when the status quo frustrates.

Uh, yeah, thanks for thinking of me.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Way back during the presidential election frenzy, I signed up on the Maryland Democratic Party website and (I now regret) checked the box for “YES! Please keep spamming my e-mail long after the election is over send me important announcements from the MDP!”

Today’s offering (they send out at least one e-mail every other day) unfortunately caught my eye:

Women’s Histroy in the Making!

(sigh) Yes, let us celebrate the last day of Women’s History month…by showing we care so much that we leave a huge, honkin’ typo in the subject header of the e-mail we are sending out to the majority of all the registered Democrats in the state of Maryland.

My feelings of gender specialness are now complete.

Stop Bad-Mouthing Liberal Arts (Part 1: English)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

It is not uncommon for me to run across people who are of the belief that liberal art degrees of various types are worthless, or that they are not very difficult. A common punching bag tends to be sneers about “English majors”. This confuses me on one level, because these are the very same people that can’t grasp the distinction between “well” and “good”, and that only people who are grammar authoritarians care about such things but think that if someone remembers the Pythagorean Theorem*, they must be very smart. Yet, if you are the average American English-speaker, you will use the words “well” and “good” hundreds of thousands of times more than you will use the Pythagorean Theorem (if you ever use it outside of a math class at all. In my experience, I have used the PT exactly twice outside of school; both times for moving furniture**).

Now, to be perfectly clear, people should learn the math and that includes a formula that is very basic to geometry. For some people, learning this formula may be the spark that ends up a burning passion for mathematics. If one was looking for simple, self-containing, universal elegance one would be hard-pressed to find anything as perfect as mathematics. Under these conditions, a squared plus b squared will ALWAYS be c squared. What other discipline could boast something without exception? Even physics will require some exceptions; the laws of physics are based in ideal states that don’t happen in the “real” world. But mathematics is it’s own self-contained universe; it is perfect.

Yet, language is the equal to mathematics in beauty and importance, and in some cases, I feel it surpasses math in its necessity. Without understanding mathematics, you are flat-out not going to understand engineering, and the ability for a person (or a group of people) to produce to a skyscraper is functionally impossible. But, without language, how are you going to coordinate with everyone to make the sky-scraper at all?

Language is a symbol that we have created because we cannot peer into someone else’s mind and hear, see, and know what they are thinking. And since language is a symbol, it only functions if we all agree what that symbol means. “Well” is an adverb (with the exception of when it is used to describe health); it modifies a verb or an adjective. “Good” is an adjective; it modifies a noun (with the exception of when it is a noun). Without these distinctions, language becomes more ambiguous. If you say “Bryce is doing good”, a literal reading of this draws the question “A good what?”. If you say “Bryce is doing well” you know that “well” is modifying “doing”. Even “Bryce is well” means “Bryce is healthy”.

“So what?” asks Hypothetical, Doesn’t-care-about-English-person. “EVERYONE understands that ‘Bryce is doing good’ means the same as ‘Bryce is doing well’. You are making a distinction without merit.”

Not so, my hypothetical, hopefully-not-a-strawman friend. The distinctions between different kinds of words build up. It is true that the distinction between “well” and “good” will probably be a half-a-second misunderstanding. But what about other words? Hubby is fond of using the phrase “I’ll borrow it to you”. What he means is “I’ll lend it to you”. Again, someone may say this is without distinction. Okay, fine. Now think of a contract where we are lending money. Think about how much easier it is to have the words “borrower” and “lender”. Think about how confusing it is if you had “borrower” and “borrowee” would be***.

Then, think about when words start to be sacrificed for propaganda. Think about terms that used to be fairly benign, or even had pleasant connotations, which have now been have been co-opted by specific groups, so they no longer have the same meaning. How many people seem to think that “facist” or “communist” means “Generic phrase for someone who has different political opinions from me, so I think are bad”? How many people have heard (or been guilty of) using the words “racist” or “sexist” used as “generic word meaning bad”. This is because we don’t consider it important to be rigorous with our language.

Additionally, when we start sacrificing precision in language, we start sacrificing our ability to communicate complicated thoughts. George Orwells 1984 spoke to this; why have the word “bad” when you can just have “ungood”? Why have “great” when you can just have “plusgood”?

And I am firmly convinced that sloppiness with “meaningless” distinctions makes it easier to abuse the definition of more important words. In martial arts, you don’t let someone with a sloppy stance get a pass because they land punches. In basketball, if you toss by taking swinging your hands like a pendulum you don’t get to evade criticism because, hey, the ball still gets to the person your passing it to. So, why would ignoring the foundations of language be acceptable?

Language is a dynamic, fluid thing. I don’t expect (or endorse) laws to be passed mandating English to remain static, and indeed, that would lead to greater misunderstandings. But, language cannot just be noise. It has to mean something, and it has to be something we can all agree on. Communication is hard enough with out further handicapping ourselves. An English major is not a simpleton, or a loafer, but a person who wants to be a rigorous guardian of our communication medium. This should be a position of respect, not a position to be denigrated.

*For those of you wishing to avoid the 30 seconds of googling, but can’t grope back to your last relevant math class, the Pythagorean Theorem states: in a right triangle, where the hypotenuse is c and a and b consist of the remaining sides a^2 + b^2 = c^2. (Side not: the hypotenuse is the side opposite of the right angle.)

**If you ever want to know how much space you’ll need if you want to put a couch in the corner of the room, PT is your friend.

***I should know; I’ve had to read contracts where they put those words in instead of “lender” and “borrower”.

Teaching the Controversy

Monday, March 30th, 2009

“A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life.

Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms; creating or implanting embryos for experiments; creating human-animal hybrids; and buying, selling or patenting human embryos.

Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”

Former president George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 31, 2006

I’ve always liked that quote, especially the part about creating human-animal hybrids. I’ve been facilitating the mass production of human-animal hybrids since 2000–thousands of pounds of them at this point. But others are way ahead of me–the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, for example, has been pumping ‘em out at the commercial scale since I was in grade school. But I don’t think that former president Dubya really understood that when he made the above remarks. I don’t think he really understands what “human-animal hybrids” are. I suspect he meant he’d been reading too much science fiction and got really emotionally involved in one of those stories where innocent humans are force-fed wolf genes as part of a secret government plot to create super-soldiers. I figure Dubya has no problem suspending his disbelief when it comes to the idea of the government doing stuff behind its citizen’s backs in the name of national security. It seems likely that he’s absolutely unaware that all the insulin, for instance, that has been distributed in the United States since 2006 has been derived from human-animal hybrids, and was the majority of it for a long time before that.

The reason I’m contemplating this fairly old quote anew is the most recent installment via the Texas Board of Education of the ongoing drama that is the attempt to teach only science theories in science classrooms. People like Dubya really can’t cope with science at all. In the majority of cases, and certainly in his case, that’s because they haven’t taken a single science class since whatever general crap they were forced to sign up for in high school to obtain the absolute minimum number of science credits required in their state to graduate, or possibly they copped into one of those “Physics is Phun!” courses that fulfill similiar minimum science credit graduation requirements in college. (I am so not making up that course name, by the way.) But that’s not always or exclusively the case.

Back to Texas:

Dueling theories of how the universe was created got a split decision Friday night from the Texas Board of Education, which required examination of “all sides of scientific evidence” in new science standards, but rejected language requiring teachers to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories.

The debate pitted proponents of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution against supporters of religion-based theories of intelligent design, or creationism.

“Science loses. Texas loses, and the kids lose because of this,” board chairman Don McLeroy, a creationist, told the Dallas Morning News.

“A creationist.” Is that some kind of career, now..? A small bit of Googling reveals that Creationist McLeroy is actually Dr. McLeroy, a dentist, and got a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Texas A&M. Now, I don’t know what’s changed exactly in the past several decades since he attended college, but while electrical engineering degrees are not pure-sciences heavy, they do require a bit of college-level science courses, namely some freshman- and sophomore-level physics and chemistry. So we can’t really assume in his case a lack of real exposure to the knowledge that the world, not to mention the rest of the universe, isn’t made of magic and senseless acts of beauty. (Maybe that scared him off the electrical engineering track and onto dentistry, though–that’d make sense.)

But really, I can sort of empathize. The clear thread running through the anti-teaching-science-only-in-science-class camp is that knowing too much about the world and all the things in it from a science standpoint destroys the mystical and terrifying awe of what could possibly be the cause of rainbows, tsunamis and how a real live baby pops out of a woman’s body nine months after a man shoots some stuff from the pee hole in his penis that resembles nothing more than papier-mache glue into her vagina. The more you learn about how and why things work, first at the macroscopic level and then the microscopic level and even beyond, the less mysteriously gorgeous those little everyday miracles start to look. In other words, the less and less likely you are to believe the explanations and rationales for these things provided by the Holy Bible instead.

And in our public schools? Religion doesn’t get taught. Only, for example, biology gets taught. One might adopt the line of reasoning that, since public schools are required by law to remain silent about religion, then the only input that children receive on the subject is from their parents, whereas the school’s version of biology has no such monopoly–parents are free to instruct their children in biology as well as religion. However, the fact that the deck is already stacked in religion’s favor this way doesn’t sway these folks–they don’t want their children being taught biology in school at all if the answers that biology provides about the world around us disagree with the ones the Bible does. Since they usually can’t swing quite that, they strive to have the gaps and unsureties, no matter how major or minor, in scientific theories dwelt on and debated in the biology classroom. This, they say, is teaching the controversy.

You know, I’m willing to buy into this. Really, I am. I would absolutely go for this, if we get to do the same thing with Intelligent Design, which huge swathes of the folks of McLeroy’s ilk swear up and down isn’t religion and therefore, should not be a problem in public schools. I recommend we institute a mandatory new class for all high schoolers, that must be taken before they can graduate, and call it Evolution and Intelligent Design: Teaching the Controversy! The theory of evolution would be thoroughly explored, what it can explain as well as what it can’t…and the idea of an Intelligent Designer would also be explored, and what it can explain as well as what it can’t. The two course textbooks could be Of Pandas and People for the evolution controversy side, and The Blind Watchmaker for the intelligent design controversy si—

…yeah, like any of those people would ever let their kids anywhere near that book.

But if they’re willing to deal, I am. :D

I leave you with this thought from our beloved Onion: The Theory of Intelligent Falling

Moving Day

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Taking a quick break from descent into cardboard box madness. Now seems like as good a time as any to update my portion of the blogroll. In no particular order:

  1. Dear Leader seems to have taken a shining to us, and I’m happy to return the favor. Like the brilliant Louis Proyect, DL hits a pretty even split between interesting political analysis and teh awesome movie reviews.
  2. The Mahatma X Files is the blog of a Bokononist High Priest* and real-life social psychologist with a lot of interesting stuff to say. (And crap, maybe violent video games really do increase aggressive behavior.)
  3. Avedon Carol’s The Sideshow is a pretty famous blog, I gather, but I’ve only recently discovered it, and I think she rocks.
  4. I know that PunkAssBlog has put out our official position paper on libertarians, but occasionally you do find a libertarian who walks the walk as well as, you know, saying “Taxation is theft!” and all that. Radley Balko’s The Agitator is a very entertaining and eye-opening blog that takes the side of the real-life victims of state fascism on a daily basis.
  5. This Is So Gay is, don’t worry, actually written by someone who is, like, so gay. And smarter than me. In fact they’re probably all smarter than me, but The Promiscuous Reader is definitely smarter than me.
  6. When it comes to 9/11 conspiracy theorists, Winter Patriot is hands-down my favorite.
  7. Low-Tech Magazine is a non-Luddite rag with doubts about technology. They have lots of fun and fascinating articles, all of which pose variations on the question: “What if the most modern solution is not always the best solution?”
  8. And finally, Chris Clarke of Coyote Crossing used to be a regular around these parts, back when Titans trod the Earth. He’s ostensibly a nature writer/blogger– well, okay, he is a nature writer/blogger– but somehow, it’s quite common when I read him to end up having my mind taken in an entirely unexpected direction. Which, I suppose, is one of the reasons some people are so drawn to the great outdoors. Anyway, he’s an outstanding writer, highly recommended.

All right, who else should I be reading? (When I get back to having time to read, that is. Because, after all, this computer’s about to go in a box…)

UPDATE: Oh yeah– forgot to say, feel free to blogwhore away…

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*(Okay, the part about him being a High Priest is just foma.)

Why I Concern Troll About Being Pro-Choice****, by William Saletan

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

…er, okay, actually the article is called “Lady Parts,” by William Saletan. He doesn’t really talk about any lady parts in it, though, so I thought the above title was a far more accurate descriptor of his latest offering of emergency toilet paper (just hit “Print!”).

You know, that observation is worth pursuing a little. William Saletan, in this article about abortion, in vitro fertilization, pregnancy and surrogate motherhood, manages to discuss them all without once referring to a mature human female uterus. He does manage to refer seven times to a developing human embryo, though. What a surprise!

Clearly I (and Amanda*, and others) are not the only ones who have been steadily repulsed by Saletan’s concern trolling about abortion for, well, years now. Apparently, he has gotten a flood of inquiries on the subject!

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Best of SXSW 2009: Punkass MP3 Edition

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Work for trade — that’s how I got into South By Southwest this year. I shot a full day for them with my video type stuff and in return they gave me a badge. So, for the first time in a decade, it was fully on for me at SXSW.

drunk dude
No, that’s not me. But it kinda looks like me. Unfortunately.

Three things I took away from a week of hanging out with the cool kids from your town and mine:

1) Dance pop rules all.
As public acknowledgment of the developed world’s impending demise grows, one might predict the music scene would turn dour and coat itself in funereal flannel. Instead, it appears we’ll be bootyshaking our way down the 6-lane highway to hell.

2) Indifference is dead.
As a corollary to #1, bands seem to have eschewed ennui and affected boredom for pure enthusiasm. Everyone I saw (except possibly the Vivian Girls, who also wore flannel now that I think about it), was incredibly positive and gracious to the audience. I was thanked at least 9465 times last week for my attendance.

3) You need no official gear to have a blast at SXSW.
All you need to do is get here. There is so much free music, and free food+booze, it’s astounding. Nobody I know without a badge or wristband had any less of a glorious week than I did, though the ability to get into DEVO alone made it worth the ugly neck garb/lame status symbol of the badge. Anyway, point is, just come. It’s awesome.

I’d been feeling my mp3 collection getting stale lately, but the haze of 20+ shows in 4 days certainly cured that. In the interests of sharing, I thought I would present an mp3 sampling of the bands that blew me away. I hope a few of these rock your world, too. If any band wants their song taken down, just say the word…

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The Red River is Flooding (Again)

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I’m not sure if it’s news in the rest of the world, but up here in Podunkville, we are having an awful lot of rain, and spring melt. A little bit more than predicted, in fact. The river here in Grand Forks is supposed to crest at 50 feet. That’s not such a big deal, though, because our dike is 60 feet high. Yet, quite a few people are worrying about this, because the flood of 1997 (which I know made national news) is still fresh in nearly everyone’s mind.

A little more worrisome is Fargo, ND where the river is supposed to crest at 40 feet. This wouldn’t be so terrible bad, except for the little fact that they do not have a 60 foot dike. In fact, they barely have an river embankment at all.

This flood brings up three related, but distinct thoughts in my head.

First and foremost, North Dakota is run by a bunch of tight-fisted loons. Feminist blogs should of course remember the “an embryo is a baby” bill, and it was not too long ago that cohabitation was illegal. But, North Dakota tends to get a pass on a lot of things for two very important reasons: one, we’re in the middle of no where, with not a lot of people. Two, we are one of 5 states that our budget is clearly in the black (and without any funny accounting either). Of course, the only reason we are in the black is because, like I have said many times before North Dakota does not fund anything. This is thrown into sharp relief when projects like building a permanent, high dike at Fargo is decided to be not necessary, because hey, we just live in a huge, flat valley with a river that runs north and picks up all of the spring run-off from states south of us. Nothing to see here. I’m sure that it’ll never flood again. < /snark >

The second thought is the total lie that people of my generation do not care about our communities. The bulk of the volunteers who have decided to don rain gear and fill sandbags have been college students. Multiple bus trips from colleges all over the state have been shipping students to Fargo to sandbag. Classes at the Fargo NDSU campus have been canceled, and a good percentage of the students have decided to stay and help. My friends all went today; I’m signed up for tomorrow to go do my part. We care very much about our community, and we are willing to work to keep it in good shape. And no one can come in and say it’s because we are “good stock” here in the heartland. ND colleges boast students from all over the country and world. In fact, the buses are joint ventures from many student organizations, including Students for a Democratic Society, and the International center.

Finally, the last lie that I find really incongruous is the idea that women do not help out as much in an emergency. There are just as many women as men helping out; bagging sand, stacking sand, coordinating, cooking, and just basically making sure everything goes well.

I hope that Fargo doesn’t flood. I hope that the sandbagging is enough and that this can be a cautionary tale that does nothing more than remind the state legislature that we have certain geography and climate responsibilities that they have to take seriously. But, in the end, I will know that if Fargo doesn’t flood, it will because we came together as a community and worked to make it so. No one needed to force us to, no one needed to pay us to. And that fills me with more pride than any thing that has happened in the last eight years.

Before feminism, men hardly ever hit women, and on the rare occasions that they did, everybody was outraged by it and blamed the man.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Piggybacking off violet’s post.

It took a few readings, but I finally figured out that the above statement is the thesis of Kathryn Jean Lopez’s article “What Feminism Wrought.” I’m not sure if it took me so long to figure that out because of the incoherent, disjointed way the author was trying to get that central idea across or because that central idea is so impossible to seriously assign to any reasonably well-educated, literate person. However, I finally Got It.

On the off-chance that the above masterpiece of journalistic commentary is the very first article read by an alien that crash-landed on Earth five minutes earlier and is desperately trying to assimilate enough of our history and culture to “pass” as an Earthling while he scavenges parts to repair his flying saucer, I am providing the following:

(Actual, real historical and cultural information about the frequency of men hitting women in pre-feminist western European culture and how men hitting women was actually regarded by those contemporaries.)

Enjoy.

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Q: When is a democracy not a democracy?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

A: Let’s let the official Team Obama Unnamed Source explain.

The US and its European allies are preparing to plant a high-profile figure in the heart of the Kabul government in a direct challenge to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the Guardian has learned.

The creation of a new chief executive or prime ministerial role is aimed at bypassing Karzai. In a further dilution of his power, it is proposed that money be diverted from the Kabul government to the provinces. Many US and European officials have become disillusioned with the extent of the corruption and incompetence in the Karzai government, but most now believe there are no credible alternatives, and predict the Afghan president will win re-election in August.

…A diplomat with knowledge of the review said: “Karzai is not delivering. If we are going to support his government, it has to be run properly to ensure the levels of corruption decrease, not increase. The levels of corruption are frightening.”

Another diplomat said alternatives to Karzai had been explored and discarded: “No one could be sure that someone else would not turn out to be 10 times worse. It is not a great position.”

Well, I’m glad that the Obama administration at least gave serious consideration to regime change.

…Other recommendations include: increasing the number of Afghan troops from 65,000 to 230,000 as well as expanding the 80,000-strong police force; sending more US and European civilians to build up Afghanistan’s infrastructure; and increased aid to Pakistan as part of a policy of trying to persuade it to tackle al-Qaida and Taliban elements.

…The risk for the US is that the imposition of a technocrat alongside Karzai would be viewed as colonialism, even though that figure would be an Afghan.

Naw. That’d just be silliness! After all, the figure would be an Afghan!

Hey, anyone mind if I just go ahead and install Noam Chomsky as prime minister of the US? I mean, Obama is not delivering.

(Via.)

I have been a very bad boy.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I always start to blog when my deadlines get the crunchiest. Why do I do that to myself?

If I am a good boy, you will not see me again until April 14th, at the earliest.

In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite videos to tide you over. Fine product of the looniest of the lands I love.

Attack of the Drones

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I can remember a time when Obama was careful to say that the only condition under which he would conduct military ops in Pakistan without their consent would be if he had solid intelligence of Osama bin Laden’s location, and they were unwilling to do anything about it.

Then, literally two days into his presidency, he went and killed a bunch of Pakistanis, including three children. Presumably he knew where Osama’s cave was, and those damn towelheads wouldn’t do anything about it.

And presumably the five drone bombings since then were also gunning for Osama.

In fact, there’s quite a body count piling up of people who, if they were still able to make wishes, would wish that Obama would just frickin’ learn to aim, already.

Osama must be getting scared of living near the borders, because now Obama’s team is thinking about taking the fight into the interior.

Several administration and military officials stressed that they continued to prod the Pakistani military to take the lead in a more aggressive campaign to root out Taliban and Qaeda fighters who are attacking American forces in Afghanistan and increasingly destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Cuz, you know, this continued campaign of America bombing Pakistani territory is having absolutely no effect on Pakistan’s political stability. No sirree.

See, that was on Al Jazeera Qaeda network, so just take whatever they just said and believe the opposite. Because they hate us for our press freedoms.

Yes, thankfully, as a paladin among nations, our intentions are pure. The only possible reason we could have for mucking about in Balochistan would be to get Bin Laden.

…A solution to these problems can be found by creating an independent corridor to the Arabian Sea in Balochistan. This corridor, together with the occupation of Afghanistan, would also ensure US access to Central Asian crude oil, the raison d’etre of the so-called war on terror.

(These are not the drones you are looking for…)

To conclude, then, there are good reasons to believe that a US-Israel-India axis is in pursuit of a coordinated plan to balkanise militarily consequential Muslim states (next Pakistan, then Iran — the order reversed by Musharraf’s weak military policies); ‘secure’ Pakistan’s nuclear weapons; support Baloch irredentism not only to open a corridor both for logistic support of its troops in Afghanistan and for export of Central Asian crude oil, but also to weaken Iran and Pakistan in the long-term; coerce the Pakistan Army into a civil war (advocating suppression of the Taliban by force in Pakistan, while admitting the failure of exactly this policy in Afghanistan); and further consolidate its hold over civilian leadership by creating the kind of financial dependency that would allow it to control ‘democratic’ elections, and to annul their results if they were unfavourable (as Israel did with Hamas).

I have no idea what that was about. Or why WIIIAI would say: “By the way, when are people going to start describing our military activities in Pakistan as a war and maybe, I don’t know, discussing whether it’s a good idea?”

He just doesn’t get it. Obama is the peace president.

Feminism is to blame for this, of course.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

According to an article in the Boston Globe, an informal poll taken among 200 teenagers has revealed that almost half of them blame the pop star Rihanna for her recent beating, allegedly by her boyfriend, Chris Brown.

It’s just one survey. But it’s very bad news. And feminists are to blame.—Kathryn Jean Lopez, “What Feminism Wrought”, National Review Online

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