Say what?

From linguaphiles:

Usage examples you wouldn’t expect to find in a dictionary
"They threw the newly born baby into the river." (for "river".)
"Suffocate the child so he will die." (for "suffocate").

I love the additional examples that the commenters provided.

"you will stick one end of it up your arse"
"it is better if I kill you and hide you[r body] where no-one will see it"
"do you want me to take my clothes off?" (for "clothes")
"This is the place where I always hide the bodies." (an example of an adverbial relative clause)

Some of the examples have to be deliberate attempts at surrealism, they’re too bizarre to be produced by a normal person writing in a formal context. But good lord, check out the novella written as an example of the phrase “a woman” for a Russian-English dictionary:

She became a woman at fifteen, when she fell in love with a good-for-nothing who used her feelings and deprived her of her innocence without thinking about the psychological consequences of this event for a girl who had grown up in a Puritanical family.

Let me guess, the writer of the entry is a failed novelist making ends meet by writing dictionary entries. I’m actually reminded of my French class in high school, where I fulfilled my dialogue-writing assignments by putting the speakers in bizarre situations (my favourite was a conversation between a junky and the dealer he is trying to score crack from).

Again on social networking sites

I’ve just realized that I might be behind the curve now.  I admit, I’m not keeping a constant watch on news about the Internet, but in my subjective experience, the amount of English-language media coverage given to blogs has decreased whereas it seems to me that the current information technology zeitgeist has been taken over by social networking sites.  You know, stuff like Facebook, MySpace, etc.  My guess is that blogs and bloggers are starting to find their niche in the Anglosphere, thus becoming more mundane with every passing day.  One certainly can’t disregard the high visibility of political blogs in the US and the constant commentary on them provided by the traditional news media.

So: blogs are mainstream now.  What else is next?  Social networking sites, apparently (a.k.a. SNS).  I mean, Foreign Policy did an article on them and The freaking Economist has a Facebook group.  Yeah, I know, it’s a bit bizarre.  I wonder who’s responsible for maintaing that group?

Okay, so perhaps when such staid auld institutions like The Economist have joined Facebook then it’s more a sign of being mainstream than cutting edge (and apropos of nothing, but apparently The Economist’s website has been redesigned).  However, being so new, in real time as opposed to Internet time, SNSes have barely been studied by academics so far.  Scholars are still grasping at the answers to such basic questions as who uses Social Networking Sites.  Via the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website (see what I mean about blogs becoming mainstream?), however, I found these two links to various stuff around the Internet related to SNSes:

The first is an article from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication by Eszter Hargittai, a sociologist from Northwestern University and contributor to the Crooked Timber group blog entitled “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites” (2007).

Hargittai mentions that “students who have at least one parent with a graduate degree are more represented on Facebook, Xanga, and Friendster than they are in the aggregate sample, while students whose parents have less than a high school education are disproportionately users of MySpace”, which is to say that North American socioeconomic divisions are reflected online by which SNS you join: MySpace for the working class, Facebook for the middle class.  This accords with what danah boyd observed in the blogpost that stirred up quite a lot of online reaction, partly because I think Americans don’t like to be reminded that class exists in their country (and as another tangent, I’d actually made the exact same observation as her that Facebook and MySpace users were clearly being segregated according to class and had even been half-assedly formulating a blogpost on the subject, though it’s just as well that she broached the subject first since she reaches more people and she actually used more than 50% of her ass when writing the post).

Basically, the point of the article is that who joins and stays with SNSes can be somewhat predicted by various demographic factors, and that we might be seeing the rise of a new social divide, this time between those who use SNSes and those who don’t.

The second link is a story about how people inadvertently flock and follow leaders when they are in crowds, such that 5% of crowdgoers can nonverbally direct the movements of the other 95%.  Qué interesante, you say.  Nunca he pensado sobre esta tema.  That’s not what I really wanted to point out, though.  Instead, look at the bottom of the press release and see that there are buttons for you to share the story on both Facebook and Digg.  I’m somewhat impressed that the University of Leeds’ publicity department is on top of this Web 2.0 thing, since university websites are usually not that up with the haps online.  Perhaps even SNSes are approaching mainstream-ness (mainstreamity? I think I like this one more).

Still, nothing can top my last item, this time coming from the antropologi.info blog: it seems that Owen Wiltshire, a grad student at Concordia University in Montreal, is planning on studying how anthropologists who study online social phenomena form online communities themselves.  Yes, you read that right, an online anthropologist is studying how online anthropologists work with each other online.  It’s so deliciously reflexive.  He’s also got his own blog, so I might just pop over sometime and say whattup.

The World’s Top Social Networking Sites

From Foreign Policy:

The World’s Top Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have made the world seem like a small place after all. But even on the Internet, persistent language barriers and cultural differences mean that the planet may not be quite as interconnected as you think.

Coming to Costa Rica, I found out first-hand how parochial the Anglosphere really is.  It’s easy to over-estimate the global reach of English when you’re immersed in it, but one must remember that the majority of the world doesn’t speak the language of Shakespeare.  The Anglosphere might seem all-encompassing in its totality, but all you have to do is change your linguistic environment and suddenly people are talking about celebrities you’ve never heard of and singing along to classic songs you never knew existed.

As offline, so also online.  I’m only now dipping my toe into the Spanish Internet and it’s rather fascinating to discover the differences Spanish Internet talk has from standard written Spanish (for instance, hardly anyone uses the upside-down symbol things like ¿).

This article from Foreign Policy is a nice round-up of the state of social networking sites in different language zones of the world.  I hadn’t known that Orkut was big in India or that its membership had plateaud, and neither did I know that Facebook was also big in the Arab countries, nor that Skyrock even existed.  And finally I found out who’s been using Hi5.  Anyway, do read the article, it’s only 2 pages long and is a good corrective to English-language ghettoism online.

The poor man’s Internet

I posted this on the board of the Facebook group Asian Media and Contemporary Cultures but it seemed a shame to just leave it there where only group members could see it.  Lately I’ve mostly been using Facebook to do stuff that I used to use this blog for, it’s just that I’ve mostly been writing personal stuff (yesterday I visited the rainforest, etc.) and it all seemed to insubstantial to put up on what I consider to be a serious blog.  Anyway, the short essay:

I tried to write this comment in response to the posted article “Communities Dominate Brands: As web content migrates to mobile internet” but it was apparently too long.

Anyway, I wrote that such rah-rah essays extolling the future within our grasp never sit quite well with me because they never mention what happens to people who can’t join the revolution.

As a grad student in Canada I couldn’t afford to surf the Internet on my phone (that first phone bill was a shocker), and now in Costa Rica I don’t even have the option. The government has a monopoly on telecommunications, there are long waiting lists for cellphone numbers and long lineups outside the govt. offices when new numbers are added, and most phones are 5-8 years old. Only in November did ICE (the Instituto Costarricense de Electricad, which despite the name handles more than just electricity) sign an agreement to allow the use of Blackberries in the country and it was specifically mentioned that it was for the convenience of foreign executives in Costa Rica, not local ones.

This situation has come about mostly through the exigencies of politics, as in many other parts of the world. All of my fellow development workers stationed in Africa that I’ve talked to have mentioned how much slower the Internet is there than they’re used to, and I remember being warned against using Flash in my pre-departure training because it would slow down the computers of developing country users to unacceptable levels. Perhaps viewing the mobile Internet on a PC will be akin to watching colour programs on a black and white tv, but I can’t help feeling that we’re watching the further economic segregation of the Internet, as indeed already exists for the global high-speed vs. dial-up divide.

Time will tell, I suppose, as it always does. Anyway, what are other people’s experience on the subject of digital divides vis-a-vis Asia and other parts of the world?

Blog update

So here are some blogs that I’ve discovered in my time away from blogging and some a little more recently:

  • Passport, the blog of Foreign Policy’s editors.  It’s all about foreign affairs.  The blog is okay, I can take it or leave it.
  • Managing Globalization, from the International Herald Tribune.  Jagdish Bhagwati and Jeffrey Sachs are apparently attached to it.  This blog is slightly more appealing to me since it’s all about the big G.  It’s especially interesting reading the interview with Jeremy Hobbs, the executive director of Oxfam International, since he talks about the role of NGOs, a subject near and dear to me right now.
  • The US State Department’s blog.  It’s pretty much the National Geographic-y depoliticized (ha!) PR copy you’d expect.  It’s no accident that it sounds like National Geographic, since the magazine itself was founded with the express purpose of American aggrandizement.  But still, interesting to look at in a car accident sort of way.
  • And speaking of car wrecks, what about the Private Sector Development Blog run by the World Bank?  Check out the subtitle: A market approach to development thinking.  If that doesn’t sound off neoliberal alarm bells in your head, then you should get your internal capitalism detector checked.
  • Continuing on with the theme of disaster, I’ve just now seen that the IMF has a new blog called the Public Financial Management Blog.  Considering the low point the IMF is in right now, I guess every little bit helps in convincing the public that it’s relevant.  But as far as I’m concerned, the sooner Bretton Woods is dismantled, the better.
  • While we’re dismantling, why not dismantle the whole thing?  Down with nation-states, up with anarchism, says Molly’sBlog. It’s more activist-oriented than the usual theory blogs on my RSS feed, but it’s certainly helped me get a better grasp on the intellectual underpinnings of anarchism.
  • There’s also International Political Economy Zone, a blog devoted to, well, international political economy.  It comes at things from a Marxist-influenced angle.  It’s only because of the blog that I understood what exactly the subprime mortgage problem was–briefly, banks gave money in the form of mortgages to people who didn’t have the income to meet their mortgage payments, a.k.a. the less well-off, a.k.a. the subprime.
  • Lastly, there is the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s blog, cBook.  With articles in French and English, the blog explores issues related to citizenship: multiculturalism, surveillance, policy issues, recipes for tossed salad, etc (NB: one of these things is not true).  One of my friends writes for them, do check them out; judging from their very empty comments queue, they need all the readers they can get.

I fear to look, yet I cannot turn away

This is just one massive train wreck of a  theory-bashing post:

Dear academics,
Have you ever ran across something academic (paper, book, lecture) that you thought was complete and utter bullshit? And yes you can include postmodernism 🙂

Why did it have to happen when I was offline?  Now it’s too late to join in the snarking.  And look at this:

I personally have found that “theory” usually is shorthand for “jargon-laden writing,” and that “jargon” is quite often shorthand for “words I don’t know and can’t be bothered to look up.”

BURN!  That’s gotta hurt.  And what about this exchange?

M: People hate what they don’t understand [i.e., postmodernism].

S: Hold on. Hate what they don’t understand? I understand completely, and I think it’s bullshit.

R: You completely understand postmodernism? . . . Alright, I’m done now.

G: Oh please god explain it to me.  I think I might have an orgasm.

Really, it’s easy to forget that there are people out there who think theory is bunk when one’s bookcase is in danger of collapsing from the weight of the cultural studies books stored there.  But then some undergrad comes along shooting their mouth off and wackiness ensues.

Kill your advisor

Dear god.

“By 1979 a frustrated Stanford graduate student in mathematics named Theodore Streliski had spent eighteen years in futile pursuit of a Ph.D.  When the last in a string of advisers requested further thesis revision, the student killed him with a hammer.”  – Robert L. Peters in Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D.

“One of my most-loved profs was a lit/myth guy, and he was shot to death by one of his grad students who’d been working on a PhD for years.” (gradstudents)

Like someone from the thread asked, just how often does this happen, anyway?  I mean, really, eighteen years?  Oh, and the advisor-killing part is also shocking.  Still, after eighteen years I might kill someone too.

A Filipino blog, for once

Yes, this post is dangerously on-topic for me.  Rather, it would be if I still maintained the fiction that Sarapen is about my research on Filipino bloggers.

But back to the main plot.  Manuel Viloria at Viloria.com gives Tagalog lessons on the requisite formulas one needs to know to get by in various social situations in the Philippines: “Happy Birthday,” “it’s raining hard,” “I’ll avoid pork rinds for now.”  You know, the essential things.  The lessons are also being podcast, so you can listen to how things are supposed to be pronounced.

I’m not sure who the audience of these podcasts are supposed to be, though.  “Learn to speak Tagalog now (for free!) to give you the advantage when you travel to the Philippines.  So it’s for people outside the Philippines, then.  But which people?  Business travellers wouldn’t need this much Tagalog since English can take them almost anywhere in the Philippines, so I must assume these lessons are for second generation Filipinos and non-Filipinos with personal reasons for learning Tagalog (i.e., married to a Filipino).  Which makes sense given the range of social situations covered in the lessons.

Tangentially, I confess that I still haven’t got into podcasting.  I’d rather have a text to quickly skim through than a meandering recording that I’d have to listen to in its entirety just to find out if there’s anything interesting in it.  When considering blog post vs. podcast, I’d have to go with blog post just for that very reason.  For me, their unskimmability kills most podcasts for me.  Of course, in the case of this particular blog, podcasting is certainly helpful, but in general, I just can’t get into them.

And on another tangent, I used to to regularly write about anarchism on my old blog.  Mostly my posts revolved around David Graeber, an anarchist anthropologist.  Some month back, I discovered this video of him being interviewed on Youtube and I thought I might as well put it up now.  It’s all interesting stuff, I just wish the whole interview was on.

“Just keep downloading music!”

On a lark, I searched for posts on Technorati that were tagged with “filesharing” and came across this story, originally from this German blog:  Apparently, German Internet users have been getting e-mail spam purportedly from German federal police that inform the recipients they have been caught downloading copyrighted materials and will face prosecution.  A certain German filesharer, who was loaded while reading his email (never do this folks, you’ll end up sending emails you’ll regret), called the number mentioned in the spam mail, which was the number of the real police.  The cop on duty at the time (11 pm at night) assured the caller that the e-mail was crap and told him, “Just keep downloading music!”  Warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it?  Cop guy probably downloads himself.