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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Another Modest Proposal (That still doesn't involve eating babies)

Many moons ago, Drek wrote a post titled "A Modest Proposal" in which he criticized those wacky conservatives for opposing routine use of a vaccine that could save 200,000 lives worldwide each year. Given the recent news that nearly a quarter of President Bush's $15 billion AIDS initiative is going to religious agencies (AP story), it's time to make another modest proposal about health care.

First, let me state that I applaud the President for making a serious commitment to preventing AIDS in the developing world. Also, I support the idea of giving some (not all) of the money to religious groups, which frequently have local contacts, and an automatic platform to be taken seriously.

But of course, these are the Republicans, so there's a catch. To quote from the article:

For prevention, Bush embraces the "ABC" strategy: abstinence before marriage, being faithful to one partner and condoms targeted for high-risk activity. The Republican-led Congress mandated that one-third of prevention money be reserved for abstinence and fidelity.

The U.S. government provided more than 560 million condoms abroad last year, compared with some 350 million in 2001.

Condom promotion to anyone must include abstinence and fidelity messages, U.S. guidelines say, but those preaching abstinence do not have to provide condom education.

Abstinence-only education doesn't prevent STDs. But as we've seen on this blog and others, conservatives aren't swayed by evidence, no matter how overwhelming. Their reasoning is based on logical extrapolation from (often flawed) premises. This applies just as much in the current abstinence-only education debate. Here is the logic:

Premise: people who don't have sex don't catch STDs. Again from the article:

"Why give an alternative [i.e. condoms] and have them take a risk?" asked the Rev. Sam Lawrence Ruteikara of the Anglican Church of Uganda, a U.S. grant recipient.

This premise, for once, is true, for obvious reasons.

Logic: We want to prevent people from catching STDs [while upholding our "values" of opposing promiscuity, homosexuality, and prostitution. Because God knows that conservatives don't support prostitution. Oh, wait...*]

Conclusion: We will give primary financial support to programs that teach abstinence primarily (or only)
(Aside: check out this wonderful parody site I found)

So now it's time for the modest proposal. Check it, yo:

Premise: a (well-planned) vegetarian diet is associated with a much lower rate of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers. This is proven by many medical studies and actively promoted by the American Heart Association.

Logic: We want to prevent people from dying of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers.

Conclusion: We will give primary financial support to programs that teach vegetarianism primarily (or only). Here is one such organization. Here is another. And here is a prominent individual.

Notice that the logic of my modest proposal is exactly the same as the conservatives' logic for supporting abstinence-based AIDS education. So how about it, Mr. President? To which organizations shall we distribute vegetarianism education money?

*Yes, I know this is a cheap shot, but the conservatives have had plenty o' cheap shots of their own, and dammit, I want one.

Monday, January 30, 2006

I am really not a poet.

Those who know me will not be surprised to learn that I am not, in fact, a poet. As it happens, I lack whatever inclination it takes to enjoy poetry as I am unable to perceive rhyme and meter. This is not to say that I can't sometimes tell if something rhymes but, as often as not, I learn this by rote rather than by ear. I am, sadly, one of those assholes that will spend hours trying to rhyme something with orange. Perhaps more to the point, I spend hours on it because I have no sure-fire way to determine if I have succeeded.

It is, perhaps, for this reason that I am so amused that my Sainted Girlfriend has (likely ill-advisedly) insisted that I blog about the haiku we wrote together. It is important, of course, to keep in mind that by "wrote" I mean "happened across semi-accidentally" and by "haiku" I really mean "something that could charitably be labeled free verse." What can I say? I try to be honest.

We haven't officially named this poem, so I suppose I will tentatively title it: "The dragon crouching in snow with the suckling pups." Why have I titled it thusly? Because I am insane.

So, without further ado:

The dragon crouching in snow with the suckling pups

Warm breasts
A cold hand
Ouch!


And there you go.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Godspeed Challenger

For those who didn't notice, today is the twentieth anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Challenger. On January 28th, 1986, 73 seconds after launch, Challenger was destroyed by a failure in its solid rocket boosters. The crew, consisting of Commander Francis Scobee, Pilot Michael Smith, Mission Specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, and Ronald McNair, as well as Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe, were all lost.

The night of the disaster President Ronald Reagan delivered an address to the nation that I reproduce here. Whatever your politics, you can at least recognize a president attempting to soothe a nation in mourning.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we've never lost an astronaut in flight; we've never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we're thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, "Give me a challenge and I'll meet it with joy." They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the school children of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute. We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.

I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: "Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it."

There's a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, "He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it." Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake's, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."


I was living in Florida when this happened. I was standing in a field beside my school watching the Challenger reach for the stars when it was destroyed. I will never forget it.

As President Reagan said, "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave."

May we always be brave enough to be worthy of our future.

Greetings from a cold, dark place!

Hello, readers, from Anchorage, Alaska! I've been here since last Friday night, attending a meeting. What organization holds its meetings in Alaska in January, you ask? The International Moosefarming Society? Why yes, I guess so, assuming such an organization actually exists - and if it does, I want to join. The actual group is the American Association of Physics Teachers, a swinging fun group that includes enough people interested in science writing to make it worthwhile for me to go. Since I've been here, I've been learning quite a bit of Alaskana, which I will now share with you.

Some of the locals refer to this town as "Los Anchorage," which I find hilarious considering its 2000 Census population of 260,000. It takes about 15 minutes to drive from one side of town to the other, and the convention center is so small as to be adorably cute. However, Alaska has a total 2000 Census population of 626,932, meaning that Anchorage accounts for 41% of the Alaskan population.

The first thing that one notices about Alaska in the winter is that it's cold. Although truthfully, Anchorage is not that bad. The average January high temperature is 22 F (that's -5 C to you, TDEC), compared to an average January high of 25 F (-4 C) in Chicago. However, this week has been COLD. The temperature on Wednesday hovered around 0 F (-19 C). After about 15 minutes outside, I could no longer feel my fingers or toes. The cold sneaks up on you, too - one minute I felt fine; the next minute, I couldn't feel my extremities.

In the winter, many people leave Anchorage, but many moose arrive. Anchorage has the biggest moose concentration of any American city, with more than 2,000 spending the winter there. The moose hang out by the airport, welcoming visitors with fruit baskets, and by the university, taking French literature courses. In spite of the presence of so many moose, I have not seen a single one. I leave tonight - hopefully I'll see one at the airport. Antlers crossed.

Alaskans are also very proud of their state, and tend to snicker at Texans for living in such a small state. Alaska is more than double the size of Texas. Alaskans love to express this by pointing out that "if you split Alaska in half, Texas would be the third largest state."

Perhaps the best thing about Alaska is the fish. Ship Creek runs straight through downtown Anchorage - but in the creek, you can catch 4-foot (1.2-meter) king salmon. If you charter a boat and take it to the ocean south of the Kenai peninsula, you can catch 400-lb (181 kg) halibut. I have managed to have either salmon or halibut for dinner every night since I've been here.

Alaska is a beautiful place. I'd love to go back in the summer, to compare the view to what I've seen this week.

Back to the moosefarming...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it...

I was listening to the President's press conference this morning on the radio and, honestly, I'm basically convinced that either he, his speech writers, or both, are quasi-morons. I don't know how else to put it. If it was just the phrasing, I might assume that the President is simply a poor speaker. That's okay. It would be funny, true, but lots of people aren't good public speakers.

And, I mean, he is a poor speaker. It's difficult to really grasp how poor since news reports about his speeches uniformly select the most coherent portions of his remarks to quote. To me, this falsifies the claims about a "liberal bias" in the news media since these attempts to conceal the President's blisteringly poor speaking only help improve his image, and cannot possibly be accidental. I haven't found an audio recording of the most recent press conferece yet, but it's a winner.

The thing is, it isn't just the phrasing or the mispronunciation, it's also the logical argumentation. Well, illogical argumentation might be a better way to put it. For example, if you check out the NPR story on the subject you find this:

President Bush defended anew his program of warrantless surveillance Thursday, saying "there's no doubt in my mind it is legal." He suggested that he might resist congressional efforts to change it.

"The program's legal, it's designed to protect civil liberties, and it's necessary," Bush told a White House news conference.


So, lemme get this straight: a program that many legal scholars say is illegal, that involves eavesdropping on Americans without a warrant (which traditionally has been regarded as a no-no), is designed to protect civil liberties? And war is peace, right? Of course, I forget that Bush belongs to a party that, for reasons that I shall not mention, rejects the idea of a constitutional right to privacy. So, hey, there's that.

Ironically, Bush doesn't even want Congress to help him out with all this:

Asked if he would support efforts in Congress to give him express authority to continue the program, Bush cited what he said was the extreme delicacy of the operation.

"It's so sensitive that if information gets out about how the program works, it will help the enemy," Bush said. "Why tell the enemy what we're doing?"

"We'll listen to ideas. If the attempt to write law is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it," the president said.


Which sounds to me more like he doesn't want the full truth to be revealed to the American people than anything else.

So, I don't have a real point here, aside from jusy saying, "Wow. I'm always amazed at how frightening this administration is." Or, to put it more succinctly using Delong's paradox (As related by Tom Bozzo): The Bush administration is always worse than you think, even after accounting for the fact that it's worse than you think.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Best marquee ever.

This is not, I think, an actual church marquee but who cares? It's the thought that counts.



If you want a little more like this, head on over to the Church Sign Generator and make yourself some magnets. While you're there, check out their wide selection of marquees. For example:

There are the bizarre:



The punny:



The confusing:



The bewildering:



The depressing:



The ironic:



The offensive:



And the horrifying:



People always love to tell me about how religion provides so many good things to the world.

I remain unconvinced.

Praise be to Wonkette for bringing all this to my attention. Hallelujah.

Also, special thanks to my officemates, particularly the FHR, for bringing the earlier glitches with this post to my attention.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lexeme*

Sometimes it good to be a knowledgeable English philologist in Hungary. One of my colleagues just asked me whether I knew what Brownie points are. That's a great concept to introduce someone to on an idle Tuesday afternoon.

*"a meaningful linguistic unit that is an item in the vocabulary of a language"

Monday, January 23, 2006

Useful Advice.

This past Christmas I gave my diehard Republican father a book I thought he might "like." This book was, as you might guess, Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science. What can I say? I'm a son who wouldn't ever do anything to upset his father.

Okay, actually that's a lie. My entire career path is more or less a disappointment and/or source of unending horror for my father, so I suppose I may as well play the role to the hilt. If you're damned whatever you do, you may as well enjoy yourself, I always say.

In any case, Mooney spends a lot of time explaining why the Republican party has been systematically misrepresenting and corrupting the results of scientific research for political gain. This is all well and good, but it raises a question for me: do people normally get things right when it comes to science, even if they don't have an agenda? Sadly, I suspect the answer here is no- particularly since the science reporting in many newspapers is bad to abyssmal. So what is a scientist, nay, a budding public sociologist to do about things?

Well, as though on request, Ms. Shawn Neidorf, a graduate student at the University of Illinois- Chicago Department of Sociology, has provided an answer. This emerging scholar, a former reporter herself, saw fit to provide a sociology listserv with a set of recommendations for dealing with reporters. I was forwarded a copy by an interested party and, as I am quite impressed, I have decided to reproduce it here. As this was a relatively public list, I see no reason to be concerned about this, but if Ms. Neidorf should ask, I will be more than happy to remove it.

And so, without further delay, I turn matters over to Shawn Neidorf.

Be very aware of the press releases sent out concerning your work. Some university and journal press offices are very good at what they do, many aren't. Your conclusions may be oversold to attract attention. If your contribution to the field is mainly methodological, realize that that might not be what gets the attention in the press release. Try to see (and, ideally get control/veto power over) what is to be sent to the press representing your work.

Know whom you are dealing with--the reporter and publication. A quick look at the publication's Web site and a search of a news archive such as Lexis-Nexis will give you a sense of the person's work. There isn't, of course, always time to do this.

Ask a few questions of your own, including how the reporter found you and/or what interested him or her in your work. Ask (gently) about the nature of the story (e.g., "Could you tell me what this story is about?" ).This is not just to sniff out possible Sybils; it will help you frame your comments. If you aren't familiar with the publication, ask about its audience, too. Professional journalists will be happy to answer these questions. (You might not get a dissertation-length answer on the nature of the story--and keep in mind that the focus might change as the reporting takes place--but you should go into the interview with a sense of what's going on.)

Be prepared to talk to a reporter about your work by recognizing that all the caveats you put in your articles and books won't make it into the 400-word article the reporter has to finish by 5 p.m. Stress the caveats that are most important. Make a point of the distinction between correlation and cause-and-effect, especially if you think that is a source of confusion. Be able to competently and plainly answer in a sentence or two the questions "What does this mean?" and "To whom does this apply?" which can be questions about generalization.

Practice explaining your findings and their contribution to the field in a way that a reasonably intelligent person who has no background in your area of expertise would understand. It helps to actually envision such a person--a relative or neighbor, perhaps--someone outside the research world. Test your spiel on such a person and get him or her to paraphrase what you said--did that person "get" it? I often ran into academics who refused to do this kind of summarizing, seemingly because they thought it was beneath them and the quality of their work or because they thought it meant dumbing it down. But here's the thing: either you're going to help determine how the work is described in simple, jargon-free terms, or the reporter is going to do the best he or she can unassisted.

If the conversation with the reporter is going decently enough, but you can't be sure he or she "gets" it, politely ask him or her to tell you, in his or her own words, what you've been talking about. Put it on you--say you need to learn whether you're explaining this stuff clearly. That's the truth, and it might help you catch an embarrassing misinterpretation before it's too late.

Generally speaking, you can expect good reporters to be somewhat familiar with your work--they found you, after all. However, keep in mind that reporters don't always have the time/advanced notice or access to academic journals to read all your best work before calling you, especially if they anticipate rounds of phone tag. Don't be shy about suggesting things that you or others have written that will help reporters--as jacks and jills of all trades, they appreciate the guidance from specialists, as long as it's not given in a way that suggests they're idiots for not knowing all your literature. Post what you can of your work on your Web site and be willing to e-mail links and articles to journalists who seem willing to make a genuine effort. Keep in mind that even if your best stuff doesn't make it into this story, there's always the next one.

Finally, respect deadlines. When someone asks you to call back by 3, do it if you possibly can, even just to say you don't want to be interviewed. Deadlines are a brutal and unforgiving reality in journalism, and it really does drive reporters crazy when someone calls back DAYS later, ready to be interviewed for a story that already ran. Keep in mind that the earlier you call, the more time the reporter has to enhance his or her knowledge (e.g. by reading the stuff you sent) of the topic before writing the story.


I know some of you are thinking, "Well that's just great, but when am I going to be talking to a reporter?"

To this I only answer: Who knows? But wouldn't it be nice to be prepared if it should happen?

And people say I don't provide a public service.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Jesus may be lord, but you're an idiot.

My campus, like many others in the United States, frequently plays host to religious organizations that seek to convert our students. Often these recruiting forays are undertaken by the Campus Crusade for Christ, an organization that is as cuddly and lovable as the average Candiru.

Recently, however, we have been playing host to a few gentlemen who are just as nutty as certain other individuals and groups while possessing not a bit of their dignity. These folks have been setting up camp with large placards that, after urging us to "Trust Jesus," and reminding us that Jesus is the only way to heaven, provides us with a listing of the various sorts of people who will be "judged" (presumably harshly) by god. These include, but are not limited to: lewd women, pot smoking little devils, anarchists, rebellious women, Atheists (Thanks for the shout-out, fellas), and those who follow false religions. So, you know, these guys are charmers.

Listed among their set of folks in the HOV lane to hell, however, are "Dikes on Bikes." This generates in me the need to say the following:

This is a bike:



It's used for transportation.

This is a Dike:



It's used to hold back water, and is also known as a
levee.

As you might guess, it's rather difficult to get a dike on a bike. However, if you really want to see it, I suggest you turn your monitor upsidedown and then look at this:



Needless to say, the above is a bike on a dike.

On the other hand, I suspect you meant "dyke," which is a slang, and not altogether polite, term for a female homosexual.

These are dykes:



And these are dykes, on a bike:



They seem to be having a good time.

So what's the moral of this story? What message am I trying to send to the placard-waving yahoos? Simply this:

Dikes are good, spelling matters, and you're stupid.

Thank you.

For the obsessive in the crowd, I am aware that, in one of the vagaries of the English language, a levee can be referred to as either a "dike" or a "dyke." So don't write in and tell me or I'll just tell you that, if I'm not mistaken, it can be transliterated into Dutch with a spelling of "Dijk." My point is that while the term "dyke" can also be used for a levee, female homosexuals are exlusively referred to using the spelling including a "y." Unless the placard-wavers really hate flood control, I'm fairly sure they spelled it wrong in this instance.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fluffier than I look

It is truly amazing what a bit of good scenery (palm trees, snowy park outside) and the prospect of a good breakfast can do to a girl's psyche. It would have been hard to say no to anything, and a proposal of marriage had such a stunning novelty quality that I was quite helpless. Just the memory of the whole thing makes me hungry.

So it is that not only have I surrendered my cynical self to the pink and fluffy prospect of wedlock, nay, I have also agreed to submit myself to the none-too-gentle process of immigration. Surely this is too harsh a punishment for a moment of sentiment. All the same, such is my fate. Wish me luck because I will need it. Patience too. Ye gods, what have I done?

But I am being a naughty cynical sausage am I not. In truth, I am undergoing a frightening transformation into the kind of creature you see at bridal showers. Well almost anyway, because I will not have a bridal shower, and we will have only that small civil ceremony in Belgium, followed at some point in the future by a religious affair in Florida. I would have been happy to forego the formal bit but well, Slag didn't fancy getting married in Graceland so I compromised. I may have to insist on dressing whoever performs the wedding as Elvis. Why else am I marrying an American?

No, really, we're as happy as Elvis and Priscilla, only I am not so underage and Slag is not as fond of white knickers. Even my father, who spent a lifetime warning us about the dangers of marriage, is cautiously pleased. I think they like him more than they like me - everyone keeps telling me that I should be nice to Slag when really I am like a cute cuddly little lamb whenever he is around. Very cuddly. No seriously, we are nauseatingly cute together, just so you're forewarned.

A surprisingly joyous Total Drek announcement

Greetings, loyal readers! From time to time, we interrupt our general ramblings about current events and scientific facts to insert specific ramblings about our personal lives. Here is a big and important personal rambling, then: the TDEC and I are getting married.

Here's how it happened. I was visiting her in Budapest, before flying to Belgium to see her family for Christmas. One of the TDEC's favorite cities is Vienna, only three hours by train from Budapest. One of the TDEC's favorite places in Vienna is the Palmenhaus, a 19-th century personal greenhouse converted into a restaurant. We had been there before, but I told the TDEC that I really wanted to go again. We made plans to take the 6 AM train to Vienna, arriving at 9.

The train was packed. The only place to sit was in the dining car, so we ordered tea and orange juice and stared out the window. We played silly trivia games (we're geeks) and watched the sunrise near the Hungary-Austria border. The whole time I knew I was planning on proposing when we got to the Palmenhaus, but I was determined not to look nervous lest I give away my intentions.

We arrived at the station and took the subway to Stephansplatz (St. Stephen's Square), then walked to the Palmenhaus. Now, I started to get very very nervous. But the TDEC, God bless her, still suspected nothing. When we arrived at the Palmenhaus, I suggested we order the same thing we did last time we were there: tea, yogurt, fresh fruit, and croissants with marmalade. Ostensibly this was because the breakfast was so good, but actually it was just so we could get the ordering done as fast as possible and move on to more important things. But then the TDEC had to go to the bathroom, leaving me there twiddling my thumbs nervously.

But then she returned and sat down. I took her hand, looked into her eyes, and asked her to marry me. She said yes. Huzzah!

Because we had been scrupulously avoiding the topic of marriage for so long, I didn't have a ring (I didn't even know her ring size). I did have a necklace for her, purchased in the U.S. Actually, I didn't have the necklace either - British Airways lost my luggage. So I had nothing to offer; I just asked her to marry me. The suitcase, with necklace, showed up the next day.

Our plan is to have a simple civil wedding in a small town in Belgium, as soon as we can get all the paperwork together. Then, we will begin the Lovecraftian nightmare of U.S. Immigration. After the TDEC is in the U.S. and working (which could be two years... vexing) and we've saved up some money, we'll have a larger, religious ceremony in Orlando.

So, yes, My Hot Belgian Girlfriend is now My Hot Belgian Fiancee, soon to be My Hot Belgian Wife. And, two of the three Total Drek bloggers are getting married. I think we've chosen the right two.

As a brief editorial note: I adjusted the date/time stamp of this post to place it on Thursday. No particular reason, really... it just saves me from having to write something for a day. -Drek

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

An open letter to the global community.

Dear World,

Hi. It's me, the United States. How are you? Have you seen any interesting movies lately? Probably. I make about a gazillion of them a year. Is there anything new with you?

I'm doing okay. I feel a little ill- mostly because I caught a dose of the clap. I'm receiving treatment though, and I'm hoping to get better. Work has been tough lately. I thought this whole "war on terror" thing would be a real lark, but it's turned into a total drag. I guess I just didn't think things through well enough. That's always been my problem. Forethought isn't really my strong suit, I guess.

Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about something in particular. I know that we've been having problems lately- you've been mad at me for being a big, blundering dumbass. That's hurt me, I'll admit it. It's not my fault that I'm so large, I'm just big-boned. I'm so strong, it's just tough not to smash things by accident. I sometimes feel like Lennie. So, I guess I'm trying to say I'm sorry. I've been trying to do better, which is what makes this so hard for me.

Look, I'm sorry about that whole "missile attack on a rural village" thing. I know I didn't actually accomplish what I meant to, and I violated the territory of a soverign nation, and I accidentally blew up one or two dozen civilians, but I didn't mean to. It's just, Israel used missiles to take out that dangerous guy in the wheelchair so I just thought.... well.... I mean, a village is so much easier to hit! I guess I made a mistake. But, really, it isn't my fault! You are always telling me to listen to you and then, when I do follow your example, this happens! I think you need to be a little more humble, okay?

Anyway, I hope you're okay. Sorry about the mess. Really.

Sincerely,

The United States of America

P.S: I'm baking you a fruitcake. Just my way of saying, "sorry." I hope you like it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Staying the night

Last night I finally saw Hotel Rwanda. For all sorts of reasons I was very keen to see it in spite of/because of the decidedly traumatic topic. It must be my war movie time - I just saw Jarhead as well, and I strongly recommend both movies. You know, being Belgian is usually pretty innocuous. Nonethelss, there are two good ways to embarrass a Belgian - they're called Congo and Rwanda. That was an obvious reason to want to see this movie about the genocide in Rwanda. I don't know how news reporting was done in the rest of the world, but in Belgium I think we always feel a little closer to the issue than the rest of the world. Belgium was, as far as I know, the only country to make any real statements to try to get a western intervention to Rwanda. Don't get me wrong - it doesn't makes us better; it just means we have a worse consience about it. I remember the news that ten of our peacekeepers had been killed. They were butchered like the rest of that million, though not with machetes. They were simply rounded up and shot. We never understood where all this hatred came from, and with the rest of the world we watched it happen, wondering what had gone wrong, what we had done wrong.
But that is a long story.

I can't say that I know what should have been done. Maybe someone has ideas. Something, yes, surely something should have been done - surely something must be done about, not just Rwanda, but all of our current embarrassments. How do you keep a peacekeeping mission from becoming a colonial invasion though? What country will volunteer hundreds of thousands of lives for someone else's country? Any volunteers for, say, Chechnya? Should we have intervened there? 200.000 dead.

Read the excellent Wikipedia entry on the subject. It gives a pretty good idea of the situation. Maybe some of you know all that already, but too few of us know about the mechanics of it (I didn't), I think, though most of us are aware that almost a million people died in those 100 days. Watch the movie too, not for its optimism (and it has perhaps too much of that, being a slightly Schindler-esque story), but for the constant fear it transmits and engenders.

I'd love to hear your opinion.

Godspeed New Horizons

For those of you who don't know, the NASA New Horizons mission is scheduled to depart on its mission to Pluto today. This will be the first probe intended to visit Pluto and, as a result, all the space nuts are pretty excited. The Washington Post has some good coverage of the mission, so I don't think I need to say much except for good luck.

As of this moment, launch is scheduled for 1:24:00 PM U.S Eastern Standard Time. If you want to watch history being made, feel free to make use of the launch website.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Day for Reflection

Today, as my countrymen know, is the day that the U.S. celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who, with the help of legions of supporters, helped shame a nation into trying harder to live up to its dream. It's difficult for me to know what to say on such an occasion (which partly explains the lateness of this post). On the one hand, it's tempting to celebreate Dr. King as a visionary who helped African Americans obtain improved civil rights. At the same time, it's equally tempting to note that there is much progress left to be made. Sometimes I simply feel that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So, I suppose I'll just say this: however you celebrate the life, and accomplishments, of Dr. King, we can at least all acknowledge both the disgrace, and the heroism, of the past. In so doing, perhaps we can also see our way into a more noble future.

Hey, a guy can dream, right?

Friday, January 13, 2006

More Crap Wisdom from Students

Some of you may remember a while back when I posted on some of the things my students write. Well, in honor of the impending semester, please enjoy this additional installment of absurdity from the most highly educated 25% or so of the population. Afterwards, feel free to quake in fear. These quotes were culled from papers and tests read by several grad students in my department and not necessarily from my own dear learners. Regardless of source, however, these are all genuine quotes.


"This survey is relatively cheap and easy (like my Ex)..."


Way too much information my friend. Really.

"Using the census is a great way to get information."


I like short, declarative sentences! See Spot run! Run, Spot, run!

"The findings in this article are not entirely defendable, as demonstrated through the advantages and disadvantages of the methods, but the scapegoat for the researchers in is the fact that it is the fist of its kind (concerning the death penalty) to use both qualitative and quantitative analysis, and therefore it requires new, untested methods for analyzing its data."


I don't even know where to begin. You've actually rendered me speechless. Bravo.

"This study also touches base on whether or not the perceiver's age is affected by the color bias."


Well, that would be a neat trick. Next see if their sex is affected by their political leanings.

"They defined it as autonomous of concepts such as culture and homogony which have been used to explain participant mobilization in the past."


If you can explain to me what that sentence means, you'll get an A on the spot.

"Finally, discourse strategies were used to achieve the meanings of ideological sentences in the writings which are known as indexical expressions."


You're a philosophy major, aren't you?

"Don't sample every sample."


'Cause we're too le-git, too legit to quit! Hey hey!

"R-squared for this analysis would be 12, which is the number of times that the regression analysis occurs in a given analysis."


I'll grant it tends to feel that way when I'm writing programs, but still...

"First your methods must be approved by the Human Committee Board."


The "Human Committee Board?" That is one helluva lot of red tape.

"However, on the positive side, altering the data could prove a theory."


You're making baby Jesus cry.

And on the gripping hand...

There's a dirty rumor going around that my name might be attached to an article that might be coming out in a journal in the next year or so. Is it single author? Is it co-authored? Who knows? Who cares? It's an article.

So, with recent events it's been a rollercoaster of a twenty-four hours. Yeesh.

If you want to know what the hell the title of this post refers to, see here. Three guesses which community I got the expression from.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

But, on the other hand...

While my recent successes were lulling me into a false sense of security, fate apparently had something else in store. I just received notification that one of my grant proposals has been declined.

Fuck me.

Surprise, surprise.

Guess what kids? I just received Human Subjects clearance for the first of my several research projects, culminating in my hypothetical dissertation.

My quest for world domination or, failing that, a better salary is proceeding as planned!

Muahahahahahaha!!!!!

"Hi, Kettle? Yeah, this is the Pot. Dude! You're black!"

Regular readers of this blog (who obviously have had some kind of traumatic head injury) know that I am not exactly a friend of religion. Yet, all the same, I am not what you might call an "Evangelical Atheist," and, unlike some others, I am not averse to sharing the world with theists. It is, therefore, a shame that so many theists are unwilling to share the world with the likes of me but, hey, you can't have it all.

Despite my distaste for religion, however, I have been known to expose myself to religious material from time to time and I harbor a particular fondness for Christian broadcast media. This is, perhaps, because it is usually so batshit insane that I end up developing a considerable professional interest in it and can, briefly, forget how dangerous it is for any society to accept such material as reasoned discourse. In a previous post I wrote about my enjoyment of various programs on what I have dubbed the "Crazy Christian Channel," which is otherwise known as the Trinity Broadcast Network. This network produces some truly fabulous stuff including, but not limited to, The Omega Code, a movie about the Christian end times as told in Revelations, Six, another movie about the Christian end times as told in Revelations, Megdido, another movie about the Christian end times as told in Revelations, and, in a radical move, Apocalypse, a movie about the Christian end times as told in Revelations. If you get the sense that a certain branch of Christianity is a little obsessive, you're not alone.

Now, I'm not bringing the Crazy Christian Channel up because I've been watching it lately, but rather because of a recent event. One of the folks who often appears on CCC is a gentleman named Hal Lindsey. Lindsey is, perhaps, best known for writing The Late, Great Planet Earth, a book about... wait for it... the Christian end times as told in Revelations. Lindsey is a true joy to watch in that his commentary is effectively indecipherable unless you have a bible for a brain, and his skill at post hoc explanation is legendary. Perhaps even better, Lindsey has a website where he keeps a selection of cartoons that, in the style of political cartooning, are supposed to comment on current events. You can find the seizure-inducing lot of them here, but I particularly recommend the one about God's mercy, the one about Islamic comedians, that other one about those kooky homosexuals, and that last one that I find rather baffling.

Despite all his qualifications, however, it appears that Hal Lindsey won't be on the Crazy Christian Channel anymore. Apparently he has grown too Crazy for even the CCC to want to air his program or, as he says in his letter of resignation:

January 1, 2006

Dear Paul and Jan,

Paul, Jr. relayed your message to me that you are both in agreement on the policy of nothing negative being said on TBN about Muslims. Hearing that you also warned John Haggee, Perry Stone, Jack VanImpe and others of this policy caused me to realize that your are not going to modify your position.

I love and respect you both and know your heart for evangelism of the Muslims. But I don't agree with your reasoning that warning about the dangers of "radical Islam" is a hindrance to the Gospel to all Muslims. The 'Radicals' are intimidating the moderate Muslims -- not to mention their terrible persecution of Arab and Palestinian Christians.

Jesus confronted false religion (which Islam is) by calling them "whitewashed tombstones", "Brood of vipers", and "sons of hell" in Matthew 23.

I am sure of my calling from the LORD. One important part of that calling is to sound a prophetic alarm to America and the world about the dangers of the false religion of Fundamental Islam. It is a "Watchman on the Wall" kind of calling.

In addition, the IIB is a news show from a Christian perspective. It is impossible to report the news without mentioning in a 'negative light' the radical Islamists who are wreaking murder and destruction on the Western world daily. It is truthfully reporting the most relevant news that made IIB one the most popular programs on TBN.

It is also absolutely unacceptable to me to require my script to be submitted for censorship each week and then to learn whether my program will be aired or not. I don't have much money and it costs me a lot out of pocket to produce each show. When it is rejected or pre-empted, it is a big loss for me.

So with regret and grief, I am not returning to TBN. I intend to pursue other avenues of ministry. I thank you for the years of association in the ministry. May God continue to bless you in your pursuit of evangelizing the world.

In Christ's grace,
Hal Lindsey


Now, I don't have a lot to say here except this: when the television network renowned for being ultra-right and ultra-evangelical is saying that you are too radical, perhaps it's time to reconsider matters somewhat. I'm just saying.

In the meantime, though, we'll all miss you Hal. Your revelations about our modern world placed you in the ranks of the best modern oracles. Good luck.

Special thanks to my Former Hypothetical Roommate for spotting this in the middle of the night. You know, and then mentioning it to me at a more civilized hour.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the public school system...

Those who are attentive to the news are aware that the controversial Tammy Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District et al. case over intelligent design was recently decided in favor of responsible science. So, in other words, Intelligent Design lost. Given that the presiding judge was appointed by a president who is friendly with intelligent design, this ruling was quite momentous. Given that the ruling indicates that the teaching of intelligent design in a public school science classroom is unconstitutional, this is a major victory.

But, as you might guess, the fun isn't over. It has come to my attention that intelligent design has already returned to the classroom in the guise of a philosophy course. I refer to this article in the New York Times that outlines a new course being taught in the California public school system called, "Philosophy of Design." This course is intended to discuss the idea of intelligent design as well as evolution (and the hypothetical flaws in the evidence for evolution) and introduce students to the controversy. Moreover, as it isn't a science course, the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision doesn't necessarily apply to it. Regardless, a group of parents are suing the school system to prevent this course from being taught.

Now, I have said before that I think ID can be taught in public school so long as it isn't taught in a science classroom. So am I okay with this? Well, mostly. First off, the course is an elective, meaning not all students will have to take it. Given that evolution will likely still be taught in required biology classes, I don't see this as an unreasonable compromise. An examination of the science curriculum at the high school in question, Frazier Mountain High, gives me reason to believe that students will not be unduly harmed by this action. So, we're largely okay here.

On the downside is something else. Taking a look at the actual description of the course:

"This class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."


In other words the class presupposes that evolution is a shaky theory, and elevates biblical criticism of science into the public schools. I'm a little nervous about that, frankly, as it implies that this course is less a philosophical discussion about design, and more a theological attack on science in the guise of philosophy.

It may sound like I'm overreacting, as I tend to do, but I think you should consider a few more things. The instructor for this course is married to the local Assemblies of God minister, which certainly suggests that the content of this course may be influenced by a religious group that supports such notions as Glossolalia and faith healing. That's a little concerning but not, itself, a problem per se. However, let's combine it with another little detail:

The course at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, which serves a rural area north of Los Angeles, was proposed by a special education teacher last month and approved by the board of trustees in an emergency meeting on New Year's Day.


Now, leaving aside the joke about fans of intelligent design needing special education, consider the timing. A new course was proposed in December and then approved, in an emergency meeting, on New Year's Day. That sounds pretty interesting to me given the almost geologic pace at which most education bureaucracies move. This is particularly so given that the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover was given on the 20th of December. Sounds a lot to me like the course was added at the last minute once the constitutionality issue was partially settled. Or, put another way, once they knew how far and in what direction they could stretch the constitution, they did so.

Does all that mean the class shouldn't be taught? Again, not so much. It's an elective, science is still being taught in science class, and exposure to rival ideas is almost always a good thing- even if those rival ideas are based on deliberate misrepresentations of the facts. So, I think I'm mostly okay with this class being taught. I just wish the religious right would at least pretend to be interested in making this "philosophy" class an earnest debate, rather than just another attempt at indoctrination.

We have enough religious indoctrination in our society as it is.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Um... why?

As many of you probably realize, I have just returned from a fairly lengthy trip. This trip was convoluted, and arduous, and sadly kept me from blogging. Fortunately, the (no doubt) lovely, and talented TDEC stepped into the gap with some very interesting material. Huzzah!

Having returned I am now confronted with the inevitable result of a long absence: a thick wad of mail from the post office. In this wad of correspondence, which arrived yesterday wrapped in an industrial-grade rubber band, I found a letter from the Democratic National Committee. This letter, as you might guess, was basically a fund raising effort. Now, I voted Democrat in the last presidential election and, frankly, I'm proud of that. Moreover, I gave the DNC money, which is why they're after me now. Unfortunately, however, the DNC has a tendency to do stupid things that make it difficult for me and, I presume, other Americans to take them seriously. I've remarked on this tendency before, and it hasn't grown any more charming in the interim. As absurd as the last DNC mailing was, though, I'm afraid they've come up with something dumber. To what do I refer? Well, I have two words for you: membership cards. I've included a scan below for your gratification.



Of course, the scan is somewhat truncated, but that's both because of my laziness with a scanner, and the fact that they embossed my name right on the front. Yay.

So what's so ridiculous about this? Well, mostly just that there's no point to this card. It doesn't win me admission to super-secret Democratic Party events, it doesn't get me discounts on selected merchandise, and it doesn't entitle me to valuable services. All this card really does is take up a slot in my wallet. That, however, isn't what gets me. What gets me is the print on the back of the card:



For those of you with poor vision, like me, it reads:

This membership card identifies you as a Contributing Member of the Democratic National Committee. Your contributions support Democratic candidates across the country while helping the Democratic Party fight the conservative Republican agenda. Should your card be lost or stolen, please contact us at (202) 863-8000.


If you've missed my point, let me emphasize one sentence: Should your card be lost or stolen, please contact us at (202) 863-8000.

This inspires the question: why? Why on earth would it matter if my card was lost or, god forbid, stolen? Would unscrupulous indivduals use my card to not get into special events and not get discounts on fabulous merchandise? I mean, how could I live my life without a card (that they want me to sign no less) that has no meaningful impact on any part of my existence? It boggles the mind, but I daresay I could survive while bereft of a piece of plastic that lacks any discernible function whatsoever. In fact, I'm fairly certain that I successfully live my daily life without possessing any of a virtually infinite number of other useless pieces of plastic. Imagine that!

Seriously, folks, I appreciate the desire to forge a sense of identity, but can you please remember that your constituents aren't (for the most part, there are always exceptions) utter morons? Otherwise... well... I think we're going to have a new target for the Cock of Justice.

And all none of us want it to come to that.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Holy shit, where am I?

For those who are interested, I have returned to my normal domicile and will hopefully resume blogging shortly. I apologize for the long hiatus (as if anyone missed me) but I was busy working on a paper. The ASA deadline is coming up, after all, and I'd like to have an excuse to visit sunny Canada.

My trip went as well as can be expected. My Sainted Girlfriend proved very popular with my family, I think I proved reasonably popular with hers, and I was as always unpopular with my own. All in all, a good outcome.

Be back soon.

Migration


Dear Drek,

I have decided that it is time for me to take my spandex-clad self away from Hungary. What say you, can I be posted elsewhere?

Vancouver? Austin? Serbia-Montenegro? Stockholm?

Wouldn't mind any of those actually. So what do you think? Can I? Please? The quality of my posting is deteriorating so rapidly due to the combined pressures of Hungarian social life and the local climate that I will succumb if not transferred speedily.

Or maybe I'll just go to Baltimore, which as we all know, is the Greatest City in America.

Yours sincerely,
TDEC

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The art of forgetting*

Once upon a time I spent my days in search a deeper meaning Dracula. Not a very difficult task I have to say - the deeper meaning is not very deep, that is to say, you don't have to do too much digging to get to it.

Obviously I no longer occupy my time with the study of literature.
I do nothing at all with all of that today; but I lose and find the bits and bobs every day. I forget. I hunt for fragments of things I used to know:

"this existence, this
botched, cumbersome, much-mended,
not unsatisfactory thing"



Reading always reminds me of how much I love life. Have any of you by any chance read Orwell's essays? You should, really - Orwell had a astounding talent for sincerety, gut instinct for ethics.

"The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals."

Reading reminds me, somewhat strangely, that I do live, that I do have a mind for thinking.
Oh nothing very serious. Nothing very complicated. Reminders of what I already knew and need to know again now.

The study of literature is so wrongheaded sometimes, so stupidly in transgression of its privileges as readers. Of course anyone who makes a living from it is bound to forget how to be a reader only. Digging is not a necessary - all I have to do is listen. My much-beloved discipline is superfluous, literature need not be studied, only read. The writers have done the digging -

"Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it."


I misinterpret Seamus Heaney of course.
Also I simplify my own point of view. Academic literary analysis in necessary in the sense that the Church (any Church) is - it may be helpful, but at best it opens the door; and often it closes it. So do you go in?

But you don't even need the books sometimes. Today, this awful morning, gets worse until it gets better.

"Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring."

Even in winter.

*Sorry for all the codswallop. I am all too lyrical today.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

My ass hurts.

And I mean a lot. It's really very sore. I've been driving from Ohio for the past several days. I'm back in Florida now- just arrived recently. Blogging will resume eventually.

So, you know, stop feeling optimistic that something happened to me.

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