Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bride of "I'll Be Your Straw Man"

Michelle Goldberg at Salon lets us know that the war over Christmas is back. Once again, evangelicals are declaring that any time someone says "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas", every time an office holds a "holiday party" instead of a Christmas party, everytime Santa is invoked before the savior, the secularists have won another victory in their struggle to destroy Christmas.

And once again, good christian liberals are insisting that they do not want to destroy Christmas, that Christ is better honored by keeping his name away from half off sales, etc.

Last year I expressed my dismay at this rhetorical move by liberals, because it got in the way of my real goal this time of year: to destroy christmas. I honored the occasion with a list of aspects of christmas that I wanted to destroy, which included "The Little Drummer Boy", twice. I've had to retract some things from that list. Thomas snoped me with the pleasant truth that in fact suicide rates do not go up around christmas. In fact, Christmas frequently leads people to postpone suicide until January.

I stand by the Grinchy sentiment of that post, however. We must stop christmas from coming. I have already seen people dressed up as the little drummer boy. Things could get worse. I may have to watch that David Bowie/Bing Crosby video of the "Little Drummer Boy" with their damnable sweaters. Something must be done. This year, I have an ally, though. Flea has come out explicitly against Christmas. Victory will be ours.

Victory over Productivity!

They thought they could trick me into getting work done by cutting off power to my building, so I couldn't get to the internet, but I fooled them--I'm blogging from the Library! Ha ha ha!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Let the rejection begin!

Hey, it isn't even December yet, and I've already received my first rejection letter for a job application! Pacific University writes "Look, it's not you, it's us. We love you, but we're not in love with you. We are't ready to commit right now. (Except that we're going to hire someone else tenure track.) Don't go away mad, just go away."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

In which I embrace the common phrase, "I'm spiritual, but not religious"

We do not pray in our house, in part because I am an atheist. But atheism is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for abstaining from prayer, and I often find myself in public circumstances praying with groups of people. One such circumstance occurred over thanksgiving.

My wife's people (on her father's side) are Quaker, going way back. I sometimes chafe at some of their stiff, almost puritan ways, but they were protesting slavery and abstaining from war back when other religions--maybe yours--were still wondering if Indians had souls. Molly's Dad, Mike, maintains his faith is by having a silent prayer before meals.

After one such prayer over break, Caroline asked me "Why you pray?" It had taken a fair amount of shushing to get her to be quiet for a short interval, and she wanted to know what the deal was.

"I better let you field that one, Mike," I said.

Molly interrupted before I could finish, saying, "Tradition," a standard answer we give Caroline whenever she asks about odd human behavior.

"Mike, did you still want to answer," I said.

"We pray to ask the Lord for help," he said.

A little later, when we were alone, Molly asked me what I thought of the incident.

"I was surprised he went with petitionary prayer. That's never been my favorite kind."

"It is, though, something that an almost three year old could understand."

"Yeah, but do you really want to give a child a Santa Claus notion of spiritual life?"

"So how would you have answered?"

"I would have said 'I try to cultivate a reverential attitude.'"

You, the internet, may be asking "A reverential attitude toward what, Mr. Atheist Person?" to which I can only answer, “You know, stuff.”

Those who fetishize the ability of science to generate knowledge think that one’s emotional life is a random, insignificant thing. But emotions can be apt or inapt. In truth, apt feeling may be more important than true belief. So here is a minimal sense in which one should be spiritual. Calling you emotional life a spiritual life begins to grant it the kind of meaning it merits.

Update: Speaking of cultivating a reverential attitude, PZ Meyrs links to this incredible BBC video of slugs mating. PZ's right. If this doesn't make you feel a little homely and inadequate, you have no understanding of beauty.

The tree outside my office window

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Sept. 2, 2005

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Nov. 1 2005.

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Nov. 26, 2005

Friday, November 18, 2005

Thanksgiving Break

Blogging will be light, as the family leaves tonight on an extended car trip for thanksgiving.

[impolitic remarks deleted. Honestly, I don't know what I was worried about. Everything is going great.]

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Linguists Gone Wild: Okay, something about language...

Following a referral link in sitemeter, I came across this lovely post on the grammar of expletives, which begins with the observation that expletives are their own grammatical category and ends with the hypothesis of an older language module, older than the modules that give us full human language, which covers simple context neutral expressions, like greetings and expletives. Really quite nice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I hate computers

So we get this new wireless internet connection, and the first thing I discover is that the "wireless" part is bullshit, because the computer can only find the signal if it is sitting on the desk right next to the wireless router. The next thing I discover is that even when the computer is on the desk, just a few inches from the router, the connection is slow and is frequently lost altogether. So then I think, "Well fuck, if I can't actually move the computer, why not just plug the connection that currently runs from the wall into the router directly into the computer? I mean, why go through the router if it does nothing for me?" This immediately causes me to lose all internet connectivity altogether. Even after I put the cord back where it was originally.

So everything’s back in its original configuration, and there are no less than three (3) icons in the lower right corner telling me that I have an “excellent” wireless connection, but no web browser can find any web page. And I’m starting to say “grrrrr.” And Molly is starting to say “Um, Rob?” and I say “WHAT?!” in a tone that was not at all snappish, I swear, and Molly says “Nevermind. I am going to bed.” And I reboot a few times. Then I look at the paperwork that came from our new internet provider. It says “Premier Wireless rules and acceptable use policy agreement shall be between Premier wireless I.P. Inc, with its address at…..” I look at the help screen that comes up with one of the many wireless connection icons in the lower left. It says “make sure that you have the correct network name, encryption settings, and station ID (or MAC address)” but doesn’t clue me into what those are.

I shake my fists at the sky and curse the gods and goddesses of information.

Then I try the internet again and it works.

Objectivity is a process, not a result

The NYT is reporting on a new report by the inspector general of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) on the reign of former CPB chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson. While chair, Tomlinson launched a campaign to rid public broadcasting of an alleged liberal political bias. Turns out to do so he violated every law that had been set up to shield public broadcasting from political bias. He personally pushed for funding of shows, including a show by Wall Street Journal writers, even though the board of directors isn't supposed to make content decisions. He imposed political tests on hiring and promotion. He singled out some programs for scrutiny, like “Now with Bill Moyers,” because he did not like their political content. Again, this was in the name of promoting "objectivity."

If Tomlinson is genuinely concerned about objectivity, he is grievously confused about what objectivity is. You do not call a process of gathering information (like reporting on a public broadcasting station) objective because it yields the results you like. Nor do you call a process of gathering information objective because it yields results equally favorable to you and your opponent. A process of information gathering is objective if it follows procedures which are known to have lead to truth in the past. A detective investigating a murder does not only gather evidence that will point to the guy he thinks did it. Nor does he gather evidence that implicates all suspects equally. He gathers the sort of evidence that has uncovered crimes in the past.

Of course, it could be that Tomlinson was not interesting in objectivity, but in power. His actions fit the pattern revealed in another report, this one on the way the FDA mishandled the rejection of over the counter Plan B. Each time, we see procedures designed to improve objective decision making trashed in order to achieve a conservative agenda.

I am finding myself quite the proceduralist in my old age. Perhaps it seems odd. In graduate school guys like me were all about the feminist and lefty criticisms of objectivity and science. But we never tried to do in objectivity altogether and replace it with a simple power struggle. The feminist epistemologists I respected—Helen Longino for instance—were all about creating a richer understanding of objectivity, and indeed of knowledge generating procedures. Essentially the camp that emerged in the 90s understood objectivity as intersubjectivity, and attempted to develop social epistemologies that exploited this fact to create better knowledge generating procedures.

(Ok, guys like Stanly Fish and Richard Rorty were all about replacing objectivity with a power struggle. But you know what? No one in philosophy liked them. They are really Ward Churchills of epistemology.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Wead! Wead!

Caroline needs to learn a lot about how to ask for things nicely. This comes out often when I am reading to her. If I pause momentarily to, say, talk to my lovely wife, Caroline starts bouncing in my lap yelling "Read! Read!", except she can't pronounce her r's very well, so she really yells "Wead! Wead!"

This happens so often that I have completely internalized it. On a busy day like today, when I have a lot of research that needs to get done quickly, I hear a little voice in my head--an angry, impatient toddler--yelling "Wead! Wead!"

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Strong Evidence of Ethics Violations by Woo Suk Hwang

Woo Suk Hwang and his team have led the world in theraputic cloning and stem cell research. They were the first to create stem cell lines from a cloned human embryo. They recently announced that they plan to create hundreds of new stem cell lines every year.

Apparantly there have also been rumors that the eggs for these cloned embryos came from one of Hwang's junior team members, which is always an ethics violation because it smacks of coersion. The team member may have also received illegal payments. Now a team from the University of Pittsburgh is pulling out of a collaboration with Hwang's team because they are convinced these accusations are true. I think it would take strong evidence of serious wrongdoing to get people to walk away from this much money.

This is the WaPo article, and this is the bioethics.net take on it. Also see the comment at bioethics.net on the Korean bioethics community, which has long distrusted Hwang.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Fuck *ff w/her Hat

So last week I got the coolest thing I have received from campus mail at SLU. It was a flyer for this show at the Brush Art Gallery by Melanie Yazzie. The cover of the flyer was the drawing to the left, entitled "Fuck Off w/her Hat."

This is a really nice piece (and I haven't even made it to the Gallery to see it in person yet) and not just because the "Fuck Off" gave me a chuckle when I picked up my mail. Nor was I entranced just because everything in the design of the image draws your eyes to the "Fuck off," the way that it is centered, the black writing against a bright colored background, etc. I was amused by the juxtapositions. The thick black lines of the figure against the orange and red background. The attempted cutesiness of the figure, with her large wide set eyes, and the actual crassness of the way she is drawn, with those thick black lines (again.) Also, the orange and red marks in the background look like the lip prints from the character that somehow have moved from the world of black and white to the world of color. The title is cool too. It lets you know that "Fuck off" is the name of the character. It also points you to her hat, which, as Molly pointed out to me, looks a lot like a penis. I was impressed enough with the flyer to put it on my office door. Why not, I thought, students will know that this is a work of art, and that the "fuck off" is not directed at them.

well, the day after the flyer went out, the brouhaha started on the fac/staff listserv. People were offended. How dare university money be spent on this flyer! (People seemed to know not to object to the art exhibit, so they just objected to having to look at the flyer.) Someone sarcastically suggested that we all put the flyer on our office doors, to impress visiting parents and students with our maturity. (This actually led me to take down the flyer.) Soon, though, comments got really...dumb. There was an actual "A child could have drawn this!" remark which really bugs me, because I've spent a lot of time looking at childrens’ art, and I know that no child could do that thing with the black figure on a colorful background. People's inability to distinguish child-like drawing from actual children's art mostly tells me that they don't really pay attention to what their children do when they draw. Other remarks included "what if a child saw this!?"

What was even more embarrassing about the discussion was that the best defense people could come up with for the drawing was that art is supposed to provoke. As if no one had looked at any part of the picture besides the words "Fuck Off." Then people started sending emails with the "fuck" in the title of the work starred out: "F*** Off w/her Hat" explaining that the F-word shouldn't be in public email either. I decided the asterisk looked better in the word "off."

Finally Cathy from the art gallery posted and said she was sorry. When she sent the flyers out to the public, they had a warning label that said that this was not appropriate for children. Next time, she said, I will put the warning label on the flyers that go to faculty and staff as well. No one seemed to notice that they had just been told that they were children who needed to be sheltered from dangerous content.

Ok, here's the kicker. These gallery flyers contain material that is not for the prudish all the time. The flyer for the Get Your War On show was laden with profanity. Another flyer had on the inside a comic featuring two giant anthropomorphic turds discussing the history of political cartooning.

So why did this flyer cause the controversy? I think it was exactly the stuff that made it good as a work of *visual* art: the image succeeds in focusing your attention in a way that the clip art of GYWO simply can't. No one was offended by the other images because they weren't compelling enough to look at long enough to notice the profanity. But because Yazzie has visual sense, her drawing becomes controversial.

So this gets at one of my pet theses (I keep theses as pets): the censorious people of the world really are agents of ugliness. Censors are people who are scared precisely by the things that make life interesting. And I'm not talking about words like "fuck" here (although it is dear to my heart). I'm talking about things like color contrast.

Bad body image a better predictor of diminished sex drive then menopausal status

Via Twisty comes this newspaper writeup of a study which hinted that poor body image was the primary cause of diminished sex drive in older women, and not hormonal shifts. The write up is sloppy, but the best I could glean from it is that the correlation between diminished sex drive and body image is stronger than any correlation involving hormones.

If I'm right about the study, it is exactly what Twisty says it is: another piece of evidence that patriarchal conceptions of female beauty cause a lot of misery. Still, I am also irritated at the way people are misinterpreting the science here. First, there's the Reuters Headline "Body image, not menopause, causes lack of desire." This overstates things at least two ways. First, menopause was not shown to be completely irrelevant. It was merely shown not to be as important as body image. Second, the study doesn't offer us much reason to move from correlation to causation. We don't, for instance know that being horny doesn't actually improve body image, either because people primp more, or because horny people don't have quite as many negative ideas floating around about sex in general.

I'm also irritated at this remark in the comments at twisty: "And if the shocking finding is that women don't like their bodies, then I just have to sit, mouth agape, astounded that someone actually funded this study." I am bothered, in part, because this was simply not the point of the study. I am also bothered that sociological studies can't win. If they confirm common sense, they are accused of not being worthwhile. If they go against common sense, they are accused of being the product of a demented, overanalytic scientific mind. what it really speaks to is a kind of epistemic arrogance. Nothing anyone else says could be more compelling than what I already believe.

I am, though, not so irritated that I am going to track down the original article and actually develop an informed opinion.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Teaching Portfolio 3.3

As a part of my big job search, I've made a .pdf version of my teaching portfolio. In case any prospective employers come by this site, the link is now to the right under "My work persona". It contains syllabi, samples of class exercises and handouts, examples of feedback on student writing, and summaries of my teaching evaluations for Spring 2005. The longer version also contains complete copies of the original evaluations. There is also a shorter version available.

All the photos in the wallets on the battlefields

Teresa has her annual post up in honor of Armistice Day. We lost something when we started calling it Veterans Day.

Added, via Writers Almanac, this quote from Bertrand Russell about the Great War:
All this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country's pride.

Beard Envy

Ok, here's where I cop to having a major case of beard envy. Most of the dads of the children Caroline plays with can grow these spectactular beards. This is especially true of the ones who have lived in upstate New York the longest. Here's a sample conversation I might have with a dad picking up his children from our day-care co-op.

(North Country Man arrives, sporting three inches of beard below his chin.)

Me: Hey, didn't you shave your beard this morning?

North Country Man: Yeah, but I skipped my afternoon shave because I was too busy building an addition on my house using only trees I felled myself and rock hewn lovingly from mother earth by my own hand.

Me: Oh, yes, that must be why you are still wearing your tool belt, laden with long dangling implements.

North Country Man: Are you going to stare at my tools or let me in?

Me: Oh yes, come in. Your numerous and eerily self sufficient children are in the play room.

North Country Man: Moonbat, Mountain, Bench, come here! We have to go split wood for the winter! By the way, Rob, have you seen my knife, or my compass, or any of the other outdoorsy stuff I not only carry around with me everywhere but actually find occasion to use almost every day?

Me: Yes, you left them out back while you were teaching the children to identify signs of global warming in moose scat.

I wish I could grow a beard. I bet I would look good with a beard.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bodhisattva Never Disparaging

There's a fight going on, where people can get hurt. We need a little peacemaking. Let me try something here.

Paul's now deleted comments on B.Ph.D may have been too close to trolling. Or not. It doesn't matter now, because they have already been said. Further argument will not unsay them; it will only say them again, more forcefully, with more real world repercussions. Let it be.

Dr.B. may have made the wrong decision by deleting the comments and banning Paul. Or not. It doesn't matter now, because the damage has already been done. Further argument will not undo it; it will only do it again. Let it be.

The email Paul sent to Wally may have been threatening. Or not. It doesn't matter now because the damage has already been done. Further argument will not unsend the email, it will only send worse emails. Let it be.

Wally may have been wrong to contact Paul's advisors. Or not. It doesn't matter now, because Paul's advisors are now aware of what is going on. Further argument will not plunge them back into ignorance, it only gives them more evidence of unprofessional conduct. Let it be.

Paul may have been wrong to threaten lawsuits against Dr. B and Wally. Or not. It doesn't matter now, because things have already escalated this far. Actually following through on the lawsuits will not help anyone. They will only increase the acrimony. Let it be.

At this time there was a bodhisattva monk named Never Disparaging. Now Gainer of Great Authority, for what reason was he named Never Disparaging? This monk, whatever persons he happened to meet, whether monks, nuns, laymen or laywomen, would bow in obeisance to all of them and speak words of praise, saying, "I have profound reverence for you. I would never dare treat you with disparagement or arrogance. Why? Because you are all practicing the bodhisattva way and are certain to attain Buddhahood.
--Lotus Sutra, Chapter 20.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

This could be the best thing ever.

How long as the beta version of Google Print been on line? I just went there for the first time, following the link from the Salon article. I can tell already that it could be a delirious browsing experience, and all they have up right now are some public domain texts and a few things they have copyright permission for.

This is the version of the Tractatus they have up, scanned from a book by a reprint service called Kessinger Publishing. In some ways the edition is delightfully minimalist. The cover just has the author and title in a medium sized font, and the contents consist simply of the propositions of the Tractatus and Wittgenstien’s introduction, along with a short text ad for the reprint service. Ludwig would approve of the austerity of it all.

On the other hand, there is no indication of who the translator is (it’s not Ogden’s translation), or even that the book has been translated from another language. Also missing are Russsell’s introduction, the dedication to David Pinset, and the motto from K├╝rnberger. I can see ditching Russell’s verbiage in the name of minimalism, but the dedication and the motto are part of the content.

Finally, Google provides us with a synopsis of the Tractatus, which, for some reason, consists simply of proposition 5.123
Synopsis
If a god creates a world in which certain propositions are true, then by that very act he also creates a world in which all the propositions that follow from them come true. And similarly he could not create a world in which the proposition 'p' was true without creating all its objects.
And all of this fun I got just from my first search of Google Print!

Update: Sometimes Googling around you can get to the Dover edition of the Tractatus, but it is not consistent, and it won't let you flip to other parts of the book besides the place your search lands you.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Philosophical Dialogue Idea

So I was sitting around dreaming up plots for horror movies, which I often do, and I started thinking about a mad scientist movie, like Frankenstein or Reanimator, where the mad scientists all are at universities, and have to deal with university BS, like tenure and IRBs. I was also inspired in part by some jokes on Pharygula.

Then it hit me: what we really need is a philosophical dialogue where Dr. West, from the Reanimator movies tries to justify reanimating corpses using glowing green goo to an IRB. The question: whether reanimatng a corpse is a harm to the corpse.

Now you think, of course it is. Any sane person would chose non existence over life as a zombie. But wait. If that's true, then don't those much maligned "wrongful life" suits have merit. Setting things in France would help, because as I recall, the French supreme court upheld a wrongful life suit, which then led to major legal changes banning them. (Maybe I'll check this at the office tomorrow.)

Well, it sounded like fun.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Doctor of the Future?

This weeks NYTimes Magazine has a cover story on a doctor working with Amish and Mennonite children with severe genetic defects, including a scary disease which in addition to being fatal makes your joints so rubbery they call it "The Pretzel Syndrome."

The doctor, D. Holmes Morton, certainly looks like a saint from the article. (And he's gotten similar coverage before in the Wall Street Journal.) He set up a clinic to help an isolated community at a time when his advisors were telling him to stay in pure research and he's used his field experience to develop a wealth of new treatments. Science as public service, field science, these are good things. We all like it when doctors help poor babies who are having seizures.

The article has another angle, though, which is less appealing: medical genetics will transform everything for the better. Sure, the article begins by talking about how medical genetics has promised too much
"The enthusiasm has dimmed," says Dr. David Ginsburg, a professor of medical genetics at the University of Michigan. "Many in the field have been accused of overhyping it."
But then it starts right away overhyping it.
"This really is the future," says Edward R.B. McCabe, co-director of the University of California at Los Angeles Center for Society and Genetics. "Genomic medicine will be predictive, preventive and personalized," meaning that treatment will be shaped by, and tailored to, each patient's DNA.
Of course, its easy to make medical genetics look good if your example is a doctor in a community that has been genetically isolated for a couple hundred years. The article doesn't use the phrase, but the Amish are dealing with inbreeding depression. It also helps the Times' example that the diseases they are looking at are caused by single mutations. In one case, a disease called glutaric aciduria Type 1 (GA1), the ailment not only has a single cause, but also has a treatment. GA1 is a metabolic disorder, and if you keep the baby away from the things she can't metabolize, she's better off. The other main disease the article tracks, pretzel syndrome, has a known cause but no known cure.

Still, you're thinking, once you know the cause, isn't it easier to find the cure? This is where the dangers of overhyping genetic medicine come in. The article briefly mentions that for a while Morton, the heroic doctor whose tale we are following, was planning on treating GA1 using gene therapy. For those of you who don't know, gene therapy is really a form of genetic engineering. Your genetic code is rewritten, but only to cure disease and only some parts of your body--not your gonads, so the alterations won't be passed on to future generations. It is rightly regarded as far less morally problematic than other forms of genetic engineering. But still, it is odd that the Amish, who don't even drive cars, were going to be among the first to rewrite their DNA.

In any case, the death of Jesse Gelisinger and the crash of the gene therapy hype made Morton move from using genetic technology as a possible cure to a tool for early diagnosis. He still pushes strongly for universal genetic screening for all sorts of shit. This is something I favor too, although I am more keenly away of privacy and discrimination concerns.

The thing is, we still have no reason to think that genetic medicine will provide a radical transformation in the treatment of diseases that aren't caused by a single mutation. Genetic medicine is good news for people like the Amish, groups with inbreeding depression. For that reason, it should be pursued. But hold off on promising stuff to everyone.

It's a Bad Pun, It's Creepy, and It's Geeky

Check out David's Halloween costume at Sweater Project.

David is my old friend Pippy's new boyfriend. I think he's a keeper.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

How Do you Survive a Second Term Scandal?

All of the presidents who have had a second term since Roosevelt Eisenhower have had serious scandals in the second term: Nixon had Watergate, Reagan had Iran-Contra-gate, Clinton had Blowjob-gate, and W. Bush has Plame-gate. Nixon was brought down by his scandal. Reagan survived, although his numbers took years to recover. Clinton prospered during his scandal.

Liberal bloggers like to note the vast gulf in the seriousness of these scandals. Three involved subverting the democratic process and one involved a blowjob. I don't want to go over that one again. I was born and raised inside the Beltway, and I want to look and the totally Machiavellian angle: how do you survive one of these politically? Sidney Blumenthal claims that Reagan survived because he ditched the neoconservatives and brought in the center-right Washington policy establishment personified by Brent Scowcroft.

(For some reason, this establishment is typically called “the realist camp” particularly on foreign policy, where they use compromise and diplomatic maneuvering to maintain American power. People like W Bush are then called “idealists” because they use the military to spread democracy everywhere. To me, though, the two camps simply look like cautious and ambitious imperialists. Or better yet: power worshipers who understand power and power worshipers fixated on the crudest manifestations of power.)

In truth, though, Nixon has as much claim on being a centrist in touch with the political establishment as Reagan. While fighting the Viet Nam war he drove to the center on domestic issues, among other things, founding the EPA. Blumenthal does note something, though, that Reagan could do at the height of his political comeback that Nixon could never do. Blumenthal writes, “President Reagan's popularity rating had collapsed from 67 to 46 percent; it did not recover until a year and a half later, in May 1988, when he negotiated an arms control treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and traveled to Moscow to declare the Cold War over.”

I have an alternative prescription for surviving your second term scandal: don’t be in the middle of fighting a losing war. Animosity to Nixon was driven by the war he kept us in, the costly war that served no purpose. Of course, this lets us know a lot about W Bush’s chances of surviving this scandal. Especially given new revelations (via Dr. B) about the VP’s role in authorizing torture.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Yes, I do endorse the use of the word "lover"

I was just having lunch with the family in a local coffee shop. I announced I had to get back to the office, and Caroline started to cry. "Daddy! I want you to stay here!" I reassured her that was ok, that I'd see her in the evening, and headed for the door. She followed me out, arms outstretched, tears streaming "Daddy don't go, don't go!"

Now imagine for a second that you had a lover who was this needy. Imagine that everytime you got up to leave for a few hours, your partner just became apoplectic. How long before you went completely nuts?

No, I'm not implying anything. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bitter Sarcasm in Footnotes?

I am considering putting a footnote in the bibliography of my GMO paper discussing the on line availability of some of the documents I site.

I am also considering ending it with this passage about a World Bank publication:
To find the World Bank publication “Global Commodity Markets” you must go to http://www.worldbank.org/, click “Data and Research,” then “Document Search” then search in “Policy Research Reports.” Even then, for some reason, only the publications from 2000 are available. And this may not be true after November 2, 2005. It’s a brave new world.
Should I?

New Buffy Straight to DVD?

Via Pharyngula, this old, brief interview with Marti Noxon about negotiations for a direct to DVD movie featuring characters from Buffy. Noxon says up front that they won't be able to get Sarah Michelle Gellar, and they may not even be able to get Alyson Hannigan, but they still might try.

Personally, I'd watch a spin off that featured only Andrew and the cheese guy from the dream episode at the end of Season Four, if the writing was good. Also, and I know this is heretical, I would be willing to see major roles in Buffy played by totally different actors. If many many actors can play James Bond and Clarise Starling, why not Buffy Summers?

Update: While adding the Fray graphic novel to my Amazon wish list I encountered this rather complete list of the major Buffy products available.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I am trying to

resist the urge to blog on everything. Comments have been appearing on an old post about Kass and another in the comment thread vertical farming, issues I’d love to revisit. I got some interesting emails about the evolution of the female orgasm that I’d like to blog. I have a half written post about China’s efforts to lure western academics. I can’t do all these things.

So I’ll just provide a link Steve H sent. Tech Central Station is promoting oil from tar sands as an example of the magic ability of the market to turn not-oil into oil. They actually don’t have anything new to report, they simply write up Canada’s success at producing oil this way, and give numbers on the total amount of technically recoverable oil on from tar sands on earth. (They say it is enough for 400 years, which sounds right.)

What don’t they mention?

1. How high the price of oil has to stay for all of this tar sand oil to be economically recoverable. If oil prices have to stay high, then the peak oilers remain correct: the end of cheap oil is over.

2. The environmental cost of using tar sands, including the strip mining of the sands and the carbon released into the atmosphere.

3. The energy return on oil sands. Here is Stuart Staniford on the topic .
One measure of this is the EROEI - the energy return on energy invested - how much energy you have to put in to to extract and make usable a resource versus how much you get out. In the early years of conventional oil, EROEI was often over 50. These days it's probably in the low teens (10-12). EROEI on LQHCs [Low quality hydrocarbons, like tar sands] tends to be around 3.


I do not know what these factors imply. They may mean that the transition to oil from tar sands will be painful to the world’s economy and the environment. They may mean that tar sands can never be a major energy source. They may mean nothing. They are, however, the factors that were ignored by Tech Central Station.

Stuart Staniford at The Oil Drum has an analysis that looks more in depth. Maybe I’ll have time to read it some day.

I just had a think

I just had a think, and I think it was a good think. At the very least it was a thinky think. And since this blog is a thinking place, I think I will use it to think my thinky think.

Ok, so I'm rereading Cooper and James (2005) to prepare for class today, and I notice something I just blipped over before: in their discussion of the experience of nature in Buddhist sutras, they actually outline a very specific model of aesthetic appreciation. They don't just say "oh yes, there are plenty of descriptions in the sutras of people attaining enlightenment in natural settings." They note two facts: first, the sutras describe nature as a place where you can easily see "the impermanence and dukkha [suffering] that infuse the world"; second, the sutras describe nature as conductive to the virtues of tranquility, equanimity and self-restraint. This leads them to conclude that the experience of nature in the sutras is much like aesthetic experience in Kant and Schopenhauer, a detached and disinterested appreciation. They don't say this exactly, but it looks in particular like the Kantian experience of the sublime, because it involves a detached appreciation of stuff that is huge and terrible.

Ok, so there’s also this conversation in analytic aesthetics on the proper model for the aesthetic appreciation of nature which Cooper and James do not seem to be hip to. The two main disagreements in this conversation are about whether the aesthetic experience of nature should be detached (looking from the mountain top) or immersive (jumping in the mud puddle) and whether it should be cognitive (organized by scientific theories of nature) or noncognitive (merging with the ambience.) The Buddhist model C&J propose is clearly detached and noncognitive, which is an interesting combination. It also provides a nice antidote to people who assume that when you enjoy parks, you have to enjoy happy hoppy bunnies, and not nature red in tooth and claw.

Ok, so my think is actually quite small compared to the big thinking C&J have done. Really all my think does is link C&J to the analytic aesthetic conversation. But, you know, in my business, that right there is a journal article. What I should do is defend the C&J’s detached and noncognitive model to the analytic crowd using a few Buddhist premises. Basically, I can argue that all other forms of experiencing nature are suffering.

Ok, so the only reason why this wouldn’t go through is if someone has already introduced C&J and the analytic aesthetic crowd to each other. J of C&J has a new book out on the Zen experience of nature, so he may already be talking to the analysts, particularly Yuriko Saito. Ok, so I should investigate my thinky think.

Ok, so here's the bibliography:

Cooper, David Edward, and Simon P. James. 2005. Buddhism, virtue and environment, Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT.: Ashgate.