Monday, March 30, 2009

What to Want in Life

There's an interesting discussion taking place over at The Moderate Voice about happiness and someone claiming that Americans simply want too much. I added a long comment, which I am copying here.

I'd like to go back to the egalitarian comments in Patrick's original post, as I think this is fundamentally important to happiness. The vast majority of human beings are social animals. We differ in how we express that. For instance, I'm basically introverted and like to have a drink with three friends in a place I can hear their jokes. Others are extroverted and love 80 people they know all having a blasting time. But in the end, we participate in a society. (Sometimes this is expressed religiously in the notion that "heaven" is being in the presence of God, while "hell" is being away from God.)

We measure our success and our worth by how we fit in with our society. If everyone that you consider your community lives in a 5 x 5 straw hut, you often think that's a fine way to live. However, if everyone you know lives in a "McMansion" and you live in a straw hut, it's no longer a fine way to live.

Many people criticize such attitudes, thinking that we should not measure ourselves against others, but I disagree. Humans really are social animals. It's how we survive. By banding together and doing stuff and finding our place. Just think of a single situation. If I were to walk up and give you a bowl of oatmeal, it would be odd, but generally a nice thing to do. But what if I walk up to you when you are with 9 other friends. I give every single one of them a filet mignon with butter dripping, and then I give you a bowl of oatmeal. In the second case, I've given you the same thing but been extremely unfair to you unless I can give you a reason you accept.

I had a conversation once with someone who had visited much poorer places in the world than the U.S., such as West Africa, and their position was that therefore there was no true poverty in the U.S, since the U.S. poor are vastly richer than the poor of Sierra Leone. But I think this misses some of the point. In Sierra Leone, those people are participating in their society as full members with a respected place in it. But many Americans do not see a justifiable reason that they are "lesser" members of their own society.

Finally, and this gets back to many of the comments, I agree that the expectation for more and more Americans has changed to want more than they previously did. This might be tied in part to the decline of the local community that others have discussed. We often don't measure ourselves anymore against our neighbors, but against all the Americans that we see on TV every single day (often presented unrealistically). And so while everyone around you might be in a similar 1500 sq. ft. 2 bedroom home, you don't judge yourself against them, but against the people on TV or in the suburbs or elsewhere. You know that other Americans, who work no harder than you, have a lot more, and you want to have those things, too.

I don't think these things break down neatly along conservative and liberal lines. For instance, many social conservatives see themselves as defenders of the nuclear family and small towns. And yet, I have defended the mega churches to liberal friends quite often, because it is the decline of those exact things which has propelled the growth of the mega churches. People today move around from state to state and find themselves in new towns with no family members and no friends from childhood. There is a huge social vacuum. And so they go to mega churches which provide much of the support that neighbors and grandparents use to provide.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rain vs. Colbert

OK, following Ello's Wonder Girl video, and in an ironic attempt to put off reading abstracts about Korean intonation, I stumbled upon Stephen Colbert's dance-off with K-pop superstar Rain.


Get in Now

If anyone else wants in the March Madness Tournament, and you know you do, you have to join by 9:00 AM tomorrow Pacific Time.

In my Ahnold voice:



Finished it

I finished the internet today. Turns out there isn't as much interesting stuff as one is lead to believe. Maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mad Paca Tourney!

Hi all,

I'm hosting a renewed Mad Paca Yahoo tournament based around the NCAA men's college basketball tournament that kicks off, um, sometime. No idea really what's going on, but it probably starts soon. I will send presents to the winner as I did last year. I believe both people who received a present last year are still alive, and that's gotta be worth something.

I've sent off invitations to everyone who was in last year, plus a few more emails that were in an email from Sarah. Others whom I have not yet found an email for are welcome to join.

Supposedly, you can join by clicking this link:

Please let me know if that doesn't work. See you there! You probably will need a Yahoo account to join; sorry about that.

Oh, here's the full invitation email text (I invited myself so I could see it.) If I didn't find your email to send one to you directly, you can read this and have missed out on nothing:

Hello email_address,
pacatrue would like you to join their group in Yahoo! Sports Tournament Pick'em!

To accept the invitation, just follow this link. For reference, here's the group information.

Group ID#: 97211
Password: pacapaca

Thursday, March 12, 2009

And the nature of music keeps changing

A series of videos on YouTube are now making the rounds. A person named Kutiman used a whole assortment of videos from YouTube to create new songs. There's nothing completely new about it. People have been using audio loops for a long time to create music (I did that on the old Goatskin Pants theme song), and people have been mashing videos together for quite a while as well. I think it's the sheer quality that has people interested. It's a reminder that loops and mashups can actually be used to make decent music.

Here are my two favorites.

Mother of all Funk Chords

I am New

Kutiman provides links to all the originals so you can see where each part came from.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is it me?

I was wondering if people could help me do a quick test. Each day, I read a political blog called The Moderate Voice. I happened to notice today that there was a Google ad there for, an "international Korean dating site".

I'm wondering if that ad is targeted to me or if it's just a general ad. The only reason I use gmail is to chat each week with my partner in Seoul for our research project. I've always known that the ads I get while using gmail are based upon our emails. They are mostly about Korea and learning English. But, is Google using that same info to present ads to me when I'm on other sites as well?! That bugs me. So, first, does anyone know if Google ads are that smart, and second, would you mind clicking on to The Moderate Voice and telling me if you two are offered a nice picture on the right hand site about Korean Cupid?

UPDATE: It looks like you have to click to read the comments, and then Korean Cupid appears for me right in the middle after the post's main text. Here's a link to a discussion of the New Deal.
The Moderate Voice

Language Bias and the Other

I wrote two quite lengthy comments today on Moonrat's blog, so I've decided to copy them here. The first is in response to some quotations about people writing of the Other, which usually means some white Western person writing about someone who is either not white or not "Western". In this case, the discussion was about Dickens' portrayal of Jews. I have some reservations about such discussions, which I explained thus:

I must say I always have huge reservations when people talk about writing the Other with a capital O. Who exactly is an Other? If a non-Jew such as Dickens writes about a Jew, he is writing about an Other, say many. So maybe he would not be writing about the Other is he only wrote about Christians. But, wait, he's a Christian man, so if he writes about a Christian woman, he is writing about the Other. So which is more Other-ey for Dickens, the Jewish male or the Christian female? Hmmm.... Hard to say. As is clear when you get into these discussions, every single other person in the world is an Other in the end.

And, yet, here's the funny part: Often we understand ourselves very little and have better perceptions of others....

So it's not clear there is any such thing as the Other, and the use of this term Other, which is intended to help analyze or present one group of people "dominating" a different group, often one with less power, instead becomes its own little prison where yet a new group of people divide everyone up into these little compartments of Otherness.

I might add to that now that it might be more useful to forget all this Otherness and just say, "Dickens wrote a Jewish character who exhibits few qualities of any actual Jewish person," and then get into details. This would be very similar to someone saying "James's mystery suffers from a seemingly complete ignorance of police procedures." I'm not saying we shouldn't jump on some writer who portrays an ethnic group in one way, either stereotypically or overly sentimentally, nor that the portrayed group should not fight to represent themselves instead of letting the more powerful group define them. I'm just saying that we might be able to fight that fight without creating new prisons in which we strongly suggest things like, "oh, she's gay, so she can't write genuinely about straight people," or "he's white, so he can't write about an Asian person," and on down the list.

Life is far too complex for that. I probably have a lot more in common with a 30-something university-educated Chinese father than I do with, I don't know, a white 70-something childless serial killing dandy. And yet for many, I would be writing about the Other if I wrote about the former and not the Other if I wrote about the latter.


And then on today's post, Moonrat discusses the issue of non-white characters and non-white writers being underrepresented in publishing, and so I wrote this diatribe:

One thing that might be worth adding to this is the role of linguistic prejudices. Standard literary writing has traditionally been based on an ideal that, not at all coincidentally, is close to the dialect of English spoken by the white middle-to-upper class mostly around the Northeast (particularly in decades past). This doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of very successful writers who have very different voices than that, and we can all start rattling them off, but those voices are often interesting precisely because they differ from the expectation. One is considered educated-sounding if one speaks the prescribed dialect which is closest to that of upper class white speakers. (There are of course lots of complexities to this.)

Now, it's certainly the case that lots of people of different ethnicities and social backgrounds speak this same standard dialect, but the proportion is less and the expectation of that dialect by others reduces the number of people who are considered writers. There must be a great number of children who spoke some non-standard dialect, such as African American Vernacular English (a dialect of English which has been rooted in black America, but is not spoken by all or only black Americans), who never considered themselves as possible future writers because their teachers were always trying to get them to drop their own dialect for the standard (white in origin) dialect.

Some of those children will convert over to the standard dialect, some will not convert but succeed with their original home dialect, but some will just internalize the belief that they are uneducated and could never write well.

This could affect who gets published in many ways. 1) By people never trying to write since they don't sound like they've been told they should; 2) By agents, editors, and publishers expecting a certain style and rejecting things that don't fit that style with only periodic exceptions, and 3) the readers not buying books that don't fit their model of what an educated writer should sound like.

I hate to say, but many readers are extremely particular about what they think good writing looks like. They'll get all "eats, shoots and leaves" on you. You would hope that people who love words would love to hear words in all the different varieties of English that exist, but the opposite seems more often the case to me. (Actually, there are good and bad reasons for this.)

Final note: No, I am NOT saying that everyone who is not white speaks in a different dialect. More often than not, it is very difficult to tell the ethnicity of the writer from, say, the style of their blog comments. I am only saying that this is one contributing factor.

It's similar to the bias on language tests in standardized testing like the SAT. I happened to grow up in a household where people spontaneously used words that could show up on the SAT. So I only had to actively learn some portion of the words through my own efforts; the rest I just picked up. But if you grow up in a household that uses words of a different dialect, you get no benefit from that, because the standardized test never tests for those words. They only test for the words of the standard dialect.

If we always expect good writing to be in the dialect originally spoken by some white Americans, then we will end up with fewer non-white writers.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

For the record

Taking a piece of bologna out of its package, dipping it in some Frank's Hot Buffalo Sauce, and eating it?

Yeah, you don't really need to ever do that.

Unnecessary Words, hey, and my research!

I just saw a headline that Vince Vaughn, an actor, was engaged to his girlfriend Kyla Weber. We always say things like this.

"John Doe got married to his girlfriend Jane Doe."

"I got married last week to my girlfriend."

"My oldest grandson got married to his girlfriend last week. It was a beautiful wedding."

Well, who else is he going to get married to? We always marry our girlfriend or our boyfriend. No one else.

What? Is there going to be an announcement one day along the lines of, "Vince Vaughn got married to a-woman-that-he's-not-really-passionate-about-physically-and-so-might-best-be-labeled-just-friend-but-he's-not-sure-he's-ever-going-to-do-better-so-he's-going-for-it-now-before-he-gets-even-fatter Kyla Weber."

Or "Judy got drunk in Vegas last weekend and married her acquaintance-who-seemed-quite-charming-and-passionate-after the-6th-tequila-shot Randy."

I doubt it.

So why not just say, "Vince Vaughn got engaged to Kyla Weber"? It would amount to the same thing, or at least it's rude to imply she's anything less.

But for some reason it just doesn't feel right. Who is this Kyla Weber person, people seem to want to know. Well, if they give a, umm my mom reads this, hoot about Vince Vaughn's marriage plans, they might want to know. Who is this Kyla and what's the relationship?

Bizarrely, this fits in perfectly with one of the class projects we're working on in my language acquisition class. It turns out that if you tell a story with some person "Kyla" being mentioned without explaining who she is, people really focus on this sorta, kinda mysterious person. They remember Kyla more easily and even have a harder time coming up with stuff that occurred after her mention as if Kyla is on the brain distracting them. However, if you simply add a little tag like "my girlfriend Kyla" or, in the research article "my grandson Brandon", they don't fixate so much on Kyla or Brandon.

It seems like we like these little tags even in entertainment news articles and when it's obvious that Kyla is going to be his girlfriend. Curiouser and curiouser. I wonder how this relates to classic tags like the Iliad's "swift-footed Achilles".

*Note 1: Yes, as marriages among different sexes becomes more common the words "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" could be actually useful information, though I don't know too many men named Kyla.

**Note 2: I didn't start writing this as yet another annoying reference to linguistics. I was just annoyed by the useless word. Then I realized it fit in with my project perfectly, so I went the annoying route. In fact, I think I will now email this post to the students working on this project. I don't annoy them enough yet, so I have to add to it through email.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Linguistic Vacation

OK, I'd like people's thoughts on this if you don't mind. I've had this idea in the back of my head for a long time, but never acted on it.

The main thing keeping me from moving more quickly on the dissertation is (laziness and) a lack of participants for the experiments. I'm ready to go again with my next set of experiments, but only have 3 more people dropping by this week. I could have the whole experiment done in a couple days if I could get 20 people to show up.

Now, at the same time, at least in 2006, there were 7 million, that's 7 with 6 zeroes, visitors to Hawaii, or almost 20,000 a day. If I could interest just 1 thousandth of those people (0.1 %) in stopping by the linguistics lab, I'd be done with an experiment in a single day. Clear benefit to me.

Moreover, you hear about people taking all these research / science / educational trips as vacations all the time. They go to dig up dinosaur bones or build a school or learn the art of the loom from Shakers or whatever. Now I'm no Shaker (though I can shake the moneymaker) but I wonder if us linguists could be at all interesting to people who like that sort of vacation.

And I don't really have in mind an entire linguistics trip, but maybe a single day program or an afternoon or an evening lecture in the hotel ballroom, etc.

My question is just: Imagine you are the type of person who likes educational holidays and not the type who identifies vacation with the number of salt-rimmed margaritas that can be consumed (I imagine a couple of you like both). Would you ever show up to a linguistics-type lecture or day program? If so, what sorts of things might float your boat?

Since this is Hawaii, I can imagine that people would be interested in the Hawaiian language or other Pacific languages. Maybe something about children learning language... Possibly an intro to the field. Oh, people often like historical linguistics, how English has changed through time or the history of Indo-European languages or some such.

What ya think?

Monday, March 02, 2009


Well, my entire dissertation is stuck right now because I can't figure out how to get a randomized ordering of 6 numbers without immediate repetitions that loops.

That is all.

Ummm... nevermind.

[5, 1, 3, 4, 2, 4, 1, 5, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1, 3, 6, 4, 3, 2, 6, 5, 3, 1, 2, 5, 6, 4, 5, 1, 6, 2, 1, 6, 4, 2, 3, 1, 4, 5, 3, 2, 3, 1, 5, 2, 6, 1, 4, 2, 6, 3, 5, 6, 1, 3, 2, 5, 3, 4, 2, 6, 5, 3, 1, 6, 2, 6, 3, 4, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5, 1, 6, 2, 5, 1, 6, 3, 5, 4, 6, 3, 2, 4, 3, 1, 2, 5, 4, 2, 6, 5, 3, 6, 4, 1, 3, 5, 6, 4, 3, 5, 2, 5, 3, 6, 2, 4, 6, 3, 1, 4, 2, 1, 6, 3, 2, 4, 1, 2, 6, 4, 3, 2, 4, 5, 3, 6, 3, 4, 2, 6, 1, 2, 6, 3, 1, 4, 2, 6, 3, 4, 5, 2, 6, 1, 5, 4, 3, 1, 6, 4, 5, 3, 1, 2, 5, 4, 5, 1, 2, 4, 3, 1, 6, 4, 3, 5, 4, 1, 6, 5, 3, 2, 5, 6, 3, 1, 3, 4, 2, 1, 5, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1, 4, 5, 3, 1, 6, 4, 5, 1, 6, 2, 4, 6, 5, 2, 3, 5, 6, 4, 3, 1, 4, 2, 6, 1, 5, 3, 1, 6, 5, 2, 5, 1, 4, 2, 6, 4, 5, 2, 6, 1, 6, 4, 5, 1, 3, 1, 6, 5, 3, 2, 5, 3, 4, 2, 6, 1, 5, 4, 6, 2, 1, 5, 6, 2, 3, 2, 5, 1, 3, 4, 1, 5, 3, 4, 2, 1, 6, 4, 2, 5, 1, 3, 6, 5, 4, 3, 5, 2, 4, 6, 1, 2, 3, 6, 5, 6, 4, 3, 5, 1, 3, 6, 2, 1, 4, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5, 2, 1, 6, 5, 3, 4, 1, 6, 3, 2, 5, 4, 3, 2, 6, 1, 5, 2, 6, 4, 1, 3, 2, 4, 6, 5, 4, 2, 6, 3, 5, 1, 4, 3, 2, 5, 4, 6, 2, 1, 4, 5, 2, 1, 6, 1, 2, 5, 6, 3, 1, 4, 2, 3, 5, 3, 1, 4, 5, 2, 5, 4, 6, 2, 1, 5, 6, 2, 1, 4, 2, 5, 1, 4, 6, 2, 4, 3, 6, 5, 6, 3, 4, 5, 2, 1, 3, 5, 2, 6, 4, 1, 5, 6, 2, 6, 5, 4, 2, 3, 1, 4, 2, 3, 5, 2, 6, 4, 5, 3, 6, 4, 2, 3, 5, 1, 3, 4, 5, 2, 5, 1, 6, 2, 3, 4, 2, 6, 3, 1, 5, 2, 6, 1, 4, 5, 2, 1, 4, 3, 4, 2, 1, 3, 5, 4, 6, 3, 5, 1, 6, 2, 5, 1, 3, 5, 2, 6, 3, 4, 6, 3, 5, 4, 1, 3, 5, 6, 1, 4, 2, 5, 3, 4, 1, 2, 4, 5, 1, 6, 5, 3, 4, 6, 2, 4, 5, 3, 2, 6, 1, 3, 5, 6, 2, 4, 1, 5, 2, 6, 1, 4, 2, 6, 5, 3, 4, 1, 5, 2, 6, 5, 1, 2, 4, 3, 5, 6, 4, 2, 1, 5, 6, 2, 3, 1, 6, 5, 3, 2, 5, 3, 6, 2, 4, 6, 5, 1, 4, 2, 6, 5, 1, 2, 4, 5, 2, 3, 4, 6, 2, 4, 1, 6, 5, 2, 6, 3, 5, 1, 5, 2, 3, 1, 6, 5, 4, 1, 6, 3, 1, 6, 2, 3, 5, 2, 3, 6, 5, 4, 2, 5, 3, 4, 6, 4, 2, 1, 6, 5, 6, 3, 1, 5, 4, 2, 3, 1, 4, 6, 1, 2, 3, 6, 4, 1, 5, 2, 4, 3, 5, 2, 4, 3, 6, 5, 1, 4, 6, 2, 4, 3, 5, 2, 6, 2, 3, 5, 6, 4, 3, 2, 6, 4, 5]

I still don't understand my own program. I just stuck in guess number 83 and it worked. Go me?