Friday, August 29, 2008

Answer 1: I'll never learn that!

Moonrat asked what the hardest language to learn REALLY is.

First, there are people in second language / foreign language studies who really try to document and quantify this stuff. I'm not going to read any of those things before responding. Instead, I'm just going to pull it out of my head, because that's the true spirit of a blog!

or at least I'm lazy.

The first answer and most true answer is that we don't know. There are 6-7000 languages in the world and only a handful are regularly taught in universities. It's mostly what, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Latin, Russian, that are almost always available in a university. Various language-focused schools will add more: UH teaches about 20 more Pacific and Asian languages. Indiana is amazing at Central Asian languages, adding another 20. U Wisconsin's got a bunch as well... But, still, even that adds up to... 100, 200 languages? That's only about 1/30th of all the languages that could be taught.

But that's a rather boring answer, no?, so let's look at least at the main 20 or so that people commonly study. There are harder and easier languages for an English speaker to pick up. The Romance languages are far easier than East Asian ones, for example. Typically it takes 4 years of Japanese or Chinese college instruction to get to the same communicative level as 2 years of French or Spanish. But why? And this is where things do get interesting.

Moonrat offers Japanese up as one of the most difficult languages, and she's right. One thing Japanese definitely has going for it in the nasty department is its writing system. Japanese borrowed the Chinese character some millennium and several centuries ago, but Japanese is entirely unrelated to Chinese ("genetically" farther apart than French and Russian or even French and Urdu) and so it only kinda works. So they invented a separate writing system later based upon the syllables of the language. In fact, that wasn't good enough still, so they invented a third syllabic writing system, and the key is they continue to use all of them all at once. This means you have to know all the characters that make Chinese so hard, plus the additional writing systems, too. That's just mean!

However some other parts of Japanese are quite easy. In fact, with only a couple exceptions, an English speaker can make almost any individual sound of the language with very little training and it's in the ballpark of accuracy. Compare that to, perhaps Xhosa of South Africa which contains a whole series of consonants called clicks that can be voiced, unvoiced, nasalized, not nasalized, all of which are entirely absent from English. The English speaker doesn't even know where to begin in saying them. But are such foreign consonants (from an English perspective) harder than the tones of a language like Chinese? In Mandarin, there are 4 pitch patterns (called tones) that are placed on almost every syllable. Saying the same syllable like ma with a different tone gives you a different word. This is extremely difficult for an English speaker to consistently produce and hear accurately.

However, while Chinese might be harder phonetically than Japanese, things reverse again with grammar. Chinese grammar isn't all that bad to an English speaker. A sentence still comes out in the order of subject, verb, object. Chinese doesn't really inflect words at all, and modern English does that only minimally as well. (Inflection: Latin is rather robust at it: amo 'I love', amas 'you love', amat 'he/she/it loves', amamus 'we love', amatis 'y'all love', amant ' they love' -- and that's only the present indicative. English still inflects some: I love, you love, he/she/it loves, we love, y'all love, they love, but look in that example there's only one change left in the 3rd person form. And Chinese doesn't really inflect at all: wo ai 'I love', ni ai 'you love', ta ai 'he/she/it loves, wo-men ai 'we love', ni-men ai 'y'all love', ta-men ai 'they love' -- The word 'ai' never changed at all. Now, that was easy.) However, Japanese does tack on tons of endings to nouns and verbs and can then shuffle word order around, making things harder for English speakers again. Moreover, they have some types of inflection that are hard to comprehend for us, namely a system of honorifics. Verbs change their form depending upon the level of formality and status (honorifics) that you are conveying. Oh, English speakers represent status of the listener, too, (we speak differently to Mother Theresa than to the moving van guy), but it's not part of the very grammar of the language.

So which is harder in the end? It's going to depend in part on who's learning. Are you naturally better at making sounds, at hearing, at grammar, at memorization of images, etc.? One person just may never get Chinese tone, but succeed at complicated Japanese grammatical structures. Another could be the opposite.

It's worth noting that most of this stuff I've talked about is not hard for children. There are probably some exceptions, but generally Xhosa children speak as easily as English children as easily as South Ossettian children. One definite exception to this is writing. Writing is an artefact in a way that speech and native signing (like ASL) is not. Memorizing characters simply takes years for a Chinese child, while Spanish has a writing system that quite closely matches how it sounds.

Did I answer you, moonie?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Passed

Passed the old comps defense. Next up, dissertation proposal in early October and then that pesky dissertation.

w00t?

And tomorrow's my birthday. 1 score and 15 years ago I was born.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Comps Defense Day!

Tomorrow (today for all of you not living in the eastern Pacific ocean) I finally defend my comps essays that I wrote about 3 weeks ago. I don't know if I find out immediately whether I've passed or if I have to wait. Anyway, it's off to the races.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Linguists and regular people (2)

Today, I attended my first class in Tahitian.

Really.

I can talk about the reasons for this later, but what I noticed was how differently I think of things now than the me of 4 years ago did. You see, the first name of our prof is "Jack" in English, which becomes Tihati in Tahitian. You can say "tee ha tee", but the informal way to speak the word is just "chat" or "chati", which sounds a lot more like the word Jack. Focusing, just on the first part, notice how the three sounds of "t" "ee" and "h" just became "ch", which is really the same as a sequence of "t" and "sh".

A normal person looks at this and thinks, "huh, weird." Or perhaps they think, "oh, it becomes 'ch'." I, however, apparently now think:

"Cool, the voiceless glottal fricative becomes palatalized with the high front vowel. Well, maybe it's more accurate to say that the "h" triggers spirantization in the high vowel. I wonder how widespread this is? I bet it only happens with "ee" and that "ee" is the epenthetic vowel in this language, since it's already showing signs of vowel reduction."

What all that means is: The "ee" sound and the "h" sound are merging in some way. You could think of it either as the noisy [h] sound being pronounced in the location of the vowel, or you could think of it as the [ee] staying in the same place, but sounding a little more white noisy like the original [h]. I'm also guessing that "ee" is sort of the basic vowel in the language and that it gets stuck into words when consonants occur next to each other in a way that the language doesn't allow.** Also, the same vowel seems to have a tendency not to be pronounced strongly, since it's both merging with [h] in the first syllable and not being pronounced very strongly in the last syllable."

Or it becomes "ch".

Don't you now wish you had become a linguist in order to have such conversations with yourself?

**Schwa is the basic vowel of English. It has a tendency to be just dropped from words when you aren't pronouncing things carefully. Also, we stick schwa in to break things up that we don't like pronouncing. The name nguyen often becomes [n schwa g] in an English speaker's hands because we don't know what to do with n and g together in one syllable. Or the English speaker's mouth as it were.

You've got questions...

... I will have answers.

I'm really not ignoring everyone, but it's now 12:30 AM and I want to go home. Classes start up (yet) again in 8 hours for me.

Soon....

Friday, August 22, 2008

The America post

A revised version of my "real Americans" post is up on the political blog called The Moderate Voice, where I am a regular commenter. Thanks, all, for your advice on improving the essay. We will have to see if it gets any comments or not.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wireless electricity

First off, I really, really am working. I just finished editing one paper and will soon start the next.

In the meantime, the front page of Yahoo had an article about Intel developing a wireless way to transmit electrical power. The problem in the past has always been how you transmit electricity without zapping everything in the way. There's a reason you don't stick your finger in the same sockets you stick a lamp plug into. The article describes previous efforts as basically hurling lightning bolts at things.

The key to making it possibly work is that it's electro-magnetism, not just electricity. Humans don't seem to be bothered by magnetic fields, so they convert the electric power into a magnetic pattern and throw it across the room. Intel demoed a 60W lamp powered on the stage with no cords.

This is potentially huge. Wire up an office building and you no longer have to plug in laptops, lights, etc. Just sit anywhere. Imagine one in your home garage with a hybrid electric - gas car. No going home and plugging the car in; your car will just grab the power from sitting in the garage. In the same vein, why not wire up the light poles along major highways to not just give out light, but wireless electricity. As your car drives along, the battery could be recharged as it goes. Or just from sitting in the mall parking garage while you shop. Would it ever my strong enough to replace electrical transmission lines? All the electricity poles could disappear with just sporadic relay stations. Could help enormously with alternative energy as well. With giant solar thermal plants in the desert, today you would have to run wires across the country to get the power out. But maybe this wireless stuff could send it all through the air.

Awesome.

Yukiko Ueno - Dang, girl! Snap!

I hope that title's amusing and not insulting.

Anyway, as much as I'm supposed to always cheer for the American at the Olympics all the time, it sure sounds like Yukiko Ueno, pitcher for the Japanese Olympic softball team, just gave the athletic performance of a lifetime. She pitched two days in a row (extremely rare at this level), the first day getting her team into the final with the Olympics, and then, almost single handedly taking out the American team today, who came in as the heavy favorites, to say the least. The U.S. softball team hadn't lost in 8 years. In Athens, they outscored opponents 51-1 on the way to gold. The U.S. had outscored opponents 57 - 2 so far in Beijing. But here comes Yukiki Ueno who shuts the entire American team down for one solitary run. Japan won 3-1.

Here's a full write-up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ask Paca

New blog feature: Ask me a question! It can be language related or anything else. I will do my best. And, if I don't know, I will make something up. Warning: I'm nothing like those language mavens you hear on NPR or other places. I have no idea of the etymology of your favorite word or six synonyms for "serendipity". Look in a thesaurus, dictionary, or ask your writing / English major buddies for that stuff. Though of course I could just make it up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Who's that girl?

Like the great early Madonna reference in the title? Huh? Huh? No? Well, I am wearing about 10 plastic bracelets on my left arm right now, regardless.

K-Box, also known as WifetoBox, etc. whose name will get even longer soon, asked about speaker identification in a comment for the post about soup. Clearly related topics. How, she asks, can she have so much trouble understanding various types of intonation in speech, and yet have no trouble identifying WHO is speaking on the phone, in person, behind walls, inside large plastic bags, etc?

Well, if Sammy and K-Box have diagnosed K's intonation troubles accurately, she has trouble hearing fine-grained distinctions in pitch. If the voice doesn't go up quite a bit, say at the end of a sentence, she can't tell it's a question without using other cues like context, funny look on the speaker's face, a big question mark balloon above Sammy's head, etc. But these pitch distinctions that she has trouble with are indeed rather small compared to the entire range of pitches that the human ear can hear. A common rise in pitch at the end of a question might be 20-30 Hertz (Hz), which, while big enough for most people to notice, is not that big. Perhaps K needs a good 40 Hz change before she notices the difference. This would match with what she also says about difficulties with music. Notes that are really close together are hard for her to distinguish, but not notes that are far apart.

All of this points to 1) difficulties in small changes but not large ones and, more importantly, 2) something being a bit different in K's brain, not in her ear. Maybe she can tell us if she's ever been to an audiologist, but I would guess that the part of her ear which analyzes frequency works within normal parameters, but when her brain tries to process that frequency information, it's not as precise as in many people.

But what about knowing who a person is, which K can do just fine? Speaker identification is related to frequencies as well, but in a very different way. The sheer scale in frequency distinctions is just much larger. One of the ways we do speaker identification is by listening for tell-tale signs of how the other's vocal tract is shaped. To understand this, we have to talk about the vocal tract.

So, your voice is producing many different frequency patterns at the same time. The basic frequency, called the fundamental frequency, is created by your actual vocal folds/cords flapping back and forth inside your throat. In typical men, it can vibrate from about 50 times a second (50 Hz) to, say, 300 times a second (300 Hz). Typical women have a higher range going from the low hundreds to the 400s. Children's vocal folds flap even faster and can get in to the 600s or so. This fundamental frequency is the pitch of your voice when singing and controls the type of intonation that K has trouble with. So, I might be speaking with a fundamental frequency from my vocal folds of about 150 Hz and to signal a question I raise up to 180 Hz at the end of the sentence. But this fundamental frequency is just one of the frequency patterns coming out of my mouth.

The sound from your throat goes into your vocal tract, your oral and nasal cavities, and bounces around. The air resonates at different levels. By changing the shape of your vocal tract, i.e., by opening and closing the mouth, by moving your tongue and lips, by letting air go into your nose or not, you change how the air resonates in there. It's exactly like having a bunch of bottles that you blow across the top of to make a sound. You put more and less water in the bottle and get a different pitch because you've made the amount of air in the bottle be smaller or bigger. You do the same with your tongue. For vowels, there are two primary resonances, called formants, that mark the vowel. The vowel "ee" has one resonance that is very low, say in the 200s (Hz), and a second resonance that's quite high, getting close to 2000 Hz. Other vowels have resonances that are closer together, but they all differ in frequency by a hundred or more. That's a much bigger difference the 30 Hz little shift in fundamental frequency used in intonation. So K might be able to hear big differences created by the resonating vocal tract, but not small shifts in fundamental frequency from the vocal folds.

I actually still haven't talked about speaker identification yet. The way the air resonates in your head depends upon the shape and size of your head. We have partial control over this, and we use that to speak. But we do not have complete control. If the distance from my vocal folds to my lips is 17 inches while K's is 16 inches, there's not much either of us can do about that. That's just the way it is. Some of us have heavy heads, some light heads. For some, the roof of the mouth arches just slightly behind the teeth and for others it goes booming up dramatically. All of these subtle differences in head shape change the way the air resonates. It's partly what distinguishes male voices from female voices. Even if a man speaks with a fundamental frequency that is identical to a woman, it often sounds like a man talking in a high voice, and not like a woman. That's because the two main tubes in the oral cavity are closer to the same size in women (generally) than in men (generally) so that the air resonates differently.

So, each person has a unique shaped head, and we come to know the way that speech out of a head of that shape sounds. The resonances created by the head are also hundreds to thousands of Hertz apart and so might be more easily recognized by K than small frequency changes would be. FYI, there are other characteristics of our speech as well besides head shape. We speak at different rates, break up phrases differently, put more accents or less accents into our speech, and of course each have our own unique way of speaking our language.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Gumbo Z'Herb

The mother-in-law is visiting this week. Since she likes gardening and farmer's markets, and I like soup, I pulled out a recipe for Green Herb Gumbo, supposedly a traditional Cajun/Creole dish made after Lent, though I have no such memory from my Louisiana days nor would I have eaten it as a child being full of healthy green vegetables. It's a big stew with ham and a bunch of different greens. So Saturday morning we went to the Farmer's Market and found the best greens we could find, whether or not they exactly matched the recipe. Here we have the resulting menagerie:


Let's see if I can name them all. Starting from the left and going clockwise, we have: green onions, Ewa sweet onion (a local variety from Ewa on the southwest side of Oahu), ta tsoi? (it's very much like baby spinach), celery, green onions again, Chinese chives, half a green cabbage, parsley, Swiss chard, curry leaves (used like a bay leaf from South and SE Asia, fresh oregano, choi sum, and a green bell pepper. There's also a few spices and some guinea pig food in the back. I put grass pellets in everything I cook now. You?

Almost everything you see here ends up in the soup. It all boils down. The cabbage in particular was at the top of the pan before cooking down. A couple exceptions are only one onion and only two stalks of celery were used. And not all the green onions. So, next up, you have a chopping party. Here you can see everything chopped and in bowls. I've added the lb of ham as well.



After this, you heat up 2-3 TBs of oil in the pot. I used bacon grease that I'd saved from earlier breakfasts. In theory, it's for cornbread but I never seem to actually make cornbread. Add ham, onions, thyme, and parsley to the pot. I think it was sauteeing up the fresh oregano, but I swear this was one of the best smelling things, at this point, that I've ever had in my kitchen. The stock and greens get rid of this yummy smell though. Fry it up for about 5 minutes.



Next, add in the bell pepper and celery and fry for about two minutes more. Then add the cabbage and stock. The recipe that I had called for water or a light stock. Another recipe online called for all chicken stock. I ended up with about 3 cups of chicken broth from Costco, two cups of homemade vegetable stock that I had made once and bagged in the freezer, and 4 cups of water. Bring the cabbage and all the other ingredients to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes or so.



Next, add in the chard and choi sum and boil for just a couple minutes. Add in the ta tsoi (spinach), parsley, chives, and green onion and boil for a few minutes more. Add in spices. I used salt, pepper, more oregano and thyme, garlic powder, and paprika. I added some and then when it was a bit bland added more.

That's it! Complete one pot dish and it actually came out pretty well. Gives you a reason to eat greens you might never eat otherwise, such as chard. We had it Saturday night and then again tonight, Monday. Still good. We don't know exactly how much it cost, but we are thinking it's about $3 a head and makes 8-10 servings. It's a logical after Easter dish. You use up your left over Easter ham and then grab this and that Spring greens to throw in. You do not need the exact vegies I used. Basically, we replaced watercress and spinach with choi sum and ta tsoi, but you need not. Supposedly, a variety is key to the dish, but the variety can be tailored to your area.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

True Americans

We Americans appear to have a favorite pastime: judging who is a real American and who is just faking it. This dubious game re-appeared most recently with some prominent comments implying that people in Hawaii are not truly American. Cokie Roberts, for instance, recently questioned Sen. Obama's vacation in Hawaii due to the appearances of it as a foreign, exotic place. Mark Penn, the former Clinton campaign strategist, apparently proposed to the other campaign managers that they go after candidate Obama for being insufficiently American due to having spent much of his childhood in Hawaii. To quote Mr. Penn, “His roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot image America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.” To Sen. Clinton's credit, she seems not to have decided to play Penn's game of American one-upmanship.

If people want to, we can play this game, because, sure, Hawaii does some things differently than other places in America. We like to eat both chili dogs and teriyaki rice bowls, greasy hamburgers and pork laulau. Our little daughters might take hula with Ms. Leilani instead of ballet with Ms. Tammy. Hawaiians speak a lot of languages and come in a lot of shapes, sizes, and colors. We even have some holidays that other states don't have: Kamehameha Day and Prince Kuhio Day. But, you know, every part of the American nation has some special things about it. I grew up in Louisiana and we got off for Mardi Gras when no one else in the U.S. did. New Orleans is like no other place in the U.S.; neither is south Florida with South Beach and Cuban rhythms echoing in night clubs; nor is New York City's Little Italy or Greenwich Village; nor is rural Minnesota with ice fishing and walleyes. Who in Louisiana ever heard of going ice fishing?! It's crazy. Even a place like Kansas has geography and an agriculture only found in a small region of this nation. Most Americans don't have lifestyles like a Kansan.

I am not writing this to defend Hawaii's Americanness. Perhaps the fact that, according to the Heritage Foundation, the ethnicity of "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" is the single most over-represented group in the American armed forces, serving at over 6 times their population percentage, makes the point stronger than I ever could. This also has nothing to do with political left, right, and center. Instead I am writing to encourage us to stop beating our fellow citizens up for eating the wrong things, living in the wrong places, or thinking the wrong thoughts. It's like a discussion among siblings about who loves their mother the most. The only people who ever leave such conversations feeling better are those who need to pick themselves up by knocking others down.

I am not wise enough to say what the essence of being American is, but here are a few things that make me proud to be American. I am proud when I see pictures of soldiers in Iraq playing with a child when they know that tomorrow a roadside bomb could take them away. I am proud when I look at the American Olympic team and see virtually every ethnicity in the world standing side by side all representing who America is. I am proud when Americans think that if any nation can do something amazing, it would be America. Go to Mars? Sure, America can do it if we want to! Build a colony at the bottom of the ocean? Sure! If not us, who?

However, to accomplish such dreams, we cannot spend all our time fighting one another. So let's stop playing the "Who's really American" game and instead fight over real problems we can really solve together -as Americans.***


***OK, this is probably a different tone than most posts. That's because it's intentionally written for a public audience, not just my blogger friends. But it's draft number one. Any advice on the sentiment or ways to rephrase for better effect are welcome.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Little lies, sweet little lies

B is old enough now that we're having to start dealing with more of those complicated social nuances. For instance, a couple weeks ago I found myself telling B that the right thing to do is lie.

There's this little girl at his pre-school, maybe 3 or 4, who finds B and his older kid friends uber-cool. She's always imitating what they've just done and calling for B to watch her do the same thing. B and friends is of course completely uninterested. She'd been seeing B and friend hitting at various things with sticks and so one day, when B was off playing Indiana Jones and having moved on from the stick, she comes over to give him a stick as a present. B takes the stick, breaks it in half, and declares he doesn't want it. I frantically told him after the girl wandered off that he is supposed to just say "thanks" even if he doesn't want a present and then discretely toss it away when the giver isn't watching anymore.

B also still has child-syndrome in which he states every observation he makes at the top of his voice. At the swimming pool parking lot last thursday, someone in a wheelchair was getting into a van. B declares all the way across the parking lot: "Look! That girl doesn't know how to walk!" I'm still handling these things by pretending not to be embarrassed and discussing the observation politely with B. So I just say, that's right in a tone implying that that's a normal way to be.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Obama trains goats for tactical bombing

I was clearing out my spam email box and say this subject line:

Obama trains goats for tactical bombing

Now that's impressive. Unless, since goats don't fly, they are on the receiving end of the bombing. In which case, what kind of training do they need to be bombed?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dissertation in a nutshell

So months ago I posted an entry about Finnish hockey as an intro to my dissertation topic. The point was supposed to be that it's hard for us non-Finns to even figure out how many words are in a sentence that someone speaks, and yet Finnish babies who are too young to wipe their own butts figure it out. Then later I went over a bunch of cues for finding words that infants, and adults, might use. Apparently that was 8 months ago now and I never even got around to my actual dissertation topic.

So here it is.

I am looking at the importance of timing in finding words. People have expectations for when things will happen based upon some sort of internal clock. The internal clock isn't as regular as one with the little quartz crystal, but it's there. Let's say you are reading this blog post during the day. What would happen if you brought this text up and after reading one sentence you got a phone call from the family wondering why you didn't come home for dinner? It would surprise the hell out of you. You might not know precisely when dinner will happen, but you know roughly when it is, and you know that reading one sentence won't take you however many hours it is between now and that time.

The more structured our temporal environment is, the more precise our internal clock can be, and it is most precise when it's got a beat. You've got rhythm and it helps you understand the world.

My dinner example is a very vague internal clock. You know it's sometime in a few hours, but that may be about it. But listen to a song with a strong beat and you can tap your foot right along. Trained musicians will hit the same beat within tens of milliseconds, and us regular folk aren't that far off. We know exactly when the next thing is going to happen. Here's Stevie Wonder's band on Sesame Street again, just because I can't help but link to this. If you watch it, notice how many musicians are playing at once here - 8 perhaps? They all know precisely when each event is going to happen. Also, notice how many muscles are involved in playing an instrument. Just looking at the sax, he's got to move the muscles in his finger, diaphragm for breathing into the instrument in short bursts, very controlled tension in the lips, and probably some tongue work. That's a good 10? 15? muscles moving all at once in exact coordination with the trumpet next to him. Add up the band and you might have 200 muscles moving as one. Finally, notice how natural finding a beat is by watching the awesome kid in the red shirt shaking everything he's got.


Now here you might think we are cheating because there's a drummer marking every major beat precisely. True, but most of us can find the beat in Bach's Air on a G String as well. You don't shake your money maker with it, but the events are very structured in time.


And to make my final musical point, here's a link to Seiji Ozawa conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Sabre Dance. Again, here you will see an enormous number of people all playing within milliseconds of one another, but I also chose this one because B used to be captivated by this song when still an infant. He'd be crying his head off in the car and we'd put this on and silence was almost immediate. Usually in 2 or 3 listens, he'd fall asleep. Infants, though they can't create a beat by dancing or hitting, can hear it.



Overall the point is that a sound, properly structured, allows us to make incredibly precise predictions of when something will happen. Now language is certainly not as structured in time as music is clearly. We rarely want to tap along when our boss calls us on the phone. I don't listen to John McCain and shake my groove thang, shake my groove thang, yeah, yeah. (Though maybe I will try that now; could make the upcoming Conventions a lot more fun.) But it does have some temporal patterning. It's this pattern that lets us know if someone is speaking quickly or slowly. Often we will even match our own speech rate to theirs when we talk to them in casual conversation. Our ability to expect that certain words or syllables will be of a certain duration allows us to notice when they've been slowed down for emphasis.

I think that people can make some limited predictions about when the beginning of a word will be and this allows them to find words in that interminable stream of speech. That's what I mean by timing. We know what time he will say that word.

More on rhythm in speech at a later date.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sushi Snark

It's political season again. And while I know that talking politics is rarely the way to win friends and admirers, it's very likely to happen. (Removed a long diatribe about personal politics here.) I hope to take some time over the next few months and present actually useful info that I've gathered about issues that may be of some help to others even where they disagree with me. Of course, that takes time and real mental activity. And so today, I just have this snarky fake conversation that's been running through my head for the last few days.

It's a conversation between Jebster, our class warfare conservative, and Snarky Me. (As a note, I think sushi's okay, but I don't eat it all that often. At a Japanese restaurant with some friends in Nashville who loved sushi, I usually got the fried noodles. But I'll pop a few pieces now and then. When in Hawaii....)

Snarky Me: Jebster, what's up with the whole Obama's a sushi-eating liberal thing? What's wrong with sushi?
Jebster: You've got to be kidding me. What sort of average American do you know who eats sushi? It's a trendy dish for the Hollywood elite.
Snarky Me: Okay.
Jebster: It shows Obama's not a normal, real American.
Snarky Me: So Japanese-Americans aren't real Americans?
Jebster: What? Japanese people? I didn't think about them. No, I don't mean that.
Snarky Me: But sushi's a pretty normal dish if you're Japanese. You can buy it next to the cash register at 7-11 in Hawaii.
Jebster: Hawaii's not exactly a normal state, you know.
Snarky Me: If you wish. The point is that for many people, sushi's just a normal food. Unless you think having Japanese great-grandparents makes you not a real American.
Jebster: Don't put words in my mouth. So, fine, it's okay if Obama was Japanese.
Snarky Me: But, if he's half white and half-black, sushi reveals he's out of touch.
Jebster: Maybe so....
Snarky Me: So you think people should stick to their own ethnic cuisine. Japanese people get to eat sushi; Cantonese get dim sum; Mexicans get stuck at Taco Bell as punishment for living in the U.S.; and Americans get to eat... is spaghetti too ethnically Italian, or are you okay with some spaghettios, not like you're going to find Spaghettios in Sicily.
Jebster: You're being ridiculous.
Snarky Me: Well, you seem to think that black or white Americans can't eat Japanese food without being suspect....
Jebster: No, that's not the point. The point is that he's elitist. He's sitting there dining on sushi when he could have a good hamburger.
Snarky Me: I see. So, buying sushi is just a waste of money. He must have it coming out of his ears and could never understand the concerns of normal Americans.
Jebster: Pretty much, yeah. What's wrong with a good hamburger or a little steak?
Snarky Me: Sounds good to me. You know, I was at Chili's last night. Wait, is Chili's too froo-froo, or am I still okay?
Jebster: You're good.
Snarky Me: Good. Well, I looked at buying the smallest ribeye they had. They wanted $23.95 for that thing. The sirloin was close to $20.
Jebster: Prices keep going up, yeah? Maybe if you liberals would allow a little more oil drilling.
Snarky Me: We'll snark that issue next time. What's interesting is that the normal American would have to spend around $20 at a normal food chain to get a steak. I can get a couple nagiri for you for $10 at Genki Sushi. It's almost half the price.
Jebster: Oh.
Snarky Me: Yeah, depending on what you buy, the elitist sushi could be cheaper than the non-elitist slab of midwestern beef.
Jebster: So, what's your point?
Snarky Me: So the point is that the sushi-eating knock on liberals is either unacknowledged ethno-centrism / racial beliefs about who is and is not a real American, or based on incorrect ideas of how much things cost, or just a meaningless insult tossed out instead of engaging in any substantive discussion.
Jebster: It's mostly just an insult.**
Snarky Me: Well, good to get that out there. By the way, do you know if Obama does eat sushi?
Jebster: Um, no, no idea.
Snarky Me: Thanks for this enlightening discussion.

** Jebster should have replied that it wasn't as if Snarky Me was engaging in anything substantive either. To which I would have had no reply other than "touche." That's "touche" with a little accent aigu on the e, a symbol I don't know how to do on a PC, only on a Mac.

Only two days!

Well, I finished the buggers. Me, being me, I finished editing the last essay at 3:45 AM on Monday morning. Got home at 5:00 AM and then left the apartment back for campus at 6:45 AM, very well rested, to turn them in. On the walk home at 4 in the morning, I had this long, hysterical blog post written in my head. It involved anger, humor, impossible fits of strength, and inappropriate words. But, you know, a day later, I'm still really tired and it's time to let the comps go. So forget about it. FYI, this was the writing part of the essays. I will defend them in about three weeks to my dissertation committee. Then it's on to the dissertation -- or to that McDonalds job I've always hoped for.

So since I'm not talking about comps, I'm going to talk about the Olympics.

They start in two days!! Woot! We've been talking ABOUT the Olympics for so long now without any actual Olympics that it's gotten worse than the NFL Draft. I'm excited. Go USA. Go Australia! Go UK! Go.... Spain? Do I still have my reader in Spain? Go Korea! Go China, just don't win everything, okay? We know you are a great world power. We get it. Now stop the inferiority complex. That's America's game. And for all the other countries, yes, I deliberately left you out because I hate you. Particularly Andorra. Tax-haven... smuggling... mountain-living bastards.