Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Perfect Day in LA

We had a very wholesome weekend. It was refreshing and peaceful. We spent the weekend visiting our friend Bonnie in Pasadena. It was kind of like going to home to mum for the weekend (Bonnie is the mother of a good friend) :) . We ate lots of good food, and on Saturday morning decided , on a whim, to go to a Dodgers game at the LA Dodgers Baseball stadium. It was a perfect day with a big blue sky and a gentle breeze. We bought the cheapest seats right up the top (with the perfect view), so that we could leave anytime if it became boring. Bonnie explained the game as it went along, and others around us joined in explaining how the game worked, the teams ( it was the Dodgers vs. the Chicago Cubs), we drank lite beer, ate hot dogs and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon. There was something very comforting and well, fun, about this aspect of American culture. Many people had their entire family in tow, and enjoyed the chance to play with their children, or hold hands with their date. Unlike going to the movies there was plenty of time to chat, and watch the view to the mountains.

The game was exciting and we stayed until the end. Bonnie drove us around Hollywood and Beverly Hills and we ended up at the sea, where we ate some good fish and then came home :).

Friday, May 25, 2007

Visas, PhD and other fun things

Well they could be fun. But sometimes they are just hard. At the moment Eyal and I are investigating what loops we need to jump through so that he can come and live with me in Australia, as a de facto or spouse (I don't like the word spouse- it sounds too much like 'louse'). We had joked that he could immigrate on humanitarian grounds as in Israel the bitterness of the ongoing conflict can be damaging to the soul.

Luckily he is not Palestinian- I can just imagine how almost impossible it must be to organise and jump through loops when you really are living in war-zone like conditions (as some Israeli's and many Palestinians are). The loops in place are easier for people with lots of money, time, professional assistance and good English reading skills- and of course who live in the same place for long periods of time. Though we have some of those things- finding a place to even submit the visa is difficult- we have only been spending small amounts of time in Israel, so waiting there for the suggested 7 months while they process his visa is not an option...

The problem with the visa loops is that you have to jump through some of the ones that come later before you can do the ones that come first. Bureaucracy is the mother of all catch 22's. But if you do happen to know someone in a similar situation there is free clear advice offered at the 'Immigration Advice and Rights Centre' in Sydney.

As for the PhD, it seems possible that it is finally time to stop collecting parts and frameworks to fit them into, and actually start putting things together, which always sounds like fun when I think about it- and when I sit down to write- it isn't. I am trying to sit down and collect the pieces I have to describe everything I know about what the determiner 'det' does in Kriol, starting with where it fits syntactically into a clause, all the way up to how it is used in discourse, hopefully these various levels of analysis will inform each other. I better keep at it...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Santa Barbara

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Coachella (this post contains swear words...)

Just to keep you up to date, this last weekend Eyal and I drove south into the desert of California to go to Coachella. Coachella is the name of a very small town near Palm Springs, and also the sight of a yearly music festival, that has over the years taken on epic proportions. This year it was estimated about 40, 000 people would attend, and the headlining acts were Bjork, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Manu Chao, The Roots, Crowded House, Willie Nelson, Air- and most significantly the reunion of Rage Against the Machine.

For those who do not know, RATM are well known for there strong lyrics and activism against, well, the machine(!!), currently cited as the Bush administration, in fact it was suggested that because of the current political climate that they decided to re-unite. There message is a very strong one, powerfully expressed, between songs, the singer Zach de la Roche said:

"A good friend of ours said that if the same laws were applied to U.S. Presidents as were applied to the Nazi's after World War II, then every single one of 'em, every last rich white one of 'em from Truman on would have been hung to death, and shot. And this current administration is no exception. They should be hung, and tried, and shot. As any war criminal should be. But the challenges that we face, they go way beyond administrations. Way beyond elections. Way Beyond every four years of pulling levers. Way beyond that, because this whole rotten system has become so vicious and cruel, that in order to sustain itself, it needs to destroy entire countries, and profit from their reconstruction, in order to survive, and that's not a system that changes every four years, it's a system that we have to break down generation after generation after generation after generation after generation. Wake up."

They have been known to say other things, such as:

"America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you've lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn't belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don't care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve".. their biggest hits include songs such as: 'Killing in the name of', 'bombtrack' and 'bulls on parade'. They have also been known to burn and/or invert the US national flag at times.

So perhaps you can imagine this band re-uniting with at least 20- 30 000 young adults, mainly men, late at night... I didn't really like what he was saying about 'killing' or executing leaders, no matter how bad they may be. It doesn't sound all that sophisticated a way to bring about peace... And there was talk, rumours drifting about the 'riot', or even possibly revolution that would be ignited by seeing RATM perform. Clearly the police thought this was a possibility too. The first two days of the festival were very relaxed, being a group of Aussies we were a bit surprised to see so few people dancing, even to Red Hot Chilli Peppers. There was always plenty of room, it was very clean, lots of water around, the restrictions on drugs and alcohol were so tight that very few people looked drug-affected.

There were also some incredible installments of art and performance, truly mind blowing light and lightning and fire displays, beautiful sculptures everywhere and 5 or 6 stages with all kinds of music . Next to the festival grounds there was a huge campsite where about 17 000 people were camping, us included. On the first night at about 4am, we were woken up by a helicopter and huge lights flashing.

You could hear people drumming, singing and dancing somewhere down the other end of the campsite, and then the helicopter: 'This is your first and final notice, DISPERSE or you WILL BE ARRESTED'. It continued to circle low (waking everyone else up) and then eventually flew off, as I suppose the crowd dispersed. Apparently the story goes that a large group of rowdy people had gathered and were playing music and dancing well into the night. Some staff camping nearby complained and asked them to stop, and the rowdy group refused (perhaps rudely?), and the police were called. One person claimed they had been shot with a rubber bullet- but we never heard if this was true...

One Sunday (the RATM was to play) the security was tighter, every single person and their bags was searched as they entered the festival, they took my little plastic fan and two sprayer bottles to fill with water ( it was over 37 degrees Celsius both days!!). They had a policy of not allowing any water bottles in (sometimes if they were unopened you could)- but instead if you collected ten plastic water bottles off the ground and gave them to recycling you got a bottle of water free. We did this with big garbage bags and ended up with about 30 bottles of water!

The RATM performance was incredible, so was Manu Chao and Crowded House who performed before them, as the exhausted crowd was leaving, not a riot in sight, but 30 or so riot police lined up in formation at the exit. Provocatively standing with bullet proof vests, face masks and M16s. I wondered what or who they were there to protect... or if it were really just a show of power in the face of the the anti-establishment music and atmosphere of the festival.

It made me a bit sad think of all the happy teenagers (as I realised they were, here to listen to music), exhausted and scantily clad (due to the heat), forced to walk past the adrenaline pumped, trained and overarmed police. Perhaps the establishment is a little scared...

The night was fairly uneventful, some people started a fire and burnt a tent and danced around and talked and yelled and sung, a few police were around, not many, and as we drove home through the desert the next day with aching muscles, we stopped in a dusty no-where town and ate food cooked by a friendly El Salvadorean woman who spoke no English, it all began to feel like a dream...

Friday, May 04, 2007

American Association for Applied Linguistics

A week or two ago I went along to the AAAL conference in LA. I have never been to an applied linguistics conference before and I enjoyed it a lot. There wasn't a session when there weren't at least two things I was interested in seeing. I met some interesting people from the Alaskan language centre.
One woman, Kathy Sikorski, was teaching her language Gwich'in Athabascan, up to third year tertiary level, and was just finishing up a Masters in education. It sounds like they have some incredible funding too, which has enabled teachers from remote communities to get their Masters degree, or teach their language at the Fairbanks university.

She told us how she makes a safe classroom environment for people to make mistakes, and that laughter and joking is a way of relaxing everyone and opening them up to trying.

I also sat in on a Colloquium called 'applied linguistics issues in Southern California Native American language restoration or trying not to choke in a sandstorm' where I met more interesting people, teaching language in their community from the Torres Martinez Tribe. They were fantastic teachers and did a brief demonstration of how the immersion classes go. I learnt a few words just sitting there! I also met June and Ernest Siva who told me about the Dorothy Ramon learning centre in Southern California. It is a cultural centre and learning place, with a focus on language, culture, history and arts of the native peoples.

I asked some of the people in the colloquium what had been there experience of academic linguists in their communities. The response was very positive,

'the linguist (Alicia Moretti) came in, and kind of opened the door, just set us up, put us in groups, that's how we got started'
'she formed a bond with us and taught us to teach our language'

(Michelle Morreo, Language Preservation coordinator).

There was also a 3 hour colloquium on 'The misuses of language in the immigration debates', which was also extremely interesting. An Australian, Helen Borland, also came to talk about ' shifting discourses of diversity and the changing dynamics of community language maintenance initiatives in Australia', which was about the language diversity of cities such as Melbourne and the governments changing policies to 'assimilate' more, e.g. John Howard says about wanting immigrants to be 'fairdinkum':

'this is why it's very important that we encourage people from day one to intermingle and to become part of the mainstream and not to remain separate and apart' (radio interview 15/09/06 with Neil Mitchell).

It was a fantastic talk, even though it didn't touch on Aboriginal Australian languages. When I listened to it, I realised John Howard would consider some Aboriginal people less 'Australian' than others, that is to say, they are not white, they don't speak read and write standard Australian English, and as a result they wouldn't be allowed to immigrate into Australia (!!). Borland states that the current trend : 'Integration is a form of neo-assimilation with limited tolerance of cultural and linguistic heritage in family and immediate surrounding heritage community'.

But there were at least 8 other concurrent sessions on, and I enjoyed very much flitting from one place to the next and hearing all these new points of view. I recommend Applied Linguistics Conferences! Lots of activism, lots of stories of experience.