Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Dictionary Fallacy

I am a person who almost always comes up with my ideas while already engaged in the activity. I usually have a germ of an idea and then start writing or talking, but it only becomes clear during the writing when I discover I think something I never knew I thought.

I wanted to preserve a comment I made at The Moderate Voice blog today, and so I am copying it and the preceding discussion first. OK, mostly I think the last line is true. There are 2 commenters before me, and I am essentially replying to Commenter 1, so I copied their stuff in first.

Commenter 1:

The political entity we call "America" is divided, in reality. That division is is not a creation of either Democrats or Republicans but of a fracturing society that is diversifying itself out of existence. "United" and "diverse" are antonyms, you can have either one or the other but not both.

Commenter 2:

I have to disagree with you that "united" and "diverse" are antonyms; They are actually two unrelated words, that if used in conjunction describe what I, and many other of the "small donors" to the Obama campaign are hoping for. Homogeneous and diverse are antonyms. United and divided are antonyms. America is inherently diverse. If we can work together towards a common goal we can be united.

Commenter 1:

Diverse (adj) distinctly dissimilar or unlike
Common(adj) belonging equally to, or shared alike by all

Yep, direct antonyms. The more diverse a people the less they have in common, it's a rigidly inverse relation.


The good news, Commenter1, is that dictionaries define meanings of words as best as an academic can guess by speaking with people and reading the use of the word. However, they are most certainly not scientific descriptions of the world, in this case largely a sociological analysis. One can only put unity in direct opposition to diversity if you assume a single dimension and no creativity, but neither is true of any society or set of human relationships.

One can give a variety of examples of how diversity can in fact strengthen a unity or simply not undermine it in any way. If you have a mathematical bent, most entities can be broken down into subsets. Any set of numbers can be broken apart into diverse subsets without harming the overall unity of the entire set. If you have a biological bent, probably the best guess for why sexual reproduction exists is that it introduces diversity into the gene pool, which asexual reproduction does not. It is precisely this variability that gives the whole species as a unit (note the connection to the word unity) greater strength. Similar biological arguments could be made for the benefits and drawbacks to only being able to exist in a highly restricted niche.

On a more everyday level, often the best couples complement each other in some way. The whole opposites attract. When one person is willing to lie back and go along, the other partner will rise up and fight for what the family needs. Same goes on with parenting. My wife is better at certain aspects of parenting than me, and vice versa. We are much better parents as a pair exactly because of our diversity.

I'm sure you get the point. Deciding how societies function by looking in the dictionary is like looking up the word "atom" and thinking you are doing particle physics.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Paca's Principle of Parenting 3A

The age of the child is highly correlated with the chance of both shoes of a pair being found in a single room. The younger the child, the less chance both shoes will be discovered in one location.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Even More Yummy Academia

In case any of you missed reading specialist literature that makes little sense without a couple years' training, I've copied the abstract for a presentation my former classmate and I are submitting to a conference next June.

Variation in Apology Use through Studying Group Face

Several researchers (de Kadt, 1998; Nwoye, 1992; Obeng, 1999) have proposed that the concept of face (Brown & Levinson, 1987) can be attached to groups of people as well as individuals. Hahn and Hatfield (submitted) documented the existence of face for groups in Korean apology use, but, when comparing practice in Korea to practice in other societies, also found that that the groups bearing face were culture-specific. This observation opens up the possibility of concentrated research on diversity and variation in politeness, which is not well documented in the existing literature. This current want could be because attempts to establish legitimate inter-societal variation, such as the collectivist versus individualist distinction (Yum, 1987), can easily result in covering up intra-societal variation. The time certainly seems ripe for a concentrated, almost Labovian, look at politeness diversity within a community. In this paper, we look at apology use in Korea and the United States, focusing on possible attacks on a family's face.

A discourse completion task is employed through-out the study for two purposes: 1) to examine the existence of family face in both Korean and the United States by manipulating the family members involved in the speech events (parent, sibling, or grown child), as well as the severity of the situation, and 2) document the diversity that exists in each society with regard to family face. We examine diversity in three ways. First, we sample three different age groups, 20s, 40s, and 60s, in order to see if apology use changes through time. A discourse-completion task allows for analysis of both whether an apology is warranted at all by the event and whether the language used to apologize is differentiable by age. Secondly, we take a large enough sample of each group, with corresponding statistical analysis, to document the natural distribution of apology use. Finally, by comparing Korea with the United States, we get a first look at how typical each distribution is. The results will provide a far more nuanced view of sociolinguistic behavior than the traditional collectivist versus individualist distinction.

Brown, Penelope, Levinson, Stephen C., 1987. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Use. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

de Kadt, Elizabeth, 1998. The concept of face and its applicability to the Zulu language. Journal of Pragmatics 29 (2), 173-191.

Hahn, Jeewon, Hatfield, Hunter, submitted. The Concept of Face: Implications of Korean Apologies.

Nwoye, Onuigbo, 1992. Linguistic politeness and socio-cultural variation of the notion of face. Journal of Pragmatics 18, 309-328.

Obeng, Samuel Gyasi, 1999. Apologies in Akan discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 31(5), 709-734.

Yum, June-Ock, 1987. Korean philosophy and communication. In: Kincaid, D. Lawrence (Ed.), Communication Theory: Eastern and Western Perspectives. Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 71- 86.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

One of my favorite things in the world

The linked YouTube video is one of my absolute favorite songs in the world and I encourage a listen. However, it is in fact a 9.5 minute quiet jazz/r&b track, which, well, it's not like anyone's going to listen to it and tap their feet or laugh. It's instead calming and intelligent, perfect for nighttime with headphones, not listening to at work over YouTube as a bit of procrastination. But I offer it nonetheless.

Some things to listen for include the terrific drumming, particularly during the solos, which enlivens the lead instruments without overpowering them; the classic jazz structure with an intro, theme, solos for each lead instrument, and then back to theme and an outro; the great ways that each instrument announces its presence by echoing each other's entrance; and the odd guitar solo that's so understated you don't realize you are in his solo until half-way there.

How's that for overanalyzing something? And, yes, K-Box, much to your chagrin, it's Kool & the Gang. This is from 1974 and shows off where they got their first name, the Jazziacs.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hey, it's my dad!

A program put together by the Louisiana Farm Bureau. My father's the first male older than me. The guy in the white coat and cap. Never seen him wear either before in my life. I'm going to have to find out if they bought the coats just for the program.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Something I don't care about 1

On the front page of Yahoo, we have this headline:

Beyoncé: 'I gained almost 15 pounds'.


I have a feeling this could be a long series. Feel free to tell me in the comments something you couldn't give a flip about.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stupid Money Box

New theory.

I need to start going to conferences and presenting to improve my CV. That takes money. I also often eat crap. So time to kill two birds with one stone. Any time I think about wasting money on something stupid, I take that same money out of the wallet and drop it in the Stupid Money Box, which I can later use for travel to conferences.

This afternoon I thought about stopping by the department for some M&Ms and a soda on the way to class. I do this a lot. so today I drank some water and now I have $1 in the Stupid Money Box.

It'll be interesting to see how this goes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The End of Politics?

Dang, I haven't mentioned anything that isn't vaguely political in a week and a half.

Can't wait for this election to be done.

Now back to the proposal.

A kernel about ACORN

I keep hearing about this group ACORN. McCain said it's undermining democracy, but it's not clear what's really going on. As always, steps in with a nice summary.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Senate voting records

Here's a link to 50 key Senate votes for Obama and McCain. Most of it is predictable. For instance, we know Obama is pro-choice and McCain not. Such votes all fall where you'd predict. The section on energy did stand out to me, because it's less clear where McCain stands on energy issues. Until the last few months, McCain had not always held the standard Republican views on energy, such as he voted to keep ANWR closed to drilling more than once. He also has a Lexington Project or some such for alternative energies and his energy commercials show pictures of windmills and such. And yet if you look at his Issue page, his proposals don't call for anything specific with regard to either solar or wind. So where does he stand? Anyway, you can see his voting record on energy here nice and quick. Of course other people will find other items of note.

The link.

Ooh, and here's a list of McCain and Obama's legislative accomplishments over the 109th and 110th. This is even more enlightening to me as it really does give you a sense of where each person's focus is. Obama's stuff seems to relate to taking care of vets, education, lobbying reform, and democracy promotion in Africa. McCain's items focus on Arizona, border control, government contracts, and contracts related to our military forces abroad. These are the things that both men actually took the time to write or be the primary supporters for, and which passed. It seems like a good guess that these reflect their own interests.

That link

OK, and the whole Open Congress web site looks amazing. You can track stuff by committee, by legislator, and the Tools page lets you track individual bills through widgets and Facebook applications. Pretty awesome stuff.

Friday, October 17, 2008

McCarthy Meet Bachmann

Here, Michele Bachmann, member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota, not only declares Obama to be "un-American", but calls for the media to investigate other members of Congress to find out whether they too are un-American. She is not alone in this. She has good company in Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reasons to Vote

It's become fairly common to say that voting for someone because of their race is just as racist as voting against them because of their race. The same is often claimed of voting for someone because of their gender.

I think this view is incorrect and here's why.

Moral decisions are made in a historical and moral context. Here's one that comes up in ethics classes: Suppose it's WWII. You are a Jew in Europe, and some Nazis are coming through the neighborhood. You and your family are hiding in a hidden room of someone who's trying to shelter you. As the Nazis come in to the house, you have an infant that starts to cry. If the crying continues, it's virtually certain that you will be found and everyone in the family is likely to die in the camps. So you cover the baby's mouth. You have to cover the baby's mouth for so long that the baby dies. (Ignore whether or not it's possible to leave the nose uncovered.)

Was this the right thing to do? It's at least a tough call, isn't? The baby was going to die if he cried, and this way you saved everyone else. Morally upstanding people can disagree about this, but even if you think that covering the mouth was the best that could be done, it doesn't mean you support killing infants. The context matters.

And it matters in elections as well. The reason that gender and race are not supposed to be factors in deciding how you vote is because they shouldn't make a difference to who is the most qualified. Being a general or a secretary of state or a senator or a governor are real qualifications for the Presidency. They demonstrate what you can do. Race and gender are not supposed to be like this. When you want someone to lead your war, you don't find the best male general or the best female general; you just get the best general.

But we don't live in a world where race and gender don't matter. We live in a world where the simple right to vote was not even granted to most adult Americans for most of the nation's history. We live in a world where people took hoses and dogs to citizens who sat at the wrong lunch counter. And while those particular events occurred a few decades ago now, there remain clear differences between people of different ethnicities and sexes in the country. Women are still paid, in many instances, less for the same work than a man is. Death penalties are applied far more often to black convicts than to white ones even in the same sort of crimes. A popular leader who is black is still often considered a black leader rather than an American leader. The end result is that a lot of people in this country don't ever really think they could be President of this nation based solely upon their skin color and sex.

So let's now compare voting for someone because they are black or a woman and voting against them because they are. Do they really seem so equal?

The against-vote says, "a woman could never be a good leader of our nation because women just aren't capable of this." The for-vote is saying something like, "if I vote for a woman for President, she can serve as a reminder to half of the nation's children, that they are not second-class and that they too can work hard to be anything they want to be. I hope it will inspire them for years to come."

Is the second view just as sexist as the first? I think not. It doesn't work of course for white men precisely because we didn't pop into existence yesterday. White men have always been in charge of stuff and every single President ever has been a white man.

Now, am I saying that one should completely base their vote upon someone's race or gender just to cure historical ills? Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely not. Did I say "absolutely" enough yet? In case, absolutely not.

It becomes just one voting issue among many. Actually having a black President will inspire many Americans to raise their expectations. And it actually could enhance our status among many other nations who still view America through the lens of the Civil Rights era. A few weeks ago I read a post on "Watching America," which is a site that translates various foreign press articles and opinions, and after Obama's nomination, a French commentator was openly reflecting on the fact that, while the French criticize American racial history routinely, they've never had a single black leader in their own nation, and there are large numbers of French people with Algerian, Cameroon, and other African backgrounds.

So there could be a slight advantage to electing someone just because of their race. Slight good could come of it. And yet, it is indeed slight. It would be the rare instance in which the good things that come out of voting for someone because of their race or gender are more important than everything else they stand for. Inspiration is nice and all, but if they are going to attack your constitutional rights, wreck the economy, use the military in detrimental ways, or mismanage the executive branch, who cares anymore about slight good will? Those things completely overweigh the race/gender issue. Very likely, at the Presidential level, it would never occur that race or gender becomes important enough to base your vote on it more than anything else.

However, still, a vote for and a vote against are not the same thing morally. To make the two equivalent is to make ethical decisions based on lists rather than the world.

**Practicing my polemical essays.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Timewaster 129

N pointed me to this blog, LovelyListing.blogspot Great way to lose an hour.

It's a collection of bizarre, odd, and funny pics that people around the world have chosen to use to list their house. It's probably best to just go browse for a bit, but a few of my faves include:

Lovely, just lovely decorating.
I know I'd feel safe in this home.
Something profound about this
Subtle. Very subtle.
My kind of neighborhood!
It's the rabbit and the baby that get me
Glad to the owners putting some effort into this

Bruahahaaa; kiss your morning goodbye.

Nostalgia and cute

On a whim, I was trying to locate some Hank Williams, Jr. videos on YouTube. Found one that another 8 million people have already found. I remember singing this song much of my childhood, and it's cute to see a 4 year old go at it. His first name's not bad at all either.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Anybody buying?

Here's my completely uninformed financial opinion.

The Dow has dropped 35% in one year. Considering the current economy, it's probably quite true that many stocks were quite over-valued a year ago, maybe by 35%, even 50%? But I can't imagine long-term that it's much more than that.

This isn't to say that there's no risk left and we are "at bottom". I imagine a large number of companies, including some stalwarts, are going to fail in the next year. But, as a whole, if we have 5 or more years to recover, most of the stocks are going to come back. (Ignoring interest, if it takes 5 years for a stock to get back to 2007's level, that's a 7% per annum growth.)

If I already had a job and didn't plan on moving in the next 24 months, I would seriously think about finding some cash to put in now. As it is, I might need all the spare cash we do have in savings to move and pay rent before the pay checks arrive in the near future.

Ignoring that, if I had time to research, I'd look for companies with low debt ratios and high liquidity and buy a few of those. You don't need super earnings from stunning new products on this pure value buy. You just want a nice stable company that can live through the next two years and come out the other side okay. However, since I don't have much time to research individual stocks (or expertise to judge), I guess I'd just buy a broad index so that the failures I can't avoid are only a portion of the holdings.

Moreover, while the financial industry is leading the charge into insolvency and taking many of us down with it, it's not like we aren't going to have banks in the future. If I had a good lead on which ones will make it, I might specifically want to buy some financial stocks.

If I had long-range money.

What do you all think? No way you are putting retirement savings in the stock market now? Or are you buying everything you can? Are you singing "t-bills, t-bills, buy what you will, i live for t-bills?" Or are you just shocked that I just did a finance related post?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Change is afoot

Well, I just sent an email resigning from my journal position at the end of the semester.


Haven't resigned from a job in 5 years or so. It should be good news, though. I was offered the chance to teach an upper level course in language acquisition (how kids learn to talk) in the Spring semester. It will look far better for me on the CV to have 3.5 years of editing plus experience teaching an upper level course, than it would to have 4 years of editing. It was something of a financial risk at the start, because there was no guarantee of funding past next semester. My advisor and I hope to be finishing up the dissertation around then (paca falls over laughing hysterically for about 10 minutes and then gets back up to type), so this would just be a little incentive. However, a grant apparently came through that would provide funding in the Fall as well if I am still around.

And so I just sent a long email resigning from the journal.

So there.

I'm going to be really busy for the rest of this year. Currently, I'm not really employable. I've got good grades, hopefully good recs, and now teaching two upper-level courses. But I've got zero pubs and that's just a complete no-go as far as getting hired. I've got that paper on Korean apologies that's been submitted to a journal since April, but so far we've heard nothing. In short, I'm going to have to rip out some publications over the next few months so that I've got a fighting chance at being paid for this one day. It's possible my internet version will be around a lot less, but we will see.

In other fun academic-ey news, a student in Australia wrote to me today asking if she could cite the Apology paper that's on my web site in a course paper of hers. (Since the paper isn't published yet and is a draft, I have a request to ask before citing. If it was actually published, people would just cite as they please.) While it's only a course paper, I think this will be my first ever citation. wahoo.

And, finally, the department is going to write up a text book for our intro to language course, and I'm currently scheduled to write the essay on "computers and language" or as I call it "talking to robots". Any of you ever had a question about anything related to computers and language? Such as... how does the computer at American Airlines understand me, or why does it never understand me? How does Google Translate work? Will we ever be able to talk to computers like we talk to people? Is text messaging destroying English? Etc. Any questions you have on this? Maybe they will end up in a textbook.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Those naughty founding fathers

If you think the tone of our current election has gotten bad, you should see what our forefathers got up to, including no names like Adams and Jefferson.

This is a hysterical account of previous elections, but, warning, much bad language.

Carbon footprint calculator

This quick CO2 calculator is kind of interesting.

However, it turned out not to be terribly useful for us. The average American CO2 output is 9.44 tons per year. I came in over 22! But 15 of it was due to air travel, and only 7 for the rest of our lives, which is below average. Basically, I entered that each of us flew a single time a year, but since we are in Hawaii, those flights are 7+ hours and killed my footprint.

At the end, it gives some ideas on reducing carbon emissions, but there's nothing you can do for a single flight once a year from Hawaii often at the mandate of your employment. I'm not going to take the train instead!

Cats and dogs living together

As most of you know, I comment frequently on certain political blogs. One thing I've learned is that whenever a certain type of conservative is all mad at me as a crazy liberal, I can pull out my trump card.

ZZ Top.

Been listening to them since I was a kid. Here's one of my favorite songs, "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" from 1982. The Outro solo is particularly awesome.

And for more famous tunes, here we have La Grange followed by Tush.

How could they hate me now?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Less is More

Here's another guest post I did for the political blog "The Moderate Voice". It was published there Sunday morning. I'd add a link, but the post seems to be technical toast at the moment.

Just a few days ago, I was forwarded an email that claimed to have definitive proof that Barack Obama was a socialist. It contained a single quote, in which, supposedly, Obama says government must redistribute income more equitably. The implication was intended to be that Obama’s guiding philosophy is to take our money and give it to others until his notion of equality was satisfied.

As it turns out, has already debunked this email chain. Obama never said it at all, and the fake quote is a WSJ reporter’s summary of Obama arguing for government-funded health care and education. You can decide for yourself whether or not health care and education equals socialism.

The fact that an attacking email chain is untrue is not particularly noteworthy. Indeed, has an article about how such chains are almost always untrue.

More interesting is the root idea of the email, an idea shared by left, right, and those in between.

Namely, the email wished to ignore lots of data that they could use to understand Obama’s beliefs about government and tried to ferret out the hidden truth with less data. Want to know whether Obama is a socialist? Don’t read his issue proposals, listen to his speeches, or look at his voting record. Instead, ignore all of that complicated data with specific ideas and look for some single, special piece of evidence that reveals the Truth.

Using less data instead of more of course makes no sense unless you think all of the other data is unreliable, and, moreover, that you can find the real truth, not by a rigorous search and analysis, but by simply finding something to confirm what you already believe. If you don’t already think Obama is a socialist, there’s not much to be gotten from the false quote.

A similar process occurred just a few weeks ago (though it seems like a political eternity now) in the rumors that Gov. Palin’s daughter was the real mother of Gov. Palin’s youngest.

For that to be the case, one had to take just a small sample of the evidence available, and then completely underestimate what would be required for the entire scenario to be real. If one only looked at the appropriate data, the rumor seemed rather plausible.

However, all the other facts that would have needed to be true as well (medical records falsified, medical staff silenced, gubernatorial staff clueless as well as many participating in the lie, other state governors befuddled and deluded) were extremely unlikely as a whole, and required much more evidence to overrule. Of course, 2 or 3 days later the rumor was dispelled and we all went on to our next biased judgment.

We now have a repeat of this process with the associations between Ayers and Obama. We know there are some associations between the two, such as serving on an educational board together, a fund-raising event, and some conversations, when Obama was still serving in Illinois. Ayers is a past bomber, so is this evidence that Obama secretly harbors Ayers’ beliefs?

To make this work, one again needs to think that less is more.

We need to think that we can learn more about the real Obama by ignoring years of his statements, records, accomplishments, and associations, and imagining what might be, what seems likely to be based upon our prior beliefs, and this small sample of evidence we are now focused upon. Any suggestion that Ayers = Obama depends upon confining our data just to Ayers and Obama.

After all, Obama also served on the same Board with other people, and he surely had fundraisers with even more in his years as a politician. Maybe Obama secretly thinks whatever those other fundraisers think, too. It’s just as reasonable if you select your data sufficiently. You’d end up with a hundred secret Obamas, each of which is in secret sympathy with all of them.

Even if one can make the Ayers connection special, there’s still a problem. You want to think that Obama is going to reveal himself and start doing Ayers-the-terrorist-inspired actions.

But why hasn’t he been doing these things already and why will he only start doing them now? Maybe a great conspiracy that the two have been planning for over a decade? Unlikely, to say the least. Which means that Obama’s probably already been doing the sort of thing he’d like to continue doing. The Ayers-inspired Obama is the same Obama we’ve had around for years.

In short, when making judgments, one cannot just estimate what is likely to be true based upon the evidence sitting in your lap. You have to fit it into a whole story of the world. This complicates our lives. It forces us to see people as typically full of contradictions and associations that do not tell a consistent story.

But that’s closer to who we are.