Keep The Bird Burning

Jonathon is organizing a campaign to help Shelley - who’s got her back to the wall financially at the moment – keep weblogging. To lose her voice would diminish us all… if you offered to kick some money into a ‘save the wonderchicken’ fund, which I didn’t end up needing, you might consider dropping it into a ‘save the Burningbird’ fund instead. It would be a Good Thing To Do.

Linguistic Relativism and Korean

[Warning : this is long.]

An email exchange with Kevin Marks a few weeks ago got me thinking more about one of the theories of linguistics that I’ve always taken for granted as a given. Only now as I am about to begin graduate level work in the subject am I realizing the degree to which various researchers in the field disagree about it. Of course, as is undoubtedly the case in most academic fields, there is disagreement about pretty much everything.

The following is probably of little interest to those not interested in linguistics (although may be of some small interest to those curious about the Korean language), and may best be skipped entirely. I am, however, keen to hear what people think, if they are interested in this field at all, so rather than keep my response restricted to email, I’ve decided to post it here. I suspect that it doesn’t even answer the question that Kevin put to me, which was ‘I’d like to hear a cogent argument for (the validity of linguistic relativism),’ if I understood it correctly. More of a wee survey for my own interest. Ah, well.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which is variously referred to as the ‘Whorfian Hypothesis,’ ‘linguistic relativism,’ and ‘linguistic determinism’ (a description of the strong formulation meant by implication to be a bad thing, I think) concerns the relationship between language and thought, and suggests in its strongest form that the structure of a language determines the way in which speakers of that language perceive and understand the external world. This formulation is generally understood by many to be untenable, but the hypothesis also exists in a weaker form : that language structure and content does not determine a view of the world, but that it shapes thought to some degree, and is therefore a powerful impetus in influencing speakers of a given language to adopt a certain world-view.

A possible opposite claim, from a sociolinguistic viewpoint, is that the thought (and thus culture) of a linguistic group is mirrored in the structure and content of their language, that because they behave and understand things in a certain way, their language reflects those behaviours and understandings – the idea that language is molded, if not determined, by culture.

Two quotes from the linguists whose names are most closely associated with this idea, the first from Edward Sapir (Language, 1929b, p. 207) :

Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language that has become the medium of excpression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsiously built up on the language habits of the group…We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.(Sapir, E. Language, 1929b, p. 207)

Benjamin Lee Whorf, who was a student of Sapir, went further than the ‘predisposition’ suggested by his teacher, and proposed that the relationship was a more deterministic one :

the background linguistic system (in other words, the grammar) of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual’s mental stock in trade. Formulation of ideas is not an independent process, strictly rational in the old sense, but is part of a particular grammar, and differs, from slightly to greatly, between different grammars. We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscope flux of impressions that has to be organized by our minds — and this means largely by the linguistic system in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way, an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees.

(Whorf, Benjamin, (1956). In J, Carroll (Ed.), Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf.

Whorf does not go so far as to say that language structure totally determines the world-view of a speaker here. He does add, though :

This fact is very significant for modern science, for it means that no individual is free to describe nature with absolute impartiality but is constrained to certain modes of interpretation even while he thinks himself most free. The person most nearly free in such respects would be a lingusit familiar with very many widely different linguistic systems. As yet no linguist is any such position. We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativity, which holds that all obcervers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are simialr, or can in some way be calibrated.

This last is where the argument runs off the rails for me, at least the argument in which I have any interest. It is also the portion of the idea upon which most critics focus, and which was fueled by the Great Eskimo Snow Silliness set off in great part by this :

We have the same word for falling snow, snow on the ground, snow packed hard like ice, slushy snow, wind-driven flying snow – whatever the situation may be. To an Eskimo, this all-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable; he would say that falling snow, slushy snow, and so on, are sensuously and operationally different, different things to contend with; he uses different words for them and for other kinds of snow.

(Whorf, Benjamin Lee. 1940. Science and linguistics, Technology Review (MIT) 42, 6 (April))

and which has been discussed at length in many places, including, cogently here, for example.

To most people, particularly those with little knowledge of Hardcore Linguistics, including myself, the weaker form of Sapir-Whorf seems self-evident. Of course the words we use, the words we know, have some influence on the way we think! The very fabric of our cognition is language, it might well be claimed (but of course that would be a claim that would meet great opposition as well). There is, predictably, great argument about what constitutes ‘mentalese,’ the native language of our minds, as it were). Do words determine the shape of our thoughts? Well, it seems equally clear that that’s nonsense, and though it may and can be argued, it must be said most people don’t bother to try.

Steven Pinker, who was the entry point to the brief exchange between Kevin and I a few weeks ago, calls the idea ‘linguistic determinism,’ and argues as most do that the strong version is nonsense. A student of Noam Chomsky, he works from Chomsky’s idea of ‘Cartesian linguistics,’ that the brain has a ‘hard-wired’ built-in language acquisition device with an understanding of ‘universal grammar’, and suggests that language acquisition is an instinct. If we accept that language is an instinct, as Pinker and his mentor Unca Noam argue, it seems as if we must reject the proposition that language shapes thought. Some consequences of this :

Thinking of language as an instinct inverts the popular wisdom, especially as it has been passed down in the canon of the humanities and social sciences. Language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture. It is not a manifestation of a general capacity to use symbols: a three-year-old … is a grammatical genius, but is quite incompetent at the visual arts, religious iconography, traffic signs and the other staples of the semiotics curriculum[...]

[...] Once you begin to look at language not as the ineffable essence of human uniqueness but as a biological adaptation to communicate information, it is no longer tempting to see language as an insidious shaper of thought, and, we shall see, it is not.

(Pinker, S (1994). The Language Instinct New York: William Morrow and Company Inc.)

In this, Pinker seems to be arguing not only against the idea that culture shapes language, but also the against idea that language shapes culture (by shaping thought). The use of the pejorative ‘insidious’ is a little unnecessary, but I’m not one who should poke people with sticks for using flowery language.

In his discussion of the idea, Pinker suggests three possibilities for interpretation:

(a) identicality: that language determines thought precisely, word-for-word;

(b) concept determinism: language determines (to an unspecified degree) what we

can think (doubleplus ungood!);

(c) linguistic relativity: that the form of our language (merely) influences what we tend to believe.

In Chapter 12 of The Language Instinct (quoted to me by Kevin), it seems that Pinker does concede the weak form :

Language surely does affect our thoughts, rather than just labelling them for the sake of labelling them. Most obviously, language is the conduit through which people share their thoughts and intentions and thereby acquire the knowledge customs and values of those around them.

Some commentators apparently do not take this as evidence that Pinker is admitting the weak formulation (c, above) of Sapir-Whorf. As I do not have access to a copy of The Language Instinct (no English language libraries and no damn money!), I’ll have to take their word for it.

The amount of time and energy that’s been expended on arguing about how vocabulary effects cognition surprises me, frankly. I think there’s a much more interesting discussion about grammar and deeper structures here that often seems ignored, at least in what reading I’ve managed to do.

The effect of such things on language users seems to me to be more pervasive and more subtle than simple differences in richness or breadth of vocabulary, on which most work and thought has seemed to focus.

One reason I believe this to be so is as a result of some of the fundamental differences in language structure between Korean and English (and to a great extent, the other European languages with which I have some familiarity). Please note that I neither claim to be a expert in Korean language (more of a lazy amateur), nor have I conducted any experiments or formal observations. First, some background. There are three ideas with some circulation about the earliest genetic relationship of Korean with other language families : 1) the traditional view that Korean is an Altaic language, sharing its origins with Manchu, Mongolian, and Turkish, amongst others; 2) the proposition that Korean has its origin in two language families, Altaic and Polynesian; and 3) the view that because of insufficient evidence to support a definitive relationship with other languages, Korean is a language isolate.

Regardless of its origins, Korean does share a number of features common to Altaic languages : words are built by agglutinating affixes, vowels within words follow certain rules of harmony, and articles, relative pronouns, explicit gender markers, and auxiliaries are not found.

Although Korean is not related to Chinese, as a result of history and geography more than 50 percent of the words in the Korean dictionary are of Chinese origin. Most legal, political, scientific, religious and academic vocabularies, as well as Korean surnames, and increasingly at present given names, are based on Chinese borrowings and can be written with Chinese characters, although meanings and pronuciations have often shifted as they have been adopted.

Although some basic words for body parts, clothing and agriculture are shared between Korean and Japanese, and other similarities exist, including grammatical structures similar enough that word-for-word translations between the languages is relatively easy, it is still uncertain whether the similarities are genetic or come as a result of historical borrowing between the two. Many features of Korean separate it from English and other Indo-European languages. Some of the most important of these (for my discussion here, at least) are the use of honorifics, relationship words, and different levels of speech (others include articles, plural markers, pronouns, adjectives, verb forms, demonstratives and so on).

Honorifics are markings for nouns and verbs that express the speaker’s attitude toward the addressee and the person who is being spoken of. Relationship words are blanket nouns denoting relationships between people that are commonly used in informal conversation between people, rather than given names – older brother, younger sister, uncle, auntie, grandmother and so on. (In the slummy, thin-walled building I used to live in in Busan, it was de rigeur on Saturday nights to hear sounds of passion and female cries of ‘Opa! Oh, opa! (older brother)’ from the playboy-next-door’s apartment.) These extend to the common practice of referring to a woman as ‘so-and-so’s mother,’ rather than using her given name.

There are four main levels of speech – polite-formal, polite-informal, plain, and intimate style – from which a speaker chooses, generally unconsciously, in everyday speech. The rules which determine the appropriate choice in conversation derive from the arcane art of knowing the ins and outs of the complex sociocultural fabric of Korean. It is equally inappropriate (in general) to address an older non-relative informally as it is to address a child with the polite-formal style, and mistakes like this may constitute a social breach (although it is generally understood that non-native speakers might make such mistakes). Depending on the relative status of the speaker, the person spoken to, and the person or thing that may be spoken about, the speaker can choose different words and forms to express intended meaning. For many basic verbs like eat, sleep, or give, at least two Korean words are available, each reflecting a different status of the subject or object of the verb. Each verb in Korean is further altered by a choice of grammatical affixes, adding not only grammatical information (such as tense), but carrying different levels of respect, deference, or politeness. Many nouns that refer to kinship or the household alsohave plain and honorific versions, the latter of which are used speak of another’s house or relatives, and the former of one’s own.

How does all of this relate to my earlier discussion of Sapir-Whorf, and considerations of how much and in what manner language may shape thought, and whether culture (loosely) determines language stucture, or vice versa? Don’t worry, I’m getting to that.

Korea is widely acknowledged to be the most Confucian nation in the world technically neo-Confucian, but there’s no need to split that particular hair here). Confucius focused on the need to maintain social order though willing or unwilling submission to the five primary relationships :

1) Ruler and subject

2) Parent and child (teacher and student)

3) Husband and wife

4) Older and younger person

5) Friend and friend

All of these relationships are explicity hierarchical, excepting, significantly perhaps, the last, although friendship of a Confucian bent is a considerably more meaningful proposition, it may be argued, than ‘buddies’ in North America might be.

Appropriate behaviour is expected for participants in each of these relationships, and the language used must be similarly hierarchical :

…a son should be reverential; a younger person respectful; a wife submissive;a subject loyal. And reciprocally, a father should be strict and loving; an older person wise and gentle; a husband good and understanding; a ruler righteous and benevolent; and friends trusting and trustworthy. In other words, one is never alone when one acts, since every action affects someone else.

Although as in many nations, the strength of these traditional beliefs is fading, Confucian tenets still underly a great deal of the conscious and unconscious expectations of social behaviour, and deeply influence the relationships between the sexes and the generations.

The question that interests me, then, is this : do structures and forms like these in the Korea language shape the way in which Koreans think, particularly in terms of their relationships not so much to the world but to the people in it, to such a degree that we can say that language has given them a world-view substantially different than, for example, my own, as an English native speaker? It certainly seems so, to me.

Language is a tool for communication, a social construct, and it seems somewhat pointless to argue about what nouns one uses, and whether the presence or absence of a given bit of vocabulary in one language or another either permits and limits one’s ability to think about it. This may be so, but I don’t think it’s very interesting, except in the abstract.

More interesting to me is the idea that the structures of a language – in this case Korean – may expand or limit the way in which one thinks about something much more important than snow (for example) : how one fits into society, and how one interacts with other humans. That Koreans really do think differently about these things, and that this may spring (entirely, partially, as much or less so?) from their language.

Is this a valid argument for a weak form of lingustic relativism? Is it even something that comes under the Sapir-Whorf rubric? I’m not sure. An opposite, equally important question is this : is it the case that the language has come to have the form it does as result of culture and belief, rather than the opposite? Confucius was Chinese, after all, and from an entirely different language group!

Again, I’m not sure. The correct answer is usually ‘a little from column A, a little from column B’, I know. Like I said, though, I’m an amateur who hasn’t taken a single course in this stuff (yet!). So I’m curious about what you might think, dear reader, whether you’re a full-fledged linguist (like languagehat) or just, like me, an enthusiastic dabbler.

World. Party.

One of the songs that was a soundtrack to some of my best wanderings, listened to again tonight, with a tear and a smile and a clutch of beers.

Episode 3 [.mp3, 4Mb] in the ‘bottle weekly song sharing festival of randomness. As usual, I’ll leave it up for two days. Enjoy.

The Waterboys – World Party

Well it’s got nothing to do with anything that is real

You just believe in it and it’s true

You can sooth like an angel or sigh like a saint

You can dream it and see it through

You will live to see a sea of lights

Sparkling on the face of a pearl

Climb your own peak

Find a new streak

Get yourself along to the world party (party!)

Now you’ve been building for yourself a cool place in the sand

You’re thinking that it’s mighty fine

You’ve got dust in your eyeballs, you got mud in your mouth

But it’s your head, it ain’t mine

I’ve got a madman of my own to contend with

Cursing in the cave of my skull

Turn the other cheek

Find a new streak

Get yourself along to the world party (party!)

Well I heard a rumour of a golden age

Somewhere back along the line

Maybe I dreamed it in a whisper or

Heard it in a spell

It was something to do with the sign of the times

And the only thing that I remember

Is a summer like a pretty girl

Who shimmers and shines

Moving in time

shaking to the beat of the heart of the world

Party (party! party! party! party!)

Recent Korean History

A reasonable summary at Mother Jones of the events leading to the current situation on the Korean peninsula. Two things are notable, at first read, by their absence, though.

1) “(from 1994) …for three years the Clinton administration stalled on implementing the agreement, hoping that the highly militarized North Korean regime, its people suffering from starvation, would simply collapse.”

This is true, and it’s also true that more than 2 million Koreans died in the meantime. How inconvenient!

2) “In June 2000, the president of South Korea, Kim Dae-jung, acting on his own initiative and without consulting the United States, undertook a historic journey of reconciliation to Pyongyang, in an effort to eradicate the last vestiges of the Cold War on the Korean peninsula. His visit produced a breakthrough, and won him the Nobel Peace Prize.”

His visit and ‘breakthrough’ came, in typical Korean fashion, as a result of a bribe of several hundred million US dollars paid by chaebol Hyundai to the DPRK regime. Not all that deserving of accolade, perhaps.

This conclusion, near the end of the piece, is one about which I am very uncertain, to put it mildly :

If President Roh were to ask American troops to leave South Korea altogether, with perhaps only a treaty promising an American “nuclear umbrella” in case the North ever did use nuclear weapons, I believe a reconciliation between the two Koreas might come very speedily.

If the Americans leave entirely, I’m on the next plane out, too. Whether or not I think they ought to be here, they need to be here, at least until Kim Jong Il and his regime has collapsed, as it inevitably will.

Lakoff A La Carte

Some context for the George Lakoff article recently noted here and elsewhere around the traps : a one-hour discussion from NPR [realaudio, 52 minutes] with him, rooted in linguistics, on metaphor as core to our cognition, and why he thinks that neuroscience has proven philosophical method to be flawed. Useful perhaps in understanding where he was coming from with this.

Special SuperCaliFragiLinguistitastical bonus audio : Steven Pinker on Words and Rules [NPR realaudio, 56 minutes]

You like that? Hmmm, you liiiiike it? You want more, baby? OK, here’s the motherlode. Enjoy.

I AM THE GREATEST!

Last week every second thread at the ‘filter seemed to have at least one mention of Neal Pollack, and how he’s tastier than pre-sliced cheese and better looking than that guy on the infomercial, you know, the one with the hair, and may or may not be America’s Greatest Living Writer. Me, I had no idea who this guy was.

So using the all the tools at my command, at great personal risk and expense, and by the grace of GOD, I tracked down his own Personal Website.

And he’s a pretty funny f–ker, you know?

Going Dark?

Shelley’s mentioned that she’s not going to be able to renew her lease with her webhost after the end of this month, so I guess it’s time I talked about it too.

Over the last year and more, even with all the financial chaos and stress she’s been experiencing, the Burningbird’s also been generously hosting the Empty Bottle, and when her weblog goes dark, that means mine will too.

I’ve only thanked Shelley indirectly in the past, because I believed that was what she’d prefer, but I’d like to very publicly offer a heartfelt thank you to her now, for her help, her encouragement, and her friendship.

Thanks, Shell, for everything. If you hadn’t noticed me a few years ago and been possibly the first to *gasp* actually blogroll me (I remember that cherry-poppin’ thrill, I do) and unexpectedly sing my praises (back when I had no idea that there were actually other people out there doing this stuff, before I knew that these random Neato Sites I kept running across were run by people who knew each other, personally or virtually, some of whom were allegedly part of cliques and denied it and some of whom weren’t and claimed they were, and that the web was primarily a social place, and that this was all going to explode into something miraculous and unexpectedly important to me) I might not be the Master of Time, Space and Dimension I am today. Or something like that, anyway.

Thank you.

And now, if the ranting is to continue, it’s hat-in-hand-time for me again, I guess.

Continue reading ‘Going Dark?’

Two Lips, Two Lungs and One Tongue

Here’s your obscure kickass Song of the Week, folks [2.7 Mb, mp3]

(installment #2 in an unannounced new feature on the ‘bottle (and praying that my ISP doesn’t notice)) :

NoMeansNo – Two Lips Two Lungs And One Tongue (Wrong, 1989)

He kept trying

He kept trying

But he couldn’t find out

Why he couldn’t stop crying

Only so many songs can be sung

With two lips, two lungs and one tongue

She kept praying

She kept praying

That he would understand

What she was saying

Only so many songs can be sung

With two lips, two lungs and one tongue

He kept dreaming

He kept dreaming

Of the day they’d realize

What he was feeling

Only so many songs can be sung

With two lips, two lungs and one tongue

Only so many songs can be sung

With two lips, two lungs and one tongue

Hanoi Ed Rocks!

Ed has said some interesting things about the latest conversation we find ourselves blogging our way through, including this :

Given the peremptory perception of a post and the false sense of importance behind an entry, people are loath to actually express what is on their minds. Popular weblogs are disinclined to state anything about politics or war other than the neocon hard line, something else that can be filed under the rubric of “oblique” commentary. And thanks to the extension of our cult of personality to weblogging with terms like “A-list,” referrals, the intricate brownnosing and insularity seen at events like SXSW and Fray, it has now expanded to a level that sometimes negates the socializing and collective innovation that these events are supposed to be about. The Leo Buscalgia-like need to be liked, linked, or befriended, to be noticed as if the whole personal writing gambit or sense of weblog being was some spineless, drug-free answer to Studio 54 and the strange Bush-NATO idea that “an attack on a person’s writing is an attack on a person” (tell that to a libel expert and he’ll laugh you out of his office), causes people to pull punches or take things far too seriously. And it corrupts honest expression.

which is excellent and with which I agree quite emphatically, but to which I must reply ‘Not the wonderchicken, muthaf–ka!’

Meaty, Beaty Identity

[This post contains adult content (in a sophomoric container)]

So I had this brilliant idea that I’d find some cheesy 50′s-style text pr0n, and search and replace the names with, you know, like Saddam and George and Dick and so on (reminds me of the Carlin joke from a decade ago about the first Gulf War : “…with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell in charge of this war, a Dick and a Colin – you know someone’s getting f–ked up the ass!”) and it would instantly become Comedy Gold and secure me my place in the weblogger Hall of Fame for all eternity.

Five minutes later, that seemed like a really dumb-ass idea, as these things usually do. But in the intervening time, I’d gotten all hot and bothered and plugged the nearest INPUT with ‘hot rod +rammed +quivering‘, having cast my mind back for keywords I could lift from the amusingly goofy dime sex-novels I remember finding in my grandfather’s basement when I was about 12. God bless the Googlebot.

That search took me here in short order, where all sorts of textual sucking and grunting and thrusting and other activities of a carnal nature were taking place.

Distractions happen to me almost continually – (I blame a period of recreational Ritalin use a while back, in the days when judgement was, if not entirely fled, at least in short supply) oh look, a shiny thing! – and I found myself wondering what sort of site might lie at the root (no pun intended) of the URL. Kinda bloggeresque domain, after all – myboringlife.com. [Warning - this URL will try and install an ActiveX control (which may or may not be kosher) and may contain nudity. Not that the latter is such a bad thing, really.]

A domain like this, and one kind of expects kitty pics and posts about how annoying that guy down at the laundromat is, although I should really try to be nicer to him, ’cause everyone’s beautiful in their own way, you know, a beautiful and unique individual. Well, no. Except in the loosest possible sense of ‘kitty.’ Get me?

Turns out that it’s the site of a camgirl, or in this case I suppose camwoman, named Karen, who is apparently a widow and lives in Hollywood, and who is given to favouring the world with displays of her mammalian appurtenances. You know, her boobies.

What amused me, in light of recent bibliotic thought and talk about who we are, and how we write those selves into existence, and who those selves are, and all of that, was this :

me.jpg

No prevarication, no qualification, no veils or ambivalence, just one word : me.

I wish Karen no ill, of course, and intend no mockery, despite my smartass tone. When it comes down to it, aren’t we all attention whores to one degree or another, we webfolks? Sometimes I think there’s really not much difference between a camgirlwoman and your average blogger, even bloggers as admittedly excellent and erudite as those here in my virtual neighbourhood, wordy storytelling bloggers like me.

Except that Karen’s breasts are clearly much nicer than mine.

[Update : Penisblog. QED. via Mefi]

Promises

I have promised, in roughly chronological order, to write about

(apologies to anyone I missed.)

I’m not sure how many of these, if any, I’ll get to, but I’ll try. I suck at digging out from under the results of my own laziness.

Stop The Madness, Darn It

Now I know the Patriot Act (quite possibly to be extended indefinitely, is the word on the streets) is Bad, and the Bend Over And Feel Our Power Act (also known as Patriot II – The Second Coming) is Worse, but this, friends and neighbours, this is Insupportable.

In Fairfax, VA to be precise. The police there have decided that getting drunk in a bar is an arrestable offense worth enforcing. You don’t have to be starting trouble, getting in a fight, or climbing behind a wheel — the simple act of drinking in a bar gives them enough probable cause to harass and subject you to tests. And if you actually have the gall to have more than a couple beers while in that bar, you’re going to jail and getting fixed up with a nice criminal record.

[more...]

Courtesy of the excellent Modern Drunkard Magazine.

Whales

My mother recently found one of the journals I kept during my wanderings in the 90′s, buried at the bottom of one of my old tin trunks that had been sitting out beside the woodpile at the lodge for a few years, and mailed it to me. Reading it has flung me back into the sweet mad whirl in which I lived for so many years, and brought back a peacock fantail of good and bad memories. Here’s an excerpt :

December 28 1992

Latitude N 21°50.51

Longitude W 105°52.89

After an overnight cruise south from Mazatlan, the shakes from the exhaustion after 2 or 3 hours sleep are chased away momentarily with a little caffeine.

At sunset, we had 5 sails up in a vain attempt to catch what little wind there was – jib, stay, main, mizzen staysail (which was actually the old chute from Taiping), and the mizzen. We must have looked magnificent in the fading light. But as the sun went down, the flukey light winds said ‘f–k it’ and went to bed. We dropped everything except the main and mizzen, tried in vain to get some speed, then gave up and sheeted them in tight and turned on the engine.

About three in the a.m., orange dots began to show up like measles on the radar. A veritable flotilla of fishing boats, all overlapping their nets in continuous lines miles long, raking everything alive out of the water. Miserable bastards. No running lights to speak of, of course, and the few there were obeyed no patterns, so we had a few tense hours winding our way amongst the boats, hoping like hell that we wouldn’t hit any of their nets. At least the sun-bright squid boats with their spidery armatures of lights pointing down into the water were easy to avoid.

Michael retired before we were through (a little worse for the beer I suspect) but we managed, Dale and I, to steer us through. Iron Mike, the autopilot, did most of the work – but we watched damn close, adjusting every minute or two. Came within a few hundred feet of a couple of them, which out on the open water felt close enough to smell their farts.

sh-t! Whales – I almost forgot. Not only was there a humpback in full breach not 200 feet from us as we approached Mazatlan a couple of days ago, which was my first glimpse, but shortly before sunset last night, while I was steering under sail, two more humpbacks surfaced and blew about 100 feet off the starboard beam. Curious, they turned to approach. The sheer size and majesty of those magnificent bastards terrified me. They came within about 20 feet of the rail, then, sounding, dove. Michael worried aloud that they’d ‘fall in love’ with the boat and bump it a little, rub against it some. They do that sometimes, he said. Maybe he was just messing with me. But they were at least as big as us, and we’re 71 feet LOA. I was all over the compass, heart pounding.

The whales surfaced again about half a mile off the port beam, having dived beneath us, then turned north and headed towards Mazatlan. We sailed on, slowly, sniffing for winds.

Wet Noodling

Gary Hart, as everyone knows by now, has his very own weblog thingy. This in and of itself is moderately interesting, I suppose. An indication to the starry-eyed that Blogging Really Does Matter (*cough*bullsh-t*cough*), a sign to the less credulous that political PR fluffsters are working every damn angle they can (possibly having studied the RagingCow Episode and powerpointed up a clever way to avoid the halfwit faux-hip clankers that fell like blue-ice jet-toilet turdmeteors in the wake of that one). I stopped by Gary’s site for the first time today, and was…uh, underwhelmed.

If this is the kind of rhetoric we can expect from the defanged and image-managed yawnocrats that roam free-range across the political landscape in America these days, we may well be in deeper sh-t than we think. Ten out of ten for linking to Metafilter on the blogroll, Gary, but minus several million for meaningless, pandering empty-talk like this :

Bruce asked what kind of non-violent cause or causes might unite America and why Democrats have not proposed it. I can suggest at least three: homeland security, energy security, and national productivity. Americans should be enlisted in an urgent national effort to secure our neighborhoods against terrorist attacks. We can volunteer for training in emergency medical response in case of mass casualties and assume auxiliary police and fire duties. Our people would also rally around a national project to make us sufficiently energy efficient that no American need die for foreign oil in the future. And we can all participate in shifting our economy from one of consumption to one of saving, investment, and productivity.

Yeah, right, that’s it. And, as a wise man once said, monkeys will fly out of my butt.

That said, though, this entry is somewhat less tepid, and briefly fans aglow that deeply buried spark of hope I still carry around in the skull of a goat (wait, no, that was Quest For Fire, wasn’t it?) that all is not lost.