Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Liberal List

I had an amusing conversation over on The Moderate Voice political blog that I am copying over here. It was in the comments to a post about why almost all of the movies about the Iraq War have done poorly at the box office. My conservative co-commenter had put an argument forth that essentially the movies were liberal, frequently anti-American, tripe that doesn't appeal. (His argument is actually detailed and well-argued; I'm just trying to summarize quickly.)

Pacatrue: As a liberal who hates America and hosts annual Hugo Chavez birthday parties (oh, Hugo, how I love thee), I don't go to see most of these movies because I'd rather see something fun.

Co-Commenter: Pacatrue...You forgot to note in your descriptive list the critically important fact that you live in Hawa'ii (as I have gathered from your other posts)!

For us conservative who are freezing ours tails off digging out after blizzard after blizzard this winter, the thought of an arch-liberal such as yourself ;) enjoying the blissful surroundings of the Pacific climate while we scrape the bloody car off for the 100th morning :( is truly reason to doubt the existence of a just and caring deity.

Maybe God is a liberal. Disturbing thought that. Ah would explain a great many things.....

Pacatrue: Funny you should mention that, co-commenter. Because, let's see, I have this list I made up at my second Bleeding Heart Retreat a couple years back...

Here we go.

#3. Move to Hawaii just to piss off conservatives.

What else is on here?

#6. Take away health care options from hard-working God-fearing Americans.
#7. Send $5000 checks to 100 million random people all over the world just so they feel good about themselves. Special Note: Exclude Americans and anyone white.

Wait, this is crossed out with a crayon and there's a note: Still cheaper than Iraq War. Make it $500 to everybody - but not Americans.

#12. Build a 200 foot mural dedicated to Stalin's positive contributions. Mount it on Bunker Hill.
#18. Encourage teens to have rampant, unheeded sex by distributing birth control.
#8 Re-animate Che Guevara's head and found a new state in North Central Nevada with Che as Minister of Finance.
#2. Attach eletrodes to conservatives' brains and zap them when they get within 100 miles of Hawaii.

And, of course

#1. Elect Hillary Clinton to Presidency, just to piss off conservatives.

Friday, March 28, 2008

X-Ray movie of speech

Some of you may find this interesting. If you go to this page:

You can watch an x-ray movie of a famous phonetician pronouncing a series of phonetically interesting nonsense words. What you want to watch is the translucent soft tissue, specifically the lips, the tongue, and the velum. The velum is this huge thing you will see flopping up and down in the back of his mouth. It's what opens and closes the nasal passage so that air can or cannot go up to the nose. The uvula is the tip of the velum and it's the little thing that hangs down in the back of your throat in cartoons drawings.

The lips will only move in a big way for [p] and [b]. The tongue will bounce up to the front for [t] [d] and [n]. And then the back of the tongue will move up for [k] and [g]. Most of us have no idea what we do with our mouth in order to speak. For instance, most of us don't even know our velum exists, and yet there it is carefully and precisely controlled for each one of these words. And notice how fast everything moves. This movie is of very careful speech and it's lightning fast. At normal rates of talking, we can get out 4-5 syllables a second. It's quite stunning.

This is one of the reasons that most of the breakthroughs in teaching primates human language came after they switched to sign languages. Non-human primates vocal tracts just don't work quite like this, but their hands are just as fine-tuned.

I'm no katze

Katze got up to 100 something. I'm no katze. I could name that many in about 10 minutes.


Slowly building up the speed. You have to exhaustively hit areas so that you never repeat and then, more important than anything, no typos. I lose so much time to typos. I want to get over 100.


Woohoo! Broke the 100 barrier. I'm not sure how much more I can improve. When my fingers stop typing one name, I'm almost always ready with the next one. But my fingers only move so fast.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Zippy's and Doctorates

So it's about 8:00 PM on Thursday and I'm sitting at Zippy's with my laptop and a draft of the never finished Korean apology paper.

You can't get much more local than Zippy's. Have I talked about it before? It's kind of like a Hawaiian Denny's or Perkins. It's cheap food and they even have "Napoleon's Bakery" which sells donuts and cakes and other little baked goodies. You can go to a Zippy's that's a full sit-down restaurant, a Zippy's that's just a walk to the counter and walk out deal, and a Zippy's that's in between. I'm currently at an in between one, where I walked to the counter to order and then I'm sitting at a table that's open to the air except for a roof.

What makes Zippy's local is the food of course. At this one, the primary thing to sell is the Zippy's style plate lunches. A plate lunch, all across Oahu, almost always comes with two scoops of rice and this Mac(aroni) salad that is made from the exact same recipe from restaurant to drive-inn to convenience store to food stand. And then with the rice and mac salad, you can get chicken katsu (fried in a local Japanese style), chili on spaghetti, loco moco (hamburger patty with gravy and an egg), or a chili frank, among other things. I ate the chili frank. They also have various types of saimin, a big bowl of cheap noodles with a little slice of fish cake, a couple pieces of char siu pork usually, and a few vegetables floating around. N generally dislikes Zippy's, but I'm more of a fan because I like both chili and saimin.

I came to Zippy's instead of fast food because I was headed to the office, but I have to pay a parking fee before 9:00. If I can delay until then and be productive, $3 saved. Score! So I'm supposed to be finishing up the revisions of the apology paper. We will see. It will be very nice to get this off the table and submitted to a journal soon. I really have absolutely no idea how it will be received. I think it's quite decent, but then I'm the co-author, so I would.

As I was waiting for my number to be called tonight, I noticed a Career Builder newspaper sitting next to me, and it really was tempting to open it and look around for something else. Finishing a doctorate... I don't know. It's not all that easy. One of my problems is that I've taken a rather independent path. I have classmates that are working quite clearly within the research paradigm of their advisors. As a friend said once, "which research is mine and which research is his, it's hard to keep clear." But I'm trying to follow a topic that no one else here is doing exactly. It hopefully will be rewarding in the end, but it does feel like a free-for-all sometimes, where you grope blindly forward. I often procrastinate when I don't quite know what I'm doing. So, it's tempting to look in CareerBuilder and find "a real job" again.

A job where I work for 8-9 hours and then go home, cook dinner, play with B, read a book, and fall asleep. I'm not terribly materialistic but when I pull up on my bike at day care next to the other dad's BMW, sometimes you wonder where you went wrong. I'm fairly intelligent. I'm not as efficient as I might be but I work harder than most people I know. So maybe I should send a resume in for that managment trainee or account specialist.

However, I used to be on that track. It would have taken a career shift of some sort to make big money, but through 8 years I had worked as far up as I could in my little division without becoming a manager. I brought in $50,000 a year and, while I'm not a big spender and would never have wasted money on a BMW, we did buy two little cars that we paid off quickly. And we didn't have a huge down payment on the home, but we had a mortgage on a home that we were paying with relative ease and slowly building principal. But I was also bored senselessly after about year 4. The job slowly devolved into a way to bring in money and my actual life existed after 5:00. So I left it to live in a one bedroom apartment and bring in an amazing $7500 the first year. So going back to CareerBuilder is likely not the right way for me to go.

Instead it's best if I close up this blog entry and get back to finishing this dang paper.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

80s review

I keep having plans to do a nice long blog entry but then I look at what I'm supposed to do for work, the huge list, and it just freaks me out and I want to run away. But here's a short item.

First up, you must know that I have lived for the last 3-4 months at Narnia Central. Everything is King Edmund this and Prince Caspian that to no end. On some days, B only responds to the name "Prince Caspian". Each of us has been assigned various Narnia characters. (I vary between the Bad King Miraz, Peter, Aslan, and Glenstorm the Centaur.) B wears his "knight boots" and carries a sword in a belt and his favorite game is "battle". He has a castle set and a sword and shield set and we practice pretend archery all the time. OK, you get the idea. Now, here's the slight humor:

Anyone remember the song "Poison Arrow" from the early 80s?

"Shoot that poison arrow through my heaaarrr-eaarrrt. Shoot that poison arrow."

And the singers were just oh so sensitive looking in the video. Well, for some reason I got that song in my head and sang it for B. (OK, I sang the lines I just gave you since I don't know any others.)

As I'm going "heaaaarrrrr-earrrrt" B lines up with his pretend bow and shoots an arrow right into my heart. I scream, "aahhhh!" and stick my tongue out dead.

"Do it again!"

"Shoot that poison arrow through my heaarrrr-earr-aaaghhh!!"

Rinse and repeat. Hilarious.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

21 Accents

I got this via J's blog. I'm definitely no master of English dialects, but this person seems more of an actress than a dialectician. That's not a criticism, just a comment. She seems to be doing particular people often with the accent more than speaking the accent in her voice. For instance, her trans-atlantic is a clear Katherine Hepburn and her Texan is basically Holly Hunter. Amazingly well done.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

round round get around

I ended up doing a little walking tour today of central San Francisco.

First of all, let me state that apparently in northern California, they still do this thing called... winter. Who knew?! I was sure winter had gone out of fashion, but, no, they just can't give up the ghost here in the Bay Area. It's like 50 degrees outside and gray and, did I mention it's cold? I mean, before I went outside I totally prepared for cold weather Hawaiian style. My t-shirt had long sleeves! Surely that is enough protection for any weather. But, no. It's not. So I had to go back up stairs and get my big sweater back on despite the fact that I only intended it for the 40s temps predicted for the night time.

Then suitably prepared in the sweater I haven't worn since 2003, oh, and random people walking by did have coats on, so I haven't just become a cold weather pansy over the last 4 years, I started my great tour. The great choice was north towards Ghirardelli Square and the Factory, or east to Union Square and China Town. I chose the latter. The reasoning behind this will become clear when I tell you all that I knew about Union Square:

Yeah, so that's a solid case, isn't it?

So I went to Union Square. The walk there isn't the superest (don't tell me it's not a word; I'm a linguist. I make words. I am a word god. Bruhahahahaaaaa. See, watch this. "Pernordle." Word. Well, it is now. It means "to make up words when in a rather punchy mood and to be slightly annoying." So, yeah, I just pernordled the word pernordle. I'm going to start planting that word surreptitiously in the places that lexicographers go when looking for new words. It'll be in the dictionary within 3 years. Guaranteed.

OK, I'm done.)

exciting or beautiful walk. Just random stuff, almost all of which has graffiti on it and is covered in big iron bars. Then you get to Union Square and, boom!, it's Tiffany's and Yves St. Laurent and Hermes and Chanel. Unfortunately, that's what Waikiki looks like as well about 2 blocks from my front door, so, if I had come all the way to Gold Mountain for that, I would have been disappointed. But, I did find a Xanadu Folk Gallery designed by Frank Lloyd Wright! Really. It's on Maiden Lane, which seems like a contradiction in terms, shouldn't it be matron lane?, and was once Morris' Gift Shop or something like that. That's who hired Lloyd Wright anyway. It really is quite beautiful. It's only two stories and the inside is like a mini Guggenheim with a big broad circular ramp going to the second floor.

Nice random find. I wouldn't have known it was a Lloyd Wright building, but I was stopping to look at the facade because it was cool, and a nice older woman who was apparently very excited about some knowledge she had said, "can I tell you something?"

"Uh, sure."

"I was on a tour this morning and they said that Frank Lloyd Wright was so proud of this design that he put his initials right here," and here she showed me a little square by the door in bright red with a RWL signature. She continued, "I wouldn't have ever noticed this square if they hadn't told me."

And I said, "Well, I wouldn't have ever known this building was Lloyd Wright if you hadn't told me."

And that was that.

About two blocks away, you find the Chinatown gate. And so I went in. Chinatown seems to be about 8-10 blocks long and 3 blocks wide. It wasn't quite as hopping as I had expected. Maybe people here realize it's cold, too. But there were a hundred dim sum shops and places to buy pork stomach and the like. Even more than that, were shops to sell China-themed knickknacks. I felt sort of obligated to stop and eat dim sum. I mean, for much of the family, I'm still the China guy, no matter that I haven't been there in 16 years now or that I only speak a little Mandarin and zero Cantonese. And I like dim sum just fine. But the truth is I have absolutely no idea which shops are the good ones and which ones are worse than the ones in our little 4 block Chinatown in Honolulu. And as I was walking along, trying to decide that to do, I came to a big tunnel with stairs leading to the top, which I took. When I did this, Chinatown was gone and I was suddenly in Nob Hill, a super fancy, but also quite beautiful area of San Fran.

This is the San Francisco of movies. Wrought-iron fences and balconies, tall thin residences of 5 stories, hills climbing and falling everywhere. I walked along here until I came to Huntington Park and Grace Cathedral.

Grace Cathedral is stunning. Here's a link to see the facade. Inside are towering stain glass windows lining the whole and an "indoor labyrinth" on the floor, which I will mention again in a minute. There's also an AIDS memorial chapel. Apparently, the artist designing some of the main features of the chapel died of AIDS just a few weeks after completion.

It was a busy time at the cathedral as well, because they were doing several events to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War. Inside, the labyrinth had army boots lined in circles to represent the fallen. Shoes were also found in pairs all the way up the stairs to the cathedral. As I was going in, a priest in a brown robe passed a program to me for 6:00 when they would read the names of all the soldiers we've lost. They had also prepared a vast scroll, where they had written the names of 76,000 Iraqi civilians, each written in Arabic, that have been documented as having died in the conflict.

During the 1st Gulf conflict, I once hatched an idea to light a candle for each person who died, American, Iraqi, and Kuwaiti, in a great field. I hatched the idea again in the current war. Naturally, I never tried to make it happen. I accept people knowing of the tragic consequences of war and believing that they are necessary, but I don't accept pretending these consequences aren't real.

I left Grace and proceeded on to a Nob Hill grocery store, picking up a lunch for my backpack that I expect to be far cheaper than the lunch options at the conference tomorrow. Finally, about this time I realized exactly what I wanted for dinner. It was cold and I was in San Francisco. Clearly, I needed to find a sourdough bread bowl full of some piping hot soup.

Turns out it's harder to find this than one might think.

But in the process I passed a guy tossing pizza crusts in a window. And then someone else spoke in actual Italian to him. Italian! For those of you from NY or PA, this is nothing. (Nadda, nuttin'.) But for a guy from Louisiana/Mississippi/Tennessee/Minnesota/Hawaii, this is pretty rare. (I couldn't add the New Jersey years in there, because that defeats the point of the list.) Seriously, Hawaii is just lame when it comes to pizza. Papa John's even wants close to $20 to bring you one of their mediocre jobs. So I went in.

Spinach gnocchi in alfredo sauce. Nicely done, paca, my son, nicely done.

Finally, I found my conference site on the way back, and then back to my hotel.... and now the tourism is over. I'm going to work on a paper and then start attending meetings tomorrow.

That's my San Francisco.

Two Hours in San Fran

Looks like I have internet, huh?

Apparently, there are certain benefits to arriving at 5:30 AM. Drawbacks are obvious. It's 2:30 AM for the internal clock; and you got maybe one hour of sleep interrupted frequently by the passenger behind you sticking their foot against your arm through the tiny crack in the seat that Northwest allows and the foot doesn't even belong to a cute 29-year old of the sex you are attracted to (paca suddenly remembers who his readers are and their approximate age, did I say 29-year old? no, no, no, I said 41-year old) but a 70 year old looking person of the sex you aren't attracted to.

Where was I?

Oh, the benefits include that there's almost no one around. You walk relatively calmly through the terminal; somehow your little red roller bag is the second item off the baggage carousel; you are the very first person from your flight, and there don't seem to be any other flights, up to the traffic circle, such that one person asks you where you are going and points out the van you want, a van that is already sitting there and waiting for you and you are the first person on; and then the van only waits about 5 minutes for one more passenger before taking off.

Boy, what a take off though. The driver drives like he's in another country in which there are no traffic lights or lanes or stop signs and it's a complete free for all and you have to learn to shoot the gap around the opening car door (will the person get out without looking and find his life is over due to the barreling airport van?), only in San Francisco, there actually are traffic lights and lanes and stop signs. Just not for our van. Or maybe the driver thinks he's training for a remake of Beretta, because I swear we got lift off somewhere around the Haight Ashbury this way sign.

So you tip him a couple dollars extra because you have something to write about now and you've also completed the first two stages of astronaut training just by going to your hotel.

But you know things are going to get boring now, because it's just 6:30 AM and your hotel's check-in time is 3:00 PM. No chance they are going to have a room available by chance.

But they do.

Lucky dawg. The hotel's going for retro elegance with Dean and Sinatra in the lobby, well, at least their voices. And those little plastic knobs on closet doors that are supposed to look crystal-ish. My grandmother had these sorts of things. And a large painting, make that a print, of a man in a black suit looking adoringly at a woman in some sort of long white cascading dress that extends 4 feet past her feet as she lounges on a garden veranda.

And free high speed internet. I'm going to go snag a muffin from the continental breakfast and then take a nap.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Off to Frisco

I'm off to Frisco tonight on a red-eye flight. They are great for saving time, but have the drawback of arriving in your destination at, oh, 5:30 AM, when your hotel check-in isn't until noon or 3 in the afternoon or something. It seems that most flights to the mainland are overnighters due to the time change. Anyway, I think I have internet access in my room and so you will likely hear from me as normal. If I do disappear, well, the trip is why, and I will be back in town on Sunday.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Brackets

The brackets have been announced for March Madness, so it's time for everyone to get in there and choose your teams. May the best grad student in Hawaii win!

1 out of 4 ain't bad

I had three things I wanted to do today (Sunday).

1) Work up my dissertation idea for meeting with the committee chair tomorrow.
2) Finish revisions on the now ancient seeming apology paper.
3) Fire off reminder emails to late reviewers for journal.
4) Get a hair cut.

I only got the first one done and that wasn't complete until 1:00 AM. The good news is that if I convince my chair my idea's worth doing, then I'm finally off to the races again. I've been kind of slowly churning for about 5 months now. If everyone agrees to the plan, I can actually start creating stimuli for the experiment over Spring Break and prep for comprehensive exams.

So 1 out of 4 ain't bad.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Some questions for you

1) Do you eat artichokes? I mean the big ones, not the marinated "hearts". If so, what do you dip each leaf in?

2) It's a hot day and the pool is rather cool. Do you jump in or go in slow?

3) Has anyone made a recipe yet from this blog? Did anyone go to the hospital afterwards?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Looking back

I mentioned in a joke post a week or so back that linguists are fascinated by the most innocuous words in language, words like "a" and "the". And I'm not joking. Perhaps the most debated topic in language of the last 30 years or so is the study of "he", "him", "she", "her", and "himself" and "herself".


Linguists are dazzled by pronouns. Mesmero the Beguiler couldn't hold our attention as much as the word "it". The main question about pronouns is, "how do we know what they refer to?" And there are a dozen theories. I should make that a dozen theories a year. When people start off analyzing a language, they might try to figure out a bit about what's a noun and what's a verb (not always easy to tell; in fact, there might be a few languages that don't even have nouns at all), maybe something about word order or case (the things that tell you what the subject is or what the object is), and then they tackle pronouns. I've mentioned Noam Chomsky several times here. Probably his most successful theory of grammar, still taught to virtually every grad student in Europe and the U.S., is called Government and Binding theory. Now most of you probably think this is a description of how robin s and EE spend their free time. Okay, it is that too, but binding also refers to a theory of... pronouns.

Year one or so of my program, I thought pronouns were sort of interesting, but really I couldn't get excited about them. I mean, it's a nice little puzzle, but... eh, whatever, linguists have to choose something to study, might as well be a pronoun. Besides I don't do syntax. It wasn't until year two that I had the insight that, as far as I am aware, every single language has pronouns.

Oh, languages differ on what sorts of pronouns they have. Sometimes, it's the same word for male and female; sometimes there's no clear difference in being singular or plural; sometimes they have one word for a "we" that includes the speaker versus a different word for the "we" which does not include the speaker; etc. But there's always pronouns.

And that's actually kind of odd, because we don't really need the damn things, do we? Especially the 3rd person ones. Why not just say the name all the time? Jack kissed Suzie. Suzie slapped Jack. Jack liked the slap. That would actually be less ambiguous than having a bunch of pronouns where sometimes we have to say, "Oh, you meant Jack did it; I thought you were talking about Stan." And yet every culture around the world, in some 6,000 languages, uses some version of pronouns. (Visiting linguists, correct me.)

In fact, we can get confused if the speaker keeps using the noun over and over and over. We prefer a good pronoun. "John went to the store. John bought three cases of beer and a coffee cake. John went home and drank half a case of beer for breakfast and gave the coffee cake to Fido, the dog." That's actually harder to read than, "John went to the store. He bought three cases of beer and a coffee cake. He then went home and...." Pronouns can be quite ambiguous and yet we seem to like them better. There are studies where people understand a sentence MORE quickly if it has pronouns rather than repeating the noun.

So why is this? The fundamental reason is that pronouns are what connect the current part of the story to the earlier part. The current sentence arrives and it is bound to a past one by the pronoun. Indeed, pronouns don't work at all unless something came earlier in the story. They require context and history. By doing so, they connect the present to the past. It's not occurring in isolation, but is part of a larger whole.

Pronouns are also just the tip of the iceberg. The word "did" can be used as a sort of verb pronoun, or pro-verb? (The term is actually anaphora.) For example, take the sentence "Robin frolicked with EE just like ChurchLady did an hour before." What did ChurchLady do? She frolicked. And we know that because 1) she's a frolicking kind of gal, and 2) we know that "did" refers to the verb earlier in the story.

So there are noun pronouns and verb pronouns and even ways to refer back to adjectives and some adverbs, though those often require a phrase in English. Questions even rest upon this ability to connect to the past. "Mary chose pink taffeta for her bridesmaids." "Excuse me, she chose pink what for her bridesmaids?" Here the "what" is asking what the odd word was earlier on. It's also not just these grammar things. The intonation you use is based in part upon referring back to earlier parts of the story. Imagine the conversation, "A says: John kissed Mary. B says: John kissed SUZIE." The caps indicates that "Suzie" was said quite loud and distinctly and with a high pitch. If two people just said, "John kissed Mary; John kissed Suzie," with no special accent on "Suzie", then old speaker B could just be adding information that John kissed a second person. He kissed both women. But when you put the right kind of stress on the word "Suzie," you are saying that, no, you need to take Mary out of the last sentence and put in Suzie instead, because he kissed Suzie, not Mary. In other words, even the way you stress words in a sentence can be a pointer backwards to earlier events and objects, sort of intonation pronouns.

So pronouns, in the very broad sense I am using here, are what make our speech, our public thoughts, hold together and develop through time. We bring something to attention in the hearer by giving the full noun. "The Governor of New York paid over $5000 for an hour with an escort!" and then we simply nod to that thing that's in our attention by using a pronoun later on. When you first hear, "the Governor of New York" it's new information and you have to decide to bring the idea to mind and it takes energy. If the second sentence was another full noun, you would expect that this is new now too. The speaker was talking about the Governor, now he's talking about the FBI. I better add this to my list of people to remember to understand what he's talking about. How tedious! But a pronoun just says, "hey, I'm nothing new, dude! Chill! I'm the same thing you are already thinking about." Pronouns don't just save the speaker energy, because they allow them to say "he" instead of "The Governor of New York;" they also save the hearer energy and make speech easier to follow.

We like easy things. So we give the noun once. Then we pronoun away for a bit. (Notice the creative use of pronoun as a verb?) And then after a couple sentences, we give the noun again to kind of say, "yeah, it's still the same reference, don't worry" and continue on. But pure repetition of the same noun over and over really bugs us.

This seems to be true even in writing style. In my journal work, I handle papers from profs. Manuscripts. Articles. In fact, I cannot stand to write an email to an author or editor without using some combination of all three words. If I don't, it sounds like this: "Thank you for the submission of your paper to the Journal of I Wish They'd Go Away. Your paper will now be forwarded to the editors for review. Should the paper meet the journal's guidelines, the paper will be sent to anonymous reviewers." And on and on. The paper, the paper, the paper, the paper. And so we sub in pronouns when we can, in this case "it", but, if we can't use "it" clearly, we start sticking in other nouns that mean about the same thing. The paper, the article, the manuscript, the homage to the tenure gods, etc. And somehow by adding in a bunch of things that should be less clear, because we are using multiple words for the same thing when we "could" use one, we are much happier.

Now, to see how ubiquitous pronouns are, go back through this post and count how many times I use them. And I don't even mean when I use them in quotes. (No, don't really, unless you are stunningly bored.) There's 5, and an implied 6th, in this little paragraph alone.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sending my brain to San Francisco

I'm headed to San Francisco next Tuesday night. It looks like I will have one day to hang around before I start attending the conference on Thursday. Any opinions on what I might do while there?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Here's a cream of mushroom soup recipe. I started off trying to use recipes I saw online, but I wasn't satisfied with any of them, so I modified them and made up my own. I used "Baby Bells", which are small portobellas. But I only used that because they were the cheap ones last week at Costco. I've used the regular whites before, and I assume you could experiment with the flavor by using other shrooms. The major drawback to the recipe is that I use a blender, which is not difficult; it's just a pain to have to drag it out. Anyway, this recipe is decent:

1 lb of mushrooms, sliced.
1/2 medium onion, diced
4 TBs butter
2 cups of chicken stock (I've learned that store-bought chicken stocks are not all the same. The organic Costco one seems much better than the swanson one I usually buy.)
1 cup of heavy cream
1 TB cornstarch and 1 TB stock or water

Slice and dice the mushrooms and onion. In a larger skillet, melt the butter, then add mushrooms and onions. Cook on medium heat until the moisture from the mushrooms is gone. Add 1 cup of chicken broth to the skillet and bring to boil.

Process the mushrooms in the blender in two or three batches and put in a medium sauce pan. (If you try to do it all at once, it is hard to get the top part and can be messy. Guess who tried to do it all at once a few months ago.) Add the other cup of chicken stock and bring to boil, cooking for about 5 minutes. Turn to low heat and add the cream. Bring to a slight boil; add salt, pepper, and thyme. The amount of salt seems very important to bring this dish alive. I can't tell you how much is right because I never measure spices. I think it's best to add a little and then taste. Keep adding until it's right. Let simmer for a few minutes.

In small cup mix corn starch and water/stock together. Pour slowly into the soup, stirring, to thicken. This only thickens so if you already like your soup, skip this.

Sprinkle some parsley on top to impress your blogger friends when serving; otherwise, forget this.

(If you like mushroom soup, I'd recommend doubling this. It does take about an hour and that's a lot of time for a single meal. Doubling it will probably get three meals for two people. Serve with good bread and cheese. If you like more creamy less mushroomy, adjust the liquid portions and thicken a little more.)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Here's a flaw

December was meditating on her blog (I can still hear her now, ohm, ohm, ohm) about whether or not people truly reveal themselves on their blogs, or if they only reveal the good stuff. I certainly don't reveal my own flaws, at least the ones I'm conscious of (for instance, I burp the Star Spangled Banner every night after supper, enjoy licking stamps until I vomit, and have a mole the size of a silver dollar hanging off my left ear lobe, but I'm not about to type that out here). To rectify this situation, I will confess a flaw: I like laughing at my own sense of humor far more than I should. I'll re-read my own minor quips over and over while ignoring others who are 30 times funnier. Self-centered, yes.

You want to know another flaw?

While what I said above is true, especially the stamp thing, I mostly just added it, because I wanted to copy a comment I made earlier on The Moderate Voice to this blog, because it slightly amused me, but felt like I needed something more to justify posting the comment here. Anyway, I'm off now to the post office for the usual order. I tell them I run a mail-order business on e-bay, but I think they know. At least the guy who sells me my stamps always comes dressed in a huge purple hat and fur coat. Are post office employees in your area dressing like that now, too?

The minor comment copied completely out of context for you.
Macan, I agree with your point that this was a screw-up by someone who forgot she couldn't just say whatever she thought in a conversation, but instead must represent the Campaign. Everyone agrees on this, which is why the Obama campaign "resigned" her. (Yes, I know I'm turning an intransitive into a transitive.) My reaction was entirely against the hint that academics all sit around bashing war heroes all day long, when they're not searching for great deals on Che Guevara t-shirts ( has serious bargains by the way). There seem to be many people who think this is indeed the case, and I may have lumped you into that group reflexively.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Elections, causation, and perception

It would be cool if I could tie all those together, but this is actually several thoughts in a row.

First up, we all know that Clinton won Texas, right? Well, only sorta. But sorta not. She definitely won a narrow victory in the Texas primary, 51% to 47% and therefore won 4 more delegates than Obama. That's a victory, no problem there. But, there was also a caucus that night, which Obama happened to win. The caucus only divies up about half of the delegates of the primary, but, here's the kicker, Obama won the caucuses 56% to 44%, twice the margin of the primary. If you take half the delegates but win by twice as much, that comes out even. Clinton won the popular vote, but did not win (maybe a 1 delegate take for Clinton or Obama) the delegate vote, and the delegate vote is what decides the nomination. Despite this, the perception is and will remain that "Cinton won Texas".

Second up, if you are interested in politics, the NY Times has a great election results page that I've lost far too much time to already. Here it is.

Once you go into a state, you can also see both county by county results and exit polling data. I wanted to focus on the polls to talk about causation, which relates to my dissertation.

There's tons of fascinating stuff in these polls, and I spent some time comparing Texas to Ohio yesterday. One result had to to do with the questions: "do you think gender is important" and "do you think race is important". The majority of Democratic voters in both states usually said neither was important, with people who thought it was important maxing out at 20%. Of that 20%, some results are predictable, others surprising. For instance, in both states, if you thought gender was important, about 60% voted for Clinton. Makes sense. If you did not think gender was important, the voters split evenly 50/50.

In Texas, both if you thought race was important and if you thought it was unimportant, the voters also split 50/50. However, in Ohio, if you thought race was important, 60% of voters voted for... Clinton, not Obama. The not important people still came in at 50/50.

How do you interpret this little statistic of race-importance equalling pro-Clinton votes? One way to interpret it is that thinking race is important caused people to vote for Clinton. Race is important was a reason to vote for the white candidate. This is certainly a real possibility, but it's not the only one. Instead of thinking about race as a cause of a Clinton vote, they could also be common effects of some other cause, let's call it unknown cause X. In this possibility, Cause X both causes one to think race is important and causes one to vote for Clinton. Sometimes it's helpful to think of little diagrams to follow these things (but I can't figure out how to do so in this blog entry). In scenario 1, you have a box for "race is important" and a box for "vote Clinton" and a causal arrow leads from the first to the second. In the second scenario, there are three boxes. One box is for Cause X and it has an arrow going to the other two boxes, like a Y shape. In this scenario 2, thinking about race had nothing to do with the voting pattern. If you could erase all beliefs about race from the voters heads, they would still vote the same way (for Clinton) because Cause X is making them do it. Cause X also happens, however, to have some effect on beliefs about race importance.

Does this make any sense? Let me see if I can give an everyday example.

Let's say that 60% of drivers who wear winter coats in their car act irritably to their passenger. One causal model is that wearing coats makes people act irritably. Another possibility is that when it's cold in the car, drivers put on coats and act irritably. The coat isn't causing the irritable behavior, the cold is. In fact, if you removed the coat, they would act just as irritably as before -- or maybe more so.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

March Madness is on the Way

I've sent an invitation to all the emails I could find in my pacatrue email account. But you are very much welcome to participate even if I didn't find your email. Just use this link:

Supposedly, this is the link to join.

You will need a Yahoo account. If you played College Bowl Pick 'Em, then you are already good.

I volunteered earlier to host this year's March Madness, and so I have just set up a private group within Yahoo Sports' Fantasy site, same gig as the College Bowl Pick 'em from December and January. The Group ID is #18199 and the password is pacapaca. High security on this, I know. It doesn't appear to start until the 20th, so you've got time to research college basketball, if you are so inclined. Having actual knowledge seems to ruin the fun of the thing to me, but if that's what you wanna do, I can't stop it. I confess that I do happen to know that two teams from Tennessee are #1 and #2 right now, while Vanderbilt from Nashville, where I lived for 8 years, beat the #1 last week. After that, my basketball knowledge drops precipitously.

Please leave a comment if you want me to send you an invitation. Also, if you have any 'spice it up' thoughts, leave those as well. I have emails for pretty much all the EE crew who hang out here. Friends of the llama who still come by (wow!), I sometimes don't have yours. Ummm, but I think it worked out last time somehow.

pacapaca (That's said in the little caesar's pizza voice.)

A princess, a pyramid, a passport, and a party

The day started off with me fighting and insisting with my son that I did not actually have to wake up just because the sun was up and the birds were singing. There seems to be a rumor going about that this is the case, but I do not believe it to be true. It is possible to sleep for an hour or so after sunrise. N fell for it, however, and actually cooked breakfast while I stayed in bed. I didn't feel too guilty as I frequently get up and cook, too. Just not today.

After this, we did a little house cleaning. I clean a mean bathroom counter, let me tell you! Windex, soft scrub, that's a real man's work.

And then...

And here's where things could conceivably be considered interesting, B and I went to see Her Royal Higness Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the Crown Princess of Thailand, who was on campus today. Next to the UH campus is a set of buildings belonging to the East-West Center, a federally funded institution that researches and build bridges between nations in the Pacific region. Literally. They've been working on a suspension bridge from Oahu to Tokyo for 45 years now. (No, not really.)

In the 60s, the King of Thailand (who has been the king now for 61 years, 61!!), our princess' father, donated a golden pavilion, a sala in Thai, to the Center. It had fallen into complete disrepair my first year here, having become a beaten up gray shell. However, they restored it a couple years ago (that's it in the picture above, picture from the UH web site) into its current golden glory, and so the Princess came to perform the dedication.

What does a dedication between Thailand and Hawaii look like?

Well, first you have some East-West Center scholar talk. Next up, some musicians wrote and performed a Hawaiian chant for the occasion. This is followed by three hulas, accompanied by chant and drums. Next, the East-West Center Director says something that everyone forgets. And then HRH spoke. No, I don't really know what she said either. Most of my attention was taken up by, "I wanna go home now!" and "shhh!". After the Princess was done, a Thai ensemble played several tunes for a while, but by this time we were headed back to the parking structure.

What does a Thai princess look like? Basically, she looked like a prof on campus. I later learned she actually has a Ph.D. and a couple other degrees, and even composed the music that we were listening to. Go her!

After this, we went back and picked up N for lunch. (She deliberately chose to stay home during Princess time; don't get mad at me.) We had often driven by a restaurant called Pyramids featuring "Egyptian and Mediterranean cuisine," but it never looked all that beckoning from the outside. In fact, you can go to this web site here and see the front, right near a moped shop and a mailbox, etc. But you go inside and the entire thing is, well, larger than you expected, and covered in hieroglyphics. The food was the basic stuff you see in Greek, Lebanese, etc., restaurants with felafel, gyro meat, tabouli, and hummus. But, lord, I love me some gyro meat and hummus. B even tried stuff. You can see pictures of the decor and pretty much my exact plate at the same web site.

After this, it was haircut time. B and I always go to this place up a dark stairway next to the Foodland grocery store. I'm a big fan of them because the one woman we love knows how to work with B without getting mad, and she always does a great job. (If you remember his earlier mullet, it's because we ended up at a Supercuts after this place was closed.) Being a linguist, I'm always trying to figure out what language they speak here. I know it's at least south china, and probably southeast Asia, and I still think Vietnamese. This is only relevant (other than my obsessive name-that-language game), because not everyone there speaks English well, or much. The woman we love speaks pretty decently and has a good eye for hair. Last time we went, we got another guy I couldn't communicate with well and B left with what I consider the classic Chinese boy haircut with those long sideburns. Anyway, N got someone who couldn't understand her and ended up with a great haircut about three inches longer than she had tried to tell her.

And yet the day wasn't over yet. Next it was to the lovely Costco where we got new passport photos taken, as well as spending far more than you planned on food.

Finally, around 5:00 we came home. I cooked breadcrumb chicken, some fried asparagus (there's been an awesome sale going on), and a box of rice-a-roni. Then I left for a party of various grad students grilling steaks and watching American Gangster. Oh, and, 'less I forget, a documentary on the Rosetta Stone. We are linguistic grad students after all. The last hanging out with friends at night time by myself event I can remember turns out to have been around 2 years ago, we all decided at the party. Sounds like it was about time.

Finally at midnight, I was home. To top the day off, I received Novel Deviations 1, 2, and 3 in the mail today, so I'm off to read them. Who am I kidding? I am off to see which of my continuations made it in there, and then in a couple days I will look at the stuff from other people. So sue me.