Friday, August 31, 2007

The senator from Idaho

K-box mentioned on her blog the annoyance of the Senator from Idaho who was recently caught trying to solicit sex in a Minneapolis bathroom declaring over and over "I am not gay." I wrote an annoyingly long comment on her blog, and since I had been thinking about posting something on this, I copied my comment here, as a post. So here are my useless thoughts on the matter:

I admit that, even though I'm a liberal and therefore am supposed to be gleeful at a Republican's demise, I'm rather of two minds on the topic.

On the one hand, I really don't mind if the senator's sex life is kept nice and private. It's not my business. And while I'm not a huge fan of anonymous sex in bathrooms (in fact I've encountered men in park restrooms here seeming to be waiting and waiting and it makes me not want to enter the place and makes me go 'ick') the honest truth is that, if straight men could go into a bathroom and periodically have sex with a woman they'd never met, the line of people waiting to enter a stall would go out the door and around the airport terminal. And so, in some sense, it's even okay with me if a senator has a sex life that I don't fully approve of as long as it is consentual between adults and doesn't intrude on others (which is of course what public sex does).

On the other hand, of course, having sex in public is against the law. That really is relevant to public service. However, how great of a crime is it? It is a misdemeanor, right, not a felony. I don't know where exactly the dividing line is between breaking the law with a parking ticket and breaking the law in such a way that you are unfit to hold public office. Corruption goes straight to the heart of a senator's job, like gambling for a referee, but dubious sex doesn't really. Don't most couples at some point in the relationship try to do a little hanky panky outside, where it is actually illegal, but you hope no one sees you? Do you think you should be fired from your job if you and your boyfriend get it on under a tree once and get caught?

I can't help but think the reaction really is in large part based upon the solicited sex being same sex sex. If the senator was caught with a female lover in the airplane bathroom (the mile high club), there would be a very different reaction than if caught with a male lover. The former is a common fantasy for thousands or millions of people, but it is illegal. Joining the mile high club still might crash his electability -- see Gary Hart, for instance -- but the reaction would be less.

Truly, I'm lost on these issues, I confess. In some ways, it seems like a minor ethics violation, which should deserve some punishment but perhaps not being kicked out of the Senate, and then the people of Idaho should choose whether or not they want this person to represent them.

My last thought is that the senator, relating to his annoying and repetitive protests, may not truly be "gay" the way I define the term. My understanding has always been that human sexuality is a lot more fluid, let's make that variable, than we like to discuss. Since at least the Kinsey report in the 50s, we've had data that some large percentage of men, say 20%, 30%, have had some sort of physical encounter with another man some time in their life. But it isn't clear at all that all such men are all gay or even truly bisexual. They are men very attracted to women who also tried physical stuff with a man a few times. I don't know. I always take "gay" to mean a basic, lasting attraction to someone of your own sex with feelings of love and desire. The senator's actions could indeed be a repressed version of that, but they could also be a small sexual thrill he gets on the side with little more meaning to him than physical sensation. Indeed, one could imagine that it is the illicitness of the act that is the thrill he seeks, and not truly attraction to the other person. Of course, we can define being gay to include anyone who has a sexual encounter with someone of the same sex ever in their life, but it'd still be a very different type of being gay than a man who falls in love with men over and over.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Temporary Yippee

I am well aware that the most likely medium term impact of this decision will be a new constitutional amendment in Iowa, but that doesn't prevent me from thinking the judge made the right legal and moral decision. And so, at least temporarily, yippee!

A county judge struck down Iowa's decade-old gay marriage ban as unconstitutional Thursday and ordered local officials to process marriage licenses for six gay couples.

Gay couples from anywhere in Iowa could apply for a marriage license from Polk County under Judge Robert Hanson's ruling.


Hanson ruled that the state law allowing marriage only between a man and a woman violates the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.

"Couples, such as plaintiffs, who are otherwise qualified to marry one another may not be denied licenses to marry or certificates of marriage or in any other way prevented from entering into a civil marriage ... by reason of the fact that both person comprising such a couple are of the same sex," he said.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


That's how old I am today.

And the personality test

I think I've come up as INTP before when I did this last time I was putting off work. Yeah, always slightly introverted. I can't guarantee it always comes out this way, but roughly. Introverted is rather misleading, however. While it is true that I like a fair amount of solitude and silence, this is not the whole story. In my visions of research, I love the idea of being a bit like a spider in which I have relationships with lots of other people with whom I develop ideas and learn things. However, I then do find it necessary to go away by myself and think about what I've learned from my network and then spit out an idea without anyone bugging me for a bit. If the other researchers can then go implement the idea, that's great -- as you will see in the personality descriptions below.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

And here are some of the different descriptions of INTPs:

"INTPs are relatively easy-going and amenable to most anything until their principles are violated, about which they may become outspoken and inflexible. They prefer to return, however, to a reserved albeit benign ambiance, not wishing to make spectacles of themselves."

"INTPs live in the world of theoretical possibilities. They see everything in terms of how it could be improved, or what it could be turned into. They live primarily inside their own minds, having the ability to analyze difficult problems, identify patterns, and come up with logical explanations. They seek clarity in everything, and are therefore driven to build knowledge. They are the "absent-minded professors", who highly value intelligence and the ability to apply logic to theories to find solutions."

"INTPs contribute a logical, system-building approach to their work. They like being the architect of a plan, because of the scheming and thinking involved, far more than being the implementer of that plan. Implementation tends to be drudgery. They are content to sit back and think about what might work, given their view of the situation. INTPs may ignore standard operating procedures. The hours that they spend are not what is important to them, but rather the completion of their thought process"

I can buy these as partial descriptions of me, but there are additional versions of the INTP, which do not fit at all. In fact, some of them are borderline contradictory, which makes one wonder if they are all that insightful at all. (And the fact that I'm worried about issues of non-contradiction in a discussion of personalities which label me as logical does not pass unnoticed here.)

"The Architects' distant goal is always to rearrange the environment somehow, to shape, to construct, to devise, whether it be buildings, institutions, enterprises, or theories. They look upon the world -- natural and civil -- as little more than raw material to be reshaped according to their design..."

"likes solitude, not revealing, unemotional, rule breaker, avoidant, familiar with the darkside, skeptical, acts without consulting others"

Hmm... well, it's not as inaccurate as I thought. Acts without consulting others, check. Avoidant, check. Not revealing... kinda. I'd rather keep many of my most intimate thoughts to myself. Privacy and all. However, unemotional... not so much. Familiar with the darkside? Don't even know what that means, but if I get a red lightsaber out of it, I'm in.

No Great Surprises on this one

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Hmm.... the badge is actually cutting off one of the rows. I got a whopping 10% on visual/spatial.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Paca and B have just gassed up the car. B is in his chair in the back and Paca is turning the key in the ignition. B with his window up waves at a guy filling up his car next to us who we have never spoken to or seen before.

B: Bye bye, firehead!
Paca: Why did you call him a firehead? That's not nice. He's not a firehead.
B: (quietly as if almost under his breath) Some people are just fireheads.

B may be right. But you aren't supposed to say it.

I never knew

I just discovered that there were only 12 episodes ever made of the show Fawlty Towers.

Just twelve.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Lumpers and Splitters

Thank you for coming to my presentation today. The title of my talk is Lumpers and Splitters: A NeoAgrarian Syndicalist Approach to Procrustean Obfuscatory Hand-Waving-entarianism

Slide 1: Outline.
I will be covering this blog post in three steps.
Step 1: Statement of the Problem
Step 2: A detour into linguistica historica
Step 3: Discussion, Limitations of the Study, and Future Research

Statement of the Problem.
Are you a lumper or a splitter?

Literature Review:
J (2007: comment 2) quotes Anonymous, citing the amusing quotidian: "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world up into two kinds of people and those who don't."

Research Hypothesis:
I am a lumper.

To explore this question, I asked myself silently if I was a lumper or a splitter.

I said I was a Lumper.
Reliability of this result is poor, but then it's all the same to me.

Discussion: (the real post begins)
J's comment made me think of historical linguistics, which is the subfield that studies how languages developed through time. Often the goal is to create the great genetic tree - a tree which shows which languages evolved from which earlier languages. So if you've ever seen a tree which has Italic, Greek, Sanskrit, Celtic, Germanic, etc., descending from an Indo-European language, that tree is the fruit of years and years of labor of a bunch of linguists.

So how is a tree built? The primary methodology for 150 - 200 years is comparing words. Basically, if they seem similar, then the languages might be related. However, there are lots of things to watch out for.

1) Some words are similar by chance. I believe that "ahi" is the word for tuna in both Japanese and Hawaiian. But that's just by chance. There's always a few words here and there.

2) Some words come out similar for reasons having nothing to do with history. Mama is mother in English and Chinese (and in many other languages). However, this most likely is because the words "mama", "papa", and "dada" are the easiest words for a baby to say physically. Just open and close your mouth while making sound and it comes out kind of like "baba." Apparently, cultures have a tendency to take that and make it a parental name. (Apparently, "mama" is father in Georgian (the country).) Some other words also have a reason for their sound. In English, we say "cat", but in Chinese a cat is a "mao" (mow). I've never looked it up, but Germanic "wolf" sure sounds like woof woof to me. Words like these then are not very useful in tracing history, because two independent cultures might easily come up with woof for dogs.

3) Here's the big one that drives linguists insane. Borrowing. Unrelated languages can borrow words due to cultural contact. Sometimes it's obvious like with tsunami, kahuna, or quid pro quo, but most often not. The word "wine" was borrowed from Latin a couple thousand years ago. It is not evidence, however, that English is historically descended from Latin. English is not a new form of Latin. Similarly, English has words like "cardiac", "cardiologist", and "cardiovascular," which are all related to French "coeur" for heart. But again, this is not evidence that English is a historical descendant of French. Instead, they are more like cousins in Alabama; i.e., they are related through their grandparents but just can't stay out of each other's bed. "Card" was borrowed from French, not inherited. The way you rule out such borrowings, when trying to trace history, is by looking not just at what's common, but what changes were in common. In Germanic, inherited "p"s changed systematically across many words into "f"s. "D"s changed into "th"s. And so a "pader" in Indo-European became a "father" in Germanic. (This is Grimm's Law from the mid-19th c.) Similarly "k" became "h", so card became heart. The fact that the c/k sound is still there in "cardiac" tells you that it is a recent borrowing (like 1066) and not an inheritance. Sound change is supposed to be regular (tough it's not).

Finally coming back to the beginning. In historical ling, when people find some commonalities, but it's not overwhelming, you end up with natural lumpers and splitters. One commonality for a lumper is evidence to add a line to the tree. To a splitter, only finding one commonality is a reason to cross the line out. Due to this, you can find some very different sorts of trees. In one famous tree, a linguist attempted to argue that there were only three families of American languages from Alaska to Argentina. Others will give you 50.

I don't do historical ling, but I find myself a peculiar lumper in the work on politeness and Korean apologies that I'm doing. People have come up with generalizations about Western versus East Asian cultures, wherein East Asian ones are supposed to be "collectivist" and "shame societies" while Western ones are "individualist" and "guilt societies". While these are kind of useful, I'm always trying to show how East Asian culture has more individualist tendencies than it's given credit for, and Western ones are more collectivist than usually recognized. It's kind of a peculiar lumping technique. I first apparently try to split by showing diversity in the society, and then since we now see the splits, we can do the lumping and see how humans are similar across cultures. Lumpo ergo splitto. I lump, therefore I split.

(There was supposed to be a Monty Python and Evil Editor discussion here, but this is far too long and its back to work. SPLITTER!!)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Parenting - The Short Version

In a chain of thoughts earlier today, I found myself thinking about "drawing a bath" for B. And now I know how to summarize being a father.

Being a parent is:
2 parts teacher
1 part disciplinarian
1 part friend
5 parts manservant

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Yoda impression

I've found myself doing a lot of silent Yoda impressions of late.

For instance, Monday morning, first day of the semester, I and B were headed to school with him on the back of the bike for the first time in a couple months. There's this big hill right before campus, and I was trudging up it with all the cars whipping by and sweat forming all over me, and then suddenly comes this 22 year old looking guy with lean muscle and long legs on a tiny racing bike, and he just flies past me up the hill. All I wanted to do was put on a Yoda voice and say:

"When a 40 pound child on the back of your bike, you have, not so fast will you be, eh? Hee-hee-hee-hee-heee."

Tree puns

There was a recent query on EE for a novel titled The Songs the Trees Sing or some such. I had a nice time spending 15 minutes coming up with these bits in a comment (which I'm sure was very helpful to the author):

The songs the trees sing: Woody Guthrie.

What did the lonesome tree sing to his sweetheart in another forest? I pine for you.

What did his friends call the tree who sang love songs all the time? Sappy.

What did the kind critic say about the tree actor? His performance was wooden.

Why couldn't the tree family get any sleep? Their pet tree barked all night.

What's a tree's favorite Sesame Street character? Grover.

Favorite deodorizer? Glade.

Favorite female name? Maple.

Favorite male name? Ash.

What nickname makes all the school trees snicker? Woodie.

What did the blogger trees say to each other when they saw paca's puns on EE? Let's leave.

I should have added this one, too, though it isn't a pun:

What material did the spiteful tree use to build his furniture? People.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Writing Help

Anyone out there care to brainstorm with me?

I have a vague idea for a romantic novel, and I know its very, very rough outline. Two long time friends fall in love in college is step one. I've got some stuff written down in this section already. But then they are taken apart for, I don't know, 10 to 15 years before finally reuniting permanently. I can imagine the reunion scenes decently well for not having written them. And I kind of have a feel for the novel -- what I want the emotions to be like, what the moral struggles are about, etc. The main trouble is that I can never decide what takes them apart.

It's a contemporary novel, essentially, though it could move around a bit this way and that as needed -- 80s through 00s or even 10s. I have been watching a preview for the movie version of Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook, and it looks like he uses the old device of rich girl / poor boy with an interfering mother. I don't want to use that as it comes across as a cliché to me nowadays. However, the only thing I can really come up with is some sort of war; believe it or not, I keep coming back to war with aliens. But, well, that's got its issues clearly.

I know I don't want it to just be a misunderstanding. And, while I plan to make full, full use of the normal pressures of hometown friends moving in new directions with college and future jobs, I don't want that to be the whole story. I want both of them to always believe or at least hope that the other person still wants them desperately, but there is something stopping them from being together. In fact, I have a little bit of a Casablanca image where our loves and needs don't mount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Both the heroine and the hero are choosing to do the right thing, choosing to do some task, which keeps them apart. And at least the hero is starting to hate that he must do the right thing over and over while his life is slipping away.

When the wait is finally over, well, have you seen (or read) Like Water for Chocolate, where the two lovers set the entire room on fire? That's the emotion I'm going for.

So, any thoughts? What can keep two people who want to be together apart in the modern world? They are both American, but travel is okay.

Lambchop Lyric 2 (paca)

Album: What another man spills
Song: The Saturday Option

Do the shabby thing
Separate the beef
from the stew

Do the shabbby thing
Separate the wood
from the screw.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Life Update - Big Family News! (paca)

1) N heads off to Kauai for a single today tomorrow (Wednesday) and will return Thursday morning. It would be nice to believe that she will be lounging around the Garden Isle, but, alas, it's work.

2) The semester started yesterday, so we are off and running again. I am using course credit to be a teaching assistant for phonetics, and then taking one other course on the history of my field. It's a really light load, which is intentional so that I can get this dissertation thing cranked up.

3) OK, the big news. My sister, who has commented here several times usually under the name C or court, has gotten engaged. I have never met her fiancé, but I spoke to him on the phone, and he came across as a nice fellow. That's enough for me, so I approve. She also was accepted to a year long pastries program at a culinary school in Austin. So, IF they can make the money work, they will be moving down there near the end of the year. New job and future husband all in a couple weeks. Not bad. (I believe the fiancé news is a secret for now from one family member (for surprise reasons), however that family member has never to my knowledge looked at my blog in three years, and so I think this is safe. If you disagree, sis, yell. It's just an edit away.)

Anti-Goat Skin Pants

The blog is moving back. Welcome back.