Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lost in Translation

Every week it seems that I encounter a new Aussie word that requires translation.  For example, a couple of weeks ago there was a story in the paper about "Bowser Rage," in which a man was punched in the face, hit his head on the concrete, and fell into a coma after apparently cutting in line while people were lined up for the next bowser.  What's a bowser, my American readers are asking?  Simple: a gas pump at a service station.  According to the story, about 40% of Queenslanders reported experiencing bowser rage in the past six months.  Oh my!

I confused two students this week while I was giving them feedback about papers.  I told one that some information should be provided in parentheses.  "What is that?" she asked.  I soon learned that many Aussies have no idea that Americans refer to () as parentheses and [] as brackets.  For Australians, both are called brackets.  I told another student that she needed to put a period after "et al" -- which prompted a blank look.  The right term here is "full stop," like the thing that appears at the end of this sentence.

A few days ago I was sent the following video by a Kiwi living here in Brisbane.  Back in March when I was at a conference in Wellington, I couldn't appreciate my Aussie colleagues' laughter about the New Zealand accent.  To tell you the truth, I still have a hard time detecting it.  There seems to be so much variation in Aussie accents that a Kiwi could easily slip in undetected.  The humour of this video was therefore lost on me:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ranting on Meth

Well, here's my vote for the most under-reported story of the year. According to this LA Times story titled, "Men's threat to kill Obama is downplayed," the three men pictured above had vague plans of killing Barack Obama during his trip to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. Interestingly, the U.S. Attorney's Office has decided that their 'plans' were just the "racist rants of drug abusers," as at least one of the men, Nathan Johnson, was arrested with small quantities of meth in his possession. Apparently the media have also downplayed the story, as I haven't seen much about it on any of the major news sites. This is especially puzzling, given that the U.S. Attorney, Troy Eid, "acknowledged that many questions had not been answered, including why the men had high-powered weapons, body armor, two-way radios, wigs, and camouflage gear. It was also unclear why they decided to base themselves in a suburban Hyatt hotel where they believed--erroneously--Obama was staying."

I guess the message here is that no one can take a meth addict seriously.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Whole of Lot BIRGing Going On

One of the many strategies we all have to boost and maintain our self-esteem is Basking in the Reflected Glory of others, or, as it's known in social psychology, BIRGing. We can do this on an individual level ("my friend just won a gold medal") or as part of the group ("my football team won this weekend!"). One of the puzzling aspects of this phenomenon is that the person doing the BIRGing has usually done nothing to assist the other person with the success or good fortune, but somehow finds pleasure in knowing that they are connected to this successful person in some way. By the way, the opposite of BIRGing is CORFing (cutting off reflected failure). One famous social psychology study found that Ohio State students were much more likely than normal to wear their OSU apparel on Mondays following a win by their football team, but they were also less likely to wear such clothes on Mondays following a loss. Both BIRGing and CORFing have a very public element associated with them--our friend (or team's) success (or failure) has special value when it is broadcast to others. Well, what follows is a bit of such broadcasting, but I am going to stick to BIRGing for now...

Over the years I have been guilty of BIRGing along two general categories--my friends' connections to the famous and my friend's noteworthy successes. As examples of the former category, my friends have included (a) a relative of Allen Ginsburg, (b) the target of a pick-up by Tori Spelling (my friend refused her advances, btw), (c) someone who was employed to be a "friend" of the daughter of a famous billionaire, (d) the daughter of a Hollywood film director, and (e) someone who lives in Kevin Bacon's building (which gives me all sort of "six degrees" connections!). The other BIRG category is probably more impressive, as they include a friend who is a successful TV and film actor, the bass guitarist for a great '80s/'90s band, many highly productive academics, a top journalist, a successful artist, and several friends who are now department chairs or deans. Today I can add another high school classmate to the list--Dan Gesmer, who runs a successful skateboard business and is a performance artist. Dan invented a style of freestyle skateboarding that you can see in this video. What's more, he was recently asked by Cirque de Soleil to become part of their winter show, Wintuk, in New York City. This is the first Cirque show to feature skateboarding, and it looks like they specifically recruited Dan to perform based on some of the videos he has made.

Wow! I know someone who has performed with Cirque de Soleil!! I'm on BIRG overload today!!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

For the Love of Sport

V. and I have spent a fair bit of time in the past two weeks watching the 40+ billion dollar Olympics. Australian television coverage is about as biased as what I have seen in America on NBC. And, again the two of us have been suckers for the mythology surrounding "heroes" and "drug-free" sports like everyone else who watches. When I was growing up I had a great appreciation for the "amateur" status of the games, although I was quite ignorant then about how other nations were pumping millions into their Olympic athletes to put on a good show every four years. I have always held a bias against big money sports, so that's why I found special pleasure in watching the Australian synchronised swimming team, which is entirely self-funded and has no corporate sponsorship, in contrast to watching men's basketball or tennis, with their millionaire players. Still, I do get caught up with the drama of some of the competitions (the cycling in the velodrome was awesome!) and I admire the discipline and devotion of so many of the individual athletes. I have found myself cheering for both the Aussies and the Americans, but I certainly cannot see how any of this seriously helps or hurt international relations. Some fans, however, do get quite wound up about all of this. Last week, for example, the Sunday Mail here in Brisbane featured an article with a headline suggesting that state secrets were being sold to China. It turned out to be a story about an Aussie swim coach who has sold his training techniques to the Chinese because they apparently made him an offer he just couldn't refuse. Although he's been doing this for quite a while, and he has a number of other international clients who send their swimmers to Queensland to learn his "secret" training methods, no one here was really upset about any of his affairs until the Chinese swimmers beat one of his own Aussie women, who ended up with just a bronze medal. The following letter appeared in today's edition of the Mail. I think it captures the "real" spirit of the Olympic games:
I am appalled that Australian swim coach Ken Wood would stoop so low as to sell his secret coaching methods to China, while still maintaining his position as coach to our own Olympians. Because of this methods, Australian swimmers are now leading the world with extraordinary performances. It's a pity he won't be remembered for his exceptional talent. Instead, he'll go down in history as a traitor. His excuse is he did it for the money. A fair dinkum Australian coach would manage on a pension before sleeping with the enemy. Australia should return home next week one member short--him. Leave him in China.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Psychology Online

I came across this page at PsychCentral today.  It includes a list of the 'Top Ten Online Psychology Experiments.'  It's a dream of mine to develop a line of research in which participants could be recruited from around the world, but I haven't yet figured out what I might explore using the internet.  Anyway, check out my favourite site on this list,  I recently learned that I might be able to recruit a patient with acquired prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognise familiar faces.  A little over 100 hundred such patients have been identified in the world, so I am planning an experiment with this patient that might reveal more about how we emotionally process faces. has plenty of interesting stimuli that I might use.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Yes, we finally sold our house back in Atlanta!  It took 18 months and we suffered a huge loss, but the final transaction took place last Friday.  In the days before the closing I was up late making panicky calls to figure out how to move enough cash from our account to cover the balance at the lawyer's office.  I was told repeatedly that I should wire the money, but I couldn't do this without going to my bank in the States in person.  Then I ran into some maximum daily limits that stretched the transaction over three days.  I shudder when I think of all the fees I paid in my haste to get this done in time.

Alas, we no longer have a home in the States.  We have moved to Australia.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Count

After living in Australia for nearly 14 months, here's how many famed Aussie animals that I have seen in the wild:
  • kangaroos-0
  • koalas-0
  • emus-0
  • snakes-0
  • venomous spiders-0
  • scary-looking, but 'harmless' spiders-100s
  • water dragons-70ish
  • bush turkeys-100s
  • bandicoots-0
  • Tasmanian devils-0
  • whales-5
  • ibises-100s
  • possums-3
  • kookaburras-30 or so
  • platypuses-0
A pretty sad tally, huh?  Thank goodness for the Australia Zoo.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Wednesday Holiday

As I mentioned in my previous post, today is a public holiday in "the Brisbane area." I'm not really sure how far this extends from my present location, which is in my office at UQ, but I am guessing that no more than 2 million people are affected. The purpose of this Wednesday holiday is supposedly to give local residents a chance to attend the Ekka, the big annual exhibition that runs for 10 days total. A relatively small proportion of the 2 million people who have this day off will actually attend Ekka today (I think the normal Ekka day attendance is in the tens of thousands), so I just don't get the logic of this Wednesday holiday. Why did they choose Wednesday in the first place, and why wasn't it Friday instead? If the concern is that giving a 3-day weekend to local residents would make it more likely that some of them would leave the area instead of going to Ekka, would it really end up being much lower than the figures for today's attendance? Certainly the costs to local businesses in giving everyone this day off, coupled with the loss of sales to those who are outside "the Brisbane area," far exceed the extra revenue generated by those who attend Ekka today anyway. Oh well. At least it gives me some extra time to catch up with my work. I wish I had a Wednesday public holiday every week.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Learning About Marriage and Chooks

Today was our second of what we hope will become annual trips to Ekka, the "state fair" of Queensland.  Ekka goes on for 10 or 12 days in the heart of Brisbane, and there is even a public holiday next Wednesday to encourage residents to go.  This was my third Ekka, my first occurring back in 2001 during an earlier trip to Brisbane.  I just love it.  If I could afford to miss work, I would come back a few times each year so that I could visit all the exhibits and watch the demonstrations.  With Will in tow, V. and I were able to manage about four hours today before it was time to take him home for a nap.  Some highlights this year:
  • Will's first amusement park rides, involving boats, cars, planes, and trains.  It went fine until he tried to climb out of his moving boat so that he could go on the train ride.
  • the pony competition (pictured above)
  • the poultry and waterfowl exhibition, which featured some of the most beautiful roosters I have ever seen
  • a 'horse whisperer' demonstration
  • a greyhound competition
  • Will's first showbag (see last year's 'Gone Whaling' post for an explanation): Thomas the Tank Engine
One other highlight was watching someone recite "Bush poetry" for a small crowd of mostly families.  A nice country bloke recited these poems without any notes, and both Will and I were spellbound as he spoke.  One poem was titled "Don't Get Married Girls." I was quite amused at some of the passages of this one.  Keep in mind that there were many kids in the audience, and more were filing in for a sheep shearing demonstration coming up next:
So don't get married, girls, men are all the same
They just use you when they need you, you'll do better on the game
Be a call girl, be a stripper, be a hostess, be a whore
But don't get married, girls, for marriage is a bore
I am certain if someone uttered these same lines in front of a group of children at the state fair in Georgia, there would be quite an outcry from concerned parents.  Instead, at the Brisbane Ekka, hearty chuckles filled the room.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Take a Tour of Our Neighborhood!

Street View has come to Google Maps Australia.  The advent of a feature that has been available in the U.S. for quite a while has generated some controversy here.  In the past few days, the Aussie newspapers have been highlighting privacy issues (e.g., "there was the man caught leaving his lover's apartment" or "people have been photographed sunbathing topless").  Today's Courier-Mail article included this link to the Streetviewfun top 100 photos, which includes a photo of an accident that occurred just as the Google photo van was passing by.  I think Street View is absolutely cool.  I have explored my old neighborhood in Atlanta as well as my brother's in Illinois.  Now you can explore our neighborhood here in Toowong, Queensland. To get you oriented, that's our two-story apartment on the middle of the picture (behind the pole).  Then continue exploring our street in the Google window below the picture.