Wednesday, October 31, 2007

If this is the best it gets...

This was approximately the conversation that N and I had a couple days ago in the car.

N: I really like my new heels.

Paca: Comfortable?

N: They are really well padded for a heel. I think they are the best heels I've owned.

Paca: They look nice.

N: Unfortunately, if I wear them too long, my back muscles tighten up.

Paca: Oh.

N: I had to wear them all day a few weeks ago and I back was in pain for the rest of the week.

Paca: Hm.

N: I like them though. The blisters aren't as bad as -

Paca: So let me get this straight. If you wear them, your feet get blisters and they throw your back out for a week, and yet they are the best heels you've had.

N: That's pretty much what heels are like.

Surreptitious Salad, Clandestine Cabbage

It's not quite alliteration, but I tried.

I had seen on the front Yahoo page a weeks ago that Jessica Seinfeld had a cookbook out which was somehow controversial, but I never clicked the link to find out how it was controversial, as I didn't really care. However, I finally did take a look today and discovered that the controversy is about possible plagiarism, my pretty pet petunia. Seinfeld's book is called Deceptive Delicious, published by Harper Collins, and uses the idea of hiding vegetables in other dishes. Meanwhile, there was a slightly earlier book by Missy Chase Lapine, called The Sneaky Chef, which has the same idea. Most interestingly, Lapine's book was published by the Running Press, after it was turned down by Harper Collins. Seinfeld claims to have never heard of Lapine's book.

Now, the thing is, a couple years ago, we bought a cookbook called Healthy Cooking for Kids or something similar, and, while the author never makes a things of it, what she's done is put lots of vegetables inside other dishes like casseroles. Moreover, I cannot imagine that these three cookbook authors are the first people to which it's ever occurred to hide vegies in a casserole. N hates peas and talks about, at the age of 6, hiding as few peas as she could get away with in her mashed potatoes in order to get them down. In short, the idea is old.

However, I do wonder a little bit on where the Deceptively Delicious title came from, because that title is indeed very much like The Sneaky Chef. Did Seinfeld name her book herself, or did that title come from Harper Collins? If so, how far along the editorial path did The Sneaky Chef get at Harper before being rejected? In short, the most likely plagiarizers here seem to be Harper Collins, not Seinfeld. But even still, Lapine has a problem, as I don't think you can copyright a title, much less the idea of a title, which is why there are many repeated title names.

Of course, this is all moot if Seinfeld's recipes are all copies of Lapine's. Even here, however, you have to be careful as there are only so many ways to make tuna casserole -- with or without peas.

Paca - Rebel without a Clue

An entry over at Writtenwyrdd's reminded me of my bad boy days. Or, at least, of days in which people seemed to think I was a bad boy.

First up, I was once denied entrance to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in NY's Chinatown. My three friends and I approached, and the restaurant owner took one look at me and refused to let us into the place, yelling and almost pushing so that I couldn't go in. Unfortunately, everything he said was in Cantonese, so I had no idea why. Later, back on the Upper East side where my friend lived, we went into a Tower Records and some security employee took me aside and started quizzing me on what I was doing there. He eventually explained the problem was my Doo-Rag. I had gotten it from a girl I liked and so was wearing it. It was a common thing for Ultimate Frisbee people to wear in 1989. Apparently, it marked me as a gangbanger. For one day in my life, I was a man people were afraid to have around.

I also used to get red-lined going through border crossings, particularly in my study abroad semester in China in '92. Oh, China was no problem, they just waved me through with a big huanying 'welcome'. But the U.S. routinely searched my bags. In Japan, they searched my bags and had me empty my pockets as well. It was bad enough that when I travelled with my mother and sister, we had a little routine to declare "family!" and let my mother do the talking when we hit the U.S. I finally asked some U.S. customs officer why I was being pulled over and over. Basically, I was college-age with a scraggly beard, and at that time carrying two guitars. I may have even had my Mao hat. It was clear I was a druggie. I always dress up for the border control now.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Random Facts

1) I am an adult who still enjoys drinking a big glass of milk almost every day. I also like bologna. I just went to the fridge and ate a piece of bologna as a snack.

2) I've been to 46 states. The ones I've missed are Delaware, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Nebraska. I've taken the train from Jersey to DC, which stops in Wilmington, DE, but since I didn't even get off, I don't count it.

3) I remember the exact moment that puberty hit. 7th grade. Jan. Jan had always kind of irritated me, as much as I get irritated. At least, we could squabble. Then one day I looked at her in class and my stomach got all queasy and, suddenly, this girl thing was completely different than it had been before. I would have been... 11 years old.

4) One of my earliest memories is related to preschool. I realized I had taken a red tractor home from preschool (Temple Baptist if the memory serves), which I knew was wrong. Therefore I hid it in my closet so no one would ever find it and never took it back. It was still there when I moved my stuff for boarding school at least 10 years later.

5) I'm one of those people who will walk across campus reading a book as I walk.

6) Arguably my favorite movie remains Airplane. Surely/Shirley, you can't be serious!

7) If I wake up at 4:00 AM for some random reason, I will wander over here and check my email before going back to bed.

8) Very possibly the very first thing I ever wrote that someone else read was a short one-act play called Sex!Sex!Sex! It had nothing to do with sex, but it was my sense of humor at the time. My boarding school did a program called Power Plays in which all the plays were student-written, student-directed, and student-acted. I've lost the play and I don't remember what happened. The only thing I do remember was that an actor was supposed to recite the first few lines of either Hells Bells or Back in Black in a posh British accent:

Back in Black,
Hit the sack.
Don't you know I'm glad to be back.
I was cut loose
From the noose
that kept me hanging around.

It would be cool to find that in a box one day and see what the play was.

9) Virtually every single other thing I wrote from the age of 12 to 16 related to that weird queasy feeling mentioned in item 3 and the title of the play in item 8.

10) The hardest part about being a father when B was an infant is that I could no longer control my own sleep patterns. It seemed like such a basic part of being human, and yet this little baby was in charge of when I slept. This was a harder adjustment for me than anything else I remember.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Korean Week 4 - Apologies

Since the inspiration for Korean week was the paper I am co-authoring (with a Korean linguistics teacher) about apologies in Korea, I decided to copy a bit of it here. This paper is rather far afield for me, occurring in a subfield of linguistics called sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics deals with how social structures and relationships are expressed in language, as well as how language is used to maintain those relationships. This is a very different sort of focus than, say, grammar study.

One large part of this subfield studies what is called politeness, which isn't stuff like holding the door for someone or saying "bless you" when they sneeze. It's really a study of relationships and how those are maintained. One of the most popular theories of politeness is called face theory. The idea is that all individuals have this things called "face". Face has been defined as the public image that someone holds up for others, or alternatively as the desire to act freely. Whenever someone threatens another's face, then you have to do some sort of action to restore peace. One part of this is apologizing. If I threaten your face, i.e., harming your public image or interfering with you, then I must apologize.

In this paper, my co-author and I are taking a big collection of apology examples in Korea that she collected for her dissertation and trying to modify face theory based on the data. One way in which we are hoping to change face theory is to say that face does not just belong to individuals. It can also belong to groups of people, culturally defined groups. In America, one might build a case that a family can have face, such that it is possible to harm the face of an entire family. This is the case in Korean society as well. However, Korean culture seems to allow for the entire Korean ethnicity to have a face as well. This face of a nation can require apologies to the whole nation. Additionally, the bad actions of a few can be seen as harming the face of the entire group.

In the bit below, we are discussing the Viriginia Tech shootings earlier this year. I'd love any thoughts you have. The stuff below is going to come across rather academic-ey, because it is, though I chose this section because it isn't all that lingo-driven. The excerpt:

Further, evidence of a face-bearing group comes from the tragic case of a mass murder at Virginia Tech University in 2007, at the hands of someone who had immigrated to the United States from Korea at the age of eight. After this event, many Koreans, and Korean-Americans, expressed the idea that the murderer's actions brought shame to all Koreans. For instance, the South Korean Ambassador to the United States, Lee Tae-sik, stated that Korean-Americans were shamed and should repent with a day of fast for each victim. (Brewington, 2007). State Senator Paull Shin of Washington State publicly apologized in the senate chambers, adding “it hurts me deeply, knowing what happened to Korea and how much the U.S. helped. This is not the way to pay back the blessings we received” (Iwasaki, 2007). Shin associates the attacking student’s actions with what the entire Korean people owe to the United States.

These comments reinforce the notion that groups that can bear face are indeed culturally defined, as anecdotal questioning of Caucasian Americans drew a unified response that they would not have apologized in similar circumstances. In fact, the concept that Koreans as an ethnic group do share a single group face is highly controversial in the Korean-American community. Professor Kyeyoung Park of the University of California at Los Angeles' Center for Korean Studies, for instance, was publicly quoted as saying, "Some of them [Korean-Americans] feel truly responsible, even though it is ridiculous to think they are responsible for the actions of this person" (Brewington, 2007).

Indeed, even Korean-Americans at the same university and of the same approximate age expressed opposing views on the matter. Jihye Kim, president of the Korean Student Union at the University of Washington, stated, "Personally, after hearing about the criminal's racial background, I felt as if I am the one who caused the tragedy. I couldn't make eye contact with others. I greatly apologize for those who are closely related to the victims." Meanwhile, his fellow student at the same university, Kiwon Suh, president of the Korean Student Association, stated a completely different sentiment. "Just because he's Korean or Korean American doesn't mean I have to go around apologizing for what he did. He didn't do anything representative of Korea by his horrible doing" (Iwasaki, 2007).

It would appear from these statements that the idea of Koreans as an entire ethnicity bearing face varies greatly among Korean-Americans, a variability seemingly much greater than in Korea itself. This assertion, however, is based simply upon the sort of evidence presented here, not from a designed socio-linguistic study of face concepts among Koreans and Korean-Americans and so awaits stronger empirical support. Indeed, the quantification and documentation of the variability, and change through time, of which groups can possess face, perhaps using traditional Labovian sociolinguistic methods, appears like a largely unexplored subfield. In short, while the types of face, positive, negative, and covenant, might be universal; the entities that bear face are cultural and variable.

Part of my quandry is in terms of referring to people by ethnicity. In general, I hate doing it; I'd rather just talk about humans with names rather than ethnicities and all the problems associated with it So if you have any advice on that...? The subfield idea mentioned in the last paragraph could be the most important point going forward in the entire essay. Sociology, and linguistics to some degree, are frequently stuck talking about cultures using the terms "collectivist" and "individualist". Virtually, all of the East Asian traditional cultures are supposed to be collectivist, while "Western" ones are supposed to be individualist. However, everyone knows that these labels greatly over simplify everything and cover up almost as much as they reveal. However, no better terms are around. If you refuse to use some term, then it's like saying Korea and the U.S. are identical, which they clearly are not. Anyway, I wonder if we can use this idea of group face to describe things a lot more accurately. In this proposed framework, Korea is not just collectivist and the U.S. a bunch of rugged individualists. Instead, Korea lets certain groups have face, while the U.S. allows for a different set to have face.

Books Meme 2 or 3

I've tagged myself on a book meme at Ello's. I'm about a month late on the tagging, but I usually do get around to things eventually.

So first question. Total number of books?

This must mean that I own. Currently, not too many. Must be less than a hundred. Probably about three bookshelves. This is a huge change from pre-grad school days. When we had to sell everything to move here, we had to use a pick-up truck to take all our books to the public library as donations. I think we had about seven full-height bookcases. Maybe eight. Yes, that is where my discretionary income used to go.

Last Book read?

I spent almost all day reading, but I didn't read anything front to back. Instead, I read major portions of The Mind's Arrow: Bayes Nets and Causation (or a similar title) by Clark Glymour. Also, this edited collection called Causality in Crisis or some such. I scanned two chapters of Statistics for Social Scientists as well.

Last Book Bought?

Hm. Good question. Maybe this history on Japanese-American regiments in WWII, perhaps called "Just Americans". I think there's something more recent though; however, those might just be books for B. I should stop doing these blog entries in the dark.

Five meaningful Books?

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. No surprise here. Actually, I'm not sure if it's profoundly meaningful, but I do read it almost annually.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. This is one of Lewis' last works. It's a study of love in all its forms told using the Cupid and Psyche myth - romantic, familial, friendship, and divine. It's also an exploration of the idea of divinity itself and how all else falls away in the presence of the truly divine. The end, in which Cupid appears, is the closest thing I've read to approximate what it might be like to encounter God.

Norse Myths by Roger Lancelyn Green. I've carried this little book around since I was perhaps 10 years old. It's hard to say that the myths themselves are individually amazing stories, though perhaps they are. I think it's instead the entire vision of the world in play, with the foresight of Ragnarok in which almost all of the world will perish.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. This is the classic defense of the doctrine that government should stay out of people's way unless that person is harming others. This critically includes times when the individual is harming himself. I would perhaps be a typical modern liberal if Mill's classic liberalism wasn't in the back of my mind. Mill is a fascinating person, by the way. Apart from On Liberty, he, among other things, published the most influential account of utilitarianism in ethics, which is the idea that ethics should be based upon the greatest happiness for the greatest number. He also wrote "On the Subjection of Women" which is one of the very first tracts in English to suggest that women might indeed by subjugated at all and that they should not be. It includes essentially an argument for the equality of the sexes. There were precursors to this - Mary Wollstonecraft perhaps if my dates aren't wrong - but Mill was quite influential, already being a member of parliament and one of the most famous intellectuals of the day.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This is really a stand in for almost all of his apologetic work. He hasn't convinced me yet, but he writes with an insight and clarity that I find rewarding. It doesn't mean he's correct, but he is constructive.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Meditation, Temptation

I've only been lead through a Buddhist meditation experience twice in my life. Both were in college, meaning around ummm 13-14 years ago. One was lead by a Zen practitioner; the other was Tibetan. One of the only things I remember from those sessions was a tip on how to quiet the mind.

The goal is a completely still mind exhibiting total peace. And one of the keys to getting there was not to fight "failures" along the way. A failure in this case is a thought. One is not meditating if one is sitting there contemplating the things they have to do at work tomorrow or the stupid things your sister-in-law said to your mother. You are instead trying to find silence. You are to just sit.

Of course, simply sitting somewhere for 20 minutes is immensely difficult and when people are trying to do it for the first time, they typically see a thought pop up and try to crush it, push it away, cram it back down. And the session goes something like this:

Sitting like this is supposed to be comfy?! I think I'm losing feeling in my foot already and he just turned the lights down.

Oh, damn, a thought. The bald guy said not to think.

Ok, here I am now. Sitting. Calm. I'm so calm. Damn. I'm thinking about being calm. I will no longer think. Here I am not thinking!


I wonder if Ashley likes guys who meditate. Crap.

Alright. Breathing, I'm breathing. No, don't think about breathing. Just breathe.

Here I am just breathing. I'm not thinking about breathing at all!


I bet monks don't curse in meditation. Let's try again.

No thoughts, no thoughts, no thoughts. I will not have any thoughts! I will not have any thoughts! Oh, crap! This is a thought!

Next stupid thought I have I'm going to take a baseball bat to it and beat it until it's a bloody pulp.

I wonder if I left the oven on.


Hm. Maybe I should work on the nonviolence part of this, too.

And on it goes.

But according to the bald guy who tried to teach me the single time he did, I shouldn't be trying to push thoughts away. I should just see the thought and go, "whee! I'm a novice with a thought flying through my head! Bye, little thought!" Or maybe that's not quite it, but you don't beat yourself up over it. You just let the thought pass you by, waving it past, and not clinging to it as a failure or success. It's just a breeze that passes through your mind.

I was recently thinking that this is a key to getting over almost any addiction or temptation. The more you have to fight it, obsessing over how powerful it is and how strong you must be to resist it, the more it continues to have a hold on you. Don't kick and scream and yell when your temptation is there. Just observe that there's still some draw and then let it go past you. This seems relevant in some way for virtually all our faults, be they alcohol, gambling, smoking, sex, even personality flaws like arrogance, priggishness, or cowardice.

Just learn to notice. Oh, I'm being an arrogant a-hole again. Stop. And go again. We all have our flaws great and small that are simply a part of who we are. They don't ever disappear, but maybe we can learn not to dwell on them.

It reminds me of one of my favorite lyrics from the band Lambchop and goes something like:

"Learning not to demonstrate
our asinine and callous traits.
It can take some practice.
I know."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Korean Week 3 - Korean Madness

Many of you may have seen this video before. Not only have I linked to it, albeit a couple years ago, it was also once one of the most watched videos on YouTube.

I don't really know what's going on, but it appears to be a show where normal people come into the TV studio / karaoke studio and make immense fun of popular songs at the time. I found a very useful comment on YouTube which pretended to know the deal. In some way, the celebrities in the studio had to compete with the normal people to do the funniest video. Our two girls below always won whenever they were on.

Here the two girls still in their school uniforms are making fun of the song "Emotion" by You Chae-Young. I think the one girl who is slightly leaner with the bad voice is a really gifted physical comedian/enne. Here you go:

Still makes me smile after watching it about 30 times. And below is the original music video from star Yu Chae-Young.

I, um, do appreciate the skirts they chose to wear here.

There are several more videos with the same two girls on YouTube. Just search for "Korean Madness".

What I also found really cool was the number of copies of the original Korean Madness done by people all over the world.

Here we have what looks like a 10 year old girl and her big brother.
A bride and groom dancing to it at their wedding reception with the video playing with them. (Somehow I wish those two were my friends.)
Two guys dancing away in Mexico.
Here someone took time to do a sims avatar version of the video.

And it goes on and on:
Turkish Madness
Spanish Madness
Self-Labeled Latin Madness
Chinese Madness
Katalan madness
French Madness

I think a certain reader of this blog might need to get to work so that we can soon see a Hungarian Madness.

Maybe I'm a sap, but I find the whole phenomenon rather heart-warming.

Finally, if you've made it this far, I found this video where someone did "misheard lyrics" to the original Emotion song. This tune traveled all around the world to people who don't speak Korean, just like myself. And so what if you thought the song was in English? Well, these lyrics might be what you heard. Somehow when seeing them on the screen, they seem to fit. It truly sent me into total hysterics. I don't know why it's funny, but to me and N, it just is. It soooo is.

Quoting from the video: "You question my muscle? Dan said, "no, they ckicken my hairdo. What colour's your poo?!" WTF?!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Classic Paca

Classic Paca

Possibly the worst food ever

I am copying this from J's blog.

Someone found old weightwatcher's recipe cards from 1974, and, wow, does this look like the worst food ever to exist or not? It's certainly in the running. Makes me want to go find some haggis or delightful pig parts from that train in China.

Here they are. Click on one of the pictures and read her hilarious text. I can't wait to drink the Jellied Tomato Refreshers from a brandy glass! These people were obsessed with gelatin! When it's not even part of the food, such as for the Snappy Mackeral Casserole, they add glasses of jello to the picture just to remind us of its yummy deliciousness.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Korean Week 2 - Hangul

October 9 was Hangul Day in Korea, a national holiday dedicated to the language's script. Han means both great and Korean and gul means script. North Korea has a similar day, but they call it Choson Gul Day, because they prefer the name Choson for Korea. A good argument can be made that hangul is indeed one of the greatest writing systems created, so here is its story.

The first thing to know is that Korean is most often considered an isolate among languages. This means that there is no strong evidence that it is connected to any other languages genetically. This is completely different from, say, the Romance languages - Spanish, French, Romanian, etc. - which are all descended from Latin. People were talking Latin for hundreds of years all over Europe and then one day they took a trip over the mountains and discovered their Latin didn't sound much like the other guy's Latin anymore, and so they called it French and the other folk called their Latin Spanish.

But we find no clear evidence of sister languages to Korean anymore. Some scholars have argued that Japanese and Korean are sisters, and that they all fit into this larger group called Altaic, which would include languages of Northeast Asia, like Mongolian. However, many others consider the evidence for this to be rather weak.

I'm going into this to make the point that Korean as a language is not related to Chinese. Its grammar works completely differently; the sounds of the language are completely different; and the ancient Korean words (think Old English for us) bare no resemblance to ancient Chinese words at the same time.

However, for whatever reason, China came up with its own writing system - the characters - over 4,000 years ago, while Japan and Korea did not. Moreover, China was the most powerful nation and most scientifically advanced one in the world for most of the last 4,000 years. Korea, however, was not. And so Koreans decided to borrow a lot of stuff - Confucianism, Buddhism, science, governmental systems, tons of words, and, for better or for worse, the Chinese writing system.

Things went pretty swimmingly for most of the borrowing, but it wasn't all that easy to use characters for Korean because Korean, again, is a completely different language. Characters are also just really hard to learn. They have other benefits, but becoming truly literate in Chinese characters takes a lot longer than a simpler writing system. (English's crazy spelling also measurably slows down the time it takes to learn it as compared to a language where the letters reliably match the sounds.)

And so King Sejong the Great decided to create a new script just for Korean. And unlike, say, the King James Bible, which James never worked on, Sejong appears to have been primarily responsible for the creation of hangul.

Unlike both Chinese and Japanese, hangul is basically alphabetic, like English or French. A tiny stroke stands for a letter. Here's one: ㄱ . This is the letter for the sound "g" as in Gary, not George. And then to write something, you take one of these consonants, another for a vowel, and a third for any following sound if needed and then arrange it into a little block representing the whole syllable: 글 . See the g on the top? This is the syllable gul as in hangul. Below the g you have the vowel and the final "l".

So it's both alphabetic and yet very compact to write with an entire syllable taking up just one little block of space. There have been some experiments and Korean is indeed one of the fastest languages in the world to type as well as being exceedingly compact.

As a linguist, however, what really sets Korean apart from any other writing system ever created is that the principles of phonetics are built right into the script itself. What am I talking about? Time to start making sounds and try to figure out what your mouth is doing. Here's the Korean symbol for n "ㄴ" and the one for g again "ㄱ".

Now make an n in your mouth and sit there humming it. Where does your tongue go as you sit there making "n"? The tip goes right to the front of your mouth and curls upwards. For most English-speakers it curls up to a ridge up and behind your teeth. A few of you might be touching the back of your teeth, but this is less common. In short, the tongue goes forward and then the tip curls up. Now look at the Korean n again "ㄴ". It's a little schematic of your tongue.

G is harder to feel, but you can try. Make a g sound. "ga, ga, ga". The tongue definitely is further back this time, right? In fact, your tongue tip isn't anywhere in particular, it's just sorta hanging. Can you feel the back of your tongue hitting the middle back of your mouth on the roof? And here is the Korean g again "ㄱ". Again, it's a schematic of your tongue.

King Sejong appears to have figured out articulatory phonetics almost all by himself and then written a new writing system for his people based on this study. It's really quite stunning and one of the great world cultural achievements.

Happy Belated Hangul Day.

Korean Week 1 - Bi Bim Bap

UPDATE: For searchers looking for a bi bim bap (bee-bim bop) recipe, this is the post, but I also have some pictures at this post.

In honor of finishing the main draft of the Korean apologies paper, I am declaring this "Korean week". I was an Asian Studies major back in college, focusing upon China. Every once in a while I branched out to Japan or SE Asia a bit, but poor little Korea was always completely ignored by my college. So I learned nothing. I still know very little, but that's not going to stop me. The only thing better than ignoring a nation is spreading misinformation about it. (Actually, as you will see, this isn't going to be really much of a lecture about Korea at all, but let's run with the idea, okay?)

First up, we have one of my favorite dishes - Bi Bim Bap Paca-Style.

I borrowed this picture from a guy who seems to do a food blog in NY and loves this place in midtown. I think Ello is a new yorker, so maybe she can fill us in on whether this guy's completely muddle-headed.

Now, actually, the recipe I am about to give isn't true Bi Bim Bap. It's a sorta fusion American version. The difference between my version and a real one is that most of the true Korean vegies will be replaced by whatever vegies I have on hand that I can make Korean-esque. I'd add the real thing from my Korean cookbook, but N's asleep and I can't turn a light on.

Bap just means rice and Bi Bim Bap means a variety of things on rice. At least I think it does, not speaking any Korean, other than how to apologize 5 different ways.

The gist:

Cook rice
Cook vegies and little bits of meat
Place vegies and meat on rice, then add a fried egg
Add a bit of sauce.

Step One: Rice

Cook enough rice for all of your guests. One cup of uncooked rice usually makes about 3 cups of cooked. I do 1 cup of uncooked to a about 1.75 cups of water. I always do this first because rice can sit in a pot warmly quite well. Don't burn it and keep the lid on.

Step Two: Prepare the Variety of Things

I truly do use whatever I have in the fridge. That typically includes cabbage/bokchoi kimchee from the store in a jar, zucchini, yellow onion, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and green onion. What you will eventually do is place them in little piles in a circle around the rice in a large bowl. So you need to estimate how much to cook to make a little pile of each vegetable for your number of guests. Here's a guess from me:

Half a yellow onion, chopped fine
5 green onions, with the white chopped fine and the green to about 2" lengths. (Green onion is hard to chop actually. Slice across the green with a good knife and then pull the other side, so that it comes free. Move down the length.)
Half a large zucchini, julienned. (Julienne: thin lengths about 2", too.)
6 oz. of white mushrooms, stems removed and sliced.
Half an onion, chopped into pieces about 2" too as you can. Just don't dice.
Pull a couple handfuls of the bean sprouts out of a bag and rinse them. You could chop in half if super long.
Place the kimchee on the table and take the top off. Ooh, the easy part!

Now, take some kind of beef and slice it as thin as you can. Maybe half a pound? A trick to slicing thin meat is to freeze the meat partially, so that it's quite firm.

Slice all these things up and have them in little bowls ready to add in as you cook. Mise en place, I think, if I can speaka le francais.

Step Three: Gather things for flavoring the food while you cook it.

Garlic powder, salt, pepper, sesame seeds, vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce.

Step Four: Cook things.

I typically take the largest skillet we have and attempt to cook about three things at once, since it's all little piles. Whenever you finish something, take it off and put it in a bowl to put on the table. I used to worry so much about keeping things warm, but I finally realized that about half the vegetables on real bi bim bap in a restaurant are cold and they get heated up in the warm rice. So don't be like me; it turns out alright if the first couple things are lukewarm by the time you are done.

Pour a bit of canola oil (vegetable oil) in each part of the big skillet. Add a bit of sesame, too. The let the skillet heat up. Put the onion in one corner of the skillet. Place the zucchini in another. And the mushroom in a third, naturally wherever you placed the oil. Cook up and try not to mix the various items as much as you can. Honestly, I make up exactly what the spices will be each time. I figure onion doesn't need much. Perhaps a little garlic on the mushrooms. Maybe some sesame seeds and soy in with the zucchini. Oh, and a little salt, too. You don't need to go crazy with seasonings.

As things get done, move them out, and move new things in, such as bean sprouts and green onion. I like a little soy again on the bean sprouts. Pepper on the green onion.

Move everything out when done and it's beef time. Again, vegetable oil and sesame oil in the center of the skillet this time. Get it pretty hot so things cook fast. Toss the beef in and pseudo-stirfry. Salt, pepper, and sesame seeds again for me. Cook just enough so that they are a little pink on the inside and remove.

Turn the skillet down to low, but leave it on, and finish preparing the table. Scoop some rice into bowls for each person. I usually leave all the vegetables in their bowls and let people grab whatever they wish. N doesn't really like onion on hers for instance, while I do. However, you may also prepare the bowls for everyone which looks much better. Again, take a bit of each cooked vegie and put a little bit of it on top of the rice in one side. Then move around until you have a nice circle of yummy things. Place some of the beef in the center.

Now, run back over and turn the skillet up again. Cook up a fried egg, preferably runny but know your guests here, and then as they are done, place it right on the middle of the bowl on top of everything.

You are done.

Step Five: Completion.

To reveal the truth, I like bi bim bap because it gives me an excuse to use kochu jang paste, which is a chili bean paste. It's worth finding. If you don't like spicy just put a little. If you do like spicy, put a lot.

Step Six: Stir and Eat

Now that you've done all this work with little piles and circles to impress everyone visually, the most common thing for the guest to do now is stir it all together and eat. You are not required to stir it all into one mess, but you are required to eat it.

And that's my version of bibimbap.

Here are a couple other entries about bi bim bap I found through Google:
A short recipe for the dish
Bi Bim Bap and C.S. Lewis in one post! If he was a girl, I'd be smitten.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

puzzles and getting out more

Here's a language puzzle for you.

Can you think of a word that includes two "u"s in a row? Anywhere in the word. They just have to be together.

I had one and then my step-dad came up with another today.

I'm actually not one of those people who just loves words. No crosswords, find the words, unscramble the letters, how many words can you make from the phrase "pinapple cheese bake", sort of games for me. Still, the uu puzzle is kind of fun. Actually, it's only fun because I have an answer.

Random things I do like that are just as inoccuous as word games include: random geography facts. I like to just look at maps, see where things are. N and I still periodically quiz each other on things like state capitals, name all the countries of Europe starting with an A, etc.

Andorra, Austria, ... , is that it? Albania. Did I miss anything? There's a map on the wall, but I'm not allowed to look, because that ruins the fun. Yes, fun. Do Azerbaijan and Armenia count as Europe? How about B? Bulgaria, Belgium, ... , Britain isn't a country.... How about if we go outside of Europe? Benin, Bhutan, Bora Bora, Brazil, Belize, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina (see I missed a Europe one before), ... , that's all I got. You get the idea. But what did I miss?

I do enjoy trivia to some degree. I used to go to my grandmother's house after 7th grade let out and we'd watch Jeopardy and Tic Tac Dough together. Then I'd go in the kitchen, eat Fritos, drink soda, and watch Gilligan's Island. But I was never serious about trivia. In college, N, I, and two other friends formed a... what do they call them? I call it quiz bowl, but that's not the college name. Two teams go against each other to answer trivia questions. It got off to an auspicious start:

Question 1:
Referee / Asker Guy: Meaning "no drink"-

Paca: Buzz!! Koala!!

Referee / Asker Guy: Um, yes, correct.

Everyone stares at me. What the-? Who is this guy? How'd he know that?

Question 2:

Anything else. My memory is that we never answered another question before our super team competitors did the whole rest of the game. I think that's false. I think N answered something. But that was pretty much it. They wiped the floor with us. Final score: 28-2, or some such. That other team actually knew stuff about sports! (I do now. I could list every team in the NFL organized by division, probably 2-3 players on each team, etc. But at the time... uh, no.)

As for the koala answer that I knew so quickly, N and I had gone to the Minnesota zoo a couple days before and their koala exhibit had a big sign talking about how the name comes from the fact that koalas get most of their water from their eucalyptus leaves and so were called "no drink" or some such by aboriginal people. In other words, I was just lucky.

Question 3:

How many U.S. state capitals have exactly 6 letters in their name?

I've got two so far....

For the record

In case my last post made it sound like my father and I are always at each other's throats or some such, here is his reply through email:

I love it.

Beautifully answered!

Paca, you are the smartest guy I know.



Go, dad! (Yes, I am in my mid-30s, not 16.)

In other news I am making chicken pot pie for tonight. I made it once before, but I put homemade biscuits on top for the crust and they completely absorbed the entire creamed chicken below it to make a creamy biscuit mess. This time I'm going to try plopping a pie crust or two on there instead. If it turns out well, I will share the recipe.

Friday, October 19, 2007

tit for tat

My father has been convinced ever since I attended a liberal arts college starting in 1990 that my politics have gone astray, and so for a few years he would every once in a while send me a little column clipping or email joke revealing the evilness of Democrats. He took a few years off, but has sent two items in the past week to myself and a couple other family members. So I, for the first time in 13 years, responded. I usually didn't in the past because I'd rather spend my time visiting with him about other things and not debating political points. So first, we have the forwarded joke. And then below it my response (and, yes, I used the same C.S. Lewis quote yet again. Sorry! It's in my head.) As far as I know my father hasn't come to this blog in a year or more, but in case he does now, "hey, daddio!"

Original joke forwarded to me:

A little history lesson: If you don't know the answer make your best guess. Answer all the questions before looking at the answers. Who said it ?

1) "We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."

A. Karl Marx
B. Adolph Hitler
C. Joseph Stalin
D. None of the above

2) "It's time for a new beginning, for an end to government of the few, by the few, and for the few and to replace it with shared responsibility for shared prosperity."

A. Lenin
B. Mussolini
C. Idi Amin
D. None of the Above

3) "(We)...can't just let business as usual go on, and that means something has to be taken away from some people."

A. Nikita Khrushev
B. Josef Goebbels
C. Boris Yeltsin
D. None of the above

4) "We have to build a political consensus and that requires people to give up a little bit of their order to create this common ground. "

A. Mao Tse Dung
B. Hugo Chavez
C. Kim Jong Il
D. None of the above

5) "I certainly think the free-market has failed."

A. Karl Marx
B. Lenin
C. Molotov
D. None of the above

6) "I think it's time to send a clear message to what has become the most profitable sector in (the) entire economy that they are being watched."

A. Pinochet
B. Milosevic
C. Saddam Hussein
D. None of the above


(1) D. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 6/29/2004
(2) D. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 5/29/2007
(3) D. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 6/4/2007
(4) D. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 6/4/2007
(5) D. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 6/4/2007
(6) D. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 9/2/2005

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid and vote

And here is my response:

I thought I would take a few things completely out of context, associate them randomly with evil people with no basis whatsoever, and send it back to show how silly the below joke is, since the joke declares at the end that it provides a good reason for how to cast your vote. For the record, I've never been a supporter of Sen. Clinton, though if she's the best choice left come next year, I might cast a vote that way. Depends on the choices I have.

History Lesson 2:

1) Name the world leader who invaded a country that had never attacked the leader's and continuously changed the reason for the invasion over and over to keep justifying the decision.

a) Hitler
b) Saddam Hussein
c) George W. Bush
d) all of the above

2) Name a world leader who raided the personal communications of his nation's citizens whether or not there was a law on the books expressly forbidding it

a) Joseph Stalin
b) Pinochet
c) George W. Bush
d) all of the above

3) Which world leader continuously redefined the definition of torture so that practices previously forbidden could be made acceptable?

a) Pol Pot
b) The Dark Lord, Satan
c) George W. Bush
d) all of the above

4) Who was quoted once as saying, "yummy!"?

a) The cannibalistic headhunters of Bubutomtom
b) Jeffrey Dahmer
c) George W. Bush
d) all of the above

The answer is of course d) all of the above. At least, I would assume they all said, "yummy" at some point in their lives. Does this poll needlessly obscure possibly justifiable positions of the current administration, randomly associate evilness with these decisions so as to make them sound wrong by association rather than genuine argument, and generally mislead everyone involved by providing no useful context? Yep. But so does the first poll.

My favorite question is #4. It reminds me of an old joke about the mis-use of statistics that used to travel around the internet. One of the lines was something like, "did you know that 99% of convicted criminals are bread eaters?!"

According to conservatives, the left has been suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome for the last 8 years, so I'm glad to see that we might move straight to Clinton Derangement Syndrome. My own position? Summed up best by this quote from my radical leftie pinko pal, C.S. Lewis, in his classic book, Mere Christianity, which was published in 1943. Quoting:

"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't so bad as that," or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if allowed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black."

Your son, nephew, cousin, or brother,


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Family Visit

So my mom and step-dad just arrived from the Eastern Shore of Virginia today. They spend 2/3 of their time in Morocco and 1/3 in Va. I haven't seen them for almost four years, so we will be hanging out. I don't know what this will mean about blogging for the week they are here, but if I disappear, that's why.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Red and blue nation

Many of us have seen the electoral maps of the 2004 election in which each county is labeled red or blue based upon how their county voted. It paints a picture of a divided nation all going our own way. In this paper here, a statitician did a number of drawings of the U.S. where sizes of states or counties is based on variables like population. Even more interestingly is a picture at the bottom where each county is shaded blue, red, or purple, based upon the percentages of votes Democratic or Republican. What you clearly see however is that pure red and pure blue is the exception, only occurring in certain pockets, while the vast majority of counties are a lovely purple.

Here's the link. Oh, it's an Adobe pdf Acrobat file, so you will need one of the Adobe readers.

I don't expect anyone to read the statitician's paper, but you might find the figures and captions interesting. At least, I didn't read the whole paper.


Bayes net and phrase structure

Note to myself before it disappears from my head:


"Graphical models are, in part, a way of escaping from this impasse.

The basic idea is as follows. You have a bunch of variables, and you want to represent the causal relationships, or at least the probabilistic dependencies, between them. You do so by means of a graph. Each node in the graph stands for a variable. If variable A is a cause of B, then an arrow runs from A to B. If A is a cause of B, we also say that A is one of B's parents, and B one of A's children. If there is a causal path from A to B, then A is an ancestor of B, and B is a descendant of A. If a variable has no parents in the graph, it is exogenous, otherwise it is endogenous."

Could phrase structure / c-commanding in fact be the derivatives of causality?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Leftover Chicken #1 - Gumbo

I am thinking of a little recipe series on how to use up chicken. It could be left over or maybe you just saw a great deal on 15 lbs of chicken at Sam's or something. So here is recipe #1:

Paca's Fresh Brewed Gumbolicious

First up, old blog readers, do not fear. This is not a chilibo recipe, in which I try to take the goodness of chili and the wonders of gumbo and mix them together. This is straight up gumbo.

Basically, I made gumbo this weekend and it came out as my best batch. It's a hybrid of three different gumbo recipes. The starting point was the chicken and sausage gumbo recipe out of a recipe book done by the Methodist Church in my old home town in Louisiana as a fundraiser. But the roux recipe in there was a microwave roux, and we have no microwave, and so I looked at a recipe book called Diane II, I think, put out by a cook in West Monroe, Louisiana. I have this last one because she thanks my dad for his pecan oil in the back, and he sent it to me. And then things still didn't seem quite right, so I went to Joy of Cooking for a couple more thoughts. In short, this is going to be one of those "How Men Cook" recipes in which you dump some stuff in until it looks right.

I did everything from scratch here. You can buy pre-made roux, use canned chicken, etc. I should say from the start that the most important thing in a gumbo is the roux. Gumbo just is a roux and a good broth. Virtually everything else is variable. When you get the roux down, then you are set for life. Here we go:

Step 1) Cook the chicken
Put a whole chicken in a big pot. Actually, no, mine was a half chicken. Just put some chicken in a pot.
Cover it in water; for me that was 8 cups. I actually measured.
Add some seasonings that you might want in a yummy chicken broth, like salt, pepper, thyme, carrots, celery, the big leaf whose name i have a mental block on that you can't eat..., etc.
Turn the chicken on and simmer the chicken for 45 minutes. Supposedly, it's important not to overcook.
When the chicken is done, take it out and let cool until you can pull all the chicken off.
Discard bones, fat, skin, etc., unless you have another creative idea.
Keep the remaining broth for the soup. I tried to reduce mine a little, because it was weak. (Reduce means boil some water away.)

Step 2) Make a roux
While the chicken is cooking, start the roux. I did something a bit different this time.
A roux is equal parts fat of some sort and flour which has been browned. I used canola oil and unbleached flour. I've tried butter before, I think. And you could probably do other things. This is clearly the unhealthy part of a gumbo. And so you may want to experiment here one day. What I did different was to heat the oil first and then add flour slowly.
1.5 cups of canola oil heated on medium heat. Don't get too hot because rouxs burn easily and if you burn it, start over.
Slowly add 1.5 cups of flour a bit at a time, stirring as you add and slowly mixing.
Patience time. It can take half an hour to brown a roux or more. Just keep cooking, stirring frequently over a medium heat, until it turns a dark, dark brown. You know a cake is done when you can stick a knife in the middle and it comes out clean, no matter what the directions say, right? Well, the color is the key for the roux. Mahogany brown but don't burn.

Step 3) Prep work
While the roux and chicken are cooking, chop up
a large onion
2 or 3 green onions / scallions
Most recipes also use a bell pepper; I did not, but only because I didn't have one.
Crush 2 or 3 garlic cloves. (Crush a garlic clove by putting it on the cutting board and placing the flat of your big knife against it. Then smash the other side of the knife with your hand. The peel will then come off easily.)
A package of link sausage. - 1lb. (I used Hillshire Farms light smoked sausage. Clearly, you should use andouille, but that's only available in Hawaii for outrageous prices.)
Frozen okra. I used about half a package of frozen, cut okra which is a little more than a cup. Obviously, if you have whole okra, slice them into about half-inch pieces.

Step 4) Timing issues
Soon you will need the broth, so if your chicken isn't done yet, slow the roux down. You want to at this point have a chicken cooling on a plate, the roux turning the perfect brown color, and all the ingredients sitting around. Act as needed.

Step 5) Add vegetables when roux is dark brown
I added half the onion, the green onion, and the garlic to the roux directly, before any broth goes in. This will depend in part on how thick your roux is. If not too thick, it will all go in. If seems lumpy, add a bit of broth and stir it in.
Cook the vegies just a few minutes. Don't let them burn or get fried or anything. You can always cool your roux down with more vegies or a little broth.

Step 6) Add the chicken broth
How much? The million dollar question. One recipe had 3 cups of roux and 2-3 cups of broth. Another had like one cup of roux and, like, 12 cups of broth. I think I went with 3 cups of roux (as above) and about 8 cups of broth. I would suggest adding the small amount, 3-4 cups and then seeing what it looks like. Is it thick and stewy? Add more. Is it a nice brown soup? Probably about right.
Add the broth a bit at a time. A half a cup or a cup installments. Integrate each amount with the roux and vegies and wait until it's boiling again; then add the next amount.
At one point, I decided my homemade broth was a little weak and so I added a can of storebought chicken broth.
Dump in the last of the onion and the okra.
Not tons of spices. The roux and the broth and the onion are the main flavors. I added some garlic powder, some more black pepper, the leafs you can't eat whose name escapes me (yes, I could walk to my cabinet and see) and, the classic spice for this, 2 tsps of file gumbo (which is from sasaffras I believe). If you can't find file in your store, the gumbo will be okay without it, but it's tradition, damn it!

Step 7) Brown the sausage in a skillet just for a few minutes.
I don't know how important this is, but that's what the recipe had me do. It will all be stewed together in moments.
If you never had a chance to pull the chicken off yet, do it now and tear into soup size pieces.

Step 8) Dump the meats in the simmering gumbo
Take all the chicken you pulled off earlier and the light browned sausage and dump it in a pot.

Step 9) Simmer for about half an hour.

Step 10) Ideally, wait until the next day if you can. Stews are always better a couple days later.

Step 11) Eating day
Cook up enough rice so that you can put a nice scoop in the center of a soup bowl for everyone.
Heat the gumbo back up, if you did wait for a day.
Spoon gumbo over the rice and serve.

Step 12) Spice level
I never mentioned hotness above. N's not a big spicy food person and so I didn't add anything to the gumbo itself. I simply put my Vietnamese hot sauce in at the table. Other good choices are Tabasco of course, or straight cayenne pepper. Letting each person decide how hot they want to go and providing options on the table seems to work for us. People with more experience might know if letting the cayenne stew with everything else in the pot is better or not.

This all did take some time. Maybe 2 hours and some? But it makes enough for 8-10 people, or in our case, 3 people for about 3-4 meals. The roux is the high maintenance item. If you buy that, then you save time. A lot of people are swearing by microwave rouxs, too. You could do storebought broth or bouillion cubes and canned chicken, etc.

Gumbo is a very flexible dish. It can be a tasty way to use up whatever odds and ends you have in the kitchen, or it can be a gourmet feature item. I remember once several years ago when I was rooming with the llama. He invited a woman over for a romantic dinner and wanted to impress her. I don't remember all the details, but we prowled the Nashville Farmer's market for real crawfish and shrimp and all this stuff for the world's best gumbo. I think he spent around $100 getting that meal's ingredients. Unfortunately, I never tasted any of it, as I had to do the roommate thing and make myself scarce. In a best-selling recipe book, this story would end with a bit about how I now go to visit the happy couple who still make delicious gumbo on their anniversary or something. Alas, it as not meant to be. Perhaps, he should have tried the dirty rice recipe, instead.


Political discourse

I was reading again over at The Moderate Voice, which is the only political blog I read. Apparently, there was a rumor / claim that a liberal radio show host had been mugged. However, there is further evidence that it may not be true. All of the conservative and liberal blogosphere lit up immediately in all the predictable ways, i.e., declaring what this revealed about the utter evilness of the opposing camp. It reminded me yet again of a C.S. Lewis quote that I posted about a year and a half ago. This is from 1943's Mere Christianity and sums up modern political discourse (or does it sum up perennial political discourse?):

"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't so bad as that," or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if allowed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black."

I've also decided to copy that old post here again in full, just because I still like it. Here it is from March '06, when I still did meaningful posts:

In the comments to my long, long Chastity post regarding C.S. Lewis, one of the commenters, mikej, asked how I could regard Lewis as a "moral reference" with the other things I believe. I am assuming he is referring here to my agnosticism. Aren't, mikej asks, Lewis' arguments a linear progression where it breaks down if you don't buy an earlier premise? I have never met mikej, but I learned that he found the blog through a search on either Lewis or the book "Mere Christianity." So I decided to do the same. From that, I discovered a blog entry discussing a letter written to the blog author's University condemning homosexuality, which cited Lewis as a source of the condemnation. That blog's commenters went on to discuss how Lewis represented the worst of Christianity. I joined that discussion a bit and in a sense got the same question. If Lewis supported patriarchical views and condemned homosexuality, how can I be a reader of his? It is easy to say that I am then getting the same question from both ends of the political spectrum, but that is probably not fair to either mikej or the other blog author as I have no idea their opinion on most things.

So, what's the answer to their question?

One way I have always disagreed with people on the Left (and Right, but it is usually a conscious thought on the Left) is that I do not see the world as fundamentally political. We are not summed up by our views on whatever the great political and social views of the day are. Yes, I have a few strong opinions, and many weak opinions, and I think that they are moral opinions. Issues of pre-emptive war, torture, racial equality, gay rights, etc. are profoundly moral issues and my votes on them make me a values voter as much as any evangelical. But those are not the only issues that are important to who we are as people. Just as important are issues of charity, grace, humility, wisdom, and courage. In fact, it is these personal values which are expressed in political views. If you read my post on life at Boarding School, I mentioned a great mentor who it happens is gay. My support of gay rights is one expression of my personal respect for the man. It is not the other way around, where somehow political beliefs drive personal ones. And it is in these personal virtues where I think Lewis had a lot to say.

For instance, in Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil advises the junior devil to corrupt his human prey by making the human believe that he can figure everything out on his own. Let the human believe that he has no need of any moral tradition because he can find all the answers himself. I keep this in the back of my head as a warning on over-reliance on my own wisdom. The truth is that we humans are not that smart.

In the last Narnia book, a soldier of the enemy empire has faithfully worshipped his god Tash in the best possible ways, trying to remain as true to that tradition as he could. Aslan welcomes him into the Narnia heaven when the world ends.

Till We Have Faces is a re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth from the point of view of one of Psyche's step-sisters. The step sister has a great number of virtues and is lauded as one of the wisest and greatest rulers her kingdom had ever seen at her death, but she also has a great character flaw, which is a clinging, suffocating sense of "love" in which she demands complete devotion from others and does not allow them to be their own person. The whole novel is a meditation on love and jealousy.

In Mere Chistianity, Lewis says that Pride or self-conceit is the Great Sin, the one from which all else comes. Pride is the sin of self-devotion and self-worship, in which you put yourself above others. Pride is competitive. "We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others."

Or here is something about forgiveness, and I think it describes most of our current political discourse on talk radio and blogs in a nutshell: "Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't so bad as that," or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if allowed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black." How many people on all sides of the political spectrum want horrible things to happen to others, so that their political enemies are even more wrong? How many people think the other side just doesn't disagree with you on some matter, but is in fact evil and trying to destroy your way of life?

Lewis often presents these virtues with a great clarity so that you can see them in yourselves. I took a class last semester in which I got a note at the end with my grade saying "2nd highest in class! Congrats!" What was my pride-filled immediate response? "What do you mean '2nd'?!" The good news is that I was conscious enough to slap myself for having such a stupid thought and giggle at my own ego gone astray, because there I was, just as Lewis said, wanting not just to be clever but to be cleverer than my own friends.

Those are some examples that come off the top of my head of positive things that I find in Lewis' writings. To get back to my point about political views being the expression of personal ones, I think you can use some of Lewis' own personal revelations to argue against some of his social ones. For instance, he argued, in the previous post, for chastity until marriage, and his reasoning was that essentially sex within a life-long dedicated relationship is the best. This is likely true, but it isn't obviously true. No two people are perfectly compatible. Some are messy and some are clean; some are punctual and some late; some religious and some not, etc. N, my wife, doesn't particularly like most of my music, especially the funk stuff. I am probably more musically compatible with some other man or woman in the world, but what we do share is more important than opinions on p-funk. Is it obvious that this should never ever be the case for sexual matters between a couple? But let's forget that bit and just accept that sexual relations between committed lifetime partners is the best. What follows from it?

In the discussion of marriage, Lewis makes the point that many people see things as good or bad, black or white, but in fact things can be ranked. There can be good, better, and best. So someone asks, in his example, "is patriotism good?" Well, yes, it is better than self-centeredness, argues Lewis, because of the pride issues from above, but universal charity is even better, and patriotism should give way to it when the two conflict. He says this because he then wants to argue that being "in love," that fiery emotion, is good, but the type of love that goes with life-long devotion is even better. But what if you apply this to the chastity thing from the earlier chapter? OK, sex within marriage is Best, but does that mean that any other sex is bad? Perhaps it would be just fine to have sex before marriage, as it might still be a good thing, as long as it isn't holding you back from the Best that is to come?

The point is that I don't read Lewis and write down what he says as my moral guide. Page 12 says X is bad; won't do X now. That sort of reverence shold be reserved for something like The Ten Commandments. Instead, I read him and try to apply him to my life in fruitful ways, not ignoring the stuff I agree with, it's not cherry-picking the things I already agree with and ignoring the rest, but reading critically, allowing him to criticize me, and me him. It's the fact that he has a lot of useful criticisms of me which make it worth the time.

Bike riding

One problem with riding your bike 2-3 miles home at 12:30 AM is that you get on your bike exhausted and ready for sleep, but you get off with the heart pumping and the mind alive. Hence, instead of being in bed at 1:00 AM, you do a blog post.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I just spontenously added the word "concomitant" to a paper I am writing (Korean apologies).

I'm just surprised I knew the word. I can't define it, but I knew it was the exact word I was looking for. It's odd that way. I've never been a dictionary user, ever, and I can't tell you what most things mean with any precision. But I know it's the word I want here. Native language use is all about feel.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ghibli versus Disney

A few more Kiki comments. I earlier linked to the Japanese version of Kiki's Delivery Service on YouTube with English subtitles. I wanted B to see a little this morning, but he neither speaks Japanese nor reads English and so I found the Disney version that's been dubbed as well. It's really interesting comparing the two.

The best I can guess is that who ever did the dubbed version thinks Americans are either really stupid or have the attention spans of sparrows. I know that's overstating it, but virtually any point of silence in the original is dubbed over with new dialogue in the English one. For instance, when Kiki flies into the town, in the original, she simply flies into a flock of birds and the audience is left to imagine the pleasure of flight. In the English version, they have Kirsten Dunst going, "wheee! wahoo!" Then in the original she waves at a passing boat. In the Disney one, she waves, then yells hello down to them and they yell hello back. A bit later, she's admiring the bustling city, and in the original we simply see what she sees, lots of cars, a bustling market, etc. In the Disney version, she has to say, "look at all the cars!", "wow, a market!" Can we not see that it's a market without her telling us? Apparently, we must be told her reasoning and emotions at all times.

So I'm linking both versions this time. To see what I'm talking about, watch just the first two minutes of the top one which is in Japanese. It's not so much the different translations that annoy me, since I don't know which is better, and translation is a really tough business, but it is plain when she is speaking and when not, and she does a lot more talking in the English. Then look at the bottom one which is the dubbed one. You will notice, additionally, that the English cat has a very different character. Unfortunately, the clips don't sync perfectly, so, while it's the first two minutes to watch in the Japanese one, it is from 2:50 to 4:50 in the English one below.

Japanese, watch 0:00 to 2:00

English, watch 2:50 to 4:50 (OK, time seems to be backwards on this, so it's 7:30 to 5:30.)

Primus Pilus

There was an unchosen continuation of mine over on EE, and since it made me smile, I'm copying it here. The original author is in black normal type; my continuation is in italics:

Radea did not intend I should be kept waiting. His aide passed me through into the Primus's office the moment I entered the principia.

Radea glanced up. "Ah, Aquilla."

He set one stack of papers aside and moved another in front of him. When I saluted him, he waved me to a seat. I slumped down, unbuckled my plume, and sat with it in my lap.

Despite his wiry frame, he impressed me as being too large for his office, and as meaning to burst out of it the moment he had the chance, like a butterfly escaping the chrysalis.

Together with him, his office had captured the morning heat, and the camp's smells were encapsulated, too, along with those peculiar to administration. The lingering scent of melted wax that always evoked my early childhood. Papers so tinder-dry they smelt scorched. The brooding anxiety of the men brought before the Twelfth's Primus Pilus.

"I need your help, Primus. It's my son."


"Yes. The second one."

"I hear the Second Pyrrhus is one of the best pilots in the fleet, popular among his peers..."

"Yes, Primus, but a pilot can do nothing with a boat that is not sea-worthy."

"His vessel is underperforming?"

"It's not just underperforming; the hull's material is completely porous."

"That is a pretty pickle Pyrrhus is in."


"But what can I the Twelfth Primus Pilus do for the popular Pyrrhus pilot and his pretty pickle of a porous predicament?"


Friday, October 12, 2007

Kiki's Delivery Service

Hayao Miyazaki is likely the most famous Japanese director in the world now that Akira Kurosawa (Ran) has passed on. Miyazaki is, of course, a director of anime films, the most famous of which are probably Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. He also did Castle in the Sky, which WrittenWyrdd mentioned in a comment recently as an example of Steampunk. I find the visuals of Castle in the Sky completely amazing, but for me the story wasn't quite as amazing as the look.

Perhaps my favorite Miyazaki film might be one of his simplest - Kiki's Delivery service, the story of a young witch of 13 who goes off to find a town of her own. It's simple, but I like it from start to finish. Here is a clip on YouTube about 15 minutes in when Kiki is arriving for the first time at her new town. This link is in Japanese with subtitles, but you can find the movie in most any Blockbuster I would think with a new English dub done by Disney. I recommend taking a look here and then going to rent.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Paca tells an academic story

The field of linguistics has been given birth to several times. At least one of those times is often said to have occurred in 1786, when Sir William Jones gave a lecture to the British Royal Society. The meeting went something like this:

Sir William: Hallo, Sir Chaps!

Society Chaps: Hallo, gov'ner.

Will: So, my dear royal society lads, I've been tossing about India on a royal old holiday-

Chaps: Right'o, Billy Boy. Lovely place, that India. I think we should colonize it.

Will: Yes, yes, jolly good. They'll be happy that we did. But you know, I looked at some Sanskrit after me cricket match and, blimey, if it doesn't look a might bit like Greek.

Chaps: Shove off! You're out of your blooming mind, you are.

Will: No, no. I think it does. In fact, some of the words seem awfully like Greek, Latin, and Persian.

Chaps: He's off his chum.

Will: No, no. I think, you know maybe, I was wonderin' if they might not have once been the same language.

Chaps: The same WHAT?!

Will: Sorry, sorry. I meant the same bloody language.

Chaps: Ohhhh. Yeah, and we're all descended from monkeys, too. Uproarious laughter

And so the idea of Indo-European was born and Europe was off to the races from then on, studying how languages were connected and how they might change. There was a shift in the early 20th century to more and more sophisticated ideas of how languages change, which meant better understanding what languages are, but historical linguistics was arguably the driving force.

Over in the New World, linguistics of the early 20th century was a branch of anthropology, to a large degree, with a focus on learning and documenting Native American languages. Due to this, the emphasis was clearly on language as a cultural thing. There's enormous variability in language and a child learns one by participating in that culture. This focus on learning language in the late 40s had gotten merged to some degree with the popular form of psychology at the time, behaviorism, most often associated with B.F. Skinner. Behaviorists' focus was also on learning with all that work on conditioning and making dogs salivate and what not, as you may remember from your Intro to Psych class (and which made me think I never wanted to be a psychologist). Behaviorism also forcefully argued that the mind was not something you could study scientifically. No one's ever seen a mind after all. But you can study behaviors, and people sort of become these input-output machines; you give them a stimulus, they associate this stimulus with some other stimulus, and respond.

Then along came Noam Chomsky who killed behaviorism and changed the focus of linguistics to this day. He did it with a book review. Let me pull it out of my file cabinet. Here we go: A review of B.F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior by Noam Chomsky in the journal Language, volume 35, issue 1, 1959. Here's a critical sentence from page 2.

"One would naturally expect that prediction of the behavior of a complex organism (or machine) would require, in addition to information about external stimulation, knowledge of the internal structure of the organism, the ways in which it processes information and organizes its own behavior. These characteristics of the organism are in general a complicated product of inborn structure, the genetically determined course of maturation, and past experience."

Chomsky proceeds to argue that you can never understand language in a behaviorist model because it specifically exludes the internal structure of the organism. You need to know the biology of humans and, particularly, you need to know their minds. Moreover, and this is THE critical shift, from studying language, we linguists can actually figure out the mind. We are going to look at the forms that languages can take from all over the world and see what they have in common. We are then going to create a theory about our language data, which we will call a grammar; in fact, it is the Universal Grammar, as it is a grammar to explain all forms that language takes. This is the real term, not something from Star Trek. This universal grammar is the set of rules that underly all languages from Albanian to Zulu, and this Universal Grammar is the biology that Chomsky thought was missing from Skinner's account.

Indeed, the fundamentals of language are never learned at all -- take that, you early 20th century American linguists! UG is a mental organ, but an organ just like the heart or lungs or brain. Universal Grammar is part of our very genes and language grows inside a child just like a heart does. Now, Chomsky's not a fool; he's wickedly smart. He's not saying that Hindi or Navajo or Portuguese is in our genes, but all languages follow this set of universal rules and that set of rules very much is. It's one of the things that makes us specifically human. I've previously written up a lengthy post about the arguments for this. Here's the link.

And here's where I finally come in.

Much of the work in the Chomskyan tradition continues to assert that it is revealing our biology and the results of our generic endowment, as they refine the principles of Universal Grammar. There are books and journals and conferences that have recently taken on the name "biolinguistics". But let's go back to how we find out what our biology is in this tradition that's lasted almost 50 years now, because I don't think it truly works.

The method is, we take a bunch of linguistic data, the possible grammatical structures of a language, and we look for the pattern. That's what virtually every single class I've taken here has taught me to do, and that's what we all did on this blog just a week ago with the child data. Take a bunch of things that B said, and then see what the pattern is. Ohhh!! It has to do with stress! When I did that, I just introduced the notion of Stress into our theory. And if I kept looking at language after language and they all had stress, I might start to wonder if Stress is part of the Universal Grammar somehow with which children are born. If the data holds up, I might know that everyone has stress, but maybe everyone learned it. If it is learned, then it's not inborn with our genes. And so I think of a way that child might learn stress from the language she hears. If I don't find evidence that it IS possible to learn stress from the sentences around her, then stress is part of Universal Grammar. This is called a Poverty of the Stimulus argument, because the quality of the stimulus (the language we hear as children) is poor, and the argument goes: Propose a principle that fits a pattern in language, show that it cannot be learned, and conclude that it is part of biology.

But notice something a bit odd about all this. I keep talking about language forms and structures over and over. Here's the form of a sentence in Urdu; here's one in Tongan. And now we propose a theory of abstract rules that generates these possible human sentences and doesn't generate any others. Forms, forms, forms. And yet biology isn't forms really, is it? It's actions. There's no biological rule that says, "humans cannot run faster than 27.3 mph." Instead, it just gives you a bunch of muscles and a brain to move them. And you move them step by step as fast as you can and you go however fast you go.

Philosophical interlude. If you ever had to read Plato in an Intro to Philosophy class, you probably learned about two things. One is the Cave and how we've got shadows dancing around and all that stuff. The other is likely to be that Plato believed in Forms with a Capital F (also called Ideas often). Forms were something like the universal structures, the ideal form, to which the real world was only an approximation. However, Plato had a problem with his Forms. It wasn't clear how anyone could ever learn one. There's a famous scene (well, famous depending on the crowd you hang with) in a dialogue called the Meno, in which Socrates is hanging out with Meno and they are trying to figure out what Virtue might be, and if it might be learned. But they cannot figure out any way Virtue can be learned, and so Socrates proposes the idea that maybe it's not learned at all. Maybe, it's somehow inborn in us. He then has an extended example of a boy correctly answering geometry questions even though he's never been taught geometry. It's the first Poverty of the Stimulus argument, and Chomsky knows it because he often calls the problem he is trying to solve Plato's Problem.

I believe that Aristotle, however, solved Plato's problem a long time ago, or at least he points the way out. He was trying to understand cause and effect, and he ended up proposing four types of causes. One is the final cause and it is why we do something. If I go to the store to buy a gallon of milk, my purpose is to buy milk and it is the final cause. There's also the material cause and it's just what I am made of. Flesh, bones, hunks of burning love, etc. Next up, we have.... drum roll please.... the formal cause. This is the forms that the thing will take. The formal cause of an oak tree is the structure of an oak. The formal cause of me going to the store would be all the descriptions of store-going behavior, things like, how fast people walk, acceleration, the sort of directions I take. Structures and forms. The last one is called the efficient cause, efficient because it produces the effect. The efficient cause is the billiard ball hitting another one, causing it to roll away. The efficient cause of me going to the store is putting one foot forward and then another. It's what is making me change from just standing to walking. An efficient cause initiates the change. It's a procedure and a real action that makes something move.

Now let's put it all back together.

Right now we know very, very little about how our biology allows us to speak and understand language. At best we can name areas of the brain that light up when we ask questions or read a relative clause or try to remember a word. That's great and all, but it tells us very little about what the heck our brain is doing when it's all lit up like Church Lady back in college. But whatever the biological mechanism is it's going to be something that takes one bit of neural information and moves it over here causing a change. It's going to be something like our running example earlier, where the brain caused our muscles to move. It is not going to be a rule like "No faster than 27.6 mph." It will be efficient in Arisototle's terms, not formal in Aristotle's terms.

Another example is that of drawing a circle. To draw a circle, you have to draw a line of a certain length. How long? Time for Intro to Geometry now. It's the diameter times pi, right? That's the best formal description of the length of a circle's outside line, and it is a really really useful thing to know, as half the world's engineering is based on it. However, it's not clear that that perfect formal description of a circle has much of anything to do with people actually drawing circles. The way I draw a circle is to try to eye the center and then I just move my pencil in a curve, doing my best to stay the same distance from the center the whole time. Then I stop when I hit the beginning of my line. Someone else might imagine a circle in their head and create the image in their mind on the paper. There are probably several possibilities. But do any of them need to involve the notion of the number pi? The ideal formal model of the circumference of a circle, while a great contribution to knowledge and science, might have little to do with drawing actual circles. And if we look for evidence of how the length of a circumference is learned, using our best formal model of 'pi times the diameter', lo and behold, we may find no evidence that it is learned at all. But do we conclude that the ratio pi is in our genes? Not at all. It's not learned, because it's not used to draw circles in the first place, whatever the model's other merits.

Classic linguistic theory of the last 50 years has been building models that are just formal. But biology is efficient. It's about the steps from one place to the next. The fact that a formal model cannot be learned does not reveal our biology, because our biology doesn't use that model. It uses an efficient one. Whatever our biology does when we use language, it's going to be a series of steps to take a thought and turn it into speech or a series of steps to take a sound wave and figure out what it means. If the linguistic theory is not about those steps, it isn't moving us towards knowledge of the missing internal parts of the organism that Chomsky so long ago said was missing from behaviorism.

There you go. One and a half million caveats need to be inserted here, but this is really long already. Also, the exciting breakthrough I wahoo'd about is essentially about 2-3 paragraphs of this. Everything else is to transport you folk to the place where you might understand those paragraphs.

Epic fantasy recommendations

This is a PSA of sorts.

Over on EE's blog, robin s, our regular reader here, asked for recommendations of epic fantasy books because she's not familiar with the genre. EE did respond to her, but I thought we might have a longer discussion here without cluttering his blog. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy (same names as the movies) is to epic fantasy what Jane Austen is to romance -- the touchstone to which all else relates. They are very good, but his writing style leaves many cold. Do you mind long breaks in the narrative for songs about elven legends? They are intentionally old-fashioned in style even for when they were written, whic is the 40s and 50s. The earlier "The Hobbit" might be okay as an intro to everything, but it isn't quite as epic in scale as LOTR. Still, it might be a good starter.

Other famous series that are "in the vein" of Tolkien are David Eddings' Belgarian series (5 books starting with Pawn of Prophecy, I think) and Piers Anthony (he did the Black Cauldron, right?). However, these might be more for the younger crowd. Similar young crowds often read Terry Brooks' Shanarra series, but there are like 40 of them now, and I'm not sure which is first. The normal trope is that a farm boy through prophecy or happenstance is whisked away to save the world from an ultimate evil.

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time is one of the most popular now in the Tolkienian pattern, but it's something like 12 books, each over 600 pages, and there's no denying that it drags. Also, Jordan unfortunately passed away just a few weeks ago, and so we may never find out if the hero dies or not.

Other possibilities include: Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series. The first one, which is titled something like The Queen's Arrow kicks off the series and stands up pretty well on its own. It's not epic in the sense that the heroine must destroy the great evil lord living in a volcano, but it's a good fantasy novel. Similar classics include The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, which is both fantasy and sci-fi at once.

More recent authors might be Elizabeth Hayden and Sara Douglas. N has read both of those, and I believed liked the Hayden books the best.

That's all I can think of for now. In short, The Hobbit, Queen's Arrow, or Elizabeth Hayden might be my recommendations.

What do other people who are far better read than me think?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


First up, the big professional news is that I finally have an advisor and dissertation chair. Pretty much everything starts from this point and I can now move forward. Yahoooo!!!

Secondly, I am about to do something few of you have ever heard me do. I will curse and curse joyfully and not just when writing fiction in some character's voice. Why?

Because I've been trying to work out this relationship between the notion of causality, particularly as found in Aristotle, and linguistic theory for a few months. I keep getting close to understanding the fuzzy idea in the back of my head, but I haven't been able to quite get there. Whenever I try to explain it, it is very muddied and wanders from place to place as I grip at my face trying to think it through. Today, I was to meet my, now, committee chair to discuss it once again and so I sat down for 45 minutes, yet again, to try to write up the idea that I could never quite get a hold of and... I finally fucking nailed it. It's clear finally to me why much of linguistic theory is muddled and less-productive than it thinks it is. So there. Fuck yeah. (Yes, this is the sort of thing that gets me very excited; hence, why I am an INTP.) I'll write up a version of it soon that is relatively accessible.

Sorry, mom!

In other news, I kicked the desk with my toes a few minutes ago and it kinda hurt, but not that bad, and so I started doing emails and this blog post. I just looked down and there's blood all over them. Huh.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Wonder which side they are on?

At the top of, they always have these little highlighted items and then a couple links. The one I just saw was:

MARRIED TO YOUR COMPUTER. Many Americans spend more time with their PCs than their significant others.

Now, you would think this would be considered a bad thing, but apparently Yahoo disagrees. The next two related links are:

"Tips on buying a new computer"
"Y! Personals! Find a new mate."

laugh out loud moment here.

More pictures

Since my newcomers seems to have enjoyed pictures, I'm going to link to a few other posts I have done that include stunning visuals. It's like new blog content and yet not!

This is B and I getting ready to go up Makapu'u Point and acting really excited about the endeavor.

Here is me with family and friends now three years ago, just a couple weeks after I started the program here. These are all linguistics students except for the family. Can you guess which one is me?

The family at B's Halloween party last October.

And me a couple years back with my students at summer school. The school's market was local Korean-American families as well as some families from Korea. This made certain parts of teaching really difficult, particularly the English class. One half of the class actually from Korea were all second language students with limited English skills (though far surpassing my second language skills, so this is no knock against them) and the other half were local kids whose parents spoke Korean, but their first language was naturally English. (I think some of them could understand Korean language, but did not speak it themselves even among friends; something that is really common among heritage speakers of all sorts. In fact, the local kids had to be reined in for jumping on the Korean ones as FOBs... well, it's an interesting cultural dynamic that I will go into another time. Actually, if you are interested in these topics, here is an academic article (from the journal I edit) about college-age Korean-Americans trying to practice Korean through one of the biggest Korean social-networking site, Cyworld (kind of like MySpace in Korean). As is normal, people find a way to attack you socially no matter what you do. If you are too Korean, you're fobby, and if you are too American, you get jumped on as well. Really frustrating, actually, how people always want to tear others down.... And it brings up how troubling that word "American" is as cultural term.... another day.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Life snapshots

Here's some old info about me for people who've been with the blog less than a year. This is the autobiography I wrote up a couple years ago as a way to put off substantive work. (Kind of like now in which there is a pile of article about statistical learning in infants in front of me that I am decidedly not touching so that I can write this blog entry.)

Autobio - it somehow seemed to turn into my reflection on failures of romance in high school, but whatever.

And here you can see pictures from about 1989 or something until 2006 or something and covers me from about the age of 15 until 33. When you read the autobio and then see the picture of the cute kid next to the truck, how did I not have a girlfriend in all of high school? Befuddles the mind. ;)

What made me think of all these pictures is that I was exploring Google Maps this morning.

I think with this link, you can see the rough area of my neighborhood growing up. If you can see the concrete highway that is white near the middle part of the satellite image and then there are three homes and a thin rectangular field just below it. When I was growing up those homes were not there and it was just a soybean field. I grew up next to the field in the trees. If anyone actually takes the time to drill in, there's a home with a pool. We had no pool and my father sold the house a few years ago.

View Larger Map

And here's the famous boarding school I attended from 8th to 12 grade in central New Jersey.

And here's the college up in Minnesota. It's good to get around, you know. I remember in high school trying to narrow down my colleges and I decided to rule out the good Maine schools because it would be too cold. And so I went to Minnesota!

But, despite my climate stupidity, I was under no illusions before deciding to attend. On the way to visit, we missed our appointment because our plane was 5 hours late due to snow in the MPLS area and the school had closed for a 6 week winter break starting immediately. A security guard student showed me around in the snow the next day. I did get to experience traying (sledding on cafateria trays) at -70 wind chill one winter night. Yes, -70.

For the record, this is what I remember wearing before going out: long underwear, underwear, cottong socks, wool socks on top of those, boots, jeans, t-shirt on top of long underwear shirt, button down shirt on that, sweat shirt on that, coat on that, neck warmer, cotton ski mask with the three holes, a wool hat, thin gloves, mitts on the gloves. And then you run up and down a hill over and over. It works; N and I were quite toasty in all that.