Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Presidential Debate Live Reactions- Volume One

Dubya, saying that "liberty" is our strategy is fucking ridiculous.

Yeah, the Patriot Act allows law enforcement to oppress the people, too.

"Everything possible," to protect America, John? That's gonna bite you on the ass later...

Does Bush even know what "vociferous" means?

George W. Bush: "Well, Jim, I'll bring US troops home when they're all dead. It's easier to ship them as cargo, am I right?"

**********************
Live e-mail from my buddy, Jose: They're in Miami. Remember how we alienated SoFla in the state debate tournaments? Having this thing down there annoys me. Notice also they aren't answering the questions.
**********************

"Get the job done right!" Outstanding line, Kerry.

Goddamn you, Bush! If the war is stupid, it is LEGITIMATE to say the war is stupid. It is NOT unpatriotic.

"When something is going wrong, you make it right!" Nice job, John.

Kerry just admitted his position and tried to justify it... hold your breath, let's see how this plays out...

Oh, c'mon John! Who doesn't want to invade Mexico?

Um... Bush, WHEN was the U.N. invited in?

Oh, yeah, Poland. THERE's a powerhouse nation.

George W. Bush: "Please join us in Iraq for a grand diversion."

Oh, poor baby, did Bushie-wushie think the debate was going to be fun?

Although, he IS making an effective emotional point about Kerry as a uniter.

Jesus, Bush forgot the term "Fedayeen-Saddam." Oh, also, he's blaming his total lack of a morning-after plan on our super-effective troops. Riiiight.

You don't send mixed signals, Dubya, we're all certain you're an unwavering moron.

Our alliance is NOT strong.

Kerry: "The truth is what good policy is based on."

Again with the 90% casualties/90% costs talking points. I'm guessing your staff really wants that as a sound bite, John. Nice point about North Korea getting nuclear weapons, though.

Niiiiice slow pitch over the plate about Bush lies. Let's see if Kerry can hit the damned thing...

GOOD reminder about your experience...

Nice point about the Iraq war as a recruiting poster for al Qaeda.

I'm going to class that as a pop-fly. So, can Bush catch it for an out?

Ok, so, turns out, he can't.

Wait, Bush is "loving" a war widow? He can't have meant that the way it sounded.

Yes, Bush, her husband's sacrifice WAS noble and worthy. However, your sending him to his death was vile.

"Spread freedom?" Is THAT what we're spreading? Thanks for clearing that up.

Good, John, remind everyone that Bush has no military experience to speak of. Good shift to solemnity.

Kerry: "It is vital for us not to confuse the war with the warriors. We've done that before." Nicely done.

Kerry: "Or you can have the President's plan, which is four words: More of the same."

The Pottery-Barn rule? Are you fucking kidding me, Kerry?

************************
Update from Jose: Dude that's why I didn't like this plan. Bush is by no means a great otrator. If he says "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time" or "mixed signals" again I'll hurl. Kerry is a couple of shades short of Clinton. And that thumb thing has to stop.
************************

"Close the borders?" John, them are some goddamn big borders.

I like the firm stand against imperialism, though.

Bush, police do not qualify as "troops."

Yes, a determined enemy called "angry civilians" is trying to defeat us.

Bloody-fuck, Bush keeps trying to argue that, "If you disagree with me, you can't be president!" Say, WHAT?!

Bush: "They're fighting us because they're fighting freedom." Are you joking? What the fuck does that mean?!

Oh, shit, George, you repeated Kerry's "last resort" criteria. Can John follow-through on it?

Dubya, you did NOT solve the Libya problem. Fuck, you never mentioned Libya until you smelled a PR opportunity.

Well, Kerry isn't following through the way I expected, but refocussing onto Osama bin Laden is a pretty decent idea.

Kerry: "He also said Saddam Hussein would have been stronger. That is just factually incorrect."

Bush, the point isn't that we needed Hussein to disarm, it's that we didn't need to worry about Hussein.

Nice point about North Korean and Iranian nukes. Very nice.

John, you need to open up another can of whoop-ass. You're starting to get too nuanced for most voters.

*****************
Update from Jose: Bush says "Flip Flop" Kerry can't lead the world. Kerry says his plan is better than Bush's but deoesn't really say what it is.

I give them both a 2. Kerry avoids the 1 because he repeats himself less. Bush avoids the 1 because he's just a little more believable.

Maybe someone will say "What would this country be without this great land of ours."
*****************

So... why would sanctions work for Korea and Iran when we had to invade Iraq?

Yes, good boy, Kerry, smack Bush for pulling back from North Korea and creating the risk of nukes in the first goddamn place!

Bush, you are not one to bitch about withdrawing from multinational treaties/talks.

Oh, shit, a Sudanese-knuckleball for Kerry. Good luck...

Starting with Iran... not good, John. At least you kept it brief. "The African Union?" Are you serious?

YES! We are over-extended. Back-door draft, good! Say it- say we're less safe because we're over-extended. Good point about your plans.

Bush, humanitarian supplies are basically a band-aid on a severed-limb when it comes to the Sudanese genocide.

Yeah, the end of the rainy season will also simplify military actions. Look for the death-toll to rise.

Character issues? Aw, hell, this oughta be interesting...

Fuck, I gotta say this: Bush had a decent cut on Kerry's congress record, even if it WAS ad hominem as hell.

************************
Update from Jose: Yeah I caught the dot com reference. [Kerry's plan] I thought it was a good move too. I think as long as Kerry pushes the Iraq button he does well. I don't think he wins elsewhere.
************************

Kerry: "He's not acknowledging the truth of the science!"

Kerry: "And certainty can get you in trouble."

Bush: "What I won't do is change my core values." What, greed? Intolerance?

And Kerry smacks Bush with his nuclear non-proliferation dick.

Kerry: "We're serious about nuclear non-proliferation."

Bush: "Actually we've increased funding...um....for....um....uh....nuclear...non-proliferation. By thirty-five percent."

Ok, look, WE did not convince Libya to disarm. We're just trying to claim credit for it. And, hell, there's no reason to believe the missile defenses even work. The Pentagon won't even claim that.

The "bilateral talks with North Korea" point needs to be fleshed out more, John. It seems to contradict your own argument about alliances.

Putin is a strong ally in the war on terror? Yeah... dictators are like that.

************************
Update from Jose: I've been saying all along that for the same reasons we went into Iraq we should have gone into No Korea first.
************************

I really wish Bush would pronounce "Vladimir" properly. It isn't like we hate the Russians anymore for christ's sake.

Way to obliquely call Bush a liar, Kerry.

Yes, okay, right, you looked at the same intelligence. We've heard this.

Kerry: "He [Saddam Hussein] was a threat. That's not the issue. The issue is what you do about it."

Ooooohhhh... time for closing statements.

Kerry: "I defended this country as a young man in war, and I will defend it as a president."

Kerry: "I'm not talking about leaving, I'm talking about winning." Niiiiice.

God, Kerry's oratorical timing is almost flawless.

Bush is really going for the snide attacks, while Kerry goes for frontal assaults. Anyone think that'll help?

Bush: "I believe in the transformational power of liberty." What?

Bush: "For millions who plead in silence for liberty in the middle east." How does one 'plead in silence' exactly?

Bush, if this is God's continuing blessing... man, does god not like us much.

And that's the end. Hold onto your butts, CBS is getting ready to do their insta-poll...

Oh, shit, nice job hauling out the wives and children.

Laura Bush: "Damn you, Theresa, you're wearing the same dress I am!"

Theresa Heinz-Kerry: "At least my husband can dress himself."

Oh, good, the post-game show...

Dan Rather: "Senator McCain, Kerry says Bush was wrong. Valid point, or no?"

McCain: "No."

Um... what the hell was that, Dan?

Nobody doubts Bush's determination to win the war, we just doubt the ability of his policies to do so. Why is this so goddamn hard to grasp?

Joseph Biden isn't as convincing as McCain, but makes much better points...

Biden: "I think he [Bush] does bleed internally for those loses of life." Well... he might want to get that looked at.

No joke, Kerry is better domestically, and tonight he DID show his similar skill with world affairs. Please let his poll number rise... I don't want that monkey Bush anymore.

I love how Biden and Kerry are turning the flip-flopper brush back on Bush. But will it work?

This debate was NOT even... Kerry won, but I'm still nervous. As I've said before, it ain't over til it's over.

And after the next commercial break, we get the insta-poll results...

************************
Update from Jose: I will say that I think Kerry did address the flip-flop thing well. However I think it will get lost in the wash. If I absolutely had to I would say Kerry did better, mostly because I got tired of hearing Bush repeat himself. I think Kerry gets a bigger bump after this one, but Bush should get him on the town hall one. As usual, the last one about domestic issues will decide it. Who was it that said "It's the economy, stupid!"?

One of the missile tests was successful but I haven't followed it since I got out [of the United States Marine Corps]. As for taking credit for stuff, c'mon that's the american way!

I had ABC, but I switched to CBS. ABC comes in better on the bunny ears and the occasional static crash was annoying me. I watch CBS waiting for Rather to announce his retirement.
************************

And the insta-poll results are:

Who won the Debate?

Kerry: 44%

Bush: 26%

Tie: 30%


Oh, shit, baby, that's what I want to see!!!

Has clear plan for Iraq:

Kerry: 51%

Bush: 38%

Let's just hope he does this well in the next few debates.

Hot Shit!!!

Yeah, baby, stick it to him, Kerry!

I dunno if he's gonna win, but goddamn is Kerry doing the right thing. Take the offensive, John, keep the offensive. Kick ass and take names!

Holy shitfire I'm pumped up!

Well, I don't drink, but I can give it a shot...

The boys over on Something Awful have come up with a rather charming Drinking Game for tonight's presidential debate. Particularly valuable are the following instructions:

Consecrate an altar to Dionysus if…
…John Kerry doesn't go over the time limit with a meandering borderline incoherent response to every question.
…George W. Bush forgets the talking points he learned from handlers through Pavlovian conditioning and speaks honestly and forthrightly.
…John Kerry doesn't look and act like a corpse.
…John Kerry admits that, yes, he in fact is French.
…the words falling out of George W. Bush's mouth are fresh, original, and well considered.
…George W. Bush finally admits that the Iraq war against Saddam Hussein was just a case of confusion over the spelling of "Bin Laden".
…John Kerry suddenly realizes that scratching his finger on a loose screw in Vietnam doesn't make him a hero or prepare him for being president.
…George W. Bush suddenly realizes that flying a jet around Texas when the fancy strikes him between keggers doesn't equate to serving our country honorably.
…George W. Bush abandons the religious rhetoric and promotes a return to the good old days of separation of church and state.
…the debate turns out to be an honest clash of ideas rather than a verbal filing of press releases.
…you don't get disgusted by both candidates, feel completely disenfranchised from politics in the United States, and want to start a revolution after watching the debate.


Dare to dream, eh?

Costly Speech

One of my friends, as I've mentioned, is a Palestinian-American. She is currently going after a post-graduate degree and has long been involved in issues of interest to Arabs. For those of you who are wondering, no, that doesn't include carbombs. Honestly, if you thought that, I have to wonder what the fuck you're doing on my blog. I tend to be mean and insulting, but I'm not as fiendishly prejudicial as all that.

In any case, she spent some time in Israel/Palestine this past summer and was asked to deliver a talk on her experiences. To say that she has managed to stir up controversy is something of an understatement. She has been asked to change the title of her talk, which is apparently too controversial for the delicate sensibilities of her fellow students. I understand that the title included the phrase "...a people imprisoned," which might sound controversial, but given Israel's new "Wall Plan," I think it was probably reasonable. To say my friend is livid is an understatement, particularly given the frequency with which Israeli speakers visit her campus, and the openly political manner in which Israeli law and politics are taught in classes. Not to take sides in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (There's plenty of time for me to piss people off by doing that, I don't need to rush myself) but what the hell is so bad about letting the Palestinians tell their side of the story as they want to tell it?

This was particularly striking given recent events over on the Raving Atheist. I'll be the first one to admit that RA is a caustic guy... frankly, so caustic it makes me look like the voice of sweetness and rationality by comparison, but he's also pretty good about mixing in factual objections with his amusing ad hominem attacks. Still, individuals who are vocally atheist have a lot to look forward to in our society, as the ongoing, and entirely bizarre, discussion with Pete illustrates. I can sympathize with RA's experiences- I spent much of my high school career locked in single-combat with the Southern Baptists. One boy spent hours every day (during my long stay on the bus) trying to convert me. He was not conspicuously successful. Another boy declared when I was a freshman that, by our senior year, I would accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior. By our senior year, he was a devout agnostic, and I was considering buying my own copy of Origin of Species. Hey, I'm not evangelical about being an atheist, but I can be fairly effective when provoked.

I guess I've been thinking about speech and censorship, too, because of Seraphim's most recent post over on Megatokyo. She discusses the number of different books that have been challenged or banned throughout history. In many cases, these books are considered classics of literature, philosophy, or even religion. Check out the Forbidden Library if you're curious.

It seems to me that everyone loves having a right to free speech. We all love getting to express our opinions freely, and openly. The problem only comes when other people, who just might disagree with us, get the same priviledge.

I believe in holding public speakers and intellectuals to standards of factual accuracy, and demanding honesty from people, but I don't believe in constraining what people can say. I think it's dangerous, as well as unhealthy, for a society to restrict people's right to speak. Does this mean I support the porn industry? Well... support is too strong a word, but I don't oppose it.

I simply see no reason why anyone, on any side of an issue, should be afraid of someone else's right to disagree. What reason for fear is there? If you have the power to impose laws restricting speech, then you certainly have enough popular support to disagree publicly with your opposition. Further, if someone is speaking lunacy, why should we prevent them from doing so? It's both educational, and fun, to point out just how loony they actually are. What is my entire series "The Insanity Parade" based on, after all? It isn't that I'm not sympathetic to the social program of people who believe in political correctness, I just think that their approach to the problem is too expensive to be borne.

Now someone is probably wondering, given my views on free speech and atheism, if I oppose the teaching of creationism in schools. Well, the answer to that is: no. I don't oppose the teaching of creationism. I think telling students about creationism during their social studies or religion classes/lessons is just fine. Where I draw the line is "creation science," which is only a "science" in the same sense that shoving ten pounds of dynamite up your ass makes YOU a rocket. Creationism is non-scientific, as is "Intelligent Design" theory which has all of the creationism, with none of the intellectual honesty. Like I said: I'm a tremendous supporter of free speech, but I'm also a supporter of honesty and factual accuracy. Creation "science" is possessed of neither.

It is appropriate to wonder about education and free speech, though, because I think my views carry through into my teaching. I like to tell a story about when I TA'ed a gender section. On my first day I was delighted to discover that I had an ultra-Libertarian in my class. It isn't that I'm Libertarian, although I have sympathies with the doctrine, I just enjoy a good argument. He was constantly disagreeing with the authors in our readings, and advancing ideas that were pretty far from the political mainstream. The beauty, though, was that every time he opened his mouth, people started talking. They argued for the readings, they argued against the readings, they brought in outside material, they brought in personal experiences, they got down and dirty with the issues in gender and how they're relevant. What could be better? I'm sure most of them came out of class with their views of gender largely unchanged, but that's hardly new. If, on the other hand, they came away from class with an ability to think about gender as a flexible, and pervasive, social system, then I think I accomplished something much more important. As teachers at the college level I don't think our role is to drill information into our students- it's to teach them new and more useful ways to think about the world. Active debate, which requires disagreement, is an excellent way to do that. Besides, why should we as instructors fear debate with our students? We have graduate degrees, they don't even have undergraduate degrees yet. If we don't know more about the subject than they do, we really need to consider a change of career.

In an open forum for public debate the worst thing that happens is people walk away better thinkers. In a way, I'm grateful for my experiences with the southern baptists in high school. Without that constant opposing force I never would have really figured out what I believe. As I like to say, we grow not through consensus, but through conflict and challenge. Thank you, Southern Baptist Christianity, for making me the devout atheist that I am today!

Think about all this tonight when you watch the presidential debates. Is there any part of those debates that wouldn't be made better if the candidates didn't have to worry about saying something that might be construed as inappropriate? Is there any way that a raucous debate, instead of the scripted slap-fight we usually get, wouldn't be a better way to see the candidates? This is the greatest danger that Kerry faces tonight- that Bush will avail himself of his right to free speech, and Kerry will tread softly, hoping not to offend too many people. There's a line from the television program The West Wing that goes, "The American people like guts... and Republicans have got 'em." I sincerely hope that tonight John Kerry can show the nation that Republicans aren't the only ones. It all comes down to speaking honestly and clearly, and letting the chips fall where they may. It all comes down to free speech.

If you want to contest what someone says, then contest what they say, but don't contest their right to say it.

The speech you save, might just be your own.

It has come to my attention of late that my blog has gotten distressingly serious. I mean, two days ago I wrote an entire post about statistics for crying out loud! Pretty soon I'm going to start publishing accounts of travel through areas under military occupation!

Hmmmm.... now there's a thought.

Anyway, I miss those bright days when I unleashed my insulting humor upon the unsuspecting internet, and hope to fumble my way back there soon. I figure I had better- if I ain't careful I'll start to take MYSELF seriously, and that just won't be good for anyone.

So does this mean that my posts might start being entertaining again? ("Try 'entertaining period'" some of you are thinking) Well, my intentions are rather biased and inconsistent estimators of my actions, and the muse has been a bit capricious of late, but... who knows? I have to be funny just by accident sooner or later.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Utility

I find the strangest things really complimentary. No, seriously. Most people look for compliments on how attractive they are, or how smart, or how funny, but that isn't really what revs my engine. That's probably good, realistically, because I'm not drop-dead gorgeous, or a genius-level thinker, or even really that amusing. Still, while those things are always nice to hear, the really complimentary things to me aren't in any of those categories.

I bring this up because a friend of mine recently offered me a very nice compliment, though I doubt he realized how positively I would take it. Specifically during a conversation, I observed that I couldn't comment on someone being nervous because I'm pretty high-strung myself. High-strung has, I think, a much nicer sound than, "total f-ing spazz." In any case, my friend responded thusly:

"Well, yeah, you're high-strung, but you don't freak out. When things happen you just say, 'Ok, fine, we can do this.'"

I take that as a very, very nice remark about my character. It actually ranks up there with something another friend once told me:

"You know what, Drek? You're just really handy to have around. You get stuff done."

I don't bring all this up to brag, although goodness knows I'm pleased, but rather because it lets me make a point: one of my goals in life is to be useful to my fellow humans. Seriously, that really is one of my goals. I aspire to be useful, and take great pride in being told that I am.

Some of you, who know me only through my blog, might not find this terribly shocking. I have, after all, spoken at length about my habit of donating platelets. This might have given you an unreasonably positive view of my character. Folks in my program, however, some of whom read my blog, probably find this a little harder to believe. I am one of the least activist-oriented graduate students in our department. Hell, I'm one of the least activist-oriented in any department I've visited. For many people, this would seem to imply that I don't much care about other people, and am just trying to make my narrow way through the world.

Bah! Humbug!

The truth is, that isn't really the truth! I'm just as idealistic as the next grad student, it's just that I'm not idealistic about the same things. Many people get involved in sociology because they want to influence the world somehow, and believe sociology will help them do it. There is a student in my cohort who came in intending to earn her Ph.D. and then join a policy institute to fight for liberal policies. There are others in our program who joined up (Which makes it sound a little militaristic I suppose) out of a desire to develop tools to make social movements more effective. (This is, no doubt, in the belief that more effective social movements would be a good thing, which may or may not be true depending on the movement and the moment.) I didn't get involved in sociology for any of those reasons.

I got involved in sociology because I think that our organization as a society is important to our survival, and our growth as a species. In my view it is increasingly apparent that the problems of the world stem not from a technical inability to satisfy material want, but from an inability to organize ourselves in such a way as to make the global satisfaction of that want possible. In short: our material technology has advanced more rapidly than our social technology, and we are now suffering from that imbalance. In this, I probably don't differ much from most of the activists. The place where I DO differ is in my belief that we don't know how to solve those social problems yet. Perhaps strengthening social movements would be good, perhaps not. Perhaps policy work would help, then again, maybe it wouldn't. I don't believe we have the answers yet and, while I don't think we have to wait to dot every I and cross every T before we do anything, I do think we need people looking for those answers.

I got into sociology because I think that science is, itself, a way to influence the world in a positive way. Science isn't about morality, it isn't about what we should do, it's about finding out how the world works, and learning to change that working. Science is about providing the knowledge and the tools to make positive changes possible. Society at large decides what those changes should be, but we as scientists provide the means to make them. In my view, mankind has never suffered from knowing too much about our world. We have never been injured because we understood things too well. If anything, our suffering seems to have come not from our knowledge, but from our ignorance- of the world, and of each other.

Some of you are probably shaking your heads and thinking about products of science like mustard gas, the hydrogren bomb, and the holocaust. "Aren't these," some of you ask, "examples of what science can do? Doesn't this mean that science isn't all good?" To that I respond with this: I never said that all science was good. Of course, then again, I never said that all science was bad either. In fact, I wouldn't say that science is good or bad. Information is information, facts are facts. We owe some of our knowledge of how much physical punishment humans can withstand to the Third Reich. Brutal monsters though they were, they produced findings that are correct and accurate. Are those findings bad because they were acquired in a horrific manner? No. I deplore what was done and could not, and would not, condone experiments such as those performed by the Nazis in the name of science, yet the knowledge they gleaned plays a role today in our ability to save lives. The knowledge that allows us to construct hydrogen bombs also allows us to make use of nuclear medicine, which saves many lives, and may permit us to one day build fusion reactors, lessening or eliminating our dependence on polluting fossil fuels. Science produces knowledge, but society must decide how to use that knowledge.

It is probably for this reason that I don't mind the debate about stem cell research currently raging in the United States. As it happens, I am firmly on the pro-stem cell side of the issue. I do not believe in a soul and do not believe that the embryos used for stem cell research are sufficiently advanced to warrant protection under our laws. I am less certain about the virtues and vices of the genetic engineering of humans, either for enhancement or the correction of defects, but we are not yet ready to cross that particular Rubicon. Yet, despite my support for the research, I think that the issue of how we use our growing technology and scientific know-how to explore the very substance of human development is a decision to be made by society as a whole. Science tells us how we can do a thing, but just because we can do a thing, it does not follow that we must do that thing. The decision belongs to all of us, not just to scientists and not just to moralists. If we truly desire to make knowledge more democratic (For more on this, see Paul Lachelier's essay in the most recent Political Sociology section newsletter. I'm not saying I agree with his point, by the way, I'm just saying you should read the article and make up your own damn mind) we need to stop pretending that we are qualified to decide how the world should be for other people. We can tell the world how things work, and how we may change that, but we cannot tell the world whether or not such change should happen.

Some of you are probably also laughing at my seeming naivete. Go ahead and laugh, I don't mind. I laugh at people all the time, it's only fair that I let y'all laugh back. However, as you're laughing, perhaps you should consider the fact that you don't eat meat for "environmental reasons," or that you insist on using the painfully awkward pronoun "s/he" to avoid unintentionally reinforcing gender norms. Am I really so naive in comparison to your tremendous wisdom? I don't mean to be insulting (Well, only a little) but my belief in the power of science to allow us to make informed decisions is no more or less silly than your belief that you, as an individual, can make a difference by not eating meat, or watching what pronouns you use.

Which is, of course, to say: not silly at all. I like being told that I'm useful because of a simple belief about the world. I believe that if people act in a collaborative, cooperative way, the world is a better place. I believe that if people would give to each other more freely and willingly, if they would assist each other more readily, we would all live in a society where we could be happier. I also believe that such a world cannot exist unless we labor to build it, and work to keep it up day by precious day. This is, in part, why I give blood: I think it helps make things just a little better. This is also why being told I'm useful is, to me, an enormous compliment: it means I'm carrying my weight.

What that also means, though, is that just as one person going vegeterian for environmental reasons won't make a difference, and one person refraining from "sexist" pronouns won't alter the gender order, a whole lot of people doing either of those things might. I can't solve the platelet shortage by myself, but I can sure as hell join with hundreds of others to put a pretty goddamn big dent in the thing. Together there is strength. Why should it be any different for science?

Individual scientists are weak and flimsy, much of our work will never see print beyond the cloistered halls of the academy. Yet, still, we are making our mark on the world because we are part of a collective enterprise. By joining the ranks of science I am giving my strength to a collective effort to push back the cloak of ignorance- an effort that has endured for centuries and, if we are fortunate, will endure for more centuries still. It may seem as though I don't care, that I'm focussed only on my work and on some inconsequential piece of social life, but that simply isn't true. I am as idealistic as any of you, I am as activist as any of you, I simply have a different foe. You fight poverty, racism, sexism, elitism, and environmental degradation. Those are not my enemies or, at least, are not my true nemeses. My enemy is the ignorance that grants strength to your enemies. Every day I work with countless other scientists to bring that big son-of-a-bitch down. Every day science labors to bring us one step closer to the end of ignorance. And every day I find myself asking just one question:

Who wants to help?

Disclaimer: Okay, so, yes, really I was just looking for an excuse to brag about a compliment I received. The rest of this post is just pseudo-intellectual justification for what would otherwise be an exercise in vanity. Fine. You caught me. Aren't you bloody-fucking brilliant? I mean, seriously, you're the Belle of the Ball as it were. Gimme a break here, all right? My personal life is a revolving door of disaster, my faculty advisor is in another state and won't return my calls, and the students in my class seem to alternate between thinking I'm an asshole and thinking I'm some kind of circus clown. Come to think of it... that would make me an ass-clown. Goody. In any case... I have no point. I'm really just admitting I was bragging, and telling you that if you have a problem with that, you can bite me. At least I took the time to TRY and wrap it up in an interesting useful diverting message. A lot of you can't even say that much. So there! Nyah-nyah! Have a nice day.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Of Babies and Bathwater

Some of you, if you've read this blog for a while, may have the impression that I am a fan of The Skeptical Inquirer. No doubt you developed this impression based on the occasional posts I've written that deal with articles in this magazine. So, I can't really blame you for your observation about my tastes. As it happens, I do rather enjoy it and can only commend its publisher, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or CSICOP, for their fine work.

All that said, while I do very much like SI (And how many men aren't referring to Sports Illustrated when they use that abbreviation?) I don't always agree with or approve of everything they publish. In the most recent issue, for example, there is an article by Paul Kurtz arguing that science can be used to help us make ethical judgements. Having read it, I can't claim to agree with his points, though I do think he makes some excellent ones. He also provides a quote that I rather approve of:

We might live in a better world if inquiry were to replace faith; deliberation, passionate commitment; and education and persuasion, force and war.


I mean, seriously, how awesome is that? It almost compares to my favorite quote of all time from Erasmus that goes:

All misery and injustice will disappear, if only reason can penetrate ignorance, superstition, and hate.


But, again, the point of this post isn't to chat about quotes that can be used to support a humanistic outlook (Erasmus, of course, was Christian, but that also isn't the point). I'm really just saying that I don't always agree with the things that SI prints. It's one such instance of disagreement that will be our topic today.

In the July 2004 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer there was an article titled Capital Punishment and Homicide: Sociological Realities and Econometric Illusions by Ted Goertzel, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University. This article, as you might guess from the title, contrasts sociological work on the death penalty in the United States with the work of economists on the same subject. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see a sociologist taking the economists to task, especially given their propensity to... um... borrow things from us.

On reading further, however, it rapidly becomes clear that Dr. Goertzel is not waging the battle of sociology against economics; instead he appears to be interested in a methodological battle, implicitly against some of his fellow sociologists, and he seems intent on pursuing it in the strongest terms. And when I say "the strongest terms," I mean it:

In fact, the comparative method has produced valid, useful, and consistent findings, while econometrics has failed in this and every similar area of research.


But what does this "econometrics," mean? Is he referring to a rational-choice based economic model of human behavior? At first I thought so, but it turns out his definition is much broader than that. Specifically, his view of econometrics includes virtually the entirety of quantitative social science:

...econometrics, also known as multiple regression modeling, structural equation modeling, or path analysis. This involves constructing complex mathematical models on the assumption that the models mirror what happens in the real world.


Thus, as you can see, Dr. Goertzel is not so much taking economists to task, as everyone who employs the general linear model in social science. Moreover, while I would argue that his definition of multiple regression is correct, for the most part, it displays a disturbing tendency to gloss over certain points. Specifically, in the above, it is not assumed that the models mirror what happens in the real world- the idea is to see if such a model can be constructed, and if so, how that may be done. We have fit statistics for a reason, after all.

As a contrast to this "econometric" modelling, Dr. Goertzel advocates what he refers to as "comparative" research. Now, comparative is, itself, a pretty vague label. In sociology, this covers any research that looks at two or more entities in relation to each other, such as an examination of the effect of welfare policies on several different national economies. The term "comparative" has also been used to refer to the "Qualitative Comparative Analysis" methodology developed by Charles Ragin of the University of Arizona. So, there is some question about what exactly Goertzel means by "comparative" research. His explanation of his meaning is unclear, particularly to a social scientist, but is probably summed up best as follows:

Once the statistical data are collected, the analysis consists largely in displaying them in tables, graphs, and charts which are then interpreted in light of qualitative knowledge of the states in question. This research can be understood by people with only modest statistical background. This allows consumers of the research to make their own interpretations, drawing on their qualitative knowledge of the states in question.


Thus, in Goertzel's view, the preferred way to interpret comparative statistical data is by displaying it graphically and then, essentially, eyeballing it for results. The actual challenge appears to be not so much analyzing the data, as finding a way to display it that allows a relevant pattern to become apparent. Those of you who know me realize that I'm chomping at the bit here, since I don't place a great deal of faith in eyeball judgements when it comes to science. Indeed, I don't know why anyone does, since it is well known that graphs can be quite misleading. Graphs can, unfortunately, become very subtle Rorschach tests allowing the viewer to project whatever interpretations they please onto them. So, I can't say that I'm all that taken by Goertzel's "organize and eyeball" approach.

Now, some bright young qualitative person out there is doubtless going to observe that because regression models can be constructed in a variety of ways, the same potential for infinite interpretation can be had in them as well. Goertzel so much as argues this himself when he says:

There are many ways to adjust things statistically, and the answer will depend on which one is chosen. We also know that of the many possible ways to specify a regression model, each researcher is likely to prefer one that will give results consistent with his or her predispositions.



The difference, however, is that statistical approaches to data anaysis allow us to quantify how useful our answers are. This is no small point- when I lecture my students on statistics (And lord knows if you never touch on statistics in a Soc 101 course, you're doing something wrong) I always explain that statistics is a system for guessing that provides two pieces of information. The first piece of information answers the question, "What is the effect, if any?" This would be the answer to a question like, "Does the death penalty reduce crime?" The second piece of information addresses the question, "How sure are we that our answer is correct?" While some might argue that the first question can be answered with graphs, I have yet to see a graph that can answer the second to my satisfaction. Further, by providing specific figures on the strenghts of each relationship, and of the model as a whole, the researcher gains greater insight into exactly what is going on, rather than simply taking the entire situation as an analytical "black box." Certainly graphs have their place, but statistics offer something that graphs frequently cannot: precision.

That being said, Goertzel does make some useful points about regression modeling in the context of the death penalty. His first such point has to do with the appropriateness of regression for analyzing the efficacy of the death penalty:

...this method has consistently failed to offer reliable and valid results in studies of social problems where the data are very limited. Its most successful use is in making predictions in areas where there is a large flow of data for testing.


This is, indeed, correct. Regression analysis is a method that begs for large datasets with many, many cases. In situations with few cases, also referred to as "small-n" situations, regression may give biased and inconsistent estimates, and is thus useless for understanding the social world. Of course, there are ways to try to correct for these problems, including the adjustment of standard errors, but the fundamental logic of the regression model makes small-n cases problematic. This is, of course, relevant here because the number of execuations in the United States, even over long periods, is relatively low. Further, since the rate of executions in most states is low, one must include a very long span of time, and thus a great deal of fluctuation in conditions, into a model in order to incorporate enough executions. Whether I agree with Goertzel's proposed alternative to regression analysis or not (and I don't, as you could already tell) he is correct in questioning the applicability of regression to the death penalty.

Goertzel makes another useful point in terms of the patterning of data for regression analysis. Specifically, even if you have a dataset that includes enough cases and isn't plagued by excessive exogenous variation, you may have a difficult time using regression safely. He writes that:

Statistician Francis Anscombe (1973) demonstrated how bizarre the Flatland assumption [i.e. that two variables may have a consistent relation to each other] can be. He plotted four graphs that have become known as Anscombe’s Quartet. Each of the graphs shows the relationship between two variables. The graphs are very different, but for a resident of Flatland they are all the same. If we approximate them with a straight line (following a “linear regression equation”) the lines are all the same (figure 2). Only the first of Anscombe’s four graphs is a reasonable candidate for a linear regression analysis, because a straight line is a reasonable approximation for the underlying pattern.


Goertzel is correct, statisticians and sociologists have long been aware that data may or may not be amenable to regression modeling. Sometimes the data itself may be patterned in such a way as to violate the assumptions of the regression model, systematically altering estimates for the worse. As the author claims, this does seem, suggestively, to be the case when we examine the actual patterning of data for the death penalty. Clearly, the presence of extreme outliers may compromise the accuracy of our models. However, this is only an argument against the use of regression in cases when the data clearly violate regression assumptions, and more specifically an argument against using regresison to model the effect of the death penalty. This is not a broadly effective critique of regression, since it essentially boils down to an advisory that you should use the right tool for the right job. Just as you would not try to turn a screw with a hammer, Anscombe is warning against the use of regression when the data are clearly incompatible.

It is further worth pointing out that sociologists and statisticians have not been unaware of Anscombe's quartet and are not without methods for dealing with it. For panel two, we have quadratic regression, a special case of multiple regression, that allows us to fit a curve to the data instead of a line. By neglecting to mention quadratic regression, Goertzel is giving a rather narrow, and not wholly accurate, picture of what regression can actually do. In quadrants three and four we have a fairly clear case of an outlier, which is often dropped from a a dataset. Certainly throwing away data isn't an ideal solution, but if there IS a consistent pattern in all the data, save for one case, there is good reason to believe that your outlier case is responding to a different process, is error-filled, or has otherwise been permuted in some way that obscures reality.

Another valid point comes when Goertzel, in quoting another researcher, notices the number of regression specifications that may be attempted before a research study is published:

There is simply too little data and too many ways to manipulate it. In one careful review, McManus (1985, 417) found that: “there is much uncertainty as to the ‘correct’ empirical model that should be used to draw inferences, and each researcher typically tries dozens, perhaps hundreds, of specifications before selecting one or a few to report. Usually, and understandably, the ones selected for publication are those that make the strongest case for the researcher’s prior hypothesis.” [Emphasis added]


As Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington observed in 1995 (As it happens, this is one of my favorite articles of all time: "Bayesian Model Selection in Social Research," Sociological Methodology. 25. 111-163.), running repeated regression models and refining the models each time can essentially "conserve error." In short, because our statistical models usually set the probability of making an alpha-error, or detecting an effect when one is actually absent (false-positive) at .05 (5%) repeated running of models creates a statistical likelihood, or even certainty, that a false positive will be detected. (Note that this differs from the error-reducing properties of study replication. In the former case, each model is not statistically independent of the others whereas, in the latter, the models are independent. I'd go into more detail but, really, unless somebody asks, I'm not going to take the time) As such, routinely running dozens or hundreds of models and refining them at each step introduces a serious risk of error. Raftery even went so far as to demonstrate that repeated modeling and refining could locate strong effects even in random data.

However, while this drawback to regression modeling is valid, it is not impossible to overcome. Raftery's own paper advocated the use of Bayes factors and, particularly, the Bayes Information Criteria (BIC) as a method for determining model fit. Since BIC is resistant to the above stated error issues, it can provide researchers with a more valid way to test and refine models.

Goertzel also challenges the idea of finding unique relationships between variables, stating that:

Econometricians inhabit the mythical land of Ceteris Paribus, a place where everything is constant except the variables they choose to write about.


So, since context varies all the time, we should give up on any attempt to identify regular patterns across all contexts. As I have stated before I find this logic highly questionable. If we attend too much to context, we become historians, merely providing a factual account of what happened without explaining why. Certainly context matters, certaintly we cannot expect to discover mechanistic laws with the same general application as the laws of physics, but to throw up our hands and surrender to complexity is unwise.

I must also confess that I rather doubt Goertzel's sincerity on this point. I do not accuse him of lying, that is not my meaning. Rather, I find it odd that a researcher who claims to be able to answer the question "Does the death penalty deter crime," should advance the argument that a relationship between two variables cannot be determined. If one can assert that the death penatly does, or does not, deter crime, without first obtaining a host of information on the circumstances, one obviously harbors a belief that two variables can have a consistent relation to each other, while being influenced by other factors, or that, ceteris paribus, one variable has a particular effect on another. Since he concludes his article by saying that:

The value of this [comparative] research is shown by its success in demonstrating that capital punishment has not deterred homicide.


It would seem apparent that Goertzel does believe that two variables can have a particular relationship to each other, all things being equal. Why his objection, then, only applies to statistical methods and not to "comparative" methods remains elusive.

In the final analysis, I agree with a great deal that Dr. Goertzel says. Regression is a technique that can be abused and bent to support incorrect conclusions, much like any other technique. It can be applied to inappropriate circumstances, such as small-n death penalty studies, and arguably use of standard p-value based fit statistics may lead researchers to concentrate, rather than eliminate, error. These are all points that social scientists need to be aware of.

Yet, Goertzel goes too far when he claims that:

It is time to abandon the illusion that mathematics can convert the real world into the mythical land of Ceteris Paribus. Social science can provide valid and reliable results with methods that present the data with as little statistical manipulation as possible and interpret it in light of the best qualitative information available.


Statistical analysis is a highly useful and informative approach to data, when used properly. Certainly statistical methods have been abused in the search for definitive answers to questions about the death penalty and other public matters, but is that reason enough to abandon a powerful set of tools? The problems he identifies in regression modeling are not intractable, nor even unique to this sort of analysis. Many of them must be grappled with regardless of the approach one takes to data.

So, does this mean that I think Dr. Goertzel is wrong, or a fool? Well, not precisely. As it happens, I commend him both for writing such a clear article, and for taking the time to make such matters public. It might be reasonably argued that The Skeptical Inquirer is a niche publication, but it certainly has a wider readership than most of our blogs, and thus Dr. Goertzel might be justly called a public sociologist. No, it isn't that I disagree with him, I simply believe that he takes too little evidence and attempts to stretch it much too far.

When we attempt to discern the facts about social life, and answer questions in the public arena, it is right that we question our methods. Let's just be careful that we don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Bravo!

Way to go, Tom, with your publication of Michael Moore's message to liberals.

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who has been getting annoyed at the defeatism.

The Total Drek Nonsensical Survey!

Welcome to the first installment of what will surely be a regular feature when I'm too busy to actually write anything!

Check out the poll in the left-hand sidebar and answer... if you dare!!!


Bonus points to anyone who can quote the source for today's survey options. And I don't mean tell me the source, I mean quote the passage that provides them.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Good luck... again.

To all of my friends and family in the state of Florida: good luck, godspeed, keep your heads down, and hold on to your asses. Jeanne is a'comin and boy does she look pissed!

Seriously: take care, I'll be thinking about y'all.

The Question:

Okay, I have a serious question for you: How much money would you be willing to spend to see George W. Bush voted OUT of the White House in November?

Really consider this now, I'm serious. Think about the foreign policy debacles, the disastrous economy, the lies, the deceit, the trampling of the constitution and your personal freedoms. Think about all of that for a moment and then name a figure in your mind. How much would it be worth TO YOU to change those catastrophic policies?

Got a figure in mind? Feel confident about it? Feel good? Okay then:

Now go here.


In a democracy decisions are made by those who show up and get involved. I'm sick and tired of all the goddamn whining about this election. Fuck Bush, fuck the Republicans, fuck anyone who says it's hopeless. We're in charge of our collective destiny.

Let's get out there and kick some ASS!

Or, at least, stop bitching so goddamn much. I mean, DAMN, people.

Friday, September 24, 2004

So it goes...

Well, the verdict is in. We now know what the response to my friend is. In short: matters are as I anticipated. From the sound of things, the resolution-bringing discussion was remarkable for its brutal honesty. I'm honest, mostly, and frequently pretty brutal about it. This conversation makes me wince.

I hate being right somtimes, I really do.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

It seems like it's a bit of fad right now to criticize CBS News, what with selectric-gate and all. God forbid anyone accuse me of jumping on the bandwagon, but I'm afraid I have recently discovered a bone that needs picking with that news organization.

On September 21st, 2004 during their nightly news broadcast, CBS ran this story. The story deals with the disease Whooping Cough, known more technically as "Pertussis," which has been making a rather startling comeback recently. Infection levels in 2003 reached a new high of 11,647. This was the largest number of cases in thirty years.

According to CBS this disease was largely thought conquered following the introduction of a vaccine. Indeed, during an interview on the program it was observed:

"And the first thing that goes through your mind is, 'Where? How?'" [did my child get infected] says her mother Starla Sands. "I thought this disease was dead."


Indeed, whooping cough was one of the leading causes of death among infants in the developed world into the 1940s. The disease causes powerful, uncontrollable coughing and, in the process, can cause facial lesions, brain damage, lead to serious proctological complications (the force of the repetetive coughing is so extreme that internal muscles begin to be forced out through the rectum), malnourishment because the victim can't stop coughing long enough to eat, and death. Almost worse, pertussis is an airborne bacterium with an infectivity rate that fluctuates between 70% and 100%, making it not merely physically debilitating, at best, and lethal, at worst, but also a perfect disease for starting an epidemic. Thus a resurgence is cause for serious concern. Why is whooping cough on the make again? According to CBS News:

No one's exactly sure what's causing the surge, but pediatrician David Namerow is seeing cases every year.


Thus the return of whooping cough seems like quite a medical mystery. Except... maybe it isn't. What would you say if I told you that this isn't the first time pertussis has made a comeback? What if I were to add that this comeback wasn't in a developing country, but in an industrialized country? What if I told you it hadn't just been one such country, but not fewer than 5? What if I were to tell you that the causes of the resurgences in these nations appear known, and that there is an available solution to the problem? Does that seem like something CBS News should have reported on?

As a matter of fact, we have seen such resurgences in at least five other developed nations: Sweden, Japan, Russia, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Sweden has been particularly hard-hit by the return of whooping cough; in an epidemic between 1980 and 1983 incidence rates among pre-schoolers reached 3,370 cases per 100,000 individuals. To give comparison, prior to 1940, Sweden suffered under an infection rate of 300 per 100,000. In its return, pertussis is even more dangerous because our population has largely forgotten how to deal with it. It seems quite logical to ask, if pertussis has returned elsewhere before, maybe it is returning here for the same reason. The question logically follows: why did pertussis return in other countries?

For the answer, we turn to an article in the magazine The Skeptical Inquirer by William John Hoyt, Jr. This article, entitled Anti-Vaccination Fever: The Shot Hurt Around the World, makes a compelling case that the return of pertussis is not due to some new mutant strain of the bacteria- it is instead due to a failure of parents to properly vaccinate their children.

The reasons for this are many, and complicated. In the pertussis case, vaccination began to sag when studies were published in several medical journals that seemed to suggest that whole-cell petussis vaccines were correlated with neurological complications. These studies were rapidly seized on by anti-vaccination activists in Sweden and Japan, among other areas. Of course, in all cases these studies showing additional risks from vaccination were based on flawed data, methodological complications, and statistical errors that drastically inflated the risks of the vaccines. For example, when the Swedish academy of sciences investigated one such paper, they found that the author has over-estimated the complication rate by more than a factor of ten! Further, correlation has routinely been conflated with causation, leading people to believe that the vaccines are harmful themselves when in actuality they are not.

Added to this problem is the simple truth that parents believe that the disease is "dead." This makes sense in a "common sense" sort of way- after all if you've never heard of someone getting whooping cough, that means the disease is gone, right? Wrong. In a thoroughly vaccinated population the disease can still exist, it just doesn't cause epidemics. The mistaken belief that pertussis is no longer a threat, coupled with erroneous beliefs about the dangers of the vaccine, have caused vaccination rates to plumet at different times in all five of the above countries.

Predictably, as fewer and fewer vaccinations occurred, more and more serious epidemics of pertussis exploded through these populations. Also unsurprisingly, when vaccination rates began to climb again, epidemics became less frequent and far less severe. Pertussis is returning not because of some new innovation in the biological arms race between humans and infectious agents, but because we are forgetting the true horror of this disease. We are, in this case, not victims of pertussis, but of our own arrogance. We can protect against pertussis, yes, but we have not eradicated this deadly foe. It remains, ever watchful for a chance to reassert itself in our homes and schools.

In a broader sense, this issue can be linked into the rise of alternative medicine in recent years. There has been a growing sense that modern western medicine is flawed and, perhaps, even more dangerous than the illnesses it is supposedly fighting. Doubt about science is not necessarily a bad thing, science is after all a system that thrives on a certain amount of dissent, but to philosophically reject an entire field of scientific inquiry on principle is another matter entirely. Coupled with this growing doubt about modern medicine, we have witnessed the resurgence of things like homeopathy, and the growing popularity of naturopathy, herbal remedies, healing prayer, aromatherapy, and other such unconventional approaches to wellness. Such new, or resurrected, methods have come to be known under the rubric "alternative medicine."

The rise of these techniques can also, in all likelihood, be linked to a growing sense of western cultural imperialism. As scholars in literature, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and elsewhere have challenged the assumption that western approaches are superior, alternative ways of seeing, and affecting, the world have been making inroads. This is a good thing, but unfortunately this new revelation has spread uncontrolled.

The principle that western culture cannot demonstrate its superiority to other, non-western cultures, has been extended to the products of science and medicine. Western science has increasingly been seen as merely an option in the treatment of disease, with no greater claim to efficacy than witchcraft. In many cases these non-scientific approaches to health and wellness are portrayed as competitors with equally-good, if not superior, records as traditional scientific medicine, thus side-stepping the comparability issue altogether.

This view of scientific medicine as merely one approach among many, with no particular claim to efficacy, is complete, total, and unmitigated bullshit. Alternative medicine as it is presently understood represents a threat to the public health not merely of our society, but to the world in general.

Hey, I take a stand, you know?

First off, let's consider the term "alternative medicine." Alternative, when used as an adjective, means, "a) Existing outside traditional or established institutions or systems: an alternative lifestyle. b) Espousing or reflecting values that are different from those of the establishment or mainstream: an alternative newspaper; alternative greeting cards." Note that, nowhere in that definition, does alternative mean "good." It means simply "different," and it should be immediately obvious that difference can be both a good and a bad thing. Indeed, just because a treatment is unconventional it doesn't mean that it is new, or more advanced, or even based on something other than a whim.

Secondly, let's consider the common assertion that western medicine is "unnatural." Well, yes and no. In one sense, all medicine is unnatural. The deliberate introduction of substances and behaviors meant to maintain or improve health is pretty unusual in the natural world. In a more complex sense, however, tool-making and using is, for humans, essentially a natural behavior. That we should turn our attention to tools for promoting health is hardly surprising.

So, obviously, the tools themselves must be somehow "unnatural." Again, we'll ignore the fact that for almost any other species besides humans (I am aware that chimpanzees, otters, and crows are all known to use "simple" tools) tools themselves would be pretty unusual. In any case, it isn't accurate to say that western tools are all that unnatural. Many pharmaceuticals are concentrated, refined forms of naturally-occurring chemicals. The difference is not in the substance, it's in the delivery system: commercial drugs concentrate the active ingredients into an efficient form. As for the more advanced medical machines like x-rays and ultrasounds- all of these devices are used to examine a patient in a way that human fingers simply can't, and make use of forces that exist quite naturally in the normal world. Again, the difference is that our machines harness and concentrate them.

Even if we assume, however, that western medicine is somehow "unnatural," does that mean that it's bad? Put another way, does "natural" equate to good? The answer, of course, is no. More accurately: HELL no. Many, many things are natural and are still very harmful. Hemlock is entirely natural, but it seemed to be quite up to the challenge of poisoning Socrates. Oleander is quite natural, and quite lethal. Natural substances, just from plants, are so frequently toxic that a full listing is quite beyond my ability to produce. Natural has never been in the past, and is not now, equivalent to good.

I could continue criticizing alternative medicine, but I won't. There are any number of places one could go and find information on the tradtional vs. alternative medicine debate. I do not need to reproduce them all here.

The thing is, I get heated about this issue because a person's decision to make use of questionable alternative therapies isn't just a personal choice. It has been said that your freedom of action ends when your choices begin to affect another person. As a sociologist, I understand that this point comes rather quickly. In case of disease, however, that point is reached almost immediately.

The true power of vaccinations is not that they keep the vaccinated individual safe from disease. Indeed, as CBS pointed out, pertussis vaccines often wear off by adulthood. Moreover, even at high rates of vaccine adoption, a substantial portion of the population remains unprotected. No, the power of vaccines is that they prevent the spread of an infectious agent.

Imagine for a moment a population in which a significant majority of the members are vaccinated. If the non-vaccinated are distributed more or less randomly in this population, then any time a vulnerable individual contracts the disease, they are surrounded by those with an immunity. The disease cannot spread, becoming an epidemic. Now, imagine a world in which a much greater proportion of the population is unvaccinated. As this proportion rises, the ability of the vaccinated to block the spread of the disease decays, eventually reaching the point where epidemics become possible, and even inevitable. Vaccination protects not merely the people who have been treated, but even those who have not because it halts the spread of a disease.

As Duncan J. Watts (Who, despite what it may seem from his writing, did not invent social network analysis. But that's a subject for another blog...) points out there is a tipping point in networks of infection. On one side, the infection falters and fades. On the other side, it explodes and becomes epidemic, or even endemic. The true power of vaccines is that they push us to one side of that tipping point- they isolate small groups of unvaccinated in a vast sea of the immune, preventing a disease from reaching even the full extent of the unvaccinated population. Vaccines are not merely a personal good, but a collective good as well. A society that adheres well to a program of vaccination will protect both vaccinated and unvaccinated members.

So, I get rather aggravated when people "free-ride" on the system by not vaccinating themselves and their children. It isn't just their choice, because they aren't just putting themselves at risk. As the proportion of those who are unvaccinated rises, we are all pushed closer to the point at which a disease can spread uncontrolled. Certainly the full blame for this tendency cannot be lumped on alternative medicine, a substantial portion must be laid at the feet of our own forgetfulness, and I readily concede that some very useful healing techniques may be derived from what is now considered to be unconventional treatment. However, by promoting a mindless rejection of scientific medicine, alternative medicine has been in essence aiding the cause of disease and placing us all at risk.

Equally important, I get pissed off when news organizations, like the one at CBS, don't do their homework well enough to know that a return of pertussis is NOT unique to the United States. This has happened elsewhere, we know why it has happened, and we have every reason to think that the same phenomenon is at work here. By failing to report it either CBS is guilty of alarming incompetence, or is deliberately refusing the tell the whole story for reasons I cannot imagine. I'm not asking CBS to advocate vaccination, but telling the whole truth about a such a serious issue demands that the history of pertussis resurgence be discussed.

Vaccines are not about culture, they're about life and death. When we vaccinate our citizens, people live. When we don't vaccinate them, people die. It's as simple as that. Yet, despite this simple equation, we have shown once more that the greatest risk to human survival is not some microorganism:

It is our own forgetfulness and stupidity. We have met the enemy, and he is indeed us.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Renegotiating the Gender Contract.

This past weekend, mixed in with the cookie-baking and fixing my car (Seriously) I actually managed to read some articles on sociology. I know, this amazes me too as it implies that my posts in the future might not be as staggeringly uninformed as they have been in the past. I am almost giddy with the possibilities. Giddy I tell you!

In any case, one of the articles I read was "In the Fraternal Sisterhood: Sororities as Gender Strategy," in Gender and Society 9(2) 1995 by Lisa Handler, who is currently a graduate student at SUNY-Stony Brook. Normally I don't care much for ethnographic, qualitative work like that in this article. What can I say? I'm a quantoid. Still, I found this article to be well written and very useful.

Handler attempt to analyze the rise of sororities, and their continued existence, as a solution to a particular problem. Specifically, sororities are conceived of as a competetive solution to the problems women face in an educational institution dominated by male fraternities.

In the article, Handler identifies a number of processes sororities engage in. There is the effort to construct within-sorority relations as friendship and, more importantly, as a transcendant form of friendship labelled sisterhood. This invests the relations encompassed by the group with a significance that is useful in maintaining cohesion and loyalty. Secondly, sorority membership is a sort of social contract, wherein members agree not to compete romantically with each other and to offer emotional and academic support to other members. Thus, sororities form a kind of romantic labor union and even allow for a weak sort of collective bargaining.

Beyond this, sororities function as systems for regulating and enabling contacts with males. They operate to provide enhanced opportunities for meeting males, create standards of appropriate behavior in regards to males, and provide a system of support for dealing with what the author identifies as a male-dominated "romantic marketplace."

Of course, much like more mundane labor unions, sororities face significant coordination problems. Just as individual workers feel a tension between loyalty to the group and desire for personal gains, so too do sorority members feel a tension between loyalty to the sisterhood, and personal preferences. Thus, the possibility of romantic competition between sisters can create strife just as defection from a picket line can.

What makes this article most interesting to me is that it intelligently discusses the emergence of sororities within the context of male power. By this, I don't mean the author's contrasting of sorority sisterhood with feminist sisterhood- a contrast that is so completely useless to the article that I'm amazed it wasn't removed by the editor- I mean the author's arguments about the functional uses of sororities. Handler cogently argues that sororities are a system for improving female outcomes in a system largely controlled by men, but that they do so at the cost of reinforcing that system. Therefore, sororities allow women to play the game more skillfully, but only at the price of legitimating that game in the first place. This is a valuable observation, in that it recognizes the role of oppressed groups in maintaining their own oppression.

Now, I'm not saying this because, as a man, I want to displace as much responsibility for the mistreatment of women as possible. I'll admit, that would be nice, but that isn't my reason here. No, I think this is a valuable observation because, if anything, I have a great deal of respect for women. In my experience women and men are equally intelligent, equally driven, and are capable of the same heights and depths of courage and depravity. I have yet to observe a manner in which men and women are different, besides the rather simplistic (if pleasant) contrasts of sexual dimorphism. So, I have always wondered why women permitted their own oppression. We're talking about fully half of the human race here, slightly more with modern medicine. It seems odd to me that one half should be able to dominate the other, even with the physical advantages men enjoy.

During my youth, raised as I was in a conservative household, I accepted arguments that this justified gender inequality in some way. Clearly, since women accepted lesser status, an equitable exchange was going on. Men and women had accepted separate spheres of activity, and all parties were satisfied with this set of tradeoffs. It was not until I matured more, and read more extensively, that I discovered a long history of female resistance to male domination. That this resistance was often unsuccessful did nothing to wash away the realization that the presence of such conflict itself signalled that matters were not quite as equitable as I had once believed. Say what you will about my conclusions, but I pride myself on being open to argument.

It took more thinking, as well as an introduction to social science, in order for me to understand the role of the macrostructures that infuse our society. Indeed, they more than infuse our society, they are our society in a very real sense. Individuals can come and go, but the structures persist, giving our society the feeling of palpable reality we all know so well. Men and women had never signed some Hobbesian contract to create a gender leviathan- instead outcomes of power struggles became crystallized, and institutionalized, confronting each new generation with the inexorable might of a glacier. Individual women can resist individual men, yes, but individual women cannot resist the strength of an entire social structure any more than individual men can. And so long as women were prevented from organizing collectively, individual women were forced to stand alone. We can imagine the effects this might have on the social ties of both men and women.

The functionalists of old, who argued that every social mechanism operated for the greater good, were tragically incorrect, but a certain functionalist flavor can add spice to our thoughts. Perhaps particular mechanisms don't work for the greater good, and many mechanisms are essentially pointless, nothing more than vestigial social organs, but still many social formations do serve the interests of their constituent groups. The key, however, is that while they do serve the interests of their constituents, they do not necessarily serve the best interests of those constituents.

Social mechanisms likely develop in a somewhat Darwinian manner, which calls not for "Survival of the Fittest," as many people believe, but rather, "Survival of the Barely Adequate." Evolution does not demand perfection, it does not even necessarily want it as an organism that is too capable may well destroy itself. One need only observe the grievous threat human success poses to our own continued survival, as global warming yearly makes its presence known, to understand the potential dangers of too-perfect an adaptation. No, evolution leads not to perfection, but to adequacy, even mediocrity. One need not be good, only good enough. Social mechanisms develop in the same blind, halting, moronic fashion as biological organisms, struggling not for perfection, but only for competetive adequacy.

I bring all this up today not because I want to lecture on evolution (though that's always fun) or because I enjoy the mountain of hate mail that associating gender, functionalism, and evolution is sure to bring (Yippee!) but because I want to discuss a website that deals with similar issues in a charmingly ham-fisted manner.

The site is the straightforwardly-named "NoMarriage.com" and, unsurprisingly, is a criticism of the institution of marriage. Well, no, sorry, let me take that back. It's actually a vitriolic argument that American men shouldn't marry anyone except foreign women, if they marry at all.

Wait, no, sorry, did I say argument? I meant incoherent rambling. Sorry about that.

In any case, the website makes a number of interesting claims in "article" form (if you are willing to include collections of vignettes under the heading of "article") including, but not limited to:

Why Men Should Not Marry which makes the argument, among others, that:

As men, we all know that a woman's primary objective is to marry. After years of experience I've discovered their most commonly used strategy. here it is:

1. Girl pressures guy for marriage.

2. Guy delays.

3. Girl gradually starts destroying guy's self-esteem and eliminating his friends.

4. Guy becomes too weak and too much of a loser to find something better than what he has.

5. Girl starts to limit sex. In effect controlling the only good thing in the guy's life.

6. Guy is in despair. Capitulates to marriage.


Then 5-10 years later the guy is an empty shell of his former self. Girl is a ruthless manipulating machine. Girl divorces loser husband. Girl takes 80% of guy's stuff because the guy is too brain dead to find a good lawyer. Girl lives happily ever after. Guy becomes bald alcoholic who dies of heart attack at 45 years old.


You should be proud if American women call you a "loser"

[A] Description of modern American women

And, my personal favorite:

Fucking decent mid-priced whores twice a week is less expensive than a wife

Needless to say, this site's view of women (American women, anyway) and marriage blows right past "negative" into the happy realm of "loathing." The thing is though, buried amidst the incoherent writing (and the writing really is piss poor, whether you agree with these guys or not) are some interesting sociological bits.

Take, for example, this excerpt from the article Why marriage no longer makes sense:

Traditional marriage balances different privileges and obligations for men and women. Modern woman wants all the benefits of "equality" without any of the responsibilities.

Traditional Western culture balanced special privileges for women with special obligations, and the same for men.

Equality states that no one get special privileges, and that responsibilities and rights should be equally shared.

Either system is balanced and fair.


Indeed, they make an interesting sociological argument here. First, that a social formation may involve differences in responsibilities and priviledges and that, second, there may be more than one such combination that can be achieved. Indeed, I have no choice but to observe that, for all of its rage against women, this site is more egalitarian than our friends the Masculists because it, at least, recognizes that there may be several possible stable configurations of gender relations.

Of course, that being said, where this argument runs into trouble is in the assertion that "Either system is balanced and fair." Ideally speaking, yes, that's the case BUT there's ample reason to believe that the traditional system was a bit more balanced and fair for men than for women.

Hints of this, as well as further (unintentional) elaboration of the sociological point, emerge elsewhere in the site. One such place is in the article suggesting that men should only marry foreign women:

Latin American women seem to make decent wives. My friend married a hot girl from Venezuela. Sweet, beautiful, cooks, cleans, and is the perfect wife. Like how American women were in the 1950s America.


So, we have both a recognition that one gender role requires a partner who enacts a compatible gender role, even as the desirability of a particular traditional female role is reasserted. An even stronger assertion that this earlier, traditional, female role is desirable can be found in another article. Interestingly, earlier in this article on foreign brides another man (I assume, anyway, since I can think of no other reason to divide this up in such a disjointed fashion) asserts that:

Popular Myth: Western men looking for foreign wives are only seeking subservient slaves.

Truth: Most Western men today are evolved and modern and truly believe in the 50/50 system. Most Western men are dismayed by the lack of sincerity of Western women. I can do my own laundry and cooking thank you!


This implies, to me at least, something rather interesting. There is a strong suggestion that the dislocations generated in our society by the ongoing shift to greater levels of sexual equality are being felt by both males and females. It's not that men don't recognize the desirability of an equitable split, even an egalitarian 50/50 split, as the author refers to it, but that the enactment of this equality is problematic. Neither sex appears to be fully comfortable with or confident in its present gender expectations. This is hardly surprising, considering the significance of gender for society and the recency of the major waves of feminism.

Of course, buried in this material are also a few points that could do with some social scientific clarification. For example, the argument is made that:

Almost 90% of American women "marry up" to a man that earns more than they do. Coincidence? I think not.

What we see here is the typical gap between what women say (and may believe on a conscious level) and what they do (Some are conscious hypocrites, others choose wealthier men on a subconscious level, screening out less successful guys without even admitting it to themselves). Only a small minority of women at present (just over 10%) marry men who make less than them. They are the only ones who without a doubt chose men for themselves.


The problem here, of course, is that with the wage gap most women don't make as much as similarly educated men. So, if women marry within education or rough occupation levels, they are statistically likely to marry someone who makes more than they do, whether they want to or not.

Then there is the article asserting that the Majority of American women have narcissistic and histrionic disorders

[The] Medical community generally says that only 2-3% of American women have Histrionic or Narcissistic disorders. That is obviously an outright lie that flies in the face of common sense. Read about various disorders on the above link [Go to the nomarriage site if you want to see the link] (it's a fun project, you might even find that you have a disorder of your own), then think about all the women you dated or women you know well (particularly women between 25 and 30 years old). You will see that almost all of them have at least one disorder, and majority will have two or more disorders.

Medical community generally says that 80% of women have a short-term form of Postpartum depression (also called baby blues). But the baby does not go away after a few weeks. Responsibilities and stress do not go away after a few weeks. If baby, stress, and responsibilities make 80% of women depressed for several weeks after giving birth, then they will be even more stressed and depressed after 6 months of constant dealing with the baby.

What we have here is medical community that is afraid to say that a big percentage of American women have very serious mental problems.


Okay, taking things in order. First off, I'm always skeptical when someone dismisses statistical estimates with an appeal to common sense. Common sense is often contradictory, as in the common statement that "Birds of a feather flock together" and the equally common statement that "Opposites attract." Clearly common sense is a rather confused source of wisdom.

Secondly, the author seems to think that any random layman is capable of diagnosing psychopathology, a notion I find rather unlikely. He even steers his readers into the classic "medical student's disease" of diagnosing one's self with some unknown number of disorders while reading over descriptions of illnesses.

Thirdly, the suggestion that you compare your previous dating history to the criteria for mental disorders is problematic on two levels. In one sense, it's a problem because many of us have rather negative views of our ex's, regardless of their real or imagined faults. In the other sense, and this is just a hunch, visitors to a site like "NoMarriage.com" are likely to be disproportionately composed of disgruntled males, and curious sociologists. Neither group is exactly known for its romantic success. Thus, the experiences of these groups do not provide a reliable source of information on the character of women as a whole.

Fourth, post-partum depression is a medically distinct condition from major depression. There is some evidence suggesting that the hormonal changes that occur in women following labor contribute to or even cause this condition, and help to account for its typically short duration. Specifically:

Hormones also play a role. High levels of female sex hormones circulate in expectant mothers' blood, but drop precipitously within hours of delivery, contributing to biochemical depression. Pregnancy also increases levels of endorphins, the body's feel-good chemicals. [Technically, endorphins are endogeneous pain killers, but that isn't the point.] Endorphin levels fall abruptly after delivery, adding to risk of depression. Hormone levels stabilize in almost all women, including those who become depressed, two weeks after delivery; but it is possible that in some women who are highly susceptible to the effects of changing hormone levels shortly after delivery, the mood deepens and persists because of other past and present circumstances.


Fifth, considering that the medical community long clung to diagnoses like "penis envy," I'm rather doubtful that it is particularly reluctant to make assertions that feminist groups don't like.

I could go on, and have been lumbering on for some time now, but I'll restrain myself. My real point in all this is that the changing roles for males and females are traumatic for us all. Men feel lost and unsure about our position, women feel stressed and overloaded by the addition of a working world without the reduction in their "second-shift" duties. Until we work out some new, hopefully more egalitarian, system we will all be suffering to some extent. That men, who enjoyed a priviledged position under the old rules, sometimes react to this suffering by longing for a return to the past is not surprising, nor even something I can easily condemn them for.

That being said, however, it does no good to glamorize the past. Much as sororities represented a way for women to make the best of a largely bad situation, traditional marriage for women was a way to achieve some stability and security in a world that was largely hostile to them. That this was an acceptable deal does not mean that it was a good one. I cannot condemn men who gaze longingly into the past, but I can and will condemn those who long for a past that never existed, and convince themselves that women derived more benefit from that past than they did. Let us not delude outselves about the nature of our traditions.

A truly fair and balanced system is one in which all participants are benefitting in a positive way, not just avoiding the worst possible outcomes. It is, perhaps, the difference between profitting and breaking even. It is certainly the case that none of us are completely satisfied with the present state of gender relations, but that does not mean we should return to a past of male domination. Instead, our dissatisfaction means that we must press forward and discover a new way for men and women to relate to each other as equals, protected under a law that favors neither women or men. The transition from absolutist monarchies to more democratic structures was surely traumatic, yet was that trauma sufficient reason to retreat from such a change? I think not, and I'm willing to bet you agree with me.

When our society once more achieves social homeostasis let us hope that it is in a place where all participants will declare it "good" and not merely "good enough."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

One man's best friend.

I have made no secret of the fact that I am a dog owner. In fact, I recently used this status to offer some advice to another blogger who has been considering adopting a dog. Those who know me at all well are familiar with the fact that I am rather close to, and fond of, my canine companion. This is only fair, since she's rather fond of me.

So, it will come as no great surprise that once a year I celebrate the birthday of my dog, Casey. That day happens to be today.

Of course, I don't really know for sure when Casey was born. I did not purchase Casey from a breeder. I know some people prefer that method but, to be honest, when there are so many dogs in need of homes at the local pound or humane society, I simply can't stomach the idea of purchasing a dog. I mean no disrespect to those who do, I just feel the way I feel. Doubtless this has to do with my family, which has always adopted dogs from shelters, and had simply delightful experiences with it. In any case, I do not know the precise date of Casey's birth because the Humane Society didn't know. When Casey's previous owners dropped her and the rest of her litter off, they didn't tell the shelter staff much about them. Today is simply the day I guessed might be her birthday.

When I went to the Humane Society to adopt a dog more than two years ago, I went with the intention of getting a smaller dog. I thought, perhaps, a Basset Hound, a Corgi, or maybe even a Bloodhound. (I am, of course, aware that bloodhounds aren't really "small" dogs) Being from the southeast, where Bloodhounds are almost an institution, I have a certain fondness for the dogs.

Walking along the cages in the Humane Society was, however, a sobering experience. Dogs are social creatures and, for a dog, being locked away from regular Human contact is a highly traumatic experience. I saw many, many breeds and many, many dogs that I'm certain would have made fine pets. Many were too large for my small apartment and small yard- clearly beyond my ability to adopt. I visited (By this I mean that I took the dog out to a small, fenced in area where you can meet your prospective pet and decide if you fit with them) with one dog only to discover that it was what I will term a "Crotch-Hound." I leave you to imagine what this actually means.

At some point, however, I came across a cage containing a short, sleek, dog colored in white, brown, and black. Her ears seemed too large and wide for her head, extending out like bat wings. Dark markings under her eyes gave her a permanently sorrowful look, and she lacked all but the barest nub of a tail, which wagged eagerly when I paid attention to her. Though she wasn't what I went looking for, I decided to visit with her anyway. To say we hit it off well is to understate matters. This dog made it very clear, very early on that she liked me. I have to be honest- I really liked her too. Things were not going as I had planned, however. The dog I had found was not a basset, or a corgi. Instead I had found a mix of an Australian Shepherd (Which, despite the name, is actually an American breed) and some sort of terrier.

As a side note: If you're interested in a terrier website that absolutely scares the bejeezus out of me, see here.

We're not sure what kind of terrier this dog is, but several folks have guessed it might be a Jack Parson Russell Terrier. Regardless, however, I was facing a small dog (About 32 pounds then) with medium-length hair that was possessed of a truly staggering amount of energy. Normally, a mixed breed dog has a more even temperment than a pure-breed but in this case I had a dog forged out of two very active dogs. It's a little like mixing dynamite with nitroglycerine: maybe one or the other has been diluted, but they're still capable of blowing the hell out of something. Regular exercise would be necessary. This was exactly what I was intending to avoid, being a busy grad student and all.

Yet, as I've told others, the reality is we don't pick our dogs. Our dogs pick us. And somehow I ended up taking this little bundle of lightning home. The next few weeks of my life are an experience I would prefer not to dwell on. Casey, as I called her, had not been housebroken before arriving at the Humane Society, and was a mere nine months old. I had to crate train her- a process Casey was not pleased with. Further, she very rapidly developed a poweful attachment to me and, consequently, a powerful case of separation anxiety. The early weeks of our life together involved a considerable amount of barking, whining, howling, and property destruction. She destroyed blinds, more blinds, and damaged walls. As the months wore on her periodic relapses into serious anxiety cost me several square feet of carpet, and the linoleum floor in my bathroom. On the positive side, I now know how to lay down linoleum bath tile. Well... badly, anyway.

Then there was the difficult battle with kennel cough that was waged, and finally won, over the first several months of our time together. I don't know where that strain of bordatella came from, but it was nasty.

As a further side note: during this period when Casey was receiving her vaccinations, the vet told me that they offered the corona virus vaccine, but it was considered optional. I inquired what corona virus did, and the vet responded with, "It causes uncontrollable flatulence and explosive diarrhea." It might just be me, but I think I speak for most dog-owners when I say that doesn't sound like an optional vaccine to me.

Still, despite this difficulty, I persevered with her. She clued in to housebreaking in about a week, and has only had a single accident since then- a time when I was delayed unexpectedly at school. She's learned to sit, and lie down, and to come when called most of the time. She's also remained the same affectionate, attentive dog she always was. For me, anyway. Other people, particularly males, she's quite a bit more skeptical of. So much so that my roommate was terrorized for some weeks when he returned from summer vacation and, to this day, must enter my room sideways (like a crab) or else risk being punched in the crotch.

I'm totally serious. Casey will get a nice running start, jump up, and plant her front paws right in my roommate's crotch. I desperately want to know where she learned this from.

We settled into a regular routine of morning walks, and nightly runs, that satisfied her need for exercise. She also entertains herself by barking at the neighbors, chasing flies, and hunting for lizards and small mammals in my backyard. Her presence has come to be something that I rely upon, and miss when I'm out of town.

Of course, our time together hasn't always been just this saga of increasing comfort. I've also mentioned before that my dog, Casey, only has three legs. This was not the case when I adopted her. A little over a year ago, when I was leaving my apartment, she suddenly, and unexpectedly, bolted for the door. She slipped out and, breaking with her usual behavior, did not return when called. I tried to catch her, but I was unsuccessful and could only watch as she ran out into a busy road and was struck by a car.

That was a bad time. When I reached her, thrashing and howling in pain in the gutter, I felt sick. When I took hold of her, she closed her jaws over my arm but, amazingly, only jawed me rapidly. She didn't bite down hard enough to even break the skin. This was one of the most amazing things to me- even in all that pain and terror she knew me well enough to hold back her full strength.

We rushed to the emergency vet, where she was examined and X-rayed. She had a broken leg, I was told, and might have internal injuries. She would have to stay for observation. The next 24 hours were terrible. I didn't know if her injuries would be any worse than a broken leg, if they would be treatable and, worst of all, if treating her would be more expensive than I could afford.

Amazingly, she did not sustain any internal injuries, but would require surgery to repair her leg. The break was above the knee in her right hind leg, and was too buried in muscle and tissue for a splint or cast to be an option. The surgeon examined the X-rays and said he thought a repair would be possible. The surgery happened approximately five days after the accident, at the earliest moment the surgeon could slip Casey into his already full schedule.

It was then that I learned the full extent of the bad news. The break was worse than they thought, the bone had shattered into more, smaller, pieces than they had realized. The leg could not be saved. We could only amputate the leg, or euthanize the dog. I chose amputation, and crossed my fingers in the hope that she would adapt as well as they said she would. She came home about 30 hours after the surgery.

He recovery was difficult. She constantly wanted to lick her stitches and loathed her "satellite collar." When she could get out of her collar she would hide beneath my bed, where she apparently felt safe. We eventually worked out a deal of sorts: she could lie on my bed, but only if she refrained from licking her stiches. Don't ask me how we worked this out, I couldn't tell you, but somehow we did, and it worked.

During this time I also had help from the very generous members of my department, who volunteered to stay with her when I had to be in class. I will always be grateful for that kindness, particularly from the men that Casey, even in her weakened condition, made quite unwelcome.

It was some time until the stitches came out, and longer til she was fully healed, but her attitude was always good. She never tried to stop walking, never tried to stop running. She was always just a dog that happened to be missing a leg, and kindly don't make a big deal out of it. Now, months after the accident, she looks forward to running a few miles with me every night, and still jumps up and down and chases her (stub of a) tail every time we get ready for our morning walk. She may be little, but she's tougher than hell.

Right now my tripod-dog is lying on my floor. She's waiting patiently for me to finish typing so that we can go out and explore the neighborhood. I think it would be a shame to keep her any longer, don't you?

So, today we celebrate my little dog's third birthday. There have been ups, and there have been downs, but I simply can't imagine not having her in my life. She's a great dog, even if she drives me up a frigging wall sometimes.

And for those who are wondering: yes, I give her a gift on her birthday. What is it, you ask?

Today she gets to eat a chicken breast for dinner. Sheer ambrosia to a 35 pound, highly-active three-legged dog.

Happy birthday, Casey.

For the curious, the above excellent paintaing is titled "Brave Cone Dog," and is by Brandon Bird. You can find out more about him and his work here.

Site Meter