Thursday, May 27, 2010

Marquees are sometimes ambiguous

Sometimes, names of films on a marquee -- when put next to each other -- give a different meaning than what might have been originally intended. Sometimes, it's like some strange version of "deep but not profound."

State theaterNow, does this mean that babies are the most dangerous man in America, or that the most dangerous man in the world has something to do with babies?

Michigan Theatre

And why is the Michigan Theatre being SOOOO secretive?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Very warm day

According to WeatherUnderground, the maximum temperature today was 88F/31C. The previous record high temperature was set in 2008 at 86F/30C. Ooooofff...

I came inside and the in-cabin temperature was 70F. Although it's 18F cooler than outside, it's much warmer than what I'm used to coming home to.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A 1952 Chevy Pick-up Truck

1952 Chevy truck - side viewBill's got a 1952 Chevy pick-up truck. He tells me that he found it out in Colorado, in a barn, undriven for several decades. It runs like a dream, too, and can (apparently) haul a LOT of weight when in first gear. (Apparently much more than modern light trucks.)

Still, unwilling to get it dirty, he was reluctant to drive his shiny blue truck down the long dirt drive to the cabin in Saginaw Forest.

To me, when I first saw it, I was reminded of the Red Truck Wines label (except, of course, that Bill's truck isn't red, and it's a different type of truck... but it's of the same era).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ann Arbor Bike-to-work Day 2010

Today's Bike-to-work Day, although seeming to be larger in offerings than last year, seemed (to me) to be much less attended, most likely due to the rain. I tried to make it to the Great Lakes cycling and fitness store at 7:30AM, and when I got there, I discovered that I was the only person waiting in the parking lot. Soon, though, I was called inside by the GLCF staff that would be riding into Kerrytown. When we gathered again outside (a little past go-time), we were joined by a commuter cyclist, and we were off!

Some of the lead riders decided to race down Jackson instead of using Liberty, and so took off in that direction. However, I veered onto Liberty (my usual route), and with two others following me, cycled somewhat sedately in to Kerrytown. (We were met there by the three bikes who took the Jackson/Huron way, which -- although straighter and with less stops -- doesn't have a bike lane...)

The tables were just getting set up as we rode in to the farmers market area, and under the signs that said "no bikes on market days" we parked our bikes, leaning them against the posts, locking them up, or (in true trusting nature) leaving them unlocked; hundred (and in some cases thousands) of dollars of merchandise standing unattended, and descended upon the newly set-up spread. There were really good bagels, cream cheeses, and fruit salad from Zingerman's as well as gorgeous coffee from Mighty Good Coffee. The Ann Arbor bike choir was there, as well as many new and established bike stores and cycling groups.

Mayor Hieftje spoke about how Ann Arbor was awarded stimulus funds for putting in more bike lanes as well as updating the existing signage and condition of current ones. Over the past several years, the number of bike lanes had increased by six-fold (i.e., 600%, which sounds much better than a "mere" six-fold), and were continuing apace (at least in terms of the number of miles added). The current major project was "bike-laning" the one-way streets of Division (going north) and 5th Ave (going south) to and from Packard and (I suppose) Huron (but possibly all the way to/from the Broadway Bridge). This extension would be really nice for the people cutting north and south on their commutes -- just like many of the drivers. Another good piece of news from the mayor was that the Stadium road bridge will be fixed in this coming year, and it should become bike-friendly. To me, that would be a really nice thing, since Stadium is my main route to get Trader Joe's shopping in.

At about 9:30, I cycled in to the university with another SNRE student, D.O. And the two of us managed to maintain pace with the somewhat traffic-impeded cars that were driving south along 5th Ave. The left turn at Liberty was a little hairy, but D.O. was good at blocking the cars, allowing for us to cross two lanes of traffic in order to get into the left-turn lane; we didn't encounter any stops all the way to the U.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On false cognates

In the process of learning a new language, one is oftentimes met with false cognates. What are false cognates? Well, between languages, they are words (or phrases) that sound the same, but have different meanings (sometimes wildly different). Some of these false cognates may both originate from the same root word, but (due to the independent evolution of each language) now have different meanings. These "divergent evolution" false cognates are not so uncommon, therefore, in languages that share a relatively recent common ancestral language; English and Spanish, for example, both trace word origins to Latin. (True, English does also trace word origins to Germanic roots, and Spanish can trace them to Arabic roots, but they both have a lexicon that shares a Latin origin, and it is these words to which I am referring.)

One example that I learned relatively early in my entry into the Spanish language is that "embarrass" does not mean the same thing as "embarazar"; and therefore "I am embarrassed" does not translate into "Estoy embarazado." Since the word "embarazar" means "to be pregnant", the past participle (i.e., "adjective" form) of "embarazado" (in the masculine) not only isn't the correct translation of "embarrassed", but it is also a physiological impossibility outside the film Twins or the case of seahorses.

Another example of a false cognate between English and Spanish is between the English word bigot and the Spanish word bigote. Now a mustache (bigote) does not a bigot make, and indeed, the use of bigote in Spanish idioms is very different in meaning than bigot. For example, "Hombre de bigote" means more than "man of mustache," having the additional meaning of a "spirited or vigorous man". Looking at the word origin of the word "bigot" in English doesn't really help much, either:
1590s, from Fr. bigot (12c.), in O.Fr. "sanctimonious;" supposedly a derogatory name for Normans, the old theory (not universally accepted) being that it springs from their frequent use of O.E. oath bi God. Plausible, since the Eng. were known as goddamns in Joan of Arc's France, and during World War I Americans serving in France were said to be known as les sommobiches (see also son of a bitch). But the earliest French use of the word (12c.) is as the name of a people apparently in southern Gaul (which led to the now-doubtful, on phonetic grounds, theory that the word comes from Visigoth). Sp. bigote "mustache" also has been proposed as a source, though the sense is not adequately explained. The earliest English sense is of "religious hypocrite," especially a female one, and may have been influenced by beguine. Sense extended 1680s to other than religious opinions.

So, are bigot and bigote derived from the same word root? Who knows. However, there are others that definitely are. One example with a twist is the Spanish word recurso, which can be used in place of two different English words: recourse and resource. Why might this be the case? I mean, it is possible to make a rationalization for how recourse and resource can be related to each other, but looking at the word roots, one can see that they have different ones in Latin (recurrere and resurgere, respectively). Therefore, it seems like this is a linguistic "evolutionary conversion" in the case of Spanish, and, indeed, if one were to look a little further, one notes that the verb form of the recourse equivalent is recurrir (which is very similar to the Latin recurrere, no?) while the resource equivalent has no verb form (that I could find). Therefore, in translating from Spanish to English, one has the potential of falling into a false cognate problem, but not from English to Spanish. (Although I wonder if the direct translation of the phrase, "a recourse to resources" translates properly as, "un recurso a recursos.")

Sometimes, the false cognate is a misinterpretation of a word or grammar structure, as in the case of the Spanish-used "walking closet" to denote a "walk-in closet". While this might easily be done across languages, it is also not uncommonly done in the same language: "all intensive purposes" vs. "all intents and purposes", and one can find a list of many common misconstructions likely due to misinterpreting an overheard phrase).

Other languages obviously share false cognates, and it seems obvious that the further apart the languages, the greater the chance that two words that sound the same/similar between languages are likely to be false cognates (not counting borrowed words, of course). And this is true of words between Japanese and Spanish. Just for example, the Spanish word ajo (garlic) is a direct homophone of the Japanese word aho (idiot, jerk); the Spanish word vaca (cow) to the Japanese baka (stupid); etc. However, strangely, there are also some times where, through, coincidence, two words happen to have the same meaning, like the Spanish verb mirar (to see) is similar to the Japanese verb miru (to see/to watch).

As a side note, however, the Japanese, when historically importing Portuguese words (and later English, German, and Spanish words) into their lexicon, oftentimes went the extra distance of actually using homophonic kanji that had a similar meaning to the transliterated word. Therefore, the old Japanese word for a man's suit is sebiro (written with the characters for "wide" and "back"), which invokes the famous tailors' street in London, Saville Row, and the cut of suit coats that they made which seemed to emphasize wide shoulders on the wearer. To that end, it isn't always easy to tell if a word is borrowed explicitly (such as the Japanese word pan, which was borrowed whole-cloth from Portuguese) or not (such as the Japanese word tokei ("time" + "total" = clock), which could be derived from the Spanish word toque (3rd person singular present form of the verb tocar, to touch, or chime)).

Finally, I am finding it interesting to look at how acronyms can also suffer the consequence of something akin to a false cognate. One good example of how an acronym can be used to create an interesting cognate is the term LASSO, which (in statistics) "is a shrinkage and selection method for linear regression" (a very good parallel of what a lariat also does). However, I recently came across a paper that used the acronym DIO (diet-induced obesity). It seems to me that the person who coined the phrase either didn't know the meaning of the Word (yes, that's supposed to be a joke), or was being purposefully ironic. I'm leaning toward the second option, especially since it is quite true that an increasing number of academic paper authors are coming from the non-European languages, and might not always appreciate the multiple meanings of words. (Still, though, not everyone is prone to this on all occasions; like the student who came to me to figure out how to make a better acronym to describe his method of Five Unit Kinship Description.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

And people still say it isn't racist...

Sometimes, I really get peeved with what is -- to me -- blatantly bigoted, while the majority remains blissfully unaware of their bigotry.

Well, it's happened again: Arizona's Department of Education has apparently just started to tell schools to get rid of teachers who spoke with a heavy accent. Like the past two policy actions by the state - having police check immigration papers and removing "cultural studies" from schools - there is no explicit statement of race or racism, however, there seems to be an implicit one that is being fueled; at it isn't against the teaching of Scandinavian studies by a heavily accented Dane whose papers just expired. From the Wall Street Journal article:
State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly.
See?!? It's not racist! They are "just trying to help" those students with "limited English" (who might be having to go back to their "home countries" because of the immigration law that AZ passed, but let's not talk about that, because obviously the two are not related).

As non-racist as this happens to sound, I'm thinking that there's something rotten in the state of Arizona (and it isn't the Danish teacher of cultural studies whose overstayed his visa). In their recently published paper "But I'm no Bigot: How Prejudiced White Americans Maintain Unprejudiced Self-Images", Laurie O'Brien, Christian Crandall, April Horstman-Reser, and Ruth Warner delve into the means by which white Americans can harbor racial prejudice while still viewing themselves as "unprejudiced"; and the reasons seem to align with how the WSJ reports on how the Arizonan Dept. of Ed. parsed their language with this policy and the no-cultural-studies policy as well as how the language of the immigration bill is parsed: it's in the relative representation of racism. The epigram of the paper shows a clear example of a woman who holds racist views, but doesn't consider herself a racist:
I don’t say I hate every Black person, but the majority. . . . I don’t consider myself a racist. I, when I think of the word racist, I think of the KKK, people in white robes burning people on crosses and stuff.
If the definition of "racist" was epitomized by the KKK, then this interviewee -- not being a member of the KKK -- isn't a racist; no matter her viewpoints. If one looks only at one of the recent three governmental actions in Arizona, one might not (if one were generous) say that it was overtly racist, since it doesn't single out one racial group (i.e., it isn't definitionally racist). However, looking at the implication of the law, especially in conjunction with these more recent actions in education, then the actions do seem to be increasingly supportive of the idea that the policies are racist. To that end, I think that the discussion points of the study by O'Brien, et al. is really quite enlightening:
Many people believe that exposing White Americans to information about the prejudice that ethnic minorities encounter is a surefire way to reduce prejudice. Videos that demonstrate prejudice are a mainstay of multicultural education programs (e.g., HumaNext, 2005; Western States Center, 2005) and social psychology classes. White Americans are largely ignorant about the pervasiveness of the prejudice faced by ethnic minorities (Adams, O’Brien, & Nelson, 2006), and conventional wisdom suggests that if Whites were more educated about this prejudice, then they would act to end prejudice.

[However,] the results of the current research suggest that the results of prejudice education may not be so straightforward. At least among White Americans, the primary reaction to media portrayals of racism may be for people to distance themselves from the racists, while patting themselves on the back for their superiority. In Experiment 3, participants who watched a documentary about prejudice showed no increase in their perceptions of the commonness of prejudice. Although we found evidence that watching the video decreased prejudice toward Black Americans, a seemingly positive outcome, it also increased positivity toward White Americans. These synchronized increases in positivity toward White and Black Americans allowed participants to maintain their preference for Whites over Blacks, while simultaneously feeling more innocent of actual prejudice; not the preferred outcome of multicultural educators and tolerance workshops.

… The finding that learning about White racism increases liking of White Americans seems to defy logic and can only be understood in terms of defensive processes activated among White Americans who are exposed to what is apparently threatening information about their group and their social system…

The paradox of how White Americans simultaneously act in prejudiced ways while viewing themselves as unprejudiced has long puzzled social scientists (e.g., Dutton & Lake, 1973; Dutton & Lennox, 1974). The present research suggests one reason for the existence of this paradox: The predominant social representations of prejudice available in American culture provide people with a source of social comparison information. When White Americans compare themselves to these social representations, they tend to view themselves as relatively unprejudiced.

Furthermore, the present research suggests that, at least on some occasions, people deliberately seek out exposure to these representations of prejudice in order to reduce threats to their unprejudiced self-images. This self-protective strategy may serve to make White Americans comfortable, but it may also create the space for them to convince themselves that their failings are minor, and that as long as they do not join the Ku Klux Klan or start burning crosses on people’s lawns, they’re doing just fine.

In other words, so long as Arizona isn't doing something that is so obviously racist, the racist stuff that they do isn't racist (because racism is what the KKK does), and therefore people are able -- with a straight face -- to say that their actions aren't racist.

Furthermore, it is possible to see how some (previously shown to be very bigoted) proponents of the immigration bill parse their language about how the bill doesn't do racial profiling, and therefore it cannot be thought of as racist (ignoring, of course, that the majority of people who will fall under this law will likely come from non-White communities):

Also note how the state legislator in the following clip justifies the banning of cultural studies classes, stating that it these classes are actually racially biased against whites; that assimilation is actually non-racist; and pointing to extreme examples to make his case.

(Similarly strange incidents of Whites pointing out the supposed "definitional" racism of others includes all the talk of La Raza being a racist organization, because it translates to "the race", forgetting (perhaps conveniently) that translations are rarely ever one-to-one. In other words, there are nuances and word associations that exist in one language, but not in another, and one must translate not only the term, but also the sense of that term, as it was meant to be used in its original linguistic context. Therefore, while "raza" does have a primary definition of "race", it has other associated definitions as well. However, that is something of a different topic, but it does fit into the sense that some Whites -- such as Tom Tancredo -- feel justified to state that the bills and actions in Arizona that they support aren't "racist"; implicitly or tacitly seeming to compare themselves to an extremist-literalist translation of "La Raza" and (apparently) equating it to some Hispanic analogue to a racist White organization like the KKK.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

50th birthday for:

The contraceptive pill and lasers!

Compact, multi-modal living

I'm not sure if it's really "multi-modal", but I'm entranced with compact living situations that make the most of a small space. It was one of the things that I really found quite fascinating about the Fifth Element movie:

I recently saw a video about a "transformer apartment," designed by architect Gary Chan, in Hong Kong:

Now, I don't know if the hype about it changing into 24 rooms is really true (or is just about combinations of configurations). Still, working a 330 square-foot apartment into such a thing is really, really cool.

We're (not) #1!

I really am not such a big fan of mindless flag-waving nationalism and the idea of "American exceptionalism" (which -- to me at least -- seems be be analogous to the whole "Manifest Destiny" thing), mainly because I grew up in many very nice countries, each filled with exceptional people, and don't understand how there is an "American trait" that is akin to being genetic among a nation made primarily of immigrants.

American exceptionalism reminds me too much of faux patriotism that is seen in militaristic countries. Of course, the whole "We're #1!" crowd as well as the "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" cheerers, the "we have the best health care in the world" groupies, and "they hate our freedoms" junkies all don't really like looking at the numbers (or, when faced with numbers, say that they are biased, incorrect, or aren't measuring the right thing).

However, when one does compare the US against other countries, the US doesn't always come out on top. In fact, it doesn't come out on top for many things that US citizens think the US is on top of.

Via Prose Before Hos:
And, sources for those of you interested:

Life expectancy: Study: U.S. Slipping Down Life Expectancy Rankings, Life Expectancy Wiki
Democracy index
Freedom of the Press index as reported by Reporters Sans Frontières
Internet Speed: US ranks 28th in Internet connection speed and World Results by
Prison Population
Corruption Perception Index, Also reported by Transparency International
Quality / efficiency of education
Cell Phones Per Capita: Nation Master
Child Mortality Rates: Reported by the UN
Health Care Rankings done by the World Health Organization (WHO)

A great visit from an old friend.

This past weekend, my friend BD came into town, and we had a grand old time. He was my flatmate here in Ann Arbor back in 2003-2005, and we had a great time together, coming up with interesting design solutions to many of our identified problems. He helped me come up with my cantilevered wall shelving system, which maximized my floor space, while also utilizing the 16" of wall space located on a level above the door-frame and below the 8' ceilings in most rooms. I took his idea and adapted it to the following abodes, but not with the current one, since I have stone walls, and I don't want to bust into them with a hammer drill. He also helped design a weather-proof exhaust-fan system for the outhouse that is used at the caretaker's cottage in Saginaw Forest, thus making the experience in the summer not only bearable, but actually quite peaceful and pleasant, with the added bonus of creating compost in the 'reservoir', thanks to all the air being drawn through (which helps with the aerobic digestion of the 'inputs', thus keeping the amount of methane buildup to a minimum).

Anyway, he drove in to Ann Arbor in his new diesel Smart car, having sold his ancient SAAB once he learned that it would cost him a lot of money to make sure it was up to passing the emissions and safety tests that Canada makes cars pass (unlike in Michigan, where you can drive almost any piece of junk, so long as someone will insure it). The car is actually quite roomy in the passenger area, and I have enough head clearance, so I don't have to slouch. True, it doesn't have a lot of acceleration, but it will definitely get you from point A to point B, if not as quickly as a mid-1980s SAAB, then at least with a lot less fuel consumption. (B told me that his car gets something like 40 miles per gallon in the city). Oh, and parking is a breeze, too.

Our Sunday was filled with sitting, drinking coffee, and talking with lots of people that were B's friends (and my acquaintances), and also making some new connections between people who didn't know each other before; catching up on what had been happening over the last year; talking about the day-to-day of our lives; and just "being". I don't know if the staff at Tomukun (where we had a late lunch) knew what they were in for when our group of six (plus a baby) came in at 1pm... and left about 2.5 hours later. (Still, it wasn't busy, and they weren't hurting for tables.)

The evening finished at about 10PM, after some pizza, beer, and (even more!) good, congenial, conversation around a kitchen table (baby put to bed, and with us looking through the internet). All-in-all a great little time.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What I just learned about GPS

I had thought that GPS satellites were geosynchronous, thus allowing a person to know where he or she is whenever turning on a GPS unit. However, I learned this morning from a surveyor -- as he fretted about how quickly the maximum number of satellites overhead was diminishing -- that this is definitely not the case. True, there are GPS satellites above throughout the day, but the number (and thus the density, and thus the accuracy of readings) of overhead GPS satellites changes changes throughout the day, and certain times of day are, thus, more accurate than others.

Well, when might one know when the greatest accuracy for a particular region might be? Well, there are some websites that show information about where satellites are, but I don't know if any that actually will say, "For coordinates X & Y, the greatest number of GPS satellites overhead will be at time Z." However, the satellite position webpage will tell you where the satellites are right now, and this satellite prediction website will tell you which satellites will be "overhead" at a calculated future time (location is automatically determined by your IP address). Not as user-friendly (and non-geeky) as I basic user like me would like, but it is still very useful, and I will have to make sure that I use it to figure out when future GPS work will be most accurate (given the canopy cover, which will seriously limit the usability of the GPS until the late fall).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Unemployment figures increase as jobs creation increases

Although some of this was expected last month, the site SocImages points out and explains why unemployment figures are up, even as job creation is up.

One commenter - jfruh - pointed out that this might be due to population growth. Another commenter - Beelzebub - mentioned that he can't square why the U-3 and U-6 rates are both up this month over last month.

Taking these two points together, I did a small calculation:

Using the gist behind the comment by jfruh, let me do a quick-and-dirty calculation that incorporates population growth. First, I need to state some assumptions about this back-of-the-envelope (or napkin if you like) calculation:
  1. I will assume that the annual population growth rate of adults is 1% (roughly what the population growth rate was in 2008, as found by Google search).
  2. I will assume that the reported 2009 population was 307,006,550 (as found by Google search).
  3. I will assume that population growth is evenly distributed across months (i.e., that total yearly population growth can be divided by 12).
  4. I will assume that no one reaches retirement age (because I can’t find the growth rate of retirees).
  5. I will assume that only US citizens are working.

(2010 population – 2009 population)/12months = # adults added per month.

((307,006,550people * 1.01growth rate)-307,006,550people)/12months =

= 255,839 adults are added to the general work pool each month.

Of course, this estimate likely has really wide error margins (considering assumptions 4 and 5), so it is correct to say that the total jobs created are right now roughly on par — +/- a few percent — with population growth. Therefore a rise in both the U-6 isn’t too surprising given the relative difference between monthly population growth and jobs creation.

Kinda sucky, but hopefully somewhat explained?

UPDATE 1: jfruh apparently doesn't like my assumption #5, and apparently doesn't understand why I made the assumption:
This seems like a fairly fatal flaw. My understanding is that the only reason that the US workforce is increasing in numbers (unlike European and Japanese workforces) is because of immigration. Or do you mean “only legal US residents”?
True, I'll admit that it was the only one that I didn't explicitly explain, however, if he had taken time to look at how I was doing my estimation, I the that he should have been able to figure out why I was making that assumption. (Plus, it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, for eff's sake!)

Still, I took time to ponderously explain the reasons to him:
I assumed that only US citizens are working because I only did a search for the US population and the US population growth. These numbers only include US citizens, and not legal and illegal workers. Therefore, the assumption needed to be made that only US citizens were working, given the numbers that I had.
Again, it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation. I clearly stated my assumptions. I clearly stated that this means that the figure of 255,339 adults added per month has wide errors (especially given my assumption that only US citizens are working).
What more do you want from me? If you have the information about the growth rate in foreign workers in this country, then by all means let me know what it is, and I’ll add it to the calculation.
I await his response (hopefully with a monthly growth in foreign workers number).

UPDATE 2: I found a total projected immigrant population of 40,500,000 on Wikipedia. However, there was no indication of what percent of these people are expected to be "workers", or are competing for jobs...

UPDATE 3: Using the 40,500,000 immigrant population number, I decided to assume the same growth rate (1%) to be conservative with my estimate (since I'm using an projected estimate for the initial immigrant population). Therefore, assuming a 1% growth rate of this population, we have an additional 33,750 immigrant adults entering the workforce in April. Adding this together with the number above, you get 289,589 people; pretty close to the 290,000 jobs created number cited in the original story.

However, the addition of these 33,750 people to the total number doesn't change the fact that even the original value of 255,839 is within the same order-of-magnitude as the total number of jobs created. Therefore, jfruh's comment about immigrants -- although thematically salient -- doesn't move the value that significantly, since the amount of estimation error in the original calculation is already large enough to say that population growth is a major factor.

I think that (perhaps) when growth rates in the jobs market is marginally large, then population growth becomes a major factor affecting unemlpoyment; something that is exacerbated during a recession.

Some questions about the flag code

Recently, a number of things have made me wonder about how well people follow the flag code, especially the part about "Respect for the flag". Therefore, I looked up the Flag Code's section on "Respect for the Flag" and found this:

§8. Respect for flag
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
  1. The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  2. The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
  3. The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  4. The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
  5. The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  6. The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  7. The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
  8. The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  9. The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
  10. No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  11. The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning
Okay... So let's look through section 8 one by one. The protesters of the "disrespect" to the flag aren't seen (to my knowledge) in doing (a), and although I'm not sure that (b) really can work if the flag itself its merchandise, I don't think that it is generally done by "Flag coders", although with September 11th flag mat, one does have to place it on the ground...

That brings us to (c): in addition to the flag mat and the placing-of-a-flag at a memorial above, there are technical violations done repeatedly during sporting events, and often by the military:

This flag is both horizontal (against the code) and is not flying "aloft and free". Sorry, but this patriotic display of the flag is against the flag code.

On to point (d), the worst violation by the "Flag coders". Just consult the Oracle of Google for "US flag clothes" and you will find thousands of examples of a violation of this point. Some examples:

Although many "Flag Coders" may feel that it is the pinnacle of patriotism to sweat into the flag plastered on their bodies, whomever drafted the flag code would have begged to differ.

On to point (e): Here we find "Flag Coders" both upholding the code while others are also in violation of it (see above, where George W. Bush is clearly in a position to soil a flag, which is laying horizontally, and is touching the ground).

On to point (f), I didn't found this one example of a flag-as-ceiling... in a military tent. Can't be more patriotic than the military, right? Unfortunately, the contractor was breaking the flag code. (Apparently, the soldiers didn't know or care, either.)

Holding tent; flag ceiling

Then there is point (g). There are many photos of politicians supported by "Flag Coders" in which they are placing marks (their signature) on flags:

There are also the technical violations of "support-the-troops" insignias and symbols printed on top of the flag (while one might not like it, or feel that supporting the troops is a patriotic use of the flag, it is technically against this point in the flag code):

On to point (h): Doing a search for "flag basket" one can find many examples of the flag being a receptacle for potentially holding, carrying, and/or delivering. Are these flag baskets (or similar receptacles) used by "Flag Coders"? I don't know, since I couldn't figure out the correct sequence of words with which to query the Oracle of Google. However, I can imagine a "Flag Coder" in his or her flag shirt, sitting and eating a picnic out of a flag basket (but that basket would be on a blanket, and not on the ground, obviously).

On to point (i): Wow. Let's take this point-by-point. It "should not be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever": How many car commercials have you seen that have in them the US flag, especially around Memorial Day, July 4th, or Veterans Day? All of them -- in using the flag in the commercial -- are technically violating the Flag Code's "in any manner whatsoever" ban.

However, what about things like this sign, where you can go and be an American, and buy meat, cigarettes, and beer:

It should not be made into a cushion. Oops:

anything for temporary use or discard. Oops:

On to point (j), and in these times, you almost always see "Flag Coders" wearing patriotic flag pins, and you definitely see public officials, during public events, displaying their flag pins on their left lapels at every chance they get (providing they are wearing lapels). However, this wasn't always the case, as this photo of Reagan and Bush I shows:

Wow. The man who brought down the Soviet Union (and his one-term successor) aren't wearing lapel pins?!? How could you have known if they were "true patriots" and "real Americans"? (On a side note, if anyone has read through the graphic novel Pyongyang? There are a few panels in the book about how to tell if a person is a real patriot by the presence, position, and condition of their flag pins. This whole flag-pin business in this country really makes me think that some of the "Flag Coders" and "real American patriots" want to subject us to an authoritarian regime in which wearing a pin is equivalent to patriotism.)

Finally to point (k). It always seems to me that it is the "Flag Coders" who are up-in-arms about burning flags and how it's desecration. However, the code says that this is the preferred manner of destroying the flag. (Of course, with all these synthetic flags out there, I don't know if it's the healthiest manner of doing so.) True, many anti-US protesters burn the flag, but instead of getting angry at the fact that these protesters are burning the flag, one should be happy that they are treating it with a respectful final destruction at the hands of "the anti-US" who could have put it to far worse purposes.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mom's Day.

While Mother's Day is today in the US, I know (from having lived in the UK) that Mother's Day isn't celebrated on the same day in all countries (when it is celebrated at all).

For a list of celebrations in various countries, one can always consult the Oracle of Wiki.

Anyway, it's kind of windy and chilly today in Ann Arbor, and most of the mothers that I've seen walking around with children, spouses and (sometimes) parents have broken out the winter clothes again. Indeed, there was one really cute little girl running around in pink ski pants, followed by beaming dad and mom, both also bundled up. Interestingly, temperatures in the mid-40s F (about 6-9C) would have been met with t-shirts and (possibly) shorts just a month or two months ago. It's amazing how quickly acclimation to weather changes how your body responds to dips in temperature.

Still, it's sunny, and although it reached below freezing last night, it is now in the low-50s F (low-10s C), there is enough solar gain to keep you warm despite the low-ish temperatures and stiff wind.

Yoga and cultural associations with mysticsm

Let me first start by asserting that yoga is an Asian tradition. More specifically, yoga is a tradition from India. More specifically still, it originated out of meditative practices in Hinduism and is rooted in Hindu philosophy and mysticism. Everything from it being cited in many ancient Hindu texts (like the Bhagavad Gita) to its inclusion of mystical ideas like chakras all point it it being (A) Eastern (i.e., from Asia), (B) Indian, and (C) Hindu.

So why is it being so tied to Chinese?

I recently stopped in at the Ann Arbor People's Food Co-op and found a flyer for the Yoga House: a lime green paper with "Yoga House" in prominent bold letters above the Chinese character (or Japanese kanji character) for "pleasant" or "luxurious" (愉). Looking through the flyer, I was initially unable to find any link between yoga and countries in which Chinese characters are used. I thought that maybe the founder of Yoga House was Chinese, but looking on the "About" page, I see "Your Instructor is Michelle Bond" written above a photo of an obviously not-Chinese woman. (Okay, she is a black belt holder in Tae Kwon Do, but that doesn't -- to me -- necessarily explain the China-India equivalence.) I thought that maybe the meaning of Yoga translated to something tlike "pleasant" or "luxurious", but looking in a few places, I find that it translates to "control", "join", or "conjunction" (which would be something like 管, 合, or 結合, respectively). However, 愉 doesn't mean any of the things that yoga apparently does. Nor does the material on the Yoga House webpage point to anything about "luxury" (although it does sound quite pleasant).

And the Yoga House case isn't a unique example of this phenomenon. Looking around at the Yoga section of my local Borders, I found a few books and DVDs that prominently featured Chinese American yogi, Rodney Yee. Now, most of the books on sale showed white men and women doing yoga of varying degrees of difficulty, and I'm not saying that yoga hasn't become a lot more "mainstream" in the US (and becoming Americanized, too). However, there is a difference (at least in my mind) of transliterating "योग" into "yoga" to an audience that reads a Romanized language (and not a Sanskrit language) and casually mixing mysticisms. (Note, though, that I'm not against mixing mysticisms, so long as it is clearly stated why one is doing so; doing it willy-nilly is problematic because it glosses over and ignores the cultural and historical differences between them.)

By the way, if you go to "yoga" on Wikipedia, and then click over to the Chinese language page, the word for "yoga" in Chinese is "瑜伽" (in Japanese, it is transliterated as either "ヨーガ" or "ヨガ"; in Korean, it is "요가"). One meaning of 瑜 is "flawless gem", and (somewhat fittingly) 伽 is used as a verbal designation of the Sanskrit sound "gha". (I am often surprised at how well Chinese transliteration does in being able to combine a rough verbal transliteration of a word with an appropriate -- sometimes poetically so -- definition in the characters used to make up the word.) There is no inherent meaning behind the transliteration characters in Japanese and Korean, as these two languages use a phonetic alphabet that -- like the Latin-based alphabet used in English -- doesn't inherent meanings in each character.

Finally, though, looking through a list of Chinese characters with the same Pinyin transliteration of 瑜, you can find 愉. Yes, they are homophones of each other. However, they also share the same sound as other characters, with a variety of meanings, including "blocking the breath" (not really what one wants to do in yoga),"the mouth of a fish gulping for air" (again not really useful as an image in yoga), "stupid, doltish" (not a good way of advertising), "a military flag" (not really synonymous with the American ties of yoga with peace), and a host of other characters.

Perhaps Yoga House was not aware of the "official" transliteration of yoga into Chinese; or perhaps they chose to just use their own. However, I would argue that most people would not be aware of the above (possible) link between the Chinese character used by Yoga House and the Hindu mysticism-based practice that they teach there. And perhaps most people in the West don't really care. Similarly, I would imagine that most people who did know that it was a Chinese character on the flyer, and that yoga is from Hinduism, would be able to make up some sort of rational justification in their head to make the dissonance fade away. However, I think that there is a kind of "pan-Asianism" that exists in the West (especially in places where Asians are a visual and mental minority), which makes it "okay" to casually blend Eastern cultures in ways that create dissonances for some, but still keep it in the large and diverse bowl that is "Asia." What I think that this sort of thing does is analogous to mixing together the Norse god Odin with the Christian God; Loki with the Devil; Thor with Jesus; Tyr with the archangel Michael; Heimdall with St. Peter; and so forth. I mean, they are both "Western" traditions (and they both have "overlapping" responsibilities and personas), so that's all good, right?

(I wrote about something similar a few years ago about depictions of the Buddha as a fat man in the West.)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Random funny

I saw this teaser-fail as I scrolled through Hulu today:

The caption reads: "The night class at a prestigious private school tries to protect its secrets. With subtitles."

Right... like subtitles will be able to protect anything at the school. I just had to laugh. Great way to start the morning -- just before I have to ride four miles in the pouring rain.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Discussing disparate trends in permissiveness

Over at SocImages, a recent posting (and comment) about "Disparate Trends in Permissiveness" got me thinking about some things. The original data presented were the following two graphs (original source here):

The point was in wondering why (between these two graphics) the general trend in both graphs is downward, and Japan is an outlier when it comes to prostitution. One thing that was immediately apparent to me (and others) is that Japan doesn't necessarily pose as a good comparison group, since there are cultural and linguistic divides that are much greater than between any of the other six countries depicted. The better (and perhaps more interesting) thing to do is to compare it to a closer cultural neighbor.

Going over to the World Values Survey page, I was able to download the massive files in order to do some statistical analysis using SPSS and then exporting the data to Excel in order to graph it. I found a few things while playing around with the data:
  1. The dataset is HUGE! I had to cut it down to only a few items due to its unwieldiness. 
  2. A possible reason why looked at the percentage of people who responded "Never justifiable" to the questions is because they form the largest single percentage among the ten response groups, except in a few cases (such as Norway and Switzerland in their most recent surveys). Looking at other groups would not likely show values greater than 5%-10%, so most of the change in most of the countries is likely to be seen in the "Never justifiable" group.
  3. The sample sizes were quite large, always greater than 1000 people per survey year, so the standard error for all of these surveys should be quite low.
  4. Japan matched much better with South Korea and South Africa than with European countries when it came to these two parameters.
  5. The variance in the responses among the Japanese and South Koreans were generally greater in 2000/2001 than they were in 1981/1982 with regard to justified homosexuality. However, while South Koreans' response variance increased from 1982 to 2001 with respect to justified prostitution, it remained almost unchanged in Japan. (An increased variance would indicate a greater variety of responses given, something not immediately visible when looking only the % response of one extreme position.)
I present the comparative data for Homosexuality and Prostitution for South Korea, Japan, and South Africa in the same manner as done originally by Will:

So.... perhaps the reason why Japan is different than Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Sweden, and the United States is because it is not culturally similar to these countries. That it is more similar in some respects to South Korea (arguably a closer cultural neighbor) is less surprising.

In one of the comments at the SocImages post, "5.56" states:
Also, given how much the lines on the graph drastically zigzag (society cannot change from 20% acceptance one year to near 40% the next) around, I find it very hard to put much faith in the survey’s legitimacy.
However, much of this can be explained by the fact that Will's depiction only showed the percentage of people who responded with an answer of 1 (i.e., "Never justifiable") as opposed to a 2 or 3 (which, out of a ten-point-scale, are still pretty close to "Never justifiable"). By grouping the other responses together into three classes, one can see how the shifts over time occur. In the following graph, each time period's survey responses are groups into four categories: Never (response=1), Low (response=2-4), Medium (response=5-7), and High (response=8-10):

As one can see, while the "Never justifiable" category does "drastically zigzag" (especially between 1990 and 1995), this is due to concomitant increases in the other categories, especially in the medium and high groups. Similarly, the graph of the change in the average responses does not "drastically zigzag".

Nothing really surprising in the changes in either representation, but it does look suspicious when looking only at the changes in the "Never justifiable" responses (in other words, it pays to understand what it is one is looking at).

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Prevalence and survivorship of Down's Syndrome

Over at SocImages, there was the following graph about Down's Syndrome survivorship from 1968-1997:

My initial comment of the graph was:
I look at graphs like this and wonder, “Where are the error bars?” (or range of errors)

If the increase in the number of blacks increased because of a relatively few really high-survival cases, this would be seen in the error bars. Similarly, if there is a lot of overlap between Blacks and Other, then it would imply that separating out the two might not be very useful in terms of a comparison.

Similarly, showing all the numbers on a linear-linear scale makes it difficult to see if no black children lived past one year-of-age in certain years, or if it is just a really small number. Using a linear-log scale would really help out here.

Basically, my gripe is that the graph — without error bars — doesn’t give a lot of information for comparative purposes, especially between “Blacks” and “Others”.
To this, one commenter seemed to wonder why I (and others) have recently been so critical of graphs, and (erroneously) stated that error bars weren't relevant. To which I answered:
The error bars you cite the lack of was not relevant in the study being done and thus were not included.
And yet (and yet), you cite the 95% confidence interval… from which one could draw error bars. Apparently, the it was felt that the 95% CI was important enough to report, so perhaps they just didn’t know how to put it on the graph. (And considering the other problems they had with their visual representation, cited by me and others, it could just be that the authors didn’t know how best to do this, or their graphing software couldn’t do it very well.)

And why shouldn’t one be critical of the image being presented, especially since it presents (incorrectly, or — more graciously — obfuscatorily) data about a social effect? True, the point of the post is not the graph, but as others have pointed out, there is the problem of what a 0 means here. Is it “no data” or is it actually that no babies survived? Also, the error bars (or range of error) — which you erroneously state as not being relevant to the study — would really help interpret how the values between racial groups relate to each other.

But I turn the question over to you, Patrick: Why don’t you like it when people are so critical of presented graphs, especially when they point out obvious deficiencies of said image (on a blog about the sociological meaning and — I would argue — interpretation of images) that could alter how people interpret the meaning behind said image? (Especially since many of the recent posts are about graphs.)
Another commenter was wondering what changes occurred during the 13 years after the graph data, and (as a procrastination measure) I looked around a little bit. In a paper (which requires a subscription), I found the following graph:

Now, the graph isn't a trend over time, but I couldn't find one for the US in a search. Maybe someone else can...?

Figure Reference:
Mikyong Shin, Lilah M. Besser, James E. Kucik, Chengxing Lu, Csaba Siffel, Adolfo Correa the Congenital Anomaly Multistate Prevalence and Survival (CAMPS) Collaborative "Prevalence of Down Syndrome Among Children and Adolescents in 10 Regions of the United States" Pediatrics, Dec 2009; 124: 1565 - 1571.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Rain just starting --- I won't be cycling

The rain is just starting to fall here in Saginaw Forest, and the thunder rolls ominously behind it. There is a front of heavy rain showing up as a bruise on the weather scan, and this is forcing me to decide not to cycle in to the farmers market, which just opened 15 minutes ago. A fair decision, I think, especially since I don't really need a lot of stuff right now.

Of course, I won't be in a prime location to watch President Barack Obama give the commencement address at the Big House. In the (by then likely) pouring rain. But I can (hopefully) watch it on the Big Ten Network.