May 29, 2004

"the truth shall make you horribly depressed"

Over on Panda's Thumb, Matt Inlay asks, "What's the difference between hope and wishful thinking?" To the pessimist, the answer is, "What difference?"

I've just finished Errol Morris's outstanding meditation--or is it Robert McNamara's disturbing meditation?--The Fog of War, which, over at The New York Observer, Ron Rosenbaum calls "...a classic of informed, foundational, epistemological pessimism." (More on Morris's documentary later.)

Rosenbaum decries our supposed "progress," but hastens to add,
Pessimism, it should be noted, doesn’t mean not trying to stop genocides: pessimism means genocides are unlikely to stop. Pessimism doesn’t mean passive-ism or pacifism; it can mean the opposite. It can mean the kind of preventive intervention in genocidal situations that comes from expecting the worst, not hoping for the best. Pessimism at its best is watchful skepticism.

It reminds me of Popper's distinction between utopianism and "tinkering" improvement in The Open Society. The former fails because of its historicist (and non-empirical) optimism; the latter may succeed because of its unrelenting lack of faith in the inevitability of progress.

Rosenbaum closes his comments on pessimism by referring to the videotaped beheading of Nick Berg (which I choose not to link to), which he claims is evidence of the double-edged sword of "progress."

But in some ways, I think I’ve resisted watching the beheading because to watch would be to lose the last shreds of optimism left in this pessimist’s soul. Pessimists don’t like being pessimists. We don’t need any more evidence for our point of view. We’ve got enough reasons to curse the darkness to last a lifetime.

Okay, back to vacationeering. The sun's out--and I'm too cheery, and too optimistic, to think like a pessimist for now.

May 27, 2004

hasta pronto

So I'm off to see the brother graduate; gone for the weekend, all of it. Blogging'll be light, if it happens at all. Meanwhile, check out some other worthy websites:

panda's thumb


mere orthodoxy

You're on your own. Don't do anything your psychiatrist didn't prescribe.

May 26, 2004

vermiscripters beware

Over on Slate, Steven E. Landsburg applies a cost-benefit analysis to this prickly question: Should we execute the "worms who write worms?"

His answer, after a little (admittedly rough) mathematical jiggery-hoo, is an unequivocal "you betcha."

So, virus authors, worm writers, password stealers, and trojan inflicters, watch your back. Sheriff Landsburg's got a long lasso and a short temper.

keep digging, Watson

At Eminence High School in Morgan County, Indiana, they like their crap piled higher and deeper. Twelve students are suspected of dumping manure all over school grounds, enough that a front loader had to be brought in to carry it all away. From Morgan County's resident Sherlock Holmeses:

Eminence High School has a 40-member senior class. Because "2004" was painted on the grass and parking lot, officials believed they could narrow the field of suspects.

In the grand tradition of "punish everyone, not just the guilty," which is often modus operandi* for school administrators, the senior trip (to the Indianapolis Zoo) has been canceled.

This is hardly creative, or smart, punishment. As a teacher, I try as much as possible to discipline according to "natural consequences"--i.e., you clean up your own mess-- which in this case wasn't possible due to immediate health concerns.

My suggestion: don't cancel the trip to the zoo. Let all forty seniors go, and let the ten asses who trashed the place help clean up after Kubwa, Tombi, or any of the other elephants.

[hat tip to the obscure store]

*Whooee! More Latin!

May 25, 2004

mens pulchrum

My brother is graduating this weekend, and I'll be flying to Los Angeles to witness and celebrate. Somehow, amid all the madness of finals and projects, while maintaining a semblance of a social life, he manages to find time to blog, along with other like-minded "classically educated, conservatively oriented Christian guys" over at mere orthodoxy. Even when I disagree, I'm intrigued.

My only wish is that they'd find time to blog even more. Social life is overrated.

(And no, I don't speak, read, or write a word of Latin, beyond mea culpa, which I use all too often.)


Over at Reason, Jesse Walker revisits the sad tale of David Reimer, a tragedy of pseudoscience gone awry.

I first learned of intersexuality when the Discovery Channel ran Is it a Boy or a Girl?, a rare sort of documentary combining a sympathetic perspective, scientific analysis, and matter-of-fact presentation. Before then, I assumed that girls and boys came in distinct, pink or blue packages. (I should have known better; when I was a wee infant, despite my mother's attempts to dress me in blue, manly attire, women would often remark on what a pretty little girl I was.)

According to Susan Glen, the documentary doesn't say enough. In her view, the Discovery Channel, trying to present both sides, ends up with nothing truly profound to say.

It's as though the film recognizes the rights of intersexed people to tell their stories, but it won't go so far as to validate those stories by challenging medical spokespersons.

This might be because Is It a Boy or a Girl? is part of the Discovery Channel's series on health and alternative medicine, but it's a little like leaving a quarter for a tip -- more insulting than not leaving a tip at all. And so, while this film could present some radical and revolutionary ideas, it doesn't: it could suggest that some people are both male and female, or neither male nor female; that the binary gender system is flawed and counterproductive; that the idea of forcing gendered conformity is unhealthy, naive, and antediluvian; that intersexuality is perhaps a more refined, sophisticated set of genders.

As a naive, binary sort of thinker, I might never have known intersexuality existed if I hadn't seen the program. To use a different cliche: at times, half a loaf suffices, if only just so.

"I've been ready for this my whole life."

A while ago, I mentioned that I'm on our school district's RIF list, and am cautiously optimistic that I'll be hired back. Yesterday's school paper (and yes, I wish there was an online edition so I could link to it) carried a two-page article on the situation, wherein yours truly uttered a particularly dorky quote:

It all falls down to how long are teachers willing to sit around and wait [sic]. A better question might be, how long can they afford to?

"Just put me in, coach," said Anderson. "I don't want to ride the bench."

And thanks, Outlook, for making me sound like Rudy Ruettiger.

May 24, 2004

fear itself

Richard B. Hoppe, over on Panda's Thumb, argues that evangelical fundamentalists promote "equal time" for Intelligent Design out of fear:

Not fear for themselves — they are too strong in their faith to be corrupted by evolutionary science. It is fear for their children and in particular, fear for their children’s souls. There is a genuine belief that accepting an evolutionary view of biological phenomena is a giant step on the road to atheism, and in learning evolutionary theory their children are in peril of losing salvation. Given the beliefs they hold, this is not a silly fear. From their perspective, atheism is a deadly threat, and evolution is a door through which that threat can enter to corrupt one’s child. No amount of scientific research, no citations of scientific studies, no detailed criticism of the Wellsian trash science offered in “teach the controversy” proposals, speaks to those fears. If one genuinely fears that learning evolution will corrupt one’s children and damn them for eternity, scientific reasoning is wholly irrelevant.

I can attest to this from personal experience, not only from when I came out of the theological closet and announced agnosticism to nervous parents, but long before that.

When I was in high school, a creationist group approached the administration with the plan to hold lectures on Intelligent Design. I attended the heated school board meeting, in which, despite threats (real or imagined) of an ACLU lawsuit, it was decided that the presentations could be held on school property, but not during school hours. At the time, I was completely oblivious to the larger political, social, or educational issues--but it was clear, to my then-Christian mind, that this was a triumph.

So much for my personal, historical perspective.

I disagree that scientific reasoning is "wholly irrelevant"--otherwise, creationists* wouldn't labor so hard to obfuscate, misrepresent, and distort the facts, constantly appealing to science when it, out of context, is in agreement with their position. People look up to scientists and respect scientific pronouncements.

I agree that fear is a strong motivating factor. But there's another angle.

Simplified creationist presentations, in their gee-whiz fashion, constantly equate ignorance and wonder. They'll say, "We don't know how the woodpecker could possibly evolve--isn't it amazing? Your body is an assortment of trillions of irreducibly complex machines--aren't you special?"

Wonder, as I'm sure even most ID-touting theorists would agree, isn't the exclusive province of the baffled.

Ultimately, we are here. No matter how we got here, that's reason enough to be amazed.

*I might be accused of conflating different strands of creationism--but I'm referring specificially to those who use ID as a prop for Christian apologetics.

classical music is dead, part xvii

Kudos to the little sister, who made this older brother's chest swell with pride as she deftly handled Mendelssohn alongside a local symphony orchestra. Much like the other concerto competition winners, she far outshined that collection of gasbags, sawhounds, and thimblefingers. I exaggerate only slightly.

One of my fellow concert attendees, a woman I know and respect, remarked, "The county is so full of musical talent!" Which is true, to a point, since most of it leaves the county upon high school graduation.

May 22, 2004

pass me a barrel and a paper bag

Girlfriend, right now, is plodding through a stack of essays, stories, cartoons, and assorted literary tidbits from my high school days. What's mostly leading to her amusement makes me think of other things:

1. I had such neat handwriting!

2. I was a bad--no, atrocious--writer in high school, not because I couldn't parse a sentence or pick through a thesaurus, but because I didn't have any real sense of the language--no feel for verbs, no intimacy with nouns. I was all adjectives and adverbs.

3. My students, bless their hearts, will improve, long after their days in my class have drifted away from their memories like dandelion seeds a-blowin' in the wind.

Maybe I'll post some of my old poems. And whatever other humiliating things I can dredge up.

May 21, 2004

lobotomized weasels

A sharp caveat to English teachers everywhere--which, if you didn't know, includes me--from Crispin Sartwell. As a colleague of mine puts it, this is what happens when we value institutions over people:

In Indiana this year, the junior-year English essay will be graded by computer, and similar experiments have been tried in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Oregon. The SAT and the ACT are planning to test the new computer-grading software as well.

At least our beleaguered test, the WASL, is still graded by humanoids.

[brought to you by hit and run]

pour out a little wrath

This is bad, bad, bad. The alleged crime: a thirty-one-year-old gets a faceful of french-fry oil from his teenage girlfriend in a spat over a Bible verse.

One has to wonder which particular verse led to such a violent outburst. Could it have been Matthew 5:39?

[thanks to Jim Romenesko's obscure store]

but wait... there's more!

Just when you thought you'd seen everything, along comes The Final Theory, which claims to debunk relativity, quantum mechanics, gravitational theory, magnetic field theory, the Big Bang, dark energy, and just about every other concept in physics.

Had enough of warped space-time, dark matter, time dilation,
dark energy, quantum mysteries, etc? Free yourself from these misconceptions and finally understand the simple, common-sense universe that we inhabit. See the truth for yourself .. read the free first chapter of the new book, The Final Theory, and start to open your eyes to the proper understanding of our world.

I can envisage the red suspenders, the top button unbuttoned, the sleeves rolled up, the crappy British accent. Infomercial science, oh yeah.


Friday afternoons, Newscientist shows up in my mailbox. How did I ever live without the $51 annual subscription? Such insight, such droll humor, such British charm. Popular Science, eatcherheartout.

she blinded me with science

I decided to move this to a fresh posting, expanding on the original, because at 1800 words and counting, it was just getting too interesting to keep scrolling through comments.

First, let’s clarify what “science” doesn’t do.

“Science” does not define away intelligent causation—and neither does methodological naturalism; let’s not conflate concepts. MN ignores supernatural causation, a different beast entirely—insofar as intelligent and natural causes align, no problem.

There is disagreement among naturalists as to whether science depends on MN. Tom Clark argues that it doesn't—and that ID is bad science, no matter what its philosophical foundations. Most of the criticisms leveled at ID have little to do with philosophy, but with hypotheses, predictions, experiments, and the other nuts-and-bolts of the scientific method.

On the other hand, Steven Schafersman argues that MN is indispensable to science—but that science came before MN, and not the other way ‘round. He also carefully delineates the difference between MN and ON, and what the former doesn’t reduce to the latter, especially not in practical experience. (I’d quote him, but his site specifically asks not to.)

I’ll ask the rhetorical question: which has had more success in explaining the universe: the appeal to ignorance (we don’t know, but we will someday) or the appeal to divinity (God did it, I believe it, that settles it?) Should we return to the Scholastic perspective—that we already know everything there is to know, and our job is to categorize and record it? Or do we take the more honest epistemological position, that we don’t know, but we’ve expanded our knowledge vastly, even in the last half-century, so let’s keep trying?

ID proponents have the same optimism about their own research program—five years, let the federal largesse roll in, and let’s see what happens—but the question, obviously, is which optimism is best supported by the evidence.

(As for Dembski’s misuse of the NFL theorems, this summary, by Mark Perakh, mentions that the most stringent (and unrefuted) criticism comes from David Wolpert, a co-originator of those very theorems.)

I'm interested in this contention (again, from the comments on the last post):

However, the arguments for irreducible complexity and specified complexity don't depend on any one gap--rather, they just argue that no matter how much we know, there is a necessary explanatory gap. God might not be the direct cause of the complexity, but at some point the complexity can only be explained on a theistic hypothesis.

If God is not the "direct cause," then who or what is, and what does that really mean? Wouldn't that be a deistic, not a theistic, hypothesis?

It is possible, I grant, that MN advocates are keeping ID out of science because of prejudice. But with Behe’s and Dembski’s track record of distortion and misrepresentation of other scientists’ work, and with their own discredited arguments, it is more probable that what they are practicing is merely bad science. It fails not on a philosophical, but on a practical level. It just doesn’t work. ID as a position may be tenable, but that hasn’t been shown yet.

As a side note, I'm reading some articles by Wells and Dembski over at ISCID, and will have comments up soon.

[Update: fixed broken links. Apparently, pasting from Microsoft Word doesn't work, because blogger doesn't recognize slanty quote marks. *sigh.*]

May 20, 2004

none dare call it conspiracy

Over on Panda's Thumb, John M. Lynch delves into the process of publishing in an ID journal, and finds it lacking. As Lynch notes:

Indeed, equally as noticable [sic] is that the papers published offer no new biological data or experiments. Frankly, even if the peer-reviewing process is stringent, no attempt is being made to provide and test explicit design hypotheses within the biological realm.

More on this in the future.

physics is even stranger than that

Brukner, Taylor, Cheung and Vedral, of London's Imperial College, mathematically demonstrate that quantum entanglement in time is possibly just as real as entanglement in space. They even posit that while quantum nonlocality is "monogamous"--i.e., one particle in space is entangled only with one other particle--temporal entanglement can be "polygamous." In their words:

...two maximally entangled events can still be maximally entangled to two other events in time.... [I]t may be an indication that we need a deeper theory... [I]t appears that the next step should lie in exploring the consequences of combining entanglement in space and time in order to study how they relate to each other.

Apparently, one possible practical application would be to use temporal entanglement to boost the efficiency of RAM. Weird, weird, weird.

(This is also a shout-out to, a free resource from Cornell University wherein you can examine hundreds of papers from many major scientific fields. Check it out.)

[Adobe Acrobat Reader required]

May 19, 2004

lighten up already

Tim Kurkjian sends us to baseball's funny farm. My favorite quote, a la Earl Weaver:
Many years ago, one of Weaver's outfielders, Pat Kelly, decided that he was going to begin studying for the ministry and stated to Weaver, "Earl, I'm going to walk with the Lord." To which, Weaver said, "I'd rather you walked with the bases loaded."

physics is strange, when you're a stranger

From Newscientist, a report that "dark energy," the mysterious repulsive force that is accelerating the expansion of the universe, has "once and for all" been confirmed as real.
But what actually is dark energy? The new measurements are consistent with a kind of dark energy that is not changing very much with time. That could be an energy inherent to empty space, Einstein's "cosmological constant".

But the constraints are not tight, leaving numerous alternatives. These include a kind of weakening dark energy field called quintessence. Another option is a kind of energy that is getting more intense, which could eventually become so powerful that it tears everything apart, even atoms.
To the non-physicist layperson (which means "me"), it's phrases like "the energy inherent in empty space" that boggle the mind. How can something empty also contain energy? And don't get me started on quantum entanglement--I've been listening to Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos and it's still tough to wrap my literalist brain around what Einstein himself didn't want to believe.

Now, if physicists could only figure out what causes the accelerating expansion of the American waistline.

May 18, 2004

now that's dedication

Teachers, one routinely hears, go the extra-extra mile, putting up with low pay, bratty kids, unsympathetic parents, lousy administrators, faulty air conditioners, broken desks, blah blah blah. Yes, we're heroes, walking high above the world in golden boots.

But this takes the cake, slices it, and serves it on a silver platter.
Police say Seaman then returned to the rambling Tudor in the Ramblewood subdivision. She walked into the kitchen and slammed the ax into her husband's head.

Then she dragged her husband's body a short distance into the attached garage and began stabbing him with a knife and smashing him with a sledgehammer, police said.

The next day, Seaman taught her fourth-grade class, and then stopped at Home Depot a second time for cleaning materials to wipe up the mess, police said.
Because it's all about the children.

[thanks to the ever-entertaining obscure store]

da shizzolator

From the twisted genius mind of Snoop Doggy Dogg comes the Shizzolator, which translates any given site into Snoop-ese. Hilarious results, usually. I'd suggest typing in, and reading PZ Myer's (as always) interesting post on the evolution of molecular networks. Now it makes sense.

P.S. A thousand plus one apologies, PZ. Love your blog.

May 17, 2004

a little light reading

In the grand tradition of "Inherit the Wind" comes The Rule, a fictional dramatization of a pro-ID high school biology teacher who is accused of "treason" and "blasphemy" against science, by the "blunt... but crafty" Dr. Trent, an anthropologist. (The use of those words alone was enough to send this reader into spasms of laughter.)

There's little need to debunk the assertions--they're the standard ID arguments dressed up in purple prose--but the good-versus-evil religious motif is fairly strong. As the stage directions put it,

The arrangement should have the effect of visibly wedging Nate Plummer between the two forces (Trent and the ACLU) that are bent on his destruction.

And yet the whole point of the play is to prove that ID isn't about religion. Irony, anyone?

[Adobe Acrobat Reader required]

May 16, 2004

score one for the nanny state

Seattle, the town--er, city--that voted to move cannabis lower on the police priority list, has gone off in the other direction: now cops will start targeting non-helmet-wearing bicyclists, giving them warnings (before June 15) or a $30 fine (after June 15).

Other than the obvious fact that it takes police resources away from more dangerous and salient concerns, there simply isn't a good reason to have the law in the first place. Parents, not Ma State, ought to be the ones getting their tykes to "helmet up."
Health officials say only 60 percent of kids in the county are wearing bike helmets. By the time they become teens, only 30 percent are using them.
If the system were set up so that unhelmeted bike riders had to forgo insurance and legal protection, that might actually be a strong disincentive to go helmetless.

Heck, even a fine with some bite--$100 or more--would actually make the extra police effort financially, if not philosophically, attractive.

the crows seem to be calling my name...

Do crows have minds?

(Let's not unpack all the philosophical baggage such a question comes loaded with, but assume, for a moment, that we can all agree on what a "mind" is; or, to be more precise, does. A "theory of mind" is an essential component--an unthinking automaton, a computer, wouldn't "recognize" other "minds" as similar to or different from its own cognitive processes. Blatant deception arises from this possibility; I can't effectively trick you without knowing how you think.)

Thomas Bugnyar and Bernd Heinrich say, tentatively, "Yes."
But then something unexpected happened. Hugin, the subordinate, tried a new strategy. As soon as Munin bullied him, he headed over to a set of empty containers, prised the lids off them enthusiastically, and pretended to eat. Munin followed, whereupon Hugin returned to the loaded containers and ate his fill.

At first Dr Bugnyar could not believe what he was seeing. He was anxious about sharing his observation, for fear that no one would believe him. But Hugin, he is convinced, was clearly misleading Munin.

As it happened, Munin was no dummy either. He soon grew wise to the tactic, and would not be led astray. He even stooped to trying to find the food rewards on his own! This made Hugin furious. “He got very angry”, says Dr Bugnyar, “and started throwing things around.” Perhaps ravens have something else in common with people—a hatred of being found out.
It's a credit to humans' basic anthropocentrism that this--the idea that other animals might be as wily, deceptive, and crafty as we are--comes as a surprise.

Oh, and anyone who gets the title: I salute you, SNL nerd.

[thanks to arts and letters daily]

a very Payton update

Gary Payton, who was the subject of concern a week ago, has climbed back on top, thanks to a surprise Laker drubbing of the hapless Spurs. Could this finally be time for The Glove's first champeenship ring?

trash = treasure

Numerous others have written on the phenomenon of "garage sailing," the weekend pastime of roving from house to house in search of elusive bargains, kitschy collectibles, and scads of decorabilia. Girlfriend and I traipsed across town this very Saturday, and encountered some depressing scenarios:

1. The estate sale chock-full of bad art, including yellowed Japanese prints, clowns on Prozac, and decorative swords.

2. The move-92-year-old-grandma-out-of-the-house sale, with enough meaningless knickknacks to fill a Goodwill store.

3. The "HUGE neighborhood sale, bargains to the right and left" that came with a map.

4. The line at Goodwill, where leftover garage sale merchandise miraculously transformed into tax deductions.

As a francophile might say, "C'est la vie." All in all, this sailor snatched up a copy of Bill Cosby's Fatherhood and Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities for a cool four bits. What this says about American society, or my own personal idiosyncracies, I leave to you, gentle reader.

May 15, 2004


Woohoo! Type in "decorabilia" on Google (all hail!), and the first site that pops up: mine. What does this portend? Dunno, since no one's going to type in "decorabilia" in the first place. But it's a nice ego boost. (Besides, I can use all the ego boosting I can get, having such low, low self esteem.)*

*Don't ask my girlfriend.

May 14, 2004

teach students to empower themselves...

... and they'll do it.

Our school district is in a 3.2 million dollar black hole, so they're considering axing teachers. I just got a RIF notice; my English teaching position is on the line, since I'm very near the bottom on the seniority list. I'm cautiously optimistic--this sort of thing happens all the time in the world of education--but keeping my options open. But I don't want to lose my job. I love my students, and some of them can tolerate me.

When I told my debate class about the situation, some of them were apoplectic, and began hatching schemes to "Save Mr. A." Today, several of them, dressed in suits and ties, marched down to the principal's office to read a resolution calling for my reinstatement. I don't know how it turned out, but I'm proud of them--proud that they, of their own accord, decided to take action. This--this is why I love to teach.

Thanks, guys. You've made my year.

May 12, 2004

jHon kerrY 4 Pressident

Just got a letter from John Kerry for President, Inc., written in a folksy style (ostensibly) by Mr. Kerry himself. It boasts some real beauties of mangled syntax and mixed metaphor, which as an English teacher, I'm all too happy to skewer. The best, shiniest flops:

We know how much hardship George W. Bush's trail of broken promises has left in its wake...

Ships leave wakes. Trails, as inanimate objects, don't really "do" things.

Everywhere I go, one finds levels of energy and enthusiasm...

Why not the less awkward, even more-folksy-sounding "Everywhere I go, I find..."?

George W. Bush works round the clock to protect and defend tax breaks...

G.W. hasn't worked "round the clock," er, around the clock, for any reason, having spent approximately 40% of his time away from the Oval Office.

*sigh* What choice, really, do you have? Hold your grammatical nose and vote for John Kerry.

thanks, picky females

We (by "we," I mean "handsome males") have picky females to thank for the refinement of our features.
By analysing the shapes and sizes of facial features in chimps, gorillas and other primates, researchers in Germany and the University of Cambridge, UK, found evidence suggesting that our ancestors may have gradually sacrificed fighting for wooing.

"Our research suggests that in early humans, a face that was attractive as opposed to aggressive conferred an advantage," says Eleanor Weston at the Research Institute Senckenberg in Frankfurt, a member of the team.
Now, imagine the standard creationist complaint: so why are there still ugly men around?

May 11, 2004

WASL woes

Our fair state will soon require all students to pass a standardized test in reading, writing, mathematics, and science. Trial runs have shown that impoverished, non-white, ESL* students consistently underperform, and risk failing. (This should be obvious to anyone who has critically examined American public education.)

So, how do we fix the problem?
A blue-ribbon panel voted unanimously yesterday to lower the passing bar in reading and math for the fourth- and seventh-grade exam, and in reading on the 10th-grade test....

The panel, the Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission, followed all the recommendations made in March by committees, largely made up of educators, that reviewed the WASL passing scores for the first time since the exam debuted in 1997.

This will lead to all sorts of hoo-ha, especially from conservatives lamenting the "demise of standards." Some critical thoughts, though:

1. The bar may actually have been set too high. Standards of this type, when criterion-referenced rather than norm-referenced, are somewhat arbitrary. Resetting the standards after six years of practice-testing seems reasonable.

2. Six years is too long to wait to make this sort of determination.

3. The scores, as related to socioeconomic class, may be an artefact of the system that bases a massive amount of school funding on property taxes (levies, bonds, etc.) Rich school districts do well on the WASL, as a quick glance at the scores will show.

4. The WASL's original intent was to measure school, not individual student, outcomes.

5. The test has never been consistently given--i.e., the same schedule across schools, etc., so statistical comparisons are dubious.

At any rate, I'm waiting for the ballyhoo to begin.

*English as a Second Language


Kudos, Jacob Weisberg, for cataloging and commenting on each and every one of George W's malapropisms. Your Bushisms will far outlive (and have far outstripped) the man. Today's dose:
"[B]y the way, we rank 10th amongst the industrialized world in broadband technology and its availability. That's not good enough for America. Tenth is 10 spots too low as far as I'm concerned."—Minneapolis, Minn., April 26, 2004

We'll get there, George. 0th place is well within reach.

May 10, 2004

new look

Not that anyone ever uses them, but comments are now available through blogger, instead of off-site. A minor change, but much, much easier. Thank you,

May 9, 2004

alas, poor Payton

...I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest. No? No. In fact, the man hardly smiled while tearing up the court for the Seattle Supersonics. (They're just the "Sonics" these days, and how.)

Buried in Percy Allen's lament for the decline and fall of the trash-talkin', lip-tossin', hard-courtin' point guard known to the faithful as GP, is this gem:
Los Angeles does this to people. For years, folks have rushed to California in search of gold, real estate or fame. They go there to chase their dreams and, after a short time, they leave disillusioned and disappointed.
Thank goodness for Arnold Schwarzenegger that the state capital is Sacramento.

May 8, 2004

crack kills

Lawmakers generally tread lightly with the word "evil;" that is, unless they're a certain president of note. But in Louisiana, what law (in the works) could have a politico saying this?

Speaking in favor of the bill was Orleans Parish School Board member Elliott Willard, who testified that Shepherd's bill would "correct an evil that may get out of hand."

What evil could it be? Drugs? State-sponsored terrorism? Child pornography?


[thanks to obscure store]

more michael

I've always loved his ironic, folksy documentary style, even though his version of the truth is often a little skewed. But his latest hijinks prove once and for all that, creative talent be damned, Michael Moore is a weasel.

May 6, 2004

sick puppy

Woke up twenty times last night, thanks to a fever that left me drenched in sweat. Silly me, I've decided to go on with teaching. But it reminds me of Shakespeare. And Shakespeare's much more fun back-translated...

Sonnet 147
My love is as fever and still longs for that,
that longer nurseth the illness;
On that that draw in doth canned goods the patient,
the uncertain appetite to please.
My reason, which physician annoyed
Hath, which is to my love, that its regulations are not held,
I left, and I, which are hopeless now,
approve, wish its death, which, medicine expected.
Behind healing I am, conclude am wild furious behind
and now with always restlessness;
My thoughts and my statement as madmen's are coincidental,
from the truth vainly express'd;
For me thee swore honestly, and who thought bright thee,
that the art as black as hell, as darkly as night.

Or read the original here.

May 5, 2004


This editorial is shivering some timbers. O'Neill makes some strong accusations, but his main thrust is that
...John Kerry slandered America's military by inventing or repeating grossly exaggerated claims of atrocities and war crimes in order to advance his own political career as an antiwar activist. His misrepresentations played a significant role in creating the negative and false image of Vietnam vets that has persisted for over three decades....

Vietnam was a long time ago. Why does it matter today? Since the days of the Roman Empire, the concept of military loyalty up and down the chain of command has been indispensable. The commander's loyalty to the troops is the price a commander pays for the loyalty of the troops in return. How can a man be commander in chief who for over 30 years has accused his "Band of Brothers," as well as himself, of being war criminals? On a practical basis, John Kerry's breach of loyalty is a prescription of disaster for our armed forces.
These are damning words, and O'Neill states his case eloquently. But does it make Kerry unfit for military leadership, especially in the role of Commander in Chief, which, these days, seems to involve hanging out at the ranch or landing on aircraft carriers while your subordinates hash and carry out plans? If he's really not shilling for the Republican Party, O'Neill should level his guns at Bush, and then tell us who really ought to be president.


Vaccination stands as perhaps the greatest achievement in medical history. Yet the risks, albeit small, of injury or death, lead to irrational protest and refusal, often on religious grounds. William John Hoyt, Jr., tackles the illogic that has brought about the resurgence of pertussis (or "whooping cough") in the developed world. [Thanks to arts and letters daily.]

Are your vaccinations up-to-date?

May 4, 2004

a belated "thank you"

PZ Myer's recent rant about freshman biology papers brought back a slew of memories. 'Way back in 1997, during the spring semester in Amiel Jarstfer's Bio 101 course, I had to write a paper on Visualization of Gene Expression in Living Adult Drosophila, Manuel Calleja,
Eduardo Moreno, Soraya Pelaz, and Ginés Morata, Science, 274: 252-255
. I was a confused English major, and was so desperate that I emailed the last author, Morata, explaining my plight.

He, quite graciously, wrote back, and summarized his work in a paragraph. Thanks to his input, and to my general ability to BS, I copped a B+.

This is a huge "gracias" to Ginés, and to all science teachers the world over.

Oh, and a couple things: my biology prof was mystified by the fact that I was earning the top grade in his class, but not majoring in biology. He also probably wondered why I didn't just take Life Science, bio for the liberal arts set. I could say that I took the high road, but the truth is I didn't know there was an easy way. D'oh.

appreciation, anyone?

Yes, it's Teacher Appreciation Week, and today is National Teacher Day. The National Education Association (and yes, I'm a member) notes that male teachers are a disappearing species. To change metaphors, I'm doing all I can to stanch the bleeding.

shocking, just shocking

Over on slate, Seth Stevenson laments the fact that KFC now stands for "Kitchen Fresh Chicken." But then, sometimes a name change isn't just necessary, but drop-jaw obviously so. Want to buy a circuit tester from the Fluke Corporation? I didn't think so.

May 3, 2004

media shmiteracy, redux

The ABCNEWS headline:

Speaking of Spanking
Spanking May Lead to Behavioral Problems Later

The bold claim:
...researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have discovered that children who are spanked before the age of 2 are more likely to have behavioral problems years later when they enter grade school.
But might there be mitigating factors? Let's read on:
The white mothers who spanked their toddlers also had lower annual incomes, less education and were more likely to suffer from depression.
Which leads up to the grand conclusion, buried at the end (and on the second page, nonetheless):
"Parents need to understand nothing in this study indicates spanking is bad for their child, or that spanking per se is a causal factor for behavioral problems later," advises Slade.
But that won't make a catchy headline, will it?

Marx: wrong again

Oregon inmates can now enjoy flat-screen television in their cells, as a reward for good behavior (and bought with hard-earned prison cash).
"It's cut down on the number of inmates that come out in the evening to watch TV," said Julian Ruiz, a corrections officer who operates electronic door locks and monitors a cell block. "The more people you get down here in the evening, the more problems."

In the common TV room, each cell with two inmates is given a night to choose what to watch, and the honor rotates in strict order, Ruiz said. Prison staff intercede only to ensure major television events are shown, such as the Super Bowl, the NCAA basketball championships and the World Series. There is little interest in presidential addresses or other news, Ruiz said.

"If you ask, 'who wants to watch Bill Moyers?' one hand goes up, maybe. You ask about football, 100 hands go up," he said.
The last line sums up the triumph of western civilization. Seriously.

virgin virgin virgin virgin virgin

Repeating it five times makes it true. Three would work as well. For some reason, repetition works best in odd numbers. Try it.

The source: mcsweeney's, a great literary journal on the web. The "Open Letter" segment, in particular, is worth a gander.

tower of babelfish

e.e. cummings is fun enough in English... but what happens when backtranslated to/from Portuguese?


anyone lived in a pretty how town
with up so floating many bells down
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

hipper, fresher remix:

any one lived in a pretty one as the city
with ascendant thus floating many bells jumps for low
winter where of the autumn of the summer
didn't sang its danced his

Sorry, e.e.

why we teach

Other than "duh," which any true teacher would say (okay, maybe not so bluntly, but the sentiment would be there), the answer is: because students are great. One of mine just reported that he won a local speech competition for Law Day by arguing that gay marriage isn't just about morals and nuptials, but about the protection offered by divorce proceedings. (The discussion it provoked in class when he practiced it last Friday gave hope that critical thinking still can be found in American public education.) Congratulations, A----, you've made me proud.

May 2, 2004

more banality

[courtesy of the obscure store]

From the Suburban Chicago Daily Herald comes the story of a hospital that saw thirteen female babies delivered in a span of thirteen hours. This is the sort of miraculous phenomenon that makes newspaper editors drool and statisticians shrug.
Obstetrician Randy Kahan, who practices with WomanCare in Arlington Heights, just scratched his head. He delivered seven of the girls Tuesday and then on Wednesday delivered four more, including a set of twins. "When you're in a streak like that, it's fun and exciting," Kahan said.
Well, maybe for the obstetrician.

not that Leftists are particularly bright...

at the same rally:
Morningstar McKay, 31, came from Everett with her husband and daughter to join the pro-gay rights protests.

"It just makes me really sad because it's really come down to a separation between church and state," she said. "If you fall in love with somebody you should be able to marry them no matter the circumstances."
"No matter what the cirumstances," eh? That's all Rick Santorum needs to hear. Next we'll have men marrying their dogs, children eloping with their parents, or naked mole rats running for Congress.

the hedonists have already won

At the anti-gay-marriage rally:
"This is a place where we're taking a stand," James Dobson, founder of the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family, told the crowd. "If this (gay marriage) happens, the culture war is over and everything associated with it is lost."
Nice to know that the end is finally in sight. Adios, bigotry. Sayonara, narrow-mindedness. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, prudery. Long live the prurient Left. (The root word means "to itch." Ouch.)

Bittman is right

From the AP, courtesy of ABCNews:

...The proportion of respondents who said a supermarket was their primary food store fell by 5 percentage points since a year earlier, to 72 percent. The share of shoppers who considered a discount store their first choice rose by 4 percentage points, to 21 percent....

More shoppers said they were comparison shopping, looking in newspapers for sales,using coupons and rebates, stocking up on bargains even if they don't need the items right away, and buying only what was on their grocery lists. More shoppers also were keeping grocery lists, the survey found.

For all that work, however, the average grocery bills that the survey respondents reported showed little change. The average weekly bill fell $1, to $90, from January of 2003.

Working against the desire to save money was the desire to save time, something else that modern America has all too little of. The survey showed an increase in purchases of precooked foods, which cost more than the ingredients for from-scratch meals.
Silly Americans. Clipping coupons, shopping at Grocery Outlet (which is what I assume the article means by "discount stores," which otherwise goes undefined), but buying more pre-made meals, and hence losing the potential savings to Michelina's and Healthy Choice. Never mind that the article makes no mention of the obvious "duh" point: that if all costs are rising, even if Americans get smart and clip coupons, their bills won't go down considerably. Prepackaging isn't entirely to blame.

This book shows the way to culinary--and fiscal--salvation.