Fun adventure

Mi legas libronA few weeks ago, I was searching the catalog at the Jones Library and, in searched C/W Mars, found an Esperanto book I'd never heard of before. It's called "Kavaliro en Tigra Felo" (or Horseman in a Tiger Skin). It was for "in-library use" at the Williamsburg library. I was puzzled that they would have a book like that, so I wanted to go take a look at it. On Saturday, Lucy and I drove over to find out more.

We learned that an exchange program had brought a group of librarians from Georgia (the country), who donated the book during their visit. It's a 300 page epic poem about a king and his daughter's suitor who meet a horseman wearing a tiger skin and the suitor goes on a quest to track the horseman down. It was a delight to read: as interesting to read as the Odyssey or Gilgamesh.

I couldn't read it all, but I read for an hour or so and took some pictures. There was also an interesting story at the end by the translator, about why he believed the story should be translated into Esperanto. I wrote a longer blog post about it at E-USA.

Note: this post has been updated to replace the link to the defunct Esperanto-USA website with a link into the Internet Archive.

Last Naruto fansub

This evening, we watched the last of the Naruto fansubs by Dattebayo. Starting next week, there will supposedly be ways to watch Naruto through official channels. It's sad to see the era come to a close. I don't know whether the fansubs are more correct translations, but they speak in a much more authentic English dialect than the translations done by the corporates.

Vanishing Voices

Two of the books I read over the holidays were about the loss of world languages. The first, Language Death by David Crystal, presented a well-written, concise, but very academic -- relatively descriptive view -- about the death of languages. The second, Vanishing Voices by David Nettle and Suzanne Romaine, presented a comprehensive model for how and why languages are being lost and a number of anecdotes that illustrate how minority languages are being rescued and preserved, and how these might be implemented in other contexts.

The book includes many fascinating examples and anecdotes of how different languages embody unique world-views of the speakers. My favorite was a set of anecdotes about avoidance speech. In the presence of certain taboo relatives, speakers are required to use a different language. In the Dyirbal language, this language had the same grammar, but the nouns, verbs, and adjectives were mostly different. Dyirbal also had a noun classification scheme built into the grammar that I took to be rather like the inverse of gender. Men (and a bunch of things including animals) belonged to one category, women (and a bunch of things including birds, fire, and other "dangerous things") belonged to a second, with a couple more categories besides.

The initial chapters focus on what language death is, describe a range of different historical causes, document that language death is happening, and recognize discernible phases of language death. Later in the book, a model is presented that when languages of differing prestige are brought into contact, the first generation's children generally become bilingual in the traditional language and high-prestige language, but that second-generation's children generally are monolingual speakers of the new language, and the traditional language is lost.

In the end, they see the issue as fundamentally about economic power -- and the allure of a Western lifestyle. Traditional cultures make a Faustian bargain when they pursue the unsustainable lifestyle of westerners. Too often, they end up losing everything.

An important theme of the book is the close identification with language diversity, cultural diversity, and biodiversity. Local languages and their cultural knowledge become irrelevant as local ecosystems and associated ways of life are destroyed. The wealth of unique words that describe particular species and their uses offer little value when those species are gone, never to return, after clear-cutting, mining, or the introduction of mechanized farming. Unfortunately, western extractive industries and agricultural techniques often leave land less productive than it was under the original ground cover, and another indigenous people becomes a population of refugees in the blasted hellscape that remains of their Eden.

The authors focus on a range of projects illustrating how minority languages can be sheltered and valued -- in several instances documenting how traditional knowledge and cultural practices husband the resources of an area better than transplanted Western models. Key parts of rescuing languages involve improving their prestige and ensuring that speakers do not suffer economic consequences for retaining their native language. It's not a solution that global capitalism will support on its own.

Vanishing Voices

I've been enjoying the holidays with the family. I've been staying home, reading, writing, and spending time with the family. It's been wonderful. I wouldn't see much of the boys, fixated as they are on World of Warcraft, but I contrived to have Santa bring a new Wii game and I've been using that as an excuse to hang out with them. I won't play World of Warcraft, even though I recognize I would probaby like it -- I worry that I would get sucked in as thoroughly as they have. I spend enough time playing StarCraft as it is.

I've been writing a haibun in Esperanto. I've been interested in Haibun for a long time and have thought of several that I should probably write. This one seemed like an obvious one to write and I've really enjoyed writing it. I'm still exploring the medium.

It's typical that after the stress of the last couple of weeks in the semester, I've come down with a cold. My throat is sore and I'm coughing. At least it doesn't appear to be flu.

Semester finally over

Today, I finished the last of the grading and submitted all of my students' grades. I had a couple of students with questions and concerns that I addressed promptly. Afterward, I joined Tom and Buzz at Packards, a bar in Northampton, for lunch and a couple of pints of beer. We had a nice time chatting -- Tom and I had missed the previous lunch at Opa Opa last week due to the blizzard and other bad luck. It was good to get caught up.

Earlier, Lucy and I went to Lukasik's Game Farm and picked up a couple of small geese for our Christmas feast. Lucy and Buzz both guessed that I had wanted to have goose as a result of Dicken's Christmas Carol, but I don't think that's it.

As a young man, I became fascinated with having roast goose. We never had goose growing up, but at some point, I began to pester Lucy about wanting roast goose until she finally got me one at some point and I got to try it. It was fine. It was even better than fine: it was the fulfillment of a lifetime ambition of mine at the age of 14 or something. I'm not quite sure how the idea got into my head, but I have a suspicion.

There is a section in the Three Musketeers in which the musketeers have gone to the Parpaillot to breakfast and keep getting interrupted, so they make a bet with someone that they will go breakfast in a bastion and simultaneously hold it against the enemy for an hour:

"And what bastion is it?" asked a dragoon, with his saber run through a
goose which he was taking to be cooked.

"The bastion St. Gervais," replied d'Artagnan, "from behind which the
Rochellais annoyed our workmen."

"Was that affair hot?"

"Yes, moderately so. We lost five men, and the Rochellais eight or ten."

"Blazempleu!" said the Swiss, who, notwithstanding the admirable
collection of oaths possessed by the German language, had acquired a
habit of swearing in French.

"But it is probable," said the light-horseman, "that they will send
pioneers this morning to repair the bastion."

"Yes, that's probable," said d'Artagnan.

"Gentlemen," said Athos, "a wager!"

"Ah, wooi, a vager!" cried the Swiss.

"What is it?" said the light-horseman.

"Stop a bit," said the dragoon, placing his saber like a spit upon the
two large iron dogs which held the firebrands in the chimney, "stop a
bit, I am in it. You cursed host! a dripping pan immediately, that I may
not lose a drop of the fat of this estimable bird."

"You was right," said the Swiss; "goose grease is good with pastry."

I'm not sure, but I think this may be what fascinated me as a young man about the idea of eating goose.


I taught my last class yesterday. We did a poster session on the tardigrade research project the class had taken up. I always worry a bit when we do these big projects -- they're always a bit risky and don't always work out perfectly. Last semester, several of the groups had crashed-and-burned, in spite of (what I thought) were herculean efforts on my part to support and sustain students' efforts. This semester, things went relatively smoothly. One group insisted on using Powerpoint for their poster and, sure enough, it wouldn't print properly. We struggled with it and eventually -- at the very last minute -- we were able to get something to print. Overall, however, the posters were fantastic. The students had worked very hard to collect tardigrades, mount them in slides, identify them, and collect beautiful imagery. The posters were attractive, well-organized, and most had carefully constructed figures.

It was fun talking to the students about their projects. Several had reported how hard it was to find any tardigrades at first, but how, once you trained your eyes what to look for, you began to see them everywhere. Several talked about how cute and engaging the tardigrades are -- not everyone liked them so much, but I think everyone liked them more than the cockroaches I had students study the previous fall. (Maybe next fall, I can do something else warm and cuddly, like leeches. The cuddle up real close and are quite warm, especially as they finish their blood meal.)

I made a request at the beginning of class that, if anyone had any extra time, I would appreciate some help cleaning up the lab, since it had gotten messy while they were finishing their projects. I went down later in the afternoon to start cleaning and it was already done! A couple of enterprising students had taken it upon themselves to really make it shine. I was really touched and, in spite of the gathering gloom, it made the day seem brighter.

Some of the students have contributed their slides to the departments Natural History Collections too -- it will be useful to have them in the teaching collection so that future students will be able to see what a tardigrade looks like. (Although they're really easy enough to just go find when you need some.) A very successful semester in writing.


It's magical getting new glasses. I can still remember the miracle of getting glasses for the first time and having the whole world snap into focus. Now, getting new glasses isn't so dramatic, but it's still amazing to be able to see.

As an interesting counterpoint to Phil's post today, the woman who fitted my glasses simply gushed over how wonderful they looked on me and how good they made me look. Whether it was true or not, it made me smile and feel better about the experience than I might have otherwise.


I'm reminded today of how it's the connections with other people that bring the most satisfaction in life. Sarte famously said "Hell is other people" (which, as a parent, I modified to "Hell is other people's children") but without other people, life is not worth living.

Today, Laura and Jared stopped by and surprised me. They just walked into my office, unannounced. I haven't seen them in a couple of years, although we have exchanged messages electronically a time or two. I always love to hear from alumni -- but especially from former students, BCRC-staff, and friends. We chatted for a couple of hours about the university, work, the economy, and life in general.

Tomorrow, several of my Esperanto friends are planning to join me at Join the Impact, to protest California's passage of Proposition 8. I've made some signs in Esperanto to hold. I spent a while trying to come up with catchy signs. The best I came up with were "NE M8U NIN" and "EGALAJ RAJTOJ" and "GEEDZI?O GEJEDZI?O".

I'm really enjoying my local Esperanto group this year. On December 13, we're going to have an Esperanto Day celebration at the Jones Library. We'll have a potluck lunch at noon and then watch Gerda Malaperis. Join us!

When I think of connections with other people, I also can't forget my family: My two wonderful boys, who always make me smile. My wife, oryx, friend, partner, and stalking pony. My mother who keeps me sane. My brother, who I correspond with constantly. My dad. I try to never forget how lucky I am to have these connections that keep me grounded.


The end-of-semester crush has begun. People are beginning to buckle down and get stuff done, which brings more of them to ask me for help on various things.

Rodger had spoken with me about making a searchable interface for data from the insect collection. I showed the pages we had created previously. They finished the data from the first order (Lepidoptera) and sent me a spreadsheet. I used it as a pretext to go back and look at my old code and think about how to migrate it to the new server. I wrote all the old informatics scripts using mSQL. I started building these when it wasn't clear which database was going to become the one to use for web applications. I liked several things about mSQL: it compiled cleanly (while MySQL often would not); it used unix users and groups, it was simple to set up and use, and it was extremely stable. We're not planning to use mSQL on the new server, so I need to migrate everything over. This was a good test case.

I left work early to arrange a location for the Zamenhof Fest. A week ago, as I began trying to set up the Zamenhof Fest, I sent an email to the Jones Library about reserving a room. I sent the email to the library. On Wednesday, I got an email back that explained I had to visit the library in person during business hours. So, I went downtown, filled out the necessary paperwork, and got the room reserved.

Lucy and I had planned to go downtown anyway to have an early dinner at Baku's, the new African restaurant. It's actually been there for a while. I've wanted to go there, but Alisa had tried their food at some point (at the Taste, I think) and didn't like the sauce -- too ketchuppy. I could see that. I got the curry chicken with jollof rice, fried plantains, and vegetables. Lucy got the jollof rice and black-eyed peas. It was all delicious. They had fair-trade Kenyan coffee, which was very good too. It brought back a lot of memories for Lucy of her African adventures.


Today there aren't enough superlatives in English language. I feel like I've awoken from a fevered and terrifying nightmare to see a bit of sun peeping through the windows. After eight devastating years of predatory mismanagement of the country, we are finally going to have a president that wants to lead and govern -- and not just derail the country, raid the treasury, and enrich his cronies.

Don't get me wrong. Barack Obama is not going to be perfect and, with our broken and dysfunctional government, what he can achieve will be even less. But simply for the sense that someone in the administration cares about trying to make things better, rather than always looking for an angle to screw the country with, what a difference that will make.

It's always painful to me to see how many people in our country disagree. So many people, conservatives and liberals alike, have spoken so eloquently about the challenges facing our country, the potential of each of the candidates, and their choice to support Barack Obama -- to see their thoughtful reasoning ignored and rejected by people who smugly say, "He's a muslim! He's a terrorist! He hates America!" when all of these points are unequivocally and demonstrably false. As Jefferson and the other founding fathers understood, you can't have a meaningful democracy if you can't have a rational discussion of the issues. Has education merely failed? Or is there a substantial body of people that is ineducable?

For the moment, its enough to take a deep breath and be able to hope again.


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