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Making sense of the self

An interesting article. I may come back and comment on it later.


JFK was such a fake.


Webmail has been ok lately (and I won't be using it at all come September), so I'm going to let it out of the Kiosk. Which makes room for Comet Cursor. Someone installed CC on a few of the computers here. It adds its own little bar to the top of every window, and puts a button up next to the close and minimize buttons. And it adds its own popups to every site (I got popups visiting this very blog!). And it's just a pain to have to point at things on the screen with a little glowing soccer ball. At least the ball isn't rotating.
"English is an eclectic language which tends to borrow words from other languages instead of constructing words for new concepts from older words with derivation or word composition. People often say that English has a rich vocabulary as if it were something to be proud of. The richness of the vocabulary results basically from word borrowing and implies that words for related concepts are typically not related to each other in any obvious, regular manner."

One of the side points of this article (which I have chosen to sieze upon) is the author's assessment of how new words are formed in a language. English, as he points out, is more than willing to grab a new word from somewhere, a word that has no obvious relationship to any other words already in the language. His native Finnish has, like many languages (sometimes in a conscious attempt to avoid Anglicization of their vocabularies), taken the other route -- constructing a new word out of old native roots.

"Economy" is a good example here. English simply took a French-by-way-of-Greek word and Anglicized it. Finnish could have done the same, resulting in something like "ekonnomii." But instead, it developed the word "talous" from the Finnish base "talo," meaning "house." Of course, the English word has nearly the same basic etymology -- "economy" comes from "oikos," which means "house" in Greek. The difference is that, for the vast majority of English-speakers, the word "economy" does not suggest anything about houses in its structure.

Jukka Korpela (the author) sees this as a plus for Finnish. It makes learning the language easier, as you don't have such a large quantity of words to memorize, since so many have obvious derivations (he's a bit bitter in general about how hard it is to learn English). In that sense, he has a point. But I sometimes get frustrated when language doesn't go far enough the other way -- words are too stuck into their etymologies.

When you're speaking philosophically, you often run into problems where the language you have to work with doesn't have a set of terms that correspond to the concepts you see as fundamental in the world. I ran into this problem here a while ago, discussing the meaning of evil. I found myself twisting the words good, evil, right, and wrong to fit concepts that aren't clearly designated in English. This leads to confusion, and to people disagreeing with you, because for others the terms cover different semantic territory. The problem only gets worse when the word has an obvious etymological connection to other meanings that you're trying to exclude. In Finnish the economy is something house-related, whereas English has more freedom to take the concept to different places. Having clear etymologies in some ways solidifies the semantic relationships -- the worldview -- underlying the language. Which makes it that much harder to propose ideas that don't fit the language. The ways you have to jerk words around into new patterns becomes that much more obvious, because the old pattern is written there in the structure of the words.

Philosophers need a language free of etymology.
I just got an email from someone asking for money to help spread the Gospel to "unbelievers" in Pakistan. As an example of the persecution being suffered by Christians in Pakistan (at the hands of the "Alqaida Afghan Terror Talebans"), she cited Daniel Pearl's kidnapping. Someone needs to fact-check these scams.


lt occurred to me today that in some ways I don't believe in physics. Or at least, physics as I've been led to believe the discipline is, given that I haven't really studied it.

It seems to me that the "big project" in physics is a search for some kind of unified theory of everything, a more basic equation that sums up everything we know so far, something that all our current knowledge can be derived from. The assumption seems to be that there's some simple, elegant idea underlying how the universe works.

But I see the world as being infinitely complex. Any proposition we make about the world -- any law of physics, for example -- is a simplification, codifying a pattern we think we see in the jumble of stuff that's going on. Like when a cartoonist draws a person's nose as a triangle or an oval -- the shape of the nose is a lot more complex than that, but the shape that he draws captures what he sees to be the simplest pattern to it. So by this logic, more complete explanations of things would necessarily be more complex.

The only thing I can think of to reconcile these two opposite directions is chance. As I understand it, there's room for truly random events in advanced physics. These random events become concrete as they occur, and shape the conditions for future events. So maybe what's infintely complex is the result of these few simple laws operating in a universe subject to a lot of chance. Or maybe not.
People have been looking for some interesting folks when searching for my site. In the past few days I've gotten hits for "Jordan Kerber," "Norvell Brasch," "Rachel Borchardt," and "Brad Heath."
Stolen generations fury at memorial "whitewash"
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commissioner, Murrandoo Yanner, unleashed a scathing attack upon the organisation, which he described as, 'a heap of shit', 'an oppressive regime', 'tokenistic' and a 'black rubber stamp', before declaring he would not be recontesting his position.

'Anybody who purports to represent Aboriginal people, can't really do that if you don't really run the show. Let's be honest about it, we're just a black rubber stamp ... the truth of the matter is we are absolutely pissweak.'"

And this is why Australian politics is cooler than American politics. I'd love to see Tom Daschle get up and say that John Ashcroft's policies are "a heap of shit."


Barbara: Your title has been stolen.
Last night, I was in my room reading. At one point I set my book -- a collection of Hopi myths -- aside, and just laid there. I relaxed and let Splashdown play, not worrying about wasting time. I was tired, in the sense of having done a lot that day (I had walked to the Zoo and back, and balanced my checkbook for the past year), so it felt good to relax. It was a pleasant sort of tired, not the headachey sleep-deprived tired that I feel all year, the kind of tired where you have to keep moving, keep your brain and body both engaged so that you keep your energy high and don't drift off or enter that painful state of sleep denied.

So I lay there, letting my mind wander over inconsequential things, for 20 minutes.


I got myself in trouble again on the Brunching board for a particular opinion. There was a thread where people were telling what piercings and tattoos they had, and what ones they wanted or had planned. I gave my list (none), and then said by way of explanation that I think the unadorned human body is more attractive than anything you could draw on it or stick into it. I probably should have realised how close that came to my post in a thread some time ago about being "dressed up." I said something there about finding casually dressed people as (or more so) attractive as people wearing nice clothes and makeup and such.

So, I'd known that this sentiment was not appreciated. But it took me until today to figure out what's wrong with it. Basically, it comes down to an issue of liking what people have no control over instead of what they do have control over. I'm saying that whatever you were born with, you're stuck with. There's no room for advancement, for self-improvement. There's no appreciation given to hard work that's put into making a person look the way they want to.

Of course, I don't know how much good understanding this does. It's not like these kind of feelings, these impressions of whether a person looks nice or not, are subject to logical argument. I can know a person should be judged by what they've done rather than what they've been given, but that doesn't change my reaction when I actually see someone dressed a certain way or with certain piercings.


It's interesting how the Web's anarchist promise has undermined itself. Take journalism, for instance. The big prediction was that, by opening up communications, the Web would allow alternative news to flourish and compete successfully with the big names. And many people still see that as the way things are headed, journalists reporting on the blog phenomenon especically so.

(As a side note, I think the overwhelming focus of articles on "blogs as alternative news," as opposed to "blogs as personal expression" or "blogs as catharsis" or "blogs as vanity" is indicative to some degree of the insularity of the journalistic community. Today David was telling me about problems that DC had with the metro a little while ago. People were getting really fed up with how often the trains stopped because things were broken. But it didn't make the papers because the journalists lived in their own little world, driving their SUVs to work and never connecting with the people out there until there was a riot on one train.)

But the proliferation of alternative news sources has in some ways had the opposite effect. Instead of democratizing information, it overwhelmed us. We suddenly had access to so much stuff, and we didn't know how to sift it for reliable reporting. People don't know where to start, and they don't have time. So they retreat to the names they're already familiar with, because familiarity makes people feel more trusting. But with the internet, we can all retreat to the same big familiar name. Living at home, the best I could do for a major established news source was the Allentown Morning Call. I can find them on the internet too, but I can also type in, as can everyone else with a computer. We all could be reading different material -- there's certainly enough out there. But we're more likely to all be letting the editor of msnbc tell us what's newsworthy.


I have tomorrow off for National Geographic Founders' Day. I think Chris put it best: "it's cool to work for a company so big it has its own holidays."
Overfishing Long Ago Tied to Modern Ecosystem Collapse

This is a bit of an old story, and I only came across it because our Quality Assurance person was having me make a bunch of really old changes. But I think it's an interesting point. I get so frustrated by hearing history divided into two parts, with ancient people living in harmony with nature. Then something comes along -- the Enlightenment, Christianity, science, the dawn of civilization -- that fundamentally changes our relationship with the earth so that we start destroying it. That scheme is far too simplistic.


Geographic Bee Champ: Michigan Ten-Year-Old

Well well well Ryan, looks like National Geographic hyphenates twice in "X-year-old." "X year-old" indeed ,,, hah!

Oh yeah, and I wrote that story. In my second day at work. Woo.


Here I am. It's interesting how this place can mess with your judgement. The most foreign-looking people (like the guy in the turban with the stereotypical bin Laden beard) are the closest to home (he's from Toronto). And then you talk to someone who looks like they should be at Colgate, and they start talking in an accent you can barely understand. And it's only when your judgement is messed with this much that you realise to what extent you have been guessing things about people, without really knowing.


Tomorrow morning I'm moving to DC for the summer. I don't know how much online time I'll have down there. So, I'll try to still post every day or two, but no guarantees. And I may be absent for a few days while I get settled in. I'm hoping to spend a lot less time online this summer than last summer (when Brunching IRC was my life).
So, there's the sadness. I can't remember the last time I cried about something that didn't require going to the hospital. But I'm not going to talk about that.

What I am going to talk about is the sort of adrift feeling. During the year, I had 10 keys on my keyring (room key, 2 Maroon-News keys, 3 to Alumni/Longyear Museum, Geography lab and lounge, and 2 to the Chapel). Today I turned in the last one. Each key I handed back made me feel naked. Not "exposed and vulnerable" naked, the way I would if I had no pants on. More the "unprepared" naked, like I do when I forget my wallet or pocketknife. Each key I gave back meant I was losing access to something, a resource I had cultivated. At Colgate I knew my way around, knew where to go and how to act when I needed to do certain things. But in DC, and then at Clark, I won't. I'll start out uncertain, not sure what the processes are for doing things or where I can go. I won't stride confidently into the lab and sit down at one of the computers that have PhotoShop. I'll be hanging around, trying to look nonchalant, while I check out the situation and try to plan my next move in such a way as to minimize embarassment if I fail.

At least I have a map of DC. A nifty pop-up map. That's a start.


Thoughts from Star Wars Episode II:

- That spaceship is way too shiny.

- He falls, and gets caught by the flying speeder. I certainly didn't see that one coming.

- Yes, Anakin and Amidala are going to fall in love. We get the point. We've gotten that point ever since we saw the pedophile look in her eye in Episode I. You don't need to dwell on it.

- Someone should have told Lucas how awful these love scenes are. Then maybe he wouldn't have used so many of them.

- Although it would have been funny if they had thrown in one naked scene, thus making the movie R-rated, so all the little Star-Wars obsessed kids couldn't see it.

- Geez, Anakin is a terrible Jedi. They should fire him or something.

- This scene in the factory is dumb, by C3PO and R2D2 still make much better comic relief than Jar Jar.

- So the Stormtroopers are all basically clones of Boba Fett. Neat. And the genetic alterations thing explains why they're such morons in the original trilogy.

- Hmm, looks like the badguys subscribe to the Batman school of execution.

- How convenient -- that monster's claws didn't seem to hurt Amidala, but they just happened to tear off most of her shirt. Including the arm from underneath that metal armband thing.

- A dozen Jedi can *not* take on an entire droid army. No smurfing way. This is so ludicrous.

- Yoda kicking ass is cool, but somehow it's just not Yoda.

- It would be really cool if R2D2 saved them. Like, if Dooku beat Yoda too, but while he paused a second to gloat, R2 rolled up behind him and zapped him in the butt, distracting him long enough for Obi-Wan to grab his lightsaber.


A certain photo returns!


Sweeney Todd will be playing in DC later this month. It can't be as good as the version Chris, Ronnie, Adam and I made, but I gotta find a way to go see it. They're also showing Company.


Is "Two Towers" Title Insensitive?

The world is full of insane people. Perhaps even more insane is that there are at least 3 active petitions on the same site opposing the renaming petition.


Ze's Page
Neat, yo. I recommend "Bug," "Simple Game," and "Drawtoy."
Done! Take that, Claude Levi-Strauss!


Breast-Feeding Linked to IQ Gain

The basic results of this study don't surprise me. It makes perfect sense that a million years of evolution would have callibrated the nutrients necessary for healthy development better than 50 years of formula company testing. What interests me (being an incurable sociologist) is this:

"Today, the practice is most common among white and wealthier women and least common among minority and poorer women."

It seems like poor people would have the most to gain from breastfeeding. They can't afford formula as easily, and their kids need all the intelligence they can get to help them succeed.


Can someone explain how raising the price from $10.00 to $12.60 saves you $5.40?
A crackpot theory:

Pretty much everyone, no matter what their philosophy, agrees that murder is wrong. Sure, there may be some exceptions -- capital punishment, to save the lives of others, etc. -- but as a rule killing a person requires some pretty hefty justification. But why is it so immediately assumed to be wrong? There are lots of answers, none of which really hold up. Some people will say life is sacred -- but why is death not sacred? Some people will say people don't like to be murdered -- but why should we only do what people like? And doesn't the fact that the murderer likes to murder count for something?

The reason murder is wrong is because it undermines a higher goal of human existence. That higher goal is the increase of the population. Murder is wrong because it means that afterward there will be one fewer people on the earth.

To justify the ever-increasing population of the human species, we need look no farther than the fact that sex is enjoyable. If having children were a choice, or something to be avoided, why would we enjoy sex? It ought to be a purely technical operation. That would allow us to control it much better, preventing unintended pregnancies. And if sex were something to have for fun, it would not be potentially procreative. You would be able to have sex with no risk of pregnancy, even in the absence of complicated birth control technology. But the fact that sex is both procreative and enjoyable means that we are designed to have as many children as possible. Consider our mammalian relatives. They go into heat once a year, just long enough to have a few young. This is in accordance with the idea that no species ought to overpopulate its habitat. Humans, on the other hand, are perpetually in heat. Clearly, we are not just another organism in the ecosystem. We are meant to fill the earth with our kind.

Malthus did us a great disservice by suggesting that we are on the verge of running out of resources. We need look no farther than the many areas of wilderness in this world -- the Amazon, the Australian outback, the Northwest Territories -- to know that there is plenty of room for more people. There are places in the world now with problems of overpopulation. But that is a crisis of technology and food supply mechanisms, not of having too many people. The ancient Sumerians "overpopulated" Mesopotamia, but today even more people live comfortably in Iraq (or would, absent post-Gulf War sanctions). To claim we have reached the limit of our population size is to admit defeat.


This is what my tentative summer reading list looks like. If you have any suggestions (particularly if you can supply the book, as I have very little money and no access to a library), let me know.

Joe Wilson's mates -- Henry Lawson
The Little Prince -- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance -- Robert M. Pirsig
Peace and its discontents: essays on Palestine in the Middle East peace process -- Edward Said
The story of B -- Daniel Quinn
Confessions -- Saint Augustine
The Panda's Thumb: more reflections in natural history -- Stephen Jay Gould
Still life with woodpecker -- Tom Robbins
Encounters with Einstein -- Werner Heisenberg
Jailbird -- Kurt Vonnegut
Sometimes a great notion -- Ken Kesey
Dine bahane (Navajo creation story)
The entire works of Claude Levi-Strauss .. no wait, I already read that.
Chris Vecsey sucks. This is the stupidest idea for a final exam question I've ever seen.
What do Lenin and salmon have in common?

Yeah, I know, lots of little posts. I'll write something worthwhile eventually.


Oh, and apparently in addition to webmail and webmail2, there's a webmail3 and a webmail4.
I think netspeak is a good argument for switching from an alphabetical writing system to a pictographic one. It makes a certain kind of sense to abbreviate "you" as "u," for example, because it's 1/3 the letters. But how do you abbreviatethis probably isn't the correct character, but it's the first result a Chinese character search gave me?
Scroll down and look at the title of the first article under "Max Lucado on the September 11 tragedy." Luckily it's not what it looks like. And am I the only one who thinks the photo that goes with his articles looks like a khakis ad?
Someone found my blog searching for Horacio Quiroga yaciyateré. With German Google.
Dufus proves how fine the line is between complex, deep, multi-layered music, and random incoherent noise.
Clear skies frighten me. On days like today, when I can look up and not see a cloud in the sky, it unnerves me. It's too empty, too lonely. Too exposed. I find my eyes drawn toward the horizon, hoping to find a few wisps of cirrus to focus on.


Microsoft Word's grammar check rules aren't very well(-)defined.
Today's Edityorial.


"Cyber Essays is a completely free service that provides students with papers on a specified topic. Although we support education and feel it is a priceless commodity, we also feel it cannot be attained by teachers giving the same assignments year after year that only force the student to lose sleep - not to make him or her think. Cyber Essays is here to challenge the lazy teacher into helping her students and give assignments from which the students can learn. Mark Twain once said, "Never let schooling get in the way of your education." This is even more true today."

They're improving the quality of education by blatantly giving away pre-written term papers? I really don't follow that logic. How will teachers be chastised into teaching better if their students cheat? And why does it matter that a teacher uses the same assignment year after year -- it's not like the same students are doing those assignments over and over.

And no, I wasn't trying to use their service. I was checking the date that Lenin took power, and the first relevant result Google brought up was one of their papers. Which seems odd, as you'd think they'd block their stuff from being searched so that teachers couldn't discover that their students had cheated that easily.
The problem with Fables of the Reconstruction is that "Can't Get There from Here" stands out from the other songs so much -- in style and overall quality -- that I have to stop whatever I'm doing when I listen to it and air-guitar. My brain gets used to one level of music, and incorporates it into the background of the situation. Along comes this high-energy song to tear me out of that for 4:10. Then it lets me go, and I have to slink back to what I was doing before while "Green Grow the Rushes" taunts me.
Unfair to Indians, again
"Even the courts can't seem to find a way to assure Native Americans that billions of dollars in land-use fees owed them will ever be distributed. The money is due them for grazing, timber cutting and the extraction of oil, gas and other minerals on their land. The mess stems from bureaucratic intransigence of historic proportions by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees it, reaching back almost to the creation of the bureau, an agency whose early years were marred by corruption."

I think the Supreme Court needs to issue an order banning all outside use of Native American trust land until the government can figure out how to pay the tribes for it. Maybe that would make them take notice and actually do something, since I'm sure the companies that would be affected are big campaign donors.



You're so beautiful,
Should be guarded by monkeys.
You're so beautiful.

Yum yum Bumblebee,
I love Bumblebee Tuna.
Just the girls: "yum yum ..."

Boy needs therapy
Crazy in the coconut
Also made false teeth.

Cigs and choc'late milk
Just a few of my cravings
Little bit harmful.

I want my dru-ugs
Can't keep me under arrest
I want my dru-ugs.

Memo to myself:
Put hand inside puppet head
Put your hand inside.

Here, have a pickle
Protect your home from radon
KISS 108 -- what?
Belated welcome to everyone from Ctrl+Alt+FODA-SE!!!. Looks like what started as an offhand comment about one post turned into something rather interesting. Now I need to find a reliable translator so I can have an opinion of C-A-F more sophisticated than "lookit this post in all caps in another language, hur hur." I can get a vague gist of some parts because it's similar to Spanish. I recall Isaac Asimov writing one time that it's next to impossible to know Spanish and Portuguese at the same time if you're not a native speaker of either. So maybe I'll wait until after I take my Spanish final, lest I start writing an essay about Jorge Luis Borges in Portuguese (or after my dissertation is done, if Prof. Turner sucks me into doing my research as part of his Southern Yucatan project).
I got a porn spam in my hotmail account that said it was from "Barry F." Maybe I'm just to heterosexual to get it, but "Barry" doesn't strike me as a particularly sexy name.