, today and her hangman phrase was "Teacher Hunter, thank you." The boys? Well the best I can get from them is a hello as they dash to play a computer game. I heard some cliche once that girls are easy to raise from 0-13 and a nightmare afterwards, while boys are the opposite. Sorta holds out, but my 11-12 year old boys are a handful. On the other hand, the teen boys are easy in that they are content having nothing to do with you.

3) Got a new student last week who is about 10. He is one of these kids that we all knew who seems born to be teased. He is just different. Emotionally unable to handle teasing, doesn't share the official interests of boys his age, etc. It's hard to see, because you know he is going to have a hard hard high school life until the other kids become adults and learn they don't have to step on people to be something. But I don't know what to do about it. It might just be the way it is. I mean, I know how to defend him and fight with him in the 3 weeks I've got, but well it's only 3 weeks. He's gonna have to keep finding people to defend him, cause he's not ready to defend himself.

4) After a long chain of thought that started from some comments about a book called "dynamics in action", I have concluded that intelligence is like seeing, and wisdom is like discerning or seeing what's important. They don't always go hand in hand, as we all know. It is quite common for very intelligent people to lack wisdom. The opposite, where wise people lack intelligence, happens but not so much. I think this is because you have to be able to see to see the important. Of course, the cognitive science person in me points out that there is no such thing as a single intelligence and this is all meaningless folk philosophy, but I beat him down with a big stick.

5) I number everything.

6) Where have all the readers gone? I used to have a nice group of casual readers, but they've all disappeared, and it's just 3-4 people again. There is a rumor that the trouble is that I post gigantic reviews of child language articles that no one wants to read. Possible, but you can't stop me. I have one reader who is interested in exactly that. Gotta keep him happy. FYI, I just finished an O'Grady paper on an emergentist view of syntax as it relates to acquisition and that will be up soon.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

King of Pecan Oil

So my dad launched a new business a year or so ago, selling Louisiana Pecan Oil. This after a lifetime in hardware and building materials. He is getting some nice publicity now, and he told me this last weekend they had as many orders in the last few days as the year previously. Here he is on Emeril's web site:


And here he is in a much bigger article in a Baton Rouge newspaper, the Advocate.


Apparently, the Advocate story got picked up in other Louisiana Press, so that he had a TV interview, as well as some national specialty food magazines. Go dad!


Growing up is weird!

I'm almost to my 32nd birthday now, and I was just struck how strange it is being an adult. I have friends and acquaintances now who are, like, people of responsibility. Doctors, lawyers, professors, people who might give a report to a UN committee, etc. I mean these are people who are starting to run the world, not just live in it, get good grades, and goof off in their spare time. But I know these people personally, not professionally, and it is fun to see how people who seemed so far off, so different, when you were a kid, are the same people you knew before they were 'people of reponsibility.' In fact, I just reviewed the Constitution and at 25 I was old enough to be in the House of Representatives. Almost 2 years ago now, I became old enough to be in the Senate. And in a mere 3 years, I am qualified to run for President. Pretty weird and cool to think how few requirements there really are to hold an office in our Consitution. That whole democracy thing. So here are the entire qualifications to be President:

"No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States. "

I mean, that's not asking much. Though it is interesting how the Founders thought you could be a naturalized citizen, in effect, at the Signing and be President, but it wouldn't be good enough going forward.

pacapaca (said like the Little Caesar's guy)