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, June 30, 2005

Better than Pay-Per-View.

Like many men, when I was a boy my friends and I would often play a particular game: if you matched up two entities of some sort, and made them fight, which one would win? This might be robots from two different cartoons, nation-states and their armies, bullies at school, or virtually anything else. I feel that the popularity of this game was not restricted just to me and my circle, given the recent big-screen debacle AVP: Alien Vs. Predator. Well, that and the fact that the same sort of game has been played with faculty in my department. One of the most popular sorts of matchups, given that I grew up in Florida, was to match an alligator, our hometown favorite in the "homicidal reptile" category, and something else. The "something else" ranged from Army Special Forces members, to members of the World Wrestling Federation, to large predatory mammals.

Well, folks, thanks to morons that release exotic pets into the wild, and the brave (yet somehow foolhardy) Rangers of the National Park Service, we now have an answer to at least one of those great riddles: who would win in a fight- a gator, or a python?

In this case, we have pictures of just such a clash of the titans, involving a seven foot gator, and an eight foot Burmese python. These photos were taken in the Everglades National Park, just north of the Main Park Road about one mile to the west of the Main Entrance Station. For those who are curious, events like this happen often enough that they are euphemistically referred to as "interactions." Much in the same sense as our government is currently "interacting" with Iraq.

So, without further ado, let's begin:

To start with, the gator seems to be getting the bad end of it, as the python is wrapped around its body, and seems to be holding the gator's jaw shut.

Unfortunately for our python, though, gators are not without their own substantial advantages. A primary one here is that alligators can hold their breath for a considerable period, meaning that the python's primary weapon, its ability to constrict and suffocate its prey, is less useful.

This gives the alligator more time to bring its primary weapon to bear: its powerful jaws and sharp teeth. It is commonly known in Florida that a gator's jaw is built in such a way that all the muscle power is used for closing, but hardly any for opening. So, it is indeed possible for a grown human to hold a gator's jaw shut. This gives rise to the rather odd sport of "gator wrestling" which is demonstrated on a regular basis at the quirkly Florida amusement center Gatorland. In any case, it isn't wise to attempt to use this strategy against a gator, as their claws and tail remain extremely dangerous.

Things are really starting to heat up now as the python realizes it's in trouble. Both combatants are thrashing around in an effort to dispatch the other. I can't really explain what kind of power a gator actually has, so let me just say that a thrashing gator of this size could easily break multiple ribs, arms, etc., with the impact of its head. Capsizing a boat is not impossible.

In this shot you can clearly see the alligator's shearing teeth as it adjusts its grip on the python. Things are looking grim for our Burmese visitor.

Things are beginning to wind down now- we seem to have a winner.

And, indeed, it is the hometown favorite, the alligator, that emerges victorious from this particular "interaction," rather than the invader from Burma.

Now, for all of my joking, gators are not as dangerous as you might think. They are huge, have formidable natural weapons, and can strike with lightning speed, but for the most post, they're placid and uninterested in humans. Major exceptions, for the males, are during mating season when they grow territorial and, for the females, when they are sitting on a nest. Under those circumstances gators are often dangerously aggressive. The remainder of the time, however, gators are not substantially more dangerous than bears or any other wild animal that mostly avoids humans.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed our little show today. And if you didn't, hey, that's your problem.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

And to think I was worried.

Most of you have, by now, probably heard about the Supreme Court's decision regarding the display of the ten commandments on public property. Despite my distaste for organized religion, I have to admit it sounds like they made a reasonable judgment. No matter how secular our society is, or may become, we have to admit that much of our culture does derive from a Judeo-Christian tradition. So, I think I can see the rationality in what they decided.

It appears, however, that not everyone regards this decision in the same way. More exactly, it appears that some Christian groups are poised to use this decision to ram their version of Christianity down the rest of our throats. Or, as the Washington Post reports:

Within hours of yesterday's Supreme Court decision allowing a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol, Christian groups announced a nationwide campaign to install similar displays in 100 cities and towns within a year.

"We see this as an historic opening, and we're going to pursue it aggressively," said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition, which organized vigils outside the Florida hospice where Terri Schiavo died this year.

Indeed, I admire their reserve in waiting as many as several hours before announcing plans to exploit what is, by all accounts, a compromise, to drive harder for a reintroduction of the Church into the State. I suppose in many ways I can understand the desire of some devout Christians to take part in such actions; I imagine they perceive the secularization of the state as a threat in much the same way that I perceive the introduction of religion into the state as a threat. Of course, atheists are vastly outnumbered by the faithful, so I don't think the cases are quite parallel, but you get my point.

I would, however, like to observe that sometimes the movement of religious displays from public property is not undertaken because we atheists have demanded it, but in order to prevent additional displays that do not convey the message of love and forgiveness that, I am told, resides in the heart of Christianity:

By all accounts, the Boise monument went virtually unnoticed for decades until it came to the attention of the Rev. Fred Phelps, a Kansas minister who travels the country inveighing against homosexuality. Phelps argued that if Boise allowed one religious display on its property, it must allow him to erect a monument declaring that Matthew Shepard, a gay man murdered in a hate crime in Wyoming 1998, is "burning in hell."

Bieter said the City Council decided to move the monument so that it could reject Phelps's application without risking a costly lawsuit.

It isn't that we shouldn't recognize that our country was heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian principles, we may as well be honest after all, but when you begin to honor religions publicly, it becomes difficult to include some, but exclude others. Moreover, what reasonable criteria can there be for excluding any, if you include some?

Perhaps excluding all displays is simply the best way to show respect to all faiths.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Well, gentle readers, the day has come- that day that we never believed would dawn. I am as amazed as all of you, and in all likelihood just a little horrified, but there is no use hiding from the truth: today is the one-year blogiversary of Total Drek.

Indeed, one year ago today I wrote my first post whose title, This Blog Sucks, really set the tone for the remainder of the year. And by "set the tone" I, of course mean, "was prophetic about." Shortly after that first tender post, Brayden King (Now of Pub Sociology) noticed my fledgling effort and provided encouragement as only he can.

Since then we've tackled a number of subjects on this blog, from the Yucca Mountain Waste Depository, to blood donation, to pseudoscience, to political debates to, most importantly, my dog. We've also added a co-blogger, the inimitable Slag, who in turn recruited our new european correspondent. All I can say about that is, given the way he recruited her, I really hope Hungary was weak sexual harassment laws. In short: it's been a busy year.

So how are we celebrating the blogiversary over here? Well, my dog is sleeping. I'm desperately trying to get code written for a project, Slag is... probably contemplating 12-step programs, and I won't presume to guess about the European Correspondent. This doesn't, however, mean that you can't celebrate. In fact, to help you along, I'll even provide a little treat: a picture that I took during my recent trip to the greater D.C. area. This should help you get to know the personages here at Total Drek a little better.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce Drek the Uninteresting, and Slag Slaggerson. I think our respective approaches to blogging are well represented in this picture.

And what should we all expect during Total Drek year two? Well, probably shorter posts, judging by recent trends, but perhaps also some additional bloggers, some of whom may not even be tangentially related to Sociology. Come to think of it, two out of four contributors (official or unofficial) to this blog are non-Sociologists. I am more proud than I can express.

Happy Blogiversary, folks, here's hoping that the next year doesn't suck any more than the first.

Hey, it's good to dream, you know?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Talk about being in the wrong district.

My mother was a teacher for years- most of my childhood- and a damned good one. As such she received many gifts from children at the end of the year. None of them, however, were like those described in this article. If she had, perhaps she wouldn't have retired last year.

Then again, nothing could be better than that year she received an apple with two dozen colored toothpicks sticking out of it.


Friday, June 24, 2005

Total Drek Friday Roundup!

Well, folks, there are enough things that happened today in the world, I think I need to post on a little of everything. And so... here goes.

A while back I posted on an effort by House Republicans to throttle public broadcasting. Well, as of right now, it looks like their effort has mostly failed. I say "mostly" because all of the funding for public broadcasting has not been restored, but at least we will still have such a system in a few years. Hopefully.

Next up, you'll recall that yesterday I commented on a story in the New York Times that informed us that a panel of experts believes the Bush Administration's space policy lacks both money and focus. This bugs me, as I have long been a proponent of space exploration. Well, sadly, it appears that the space program isn't the only federal agency that is lacking for funds. This is particularly disgusting, considering that Bush's other policies are increasing the need for medical care for veterans. It's bad enough to waste American lives in an ill-conceived imperialist adventure, but to then cut the funding for their medical care? That's a kick in the face.

I commented a while back on findings regarding scientific honesty and wondered how long it would take before the Bush administration began exaggerating the bad in order to discredit scientists. After all, they seem to have no reluctance about restating our findings to serve their own needs. Apparently the Republicans have decided to do me one better by just preventing us from gathering data in the first place. Apparently Senator Larry Craig of Idaho has taken the wrong lesson from quantum physics and decided that if you don't observe something, it doesn't happen. Bad news, Senator: if you refuse to look at a problem, it doesn't go away. This is especially disappointing in that it threatens Bush's long-standing commitment to resolving Mankind's conflict with fish. To wit: "I know that the human being and the fish can coexist."

Finally, I've stated before that while I'm not a big fan of religion, I don't have a problem with it so long as church and state remain firmly separated. Sadly, I don't think too many modern American Christians entirely agree with me on this point, given that they've already cooked up a flag for their long dreamt of religious police state. And if that isn't enough to scare the shit out of you, lemme ask you this: is it just me, or does the Christian flag look an awful lot like the NRA logo? Make sure to check out the rest of the website, and the pledge, which includes the following disclaimer:

Please note: there is clearly confusion among many. This pledge, flag, and its mission is not to replace our government pledge OR Old Glory. We are NOT trying to overthrow our government or force anyone to be a Christian. We are, however, honoring our LORD and protecting our Christian heritage and liberties. We are allowed to do that under our Constitution. The State cannot dictate to our church that we may not. When that day ever comes, You and I will all be in a desperate condition. May we please agree upon that much?

I am less than reassured considering the multitude of things those who pledge allegiance to this flag (Note that I am not including all Christians here, just the ones who feel a need to pledge allegiance to a separate Christian flag, as though our own U.S. flag isn't good enough. Is your faith really so flimsy, I wonder?) would like to compel the rest of us to do. Well, that's okay. The state cannot dictate that you not honor your "Christian heritage," but, likewise, your "Christian heritage" can't dictate the findings of science. And I know I'm not alone in that belief.

It's been an interesting day so far.

Well, that's logical.

Breaking news: Home schoolers have cake; wish to eat it too.

And no, I'm so not kidding.

I can see the logic behind the entire tax issue but, you know, you pays your money, and you takes your chances. If you really thought it was a good idea to pull your kids out of school, I guess you should have goddamn well thought it through, shouldn't you?

Thursday, June 23, 2005


From the New York Times:

Report Says Space Program Is Lacking Money and Focus

Well, it's nice to know I'm not the only one.

Been there, done that...

We've all probably had lousy roommates, or poor co-workers, but this poor guy sounds like he's really in the soup.

Lastly, for now that is. Your voice is worse than any length plastic finger nail scratched on any black board in the history of man……More vicious than two cats humping in my ear canal……Worse than any baby screaming after being in a well for 3 days…..worse than hearing my mom grunt while being on top of my dad…..Oh the agony of your baby voice. Sometimes your voice gets so high pitched, I think all dogs within 2 miles, perk their heads up and begin running. I cannot take it anymore!!! You look and dress like a 13-year-old drag queen stuck in the ass crevasse of a 40 year old BBW. Your voice, your clothes, the winter hat you wear when you “didn’t get your hair did”(even though our boss has repeatedly told you not to wear it because its unprofessional)…..everything you do including breathing, annoys me. The only thing about you that does not annoy me is when you go home. Which is usually 2 hours before your regular time, you lazy fucking idiot.

Does everyone feel better about their own lives now?


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I'm still travelling...

So obviously this post is about my trip, right?

Um... no. My trip has not been terribly exciting. Surprised? I doubt it.

In any case, I mostly just wanted to make sure y'all saw this article in the New York Times and received my own personal reaction to it. To wit: sweet merciful fucking christ!

I never want to hear my students bitch at me ever again.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Oh, yeah, by the way...

I'll be out of town from Sunday through Thursday of this week. So... unless Slag posts... y'all are on your own. I may be able to post from the road, but no guarantees.

If you decide you miss my erudite posting, you should be able to get an equivalent fix by smacking yourself in the head ten or twenty times with a hammer, and then watching CNN.

And doesn't THAT sound promising?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Can't possibly be a good idea.

Well folks, it's official: Tina of Pub Sociology has announced the next annual ASA Blogger Get-Together. As is traditional, it looks like there'll be drinking, and hopefully arguing. And then, maybe, baseball, which will doubtless permit the drinking to continue.

I think it safe to say that some portion of the Total Drek staff will be in attendance, but as to which portion... that remains to be seen. Hell, maybe I should send my three-legged dog.

She does all of my copy-editing anyway.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

An outpost of the Empire (from the T.D.E.C.)

Bugger, I am writing about Star Wars; at least that seems to be the reference. It was meant to be the British Empire.

Speaking of British I should be polite and introduce myself. Not that I am British – I’m Belgian, but living in Hungary for obscure job-related reasons. "British" referred to politeness only. For those of you who read this blog regularly I will clarify that yes, I am Slag’s Hot Belgian Girlfriend. The idea was for me to be an occasional European correspondent, and as such I had a notion of writing a post called "An outpost of the Empire."

Hungary, on the whole, is not especially relevant to humanity; nor does the rest of the world seem all that important to Hungary. Last year, however, it was one of the ten new member states of the EU. As far as I can tell from living here, this change is something of a promotion.

The Empire in question, then, is the EU. The idea of it as an empire is not entirely facetious. As the European heads of state try to pull through the European Constitution, the accusations that they are creating an Orwellian super state get louder. If you look at it in the right light, you will see that it is only a matter of time before an emperor stands up and Tony Blair turns into Darth Vader.

Did I just start talking about Star Wars again?

My point was that Hungary seems quite happy to be a part of this totalitarian nightmare (according to some). It was the second country to ratify the Constitution, and did so very comfortably. Though it was voted in parliament, polls showed that popular support for the draft was high, about 63%. There are of course obvious economic reasons for Hungary’s enthusiastic membership of EU; but my ill-founded feeling is that there is more to it than that. This country has been part of a number of empires – Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Communist. Almost all of its recent history was spent on the edge of somewhere or other.

There is still a lot of anger about Communism in Hungary – and you can’t blame the Hungarians. Why then are the Hungarians so eager to join another Union? Simple; it gives the country a higher status in the eyes of the world. Suddenly Hungary has all the conveniences of western Europe without the costs. I am exaggerating, as a look at any supermarket or my work permit will tell you, but essentially that is how it looks. Companies like mine move people like me to Budapest from all over Europe. At this rate Hungary will not be an outpost for very much longer. Perhaps it will now finally have a voice in this super state; that seems to be what people hope for. Maybe that’s worth going over to the dark side for.

Can I go back to being hot in my high heels and small spandex outfits now? Yes? Good.
Bloody intellectuals.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

And so it ends.

Rest in Peace, Terri Schiavo. It took far too long, but the truth has finally been told.

UPDATE: Republican members of Congress, when asked to explain their previous opposition to the wishes of Terri Schiavo, had this to say: "Oops."

FURTHER UPDATE: Republicans continue to backpeddle and equivocate, with Senator Bill Frist using a rough equivalent of our old favorite, the Monica Lewinski defense. (i.e. "What is the precise definition of 'sexual relations?'") Jeb Bush, on the other hand, as pointed out by Slag, seems to be trying a somewhat different tactic to get the heat off. Really and truly despicable.

Foreign Correspondent! (Oma is niet hier)

A while back, Drek wrote a silly post describing the saintedness of His Sainted Girlfriend by somehow comparing her to a recording from his basic German course in high school. So in that tradition, I will introduce our new Total Drek European Correspondent with the Dutch version of the very same lesson:

Oma is niet hier. Oma is niet hier. Oma is niet hier? Ja, oma is niet hier.

Actually, my grandmother is not here, but that's not the point. The point is that Dutch is a very fun language. The vocabulary is like a mix of German and English, but the grammar is very German. So, for example, you have sentences like this:

We willen dit jaar ons huis verven.
We want to paint our house this year.

Ik moet morgen de hele dag werken.
I have to work the whole day tomorrow.

But the best part of Dutch is the profanity. It's so wonderfully complex and amusing. Why call someone an asshole when you can call them a "mierenneuker" (ant fucker) or a "reetkever" (ass beetle) or a "kind van 3 homo's" (child of 3 gay men)? Why tell someone to fuck off when you can tell them to "eet pinguin poep, jij kontgraver" (eat penguin shit, you ass-digger)?

I can't believe I just wasted a whole paragraph talking about Dutch profanity. What is this, 6th grade? No, don't answer that.

The point of all this is to announce the first ever Total Drek European Correspondent, who will make her first post under my name tomorrow. She is, of course, my Hot Belgian Girlfriend. (I feel rather shallow describing her as "hot" when Drek describes his girlfriend as sainted, but I can assure you that my girlfriend is also sainted - but still hot.)

So, check this space tomorrow for a Total Drek perspective from a Belgian expatriate in Budapest, Hungary. In the meantime, as the Dutch-speaking Belgians would say,

Mijn vriendin is meer sexier, meer intelligenter, en meer aardiger dan uw, of enig vrouw in allen het heelal. En zij ga morgen in Total Drek schrijven.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Intercepted Bush Speech Notes!

Ladies and Gentlemen: Bothan spies in the employ of Total Drek, working deep within the Republican party, recently smuggled this speech out of the White House. Regrettably, while we have the speech, the Department of Homeland Security is hot on the trail of our brave agents. In other words, many Bothans died to bring us this information.

And now, without further ado:

President's Dinner Address: June 14th, 2005

My fellow Americans, it is my great pleasure today to welcome you, fellow lovers of freedom, to this dinner.

(pause for applause)

It's a genuine pleasure for me to be sitting here in a room full of such distinguished Republicans- people who understand the need for firm convictions in this country. This is the party that stands for personal responsibility, personal freedom, and solid family values. You, my distinguished guests, include such figures as Secretary Rumsfeld, who is an unrivaled lover of freedom, Mark Kulkis, a dedicated maker of educational films, and Mary Carey, who shines as a sterling example of Republican womanhood. You are all outstanding examples of what this Grand Olde Party is all about. Indeed, we are a gathering of those whose convictions are like iron, and this country would be a better place if only everyone like us were convicted.

This has been a difficult few years for us- we have triumphed over stiff opposition to freedom, both at home, and abroad, and brought the first seeds of democracy to that distant, sandy land: Iraq. Even now a new government born of freedom and liberty, organized by those who do not hate freedom, and dedicated to promoting the American values of freedom, is taking the reigns of power.

(pause for applause)

Yet, our mission, our purpose, our grand destiny as a people that was made so very manifest during the September 11th attacks, those challenges to freedom, has only begun to be fulfilled. Many think that we have done our duty by bringing freedom to Iraq- but we in this room know such thoughts to be untrue. Our duty compels us to continue- to bring freedom to the other backward, and wretched nations of this earth. On the Statuesque of Liberty, it reads, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yawning to be free." Well, that was a message to the old Europe- and our new message is this: we deliver.

But our mission cannot, must not, end with merely the huddled nations of the Earth, yearning for our freedoms. We have a greater obligation, a greater destiny, laid upon us by God himself. Scientists today announced that, outside our solar system, more than a hundred thousand miles away into space, there exists a planet much like ours. How like ours is it? Well, I'll tell 'ya. This planet is made of rock, much as scientists tell us our planet is made of rock. This planet orbits a star, much as our planet orbits a star. The similarities are, indeed, striking. Dr. Geoffrey Marcy, speaking of this world, said, "For the first time, we are finding our planetary kin among the stars."

And this makes me realize that if we have planetary kin among the stars, maybe we have other kin among the stars too. Other worlds, and other people, who need freedom. Some might say, "But what if these worlds in space have freedom already?" To that I can only answer, "no." They cannot have freedom because they don't know what it's like to be American, and they have never heard of our Lord Jesus Christ, who teaches us the true meaning of freedom each and every Sunday that we spend in uncomfortable clothing in church, in our pious attempts to avoid the eternal hellfire of the underworld. What greater gift could we give to our kin among the stars than the gift of Christ and his freedom?

Our destiny in space is clear. We must search for our space kin, called "M-Dwarves" by the scientists, because they are very small, and teach them what it is to be American, and Christian. We must civilize space as we civilized this continent, by killing those wicked enemies of freedom that we find, and raping their women. We must form a new space cavalry to go amongst them and seed freedom.

Now my critics may question this plan, just as they questioned the war in Iraq. They may say things like, "What if the aliens don't have women?" or "What if they have acid blood and raping them hurts?" Some might even say that this merges church and state together. To these objections I say, first, that you're either with me, or you're against freedom. But, if that isn't enough to convince you, there're other things, too.

The scientists say that the star Gliese 876 has a "dance in resonance," and I think you'll all agree that where there's dancing, there're women. Heck, without Laura, you'd notice my two left feet all the time!

(Pause for laughter)

As for the acid, nobody said that spreading freedom was going to be easy, or without sacrifice- only that it was worth it.

Our future lies in the stars, brining the great gifts of the frontier and freedom to our space kin who do not have freedom. It is up to us, now, to spend the money, and blood, necessary to cultivate freedom both at home, and on godforesaken rocks baking in absurdly close proximity to their host stars. It is our duty as Christians, as Americans, and as Republicans. And if there's anyone who knows about raping, it's Republicans!

(pause for cheers from the audience)

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention. God bless America; God bless freedom. Enjoy the veal.

(Exit to thunderous applause)

And you thought our foreign policy couldn't get any worse.

For those who are wondering, no, I am not involved in espionage against the U.S. Government and, yes, this is made up.

I think hope.

Monday, June 13, 2005


This is a Total Drek special report:

Correspondents covering the King Defense report that Brayden King, of the blog Pub Sociology, has emerged victorious from his dissertaton defense. Further information will doubtless follow on Pub Sociology.

My warmest congratulations to the evil mother-fucker who got me blogging in the first place.

Seriously, way to go Dr. King.

Customers do the Darndest Things!

We sociologists often do things that others find a little... strange. Some of us are a tad embarrassed by this, but personally I revel in it. Let's be honest here for a moment, shall we? The weirdness of sociologists in general just helps me blend in a little better.

One of the things we do that earns us this reputation for oddity is referred to by the innocuous name "breaching experiments." These experiments, developed by Erving Goffman, attempt to plumb the depths of human interactional rules by violating them. In essence, since a set of understandings about situations facillitates interaction, we all learn to interpret situations in light of socially defined rules. When these rules are broken, however, things get interesting. Responses often begin with attempts to ignore the transgressor, or hostile efforts to compel conformity.

Why do I bring this up? Because the boys over at SomethingAwful have provided us with a pretty decent home effort at a breaching experiment. It's worth taking a look at, especially if you have a high-bandwidth connection. Or, you know, if you're not entirely enamored with the sort of cult that has developed around Apple products.

Friday, June 10, 2005

No Child Left Unpunished.

In a striking move that demonstrates their passionate commitment to children, the Republican dominated House of Representatives is apparently trying to put the axe to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. According to an article in today's Washington Post a house subcommittee voted to eliminate all funding for public broadcasting within two years, starting with a 25% reduction in next year's budget.

Democratic opponents were quick to respond to this latest move in the longstanding Republican war on the public broadcast system:

"Americans overwhelmingly see public broadcasting as an unbiased information source," Rep. David Obey (Wis.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said in a statement. "Perhaps that's what the GOP finds so offensive about it. Republican leaders are trying to bring every facet of the federal government under their control. . . . Now they are trying to put their ideological stamp on public broadcasting."

Republicans argue that this move is not politically motivated but, rather, is simply a consequence of budgetary necessities. Some projects are simply more deserving of funding than others. According to the committee chairman, Republican Ralph Regula (Ohio) (And god I wish he was from Rhode Island, just for the alliteration):

The subcommittee had to decide, he said, on cutting money for public broadcasting or cutting college grants, special education, worker retraining and health care programs. "No one's out to get" public broadcasting, Regula said. "It's not punitive in any way."

Well, it's hard to argue with that. I like special education, and worker retraining and health care. I guess it is hard to find ways to keep all programs. And the Republicans are even offering some helpful suggestions for how public broadcasting can survive:

Regula suggested public stations could "make do" without federal money by getting more funding from private sources, such as contributions from corporations...

Sounds reasonable, except for the small point that accepting lots of funding from corporations would turn public broadcasting into private broadcasting. I think most of us know not to bite the hand that feeds us, and I doubt that Public Broadcasting will differ noticeably in that. This is particularly the case since, and let's face it here, those stations that continue airing stories that are not always sympathetic to large corporate interests (i.e. the facts) simply won't receive funding, and thus will go off the air. Natural selection can be a bitch.

It's not that I hate corporations, it's just that I love free speech. Public broadcasting is, relatively speaking, quite cheap, and it serves a very valuable purpose. This is particularly the case for children, who receive educational programming through it that they simply do not receive through private broadcasting sources. For children in underpriviledged areas, whose parents cannot afford fancy preschools, Sesame Street may well be the best education they can hope for short of their formal school system- which may itself be something of a joke. By attempting to throttle the CPB the Republicans are giving lie to their commitment to children, and are instead revealing their true colors.

PBS, in particular, drew harsh criticism in December from the Bush administration for a "Postcards From Buster" episode in which Buster, an animated rabbit, "visited" two families in Vermont headed by lesbians. And programming on both PBS and NPR has come under fire in recent months from Tomlinson, the Republican chairman of the CPB, who has pushed for greater "balance" on the public airwaves.

The Republicans aren't so much for children as they are against tolerance. Still, as angry as I am at this, I really can't bring myself to do much more than pity the Republican supporters of this initiative. It must be a terrible thing to be so small of heart, and puny of mind, that you think it's worth harming the educational potential of millions of children solely to prevent them from learning to tolerate groups you may not feel totally comfortable with. Apparently the ability to hate is too important to be sacrificed for such trivial causes as reading, and 'riting and 'rithmetic.

Then again, maybe I am being a little hard. Maybe Ralph Regula is telling the truth about the need to juggle budget priorities. After all, the Republicans are the party of frugality- it isn't like they're just throwing money away on projects that are run so poorly they can't possibly work.

Are they?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Okay, start the clock... NOW!

Those of us who keep tabs on the Washington Post are doubtless aware that in today's edition we were given the results of a survey intended to determine the average levels of scientific misconduct. Given my outspoken appreciation for science, this is an article that virtually has, "YO! Drek! Blog post, right HERE!" stamped on it. Well, I would hate to disappoint all of you, so here goes.

Before we get to the heart of matters, I just want to point out that the study itself is of uncertain utility in that it's based on:

...a survey to thousands of scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health [that] tallied the replies from the 3,247 who responded anonymously.

So, we have no idea at present as to the response rate. Nor are we likely to know a great deal about the characteristics of the respondents themselves, since the scientific community is a small one and many would likely be reluctant to describe very much about themselves. Without such information, it will be virtually impossible to determine if this sample is at all representative. Anonymity can, after all, be a bitch.

The question at this point, however, is: what sort of misconduct are we talking about? Outright falsification of data? Abuse of human subjects? Theft of research from graduate students? Office chair races in the halls when the dean is on the other side of campus? Sorry about that last one, the term "misconduct" always makes me think of grade school and my sorry excuse for a "permanent record." Ha, you bastards! You said that record would ruin me forever and here I am in graduate school and... um... okay, you were right. Fuck me.

In any case, the malfeasance (isn't that a much nicer word than "misconduct?") examined by the study is, as a matter of fact, rather limited.

More than 5 percent of scientists answering a confidential questionnaire admitted to having tossed out data because the information contradicted their previous research or said they had circumvented some human research protections.

Ten percent admitted they had inappropriately included their names or those of others as authors on published research reports.

And more than 15 percent admitted they had changed a study's design or results to satisfy a sponsor, or ignored observations because they had a "gut feeling" they were inaccurate.

Taking these in order: science is a messy game and not all contrary evidence is necessarily good evidence. A large number of high school chemistry experiments fail, not because chemical laws are wrong, but because the procedures were screwed up. Regrettably when we encounter unexpected findings, there is a tendency to wonder if, indeed, the same sort of issue has emerged. And, unlike high school experiments, we don't have a book to tell us what we ought to be seeing with this procedure. As for the human subjects protections- I think many practicing scientists can sympathize. I've seen some human subjects demands, even in my short term in academia, that verge on insane. Okay, the hell with that: I've seen human subjects requirements that blow right past insane into utterly bugfuck whacko.

The inappropriate authorship issue is, to my mind, relatively minor. It's a problem for those of us in academia, but it doesn't invalidate the research itself. It's a little like what happens in the corporate world- successful products get a team of creators, unsuccessful products get lone scapegoats.

I consider the alteration of study designs or results to satisfy sponsors to be a little more serious, but what does this mean, exactly? I've considered changing my dissertation research in certain ways in order to obtain needed grant money: does that qualify as malfeasance? Finally, the "gut feelings," are an unavoidable part of science. The important question is: if the same nauseating result keeps coming up, does the scientist keep ignoring it, or do they eventually accept it? If it's the former, it's a problem, if the latter, it's just the scientific method.

There are, of course, additional findings of note:

Just 0.3 percent admitted to faking research data, and 1.4 percent admitted to plagiarism. But lesser violations were far more common, including 4.7 percent who admitted to publishing the same data in two or more publications to beef up their résumés and 13.5 percent who used research designs they knew would not give accurate results.

But most of these are minor. We see very little plagiarism and virtually no data faking. The multiple-publication of data is regrettable, but doesn't in any way affect the inherent accuracy of that data, or findings derived from it. Finally, as for those who used designs they knew would give inaccurate results- how is accuracy defined? Many social scientific studies are known to be of limited accuracy, not because we don't care, but because we are limited by resources and opportunity.

Yet, what we see with all this is that the vast majority of scientists are honest in their work. They don't plagiarize, they don't falsify, and they don't cheat much at all. In total, I consider this to be a promising result for science.

It's just a shame that the Bush Administration will likely use this study to continue their ongoing war on science. Rather than accepting what the study of scientific honesty reveals- that we are largely honest, and possessed of a considerable amount of integrity- they will emphasize our failures and, in their characteristic fashion, inflate them through absurdly threatening rhetoric. After all, they have no problem altering the findings of existing science, why would they show restraint here?

Start your clocks, folks- let's see how long it takes before the anti-science freaks in the White House start smacking us around with this beauty.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

In Drek's Office...

We join our beloved protaganist as he is sitting in his office working on a lecture for class. Drek's Sainted Girlfriend (DSGf) is sitting at the desk next to him working on her own lectures. A mason jar of hard candy perches on the edge of his workspace.

Drek: Would you like a cinnamon candy?

He gestures towards the jar, reaching for a butterscotch.

DSGf: No, I had some smarties earlier.

Drek: You did?

DSGf: Yes.

Drek: You bitch.

DSGf: Well, I'm rubber and you're glue, so whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!

Drek: Ah, but you forget: today is opposite day!

DSGf: Shit. It's Wednesday. You're right, it is opposite day.

It's nice to know that all those years we've spent in school haven't been a waste.

Descriptive, yet, mistaken?

And in today's installment of Total Drek, we have further proof that folks running teleprompters and caption machines the world-over have their own ways of striking back. Seriously, "the?" I think there's probably more than one. At least there's good news for women on other fronts. And by "good news" I mean, "goddamn spectacular news."

Thanks to Wonkette for bringing Norah O'Donnell to our attention.

And thanks to MSNBC for a moment's adolescent amusement.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Can't we do better than this?

I donated to the Democratic Party's vote-for-Kerry effort last fall, so I got on their mailing list, probably forever. I've gotten some interesting stuff from them, with "interesting" applied both positively and negatively. Just last week, I got a mass mailing from the Democrats entitled "2005 Democratic Agenda Survey."

It sounded like a good chance to help the Democrats set their agenda for the 2006 Congressional midterm elections, and maybe on to the 2008 Presidential election. So I grabbed a pen and opened up the booklet, eager to help our party figure out what issues to focus on.

The first thing I noticed was the two-page long letter signed by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:

Dear Friend,

I know that Democrats like you have a powerful interest in the future direction of our country. And I also know that your active participation in shaping that future is essential to our ability to stand up to George W. Bush and his Republican allies' abuse of power in Congress.

That's why I have sent you this 2005 DEMOCRATIC AGENDA SURVEY.

OK, Slag thinks, it's in all caps, so it must be important. After the page asking people to send contributions along with surveys (with the obligatory "gifts at this level are urgently needed"), I got to the questions. Questions such as:

Sample Question 1. Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been admonished by the House Ethics Committee more than any other U.S. Representative. Do you think Tom DeLay is fit or unfit to retain his post as Majority Leader?

Sample Question 2. Do you support the Republican-led Congress giving President Bush the authorization to increase America's debt levels and run us further into the red?

Sample Question 3. How do you feel about the Bush administration's relaxation of Clean Air Act pollution controls?

More than half the questions are in that general style. Clearly, this is not a survey sent for information, it's a call to rally one's righteous indignation against our opponents. It's a marketing mailing disguised as a survey.

There are lots of good reasons to rally the troops, but I think it's a bad idea to rally the troops under the guise of a scientific survey. If we really are the party of rationality - and spend two minutes talking to a Republican to convince yourself that we are - then we should take seriously our attempts to engage in rational discourse with each other.

I'll be throwing this mailing away, but I hope they send me more mail.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Hairy Potter?

Well, this is certainly interesting.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Can't hurt.

So... does anyone know how to produce summary statistics, including means and modes, in STATA while using p-weights? I'm fairly decent with my chosen stats package but this is getting into that arcane realm that only a handful of people (who probably wear orange robes and live in caves in the Bay Area) are actually familiar with.

Expect the very breast.

A few days ago I posted about a horrid little quiz in which players are supposed to tell real from "fake" breasts (i.e. those that have been subject to surgical alteration) and are complimented, or criticized, based on their performance.

My assessment was that this places women in an uncomfortable double-bind, and cannot help but degrade their self-image. Slag, for his part, agreed, adding that the entire quiz itself is disgusting.

I am not bringing all this up because I disagree with Slag, nor because I just want an excuse to blog about breasts. Frankly, typing the word "breast" really doesn't bring any thrill. I bring it up because of another little ancillary observation that can be made. I took the quiz and achieved a score of 6 out of 12. Slag took the quiz and scored 5 out of 12. Finally, My Sainted Girlfriend took the quiz and scored 6 out of 12. I find this interesting. None of us, despite either having breasts ourselves, or being keenly interested in same, were able to do better than chance on this test. Given that the possible answers are "real" or "fake," our performance suggests that whatever criteria we used to make our selections, we would have been just as well off guessing randomly.

Yet, what remains interesting is that, presumably, we DID each have some sort of criteria for judging which breasts were probably real, and which probably fake. We have some concept in our minds defining what looks fake and what looks real. That these concepts were utterly useless is irrelevant- the point is that we judged based on some set of beliefs. What this means is simple: women whose breasts conform to what is commonly thought of as a "fake," look will be punished even if their breasts are natural, while women whose breasts conform to a "natural," look will not. This process simply magnifies the damage that such pressures may do to ordinary women. It isn't enough that breasts may not fit the beauty "ideal" of a society, but they also mustn't look fake. It isn't enough that lacking "ideal" breasts brings a lack of reward, but it also appears that having the wrong sort may bring sanctions.

This isn't a phenomenon limited to women, obviously. Various approaches men use to recover their thinning hair are also judged according to their naturalness, with more artificial techniques being regarded as absurd, or stupid. Yet, while this process operates for men as well, it does not have such dramatic consequences for men as it does for women. I daresay women are probably judged more on their breasts than are men on their hair.

Of course, I doubt that fashion, or surgery, will sit still for all this. The appearance of what is "natural" will simply become desired, and various sorts of interventions, surgical or not, will be used in an attempt to achieve this look. It's an endless sort of race between artifice, and the ever-shifting kaleidescope of social desirability. Yet, beneath it all, is a simple lie: the erroneous belief that real can be distinguished from artificial, and that one is intrinsically more desirable than the other. (I say intrinsically because, while breast implants likely have certain health consequences, and impair breast-feeding, these are more practical issues, and do not lie at the source of the supposed preference for "natural" breasts)

It seems like an odd thing to take issue with, but it is merely an example of a greater trend. It is not merely the creation of standards, but also the belief that such standards can be met, or that success or failure in this process can even be detected. This is the heart of the vicious cycle that defines value when no reasonable criteria can, and we must all be aware of it, even as we are subject to it.

Take the test yourself, and leave comments about your score. You're on your honor not to cheat, but I am curious: can anyone really do much better than chance?

And more importantly: does it really matter?

For those who are curious, I am not advocating the use of implants. As it happens, I rather dislike permanent modifications to the human form that are rooted in aesthetics and, yes, that extends even to ear piercing. I'm simply making a point here without trying to stamp my personal morality onto the issue of breast implants.

For those who are curious, yes I did verify that the test has some consistent set of right and wrong answers. For those who are really curious, send me an e-mail once you've posted your results and I'll send you the answer key.

Yes, I fucking worked it out. It isn't hard, just tedious. And you feel more than a little ridiculous while you're doing it.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

So there is an escape?

For those who haven't noticed, Julia Kanago of Everyday Sociology appears to have graduated from college.

Onward to better things, eh?

Fat chance- she's going to grad school. "Better" is a relative thing, and unlikely to apply to her future plans.

All the same: Congratulations Julia!

A Day of Revelations

Today's big news was that the secret identity of Deep Throat, the source for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Washington Post articles about Watergate - articles that began the process than ended with President Nixon's resignation. Woodward and Bernstein promised to keep Deep Throat's identiy a secret until his death.

The source was Mark Felt, second-in-command at the FBI, who oversaw the FBI's day-to-day operations. Felt kept the secret, even from his own family, until yesterday. He revealed the story to Vanity Fair magazine, and it was confirmed by the Washington Post later in the day.

Read the whole story in this Washington Post article. It requires a free registration, and it's well worth it.

A less-reported story tells the tale of Lisa Leitten, a spy for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who secretly videotaped animal welfare conditions inside Covance Laboratories, a Vienna, VA-based drug developer. Read the AP story here, which includes lots of doubts about whether Leitten's actions were legal and/or ethical.

What do you think? Are people like Mark Felt and Lisa Leitten justified in whistleblowing and spying? Would you do the same? And if they don't, how can we face up to powerful political and business interests when they act unethically?

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