Nov 30, 2005

reasons to love teaching

1. A few weeks ago I spoke with a student whose friend had recently passed away. She came to ask if the eulogy she had started working on was good enough--we'd been learning different rhetorical devices, and I had mentioned that I had used them to craft something beautiful in memory of my grandfather. She had two paragraphs done, and her last words were "We had so many good times together." That's where you have to go next, I said. Tell the stories of the good times. She came back the next week to thank me, tell me how it went, how all her friends and family had been moved by what she said. Such moments are humbling.

2. Yesterday I read "We drove in snow tonight" to my ninth grade classes. When finished, I thanked them for the privilege of knowing them. Some applauded. Some cried.

3. Last night I printed out five letters of recommendation.

4. Today I gave a second opinion to a student whose college application essay needed surgery. Too much talking about the lesson, not enough of the story that is the lesson, I cajoled. He'd be in the operating room all night, he responded. I smiled.


[forty-sixth in a series]

divining design: part III

In two previous entries, I gave evidence that ID proponents contradict themselves by conflating cosmological and biological design. I thought my reasoning was solid and my inferences sound, but I could have saved much time if I'd known of this Dembski quote, as cited by Ed Brayton:
"The fine-tuning of the universe, about which cosmologists make such a to-do, is both complex and specified and readily yields design. So too, Michael Behe's irreducibly complex biochemical systems readily yield design. The complexity-specification criterion demonstrates that design pervades cosmology and biology. Moreover, it is a transcendent design, not reducible to the physical world. Indeed, no intelligent agent who is strictly physical could have presided over the origin of the universe or the origin of life."

hunker down

It's finals week. (We're one of six or seven schools in the state running on trimesters, and word is that won't last beyond this year.) I'm buried under piles of book reviews, journals, and presentations, but I'll try to come up for air at some point, blog a little, keep myself sane.

Nov 28, 2005

we drove in snow tonight

We drove in snow tonight. The wipers batted feebly at snowflakes glowing in halogen beams. I hunched over the wheel, staring at diminishing ruts in the slush, distracted by sopping whiteness that kept coming and coming and drawing my gaze from the road, nursing the accelerator, trying to stay ahead of approaching headlights and behind nearing taillights. Branches laden with early snow jutted out of the darkness. My wife sang along with the CD over the noise of the road and the sound of splashing tires.

This morning, fifteen minutes before the first bell, the staff met in the library to hear bad news. Usually I stand on the margin unaffected, unaware of the loss, but not this morning. This morning they said Brittany's name. Car accident, life support, brain dead, words that swirled in a snowy blur, dazzling, blinding.

In my memory: a persistent smile. A wicked grin, sometimes. A hello in the hall, a chat every week or so. Laughing about last year's class. Trying to predict the future. Fidgeting, shaky confidence, typical for a junior. Slight hesitation. Looking for approval. Tossing out big plans of school overseas, community college first, though. Running Start. Maybe soon, maybe later.

What should I do, Mr. Anderson? Don't wait, Brittany--sign up now. You never know how life could change, what'll happen in days or months. Yeah, she says, unsure but sympathetic. I dunno. A goofy grin. Take your chance while you've got it. Circumstances change. You'll change. You never know.

I said that. A day before the crash, I said that.

We drive in snow, searching the darkness for the road ahead, looking for the friendly glow of taillights, spurred on by the headlights behind us. We take our chances, we guess, we stray. We smile and press on until our moment comes and the snow and the darkness swallow us up and we are but shadows of ourselves in the memories of those who drive in snow.

Nov 27, 2005

post hoc ergo propter hoc

It's about 5:00. I've been shivering in a sixty-degree classroom, grading papers (well, trying to grade papers) as the Seahawks battle the Giants in overtime. Every time Feely misses a field goal, the Hawks choke on offense and give him another chance--but not a good chance, because the defense miraculously holds, even when Tiki Barber appears to have busted a big one.

But I can't take it--I'm hungry, I'm cold, I need to go home. I gather up my gear and run out the door. In the time it takes to get from my classroom to the car, Feely has missed his third consecutive attempt, and the Hawks finally put together a drive and win it on the strength of Josh Brown's leg.

I should have left much, much earlier.

dubious meets credulous

His nom de guerre was Curveball, but it could have been Nutball.
Curveball's German handlers for the past six years said his information was often vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm. "This was not substantial evidence," a senior German intelligence official said. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said."

The German authorities, speaking about the case for the first time, also said that their informant had emotional and mental problems. "He is not a ... psychologically stable guy," said a BND official who supervised the case. "He is not a completely normal person," a BND analyst agreed.
Perhaps it's time Bush pulled a Monty Burns. "Ooh, the Germans are mad at me. I'm so scared! Oooh, the Germans!"

Oly picante

I've just added OlyBlog to the roll. Highlight: a recent trivia series revealing strange Evergreen facts and factoids.

genuine, bona fide, electrified

The monorail is pushing 44. Time for early retirement.

Nov 26, 2005

for those who like lists

I'm no numerologist, but a seven-by-seven meme is just too righteous. So, perversely, I'm going to make it six-by-six. You'll see why at the end.

Oh, and thank Mark, and a turkey-based stomachache, for what follows.

Six things to do before I die
1. Run for office.
2. Climb Mount Rainier. (Maybe right before I die, if the weather goes sour.)
3. Write a novel. I have some ideas, but no words, yet.
4. Really learn Spanish and go back to Mexico, maybe even retire there.
5. In my acceptance speech for Disney's Teacher of the Year award, lambaste the corporation for everything they've done except purchasing ESPN. That was a smart move.
6. Break this blogging habit.


Six things I cannot do
1. Swim. I am a drowner. I am also lazy, and what are life jackets for, anyway?
2. Crochet.
3. Diagnose a car problem by listening.
4. Ice-skate backward.
5. Snowboard.
6. Telekinetically move stuff. I would if I could.


Six things that attract me to my wife Melissa
1. Her mind, which is simultaneously inscrutable and comprehensible.
2. Her elbows. They are small, pointy, and cute.
3. Her eyes, which, in combination with #4, storm my heart like a Mongol horde.
4. Her smile.
5. Her laughter. I covet it.
6. Other things too poetic to mention.


Six things I say most often
1. If you're not finished writing, that's okay... (when journal time is done)
2. Any questions?
3. Am I making sense?
4. I love you. / I love you, too.
5. Please take us off your call list. Thanks.
6. Good morning! / Good afternoon!


Six books I love
1. The Dream of Scipio, Iain Pears
2. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks
3. Awakenings, Oliver Sacks
4. Forty Stories, Donald Barthelme
5. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
6. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Six movies I watch over and over again
1. Yojimbo
2. Amores Perros
3. The Godfather I and II
4. The General (both this one and this one)
5. Kill Bill I and II
6. Shaolin Soccer

The seventh category is supposed to be the seven people I'd like to obligate to fill out the list, but I'm not going to. If you're so moved, claim it as your own and pass it along.

Christmas survives another bout

Idiocy comes in waves. More "War on Christmas" nonsense from a hyperactivist.
As has been her custom for as long as I can remember, my mom prepares her Christmas cards over the Thanksgiving weekend in order to have them ready to mail the first week of December. She enjoys purchasing beautiful cards, writing notes, addressing them by hand and affixing whatever Christmas stamp the USPS issues that year. So she stops by her local US Post Office a few days ago then asks the man behind the counter for this year's Christmas stamps. He pulls out a sheet of something called Holiday Cookies. To know my mom is to know that she has never indulged in cutesy stuff. Every year she always selects the Christmas stamp that features a classic painting of Madonna and Child. She asks if they have any classic Christmas stamps and the man pulls out a couple of sheets of last year's Madonna and Child. Mom notices he doesn't seem happy and he says to her, "These are all I have and they'll be the last you ever see." Mom asks, "What do you mean?" He explains the USPS will not be issuing any more "religious" stamps.

Ever.

Mom is momentarily stunned. She then raises her eyebrows a bit and asks, "Are you allowed to say 'Merry Christmas' to us?"

The man's face falls and he lowers his voice in answer, "No. We can only say 'Happy Holidays,'" he tries to smile at her, "But if you say 'Merry Christmas' to me directly I will respond in kind."
Word to the wise: never trust a low-level employee to give you the straight dope, okay? The salesman at the counter of your local post office does not run the company, repeat, does not run the company.

But that's not enough: our righteous warrior is "...annoyed at the tortuous language used in an effort to avoid the dreaded 'C' word."

Meanwhile, back in reality-land, the US Postal Service notes,
Cookies and other edible treats were used to decorate Christmas trees long before glass ornaments were used. Today, cookies are still used for that purpose. You may find cookies beautifully gift-wrapped under the tree - on a feast-laden table, as perennial favorites of holiday guests.... Five additional stamps from the Holiday Celebration series are currently available nationwide as well: Kwanzaa, the celebration of family, community and culture; Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights; EID, the Muslim Holiday; Madonna and Child, the Christmas stamp; as well as last year's Holiday Ornaments.
Two--count 'em--C-words! Heaven forfend!

Even when commentators point to credible links that wash away any hint of conspiracy to deny the Christ child his proper due, Darleen still can "neither confirm nor deny" that she's tilting at a windmill.

Check out the links offered: Virtual Stamp Club, Scott's Online Catalog. Only if you're frothing at the mouth will you miss the obvious implication: the stamps aren't going out of production.

(Blame PZ Myers.)

Nov 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

A quick jaunt through the blogroll, and what do we find?

Ed Brayton's stuck at home due to nasty weather. (A rockslide achieved the same end in these parts.) PZ Myers is collecting weird and terrifying creatures that will liven up any after dinner conversation. Jason Kuznicki has found a particularly egregious member of a dying breed--the blinking website--that revels in poor logic. The TeacherRefPoet wants us to name bad holiday songs fit for destruction. (There are so many.) Tim Cavanaugh's hosting a quiet and peaceful open forum. Joe Carter is overrating and underrating movies, and needs your help. Jason Rosenhouse is out of town. Bora Zivkovic is "huddling with [his] histones."

Yours truly? I'm just trying to stay healthy and get in a little blogging before turkey dinners and English papers run off with my time.

Nov 23, 2005

is it hot in here, or is it just the deep fryer?

A construction workers' tradition of cooking a turkey for an early Thanksgiving celebration went awry when the oil in their deep fryer caught fire burning the house they had just finished building.
Whatever you do this Thanksgiving, be careful.

Nov 22, 2005

a question regarding the tragedy at the Tacoma Mall

Since I am no lawyer, and certainly no legal scholar, forgive my ignorant question. Everybody knows that the Tacoma Mall shooter, Dominick Maldonado, is guilty as all hell--including Dominick Maldonado. So what's the advantage of a not guilty plea?

twenty-second Skeptics' Circle: now available

A conversation with a yeti, tabloid-style. It's quality reading--after all, I'm included!

an obstacle by definition

I read this,
"...[T]hose who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture... find themselves, in fact, in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women."
and immediately think, isn't that what celibacy is all about?

fantastic opportunity for aspiring punditocrats

From the email:
In honor of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Felix Morley, the Institute for Humane Studies awards $5,000 in cash prizes to outstanding writers whose work reflects the principles of individual and economic freedoms including the First Amendment, voluntarism, the rule of law, and inalienable individual rights.

The competition is open to young writers (25 years of age or younger as of December 1, 2005) and all full-time students. Articles published July 1, 2004 through December 1, 2005 are eligible for consideration. For more information or to apply online, please visit the contest website at www.TheIHS.org/morley or apply directly at apply.theihs.org.

Deadline: December 1, 2005
Shucks. I'm ineligible. But maybe you're not.

spanking can lead to bad behavior

It certainly can.



[Forty-fifth in a series]

Nov 21, 2005

if I may offer an "Idiot of the Season" award

Ho-ho-ho, Santa's got a big bag of shhh for a bozo.

Here you go, Tim Wildmon:
That's not good enough for American Family Association President Tim Wildmon, who wants to see "Merry Christmas" signs displayed prominently "if they expect Christians to come in and buy products during this so-called season."

And he isn't worried if they offend people who aren't Christian.

"They can walk right by the sign," Wildmon said. "It's a federal holiday. If someone is upset by that, well, they should know that they are living in a predominantly Christian nation."

Where's Wildmon shopping next weekend? "Wal-Mart," he said.

That chain was briefly the target of a boycott called by the Catholic Rights League after an employee described Christmas in an unflattering way in a company e-mail. The employee has since left and the boycott is off, though the Catholic Rights League still criticizes Wal-Mart for tellings its employees to say, "Happy holidays."

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said the "Happy holidays" greeting is "more inclusive. With 130 million customers walking through the door and 1.3 million employees, it's safe to say there are a lot of different faiths out there."
That's right: the guy who's advocating a boycott of Target, which doesn't have an official "only 'Happy Holidays!'" policy, is going to shop at Wal-Mart, which does.


First Runner Up: Jerry Falwell, who advocates bullying tactics to counter "bullying tactics of the ACLU."

Second Runner Up: Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel. "'We'll try to educate... [b]ut if we can't, we'll litigate.'"



[Link thanks to Obscure Store. Apologies to Ed Brayton.]

necessary, justifiable, and entirely proper

Naomi has a recommendation for a verbose Canadian scholar:
... I move we put the following proposition to a vote: before your essays are published and distributed to bleary-eyed college seniors across the globe, you will be required to don a chicken suit and read your paper aloud before a panel of editors. Every time you use a word of more than five syllables, spontaneously generate a term entirely outside the parlance of political science when an established one will do just fine, or find you've turned blue in the face before you can finish reading a sentence, you must drink a single shot of tequila. If you are still ambulatory when the paper's finished, it goes to press. If not, we mass-produce the videotape and sell it in college bookstores nationwide.
But why limit punitive measures to Mr. Gill? Academics everywhere need strong medicine.

building democracy from the top down

James Gavrilis's account of establishing a workable government in an Iraqi town on a $3000 budget is worth reading.
Reflecting on it now, and on so much of what has happened in Iraq since we left, I can point to the reasons we succeeded so early on where many others have not. First, we lived modestly, and we did not occupy any private houses or regime buildings. We did not limit ourselves to certain functions or tasks, or fail to adjust to the realities on the ground such as stopping looting, providing electrical power, and other nation-building tasks. When nation-building became our mission, we performed without any hesitation. In addition, our immersion in the city fostered mutual understanding. Because we worked with and through Iraqis in all endeavors, they had a sense of ownership toward the new Ar Rutbah, and our success became their success. We behaved as if we were guests in their house. We treated them not as a defeated people, but as allies. Also, our forces ensured that political decisions were binding. Anyone that interfered with any part of government, public works, or a supply delivery was considered an enemy, just as if they had threatened security. In that environment, security and governance were intertwined at every level....

For the brief time I was mayor of Ar Rutbah, I knew we were the real revolutionaries there. Change had to come from the top down. Because we didn’t receive any guidance for governance or reconstruction, and certainly not for spreading democracy, I had to make up everything as I went, based on the situation on the ground and what I remembered from my Special Forces training and a handful of political science classes. I entered the city with only our strategic objective for Iraq in mind: to establish a free, democratic, and peaceful Iraq without weapons of mass destruction. And that is what I tried to achieve in my own microcosm of the war.
One wonders what could have been accomplished if Gavrilis's ad hoc method had been armed forces strategy before the invasion.

Nov 20, 2005

Tacoma Mall shooting: close to home

Apparently my sister-in-law and her friend were shopping in JCPenney around noon when a gunman entered at the other end of the store and opened fire, wounding six before taking five hostages into Sam Goody. The girls ducked behind a perfume counter as store employees barricaded the doors with shoe shelves, then hid out in an upstairs office until the shooter released the last three hostages after a four hour standoff with the police.

Only one of the victims is in critical condition, and the gunman, a twenty-year old with a criminal history, is in custody, bail set at $450,000. According to a hostage, he has "problems, issues." Indeed.

hagiography and iconoclasm

While I'm on a CS Lewis kick, I might as well point out that in "Prisoner of Narnia," Adam Gopnick examines Lewis's life, and offers all sorts of fodder for discussion. Choice quotes:
If in England he is subject to condescension, his admirers here have made him hostage to a cult. “The Narnian” (HarperSanFrancisco; $25.95), a new life of Lewis by his disciple Alan Jacobs, is an instance of that sectarian enthusiasm. Lewis is defended, analyzed, protected, but always in the end vindicated, while his detractors are mocked at length: a kind of admiration not so different in its effects from derision....

This loving and mother-deprived boy was sent to a series of nightmarish English boarding schools, where he was beaten and bullied and traumatized beyond even the normal expectations of English adolescence.... It seems to have had the usual result: Lewis developed and craved what even his Christian biographer, Jacobs, calls “mildly sadomasochistic fantasies”; in letters to a (homosexual) friend, he named the women he’d like to spank, and for a time signed his private letters “Philomastix”--“whip-lover....”

Lewis had a reputation as a tough but inspiring teacher, and, reading his letters, one can see why. His literary judgments are full of discovery; his allegiance to a dry, historical approach in the university didn’t keep him from having bracingly clear critical opinions about modern books, all of them independent and most of them right. He got the greatness of Wodehouse long before it was fashionable to do so, appreciated Trollope over Thackeray, and could admire even writers as seemingly unsympathetic to him as Woolf and Kafka. He was a partisan without being a bigot....

[T]hroughout his own imaginative writing, Lewis is always trying to stuff the marvellous back into the allegorical—his conscience as a writer lets him see that the marvellous should be there for its own marvellous sake, just as imaginative myth, but his Christian duty insists that the marvellous must (to use his own giveaway language) be reinfected with belief. He is always trying to inoculate metaphor with allegory, or, at least, drug it, so that it walks around hollow-eyed, saying just what it’s supposed to say....

A startling thing in Lewis’s letters to other believers is how much energy and practical advice is dispensed about how to keep your belief going: they are constantly writing to each other about the state of their beliefs, as chronic sinus sufferers might write to each other about the state of their noses. Keep your belief going, no matter what it takes—the thought not occurring that a belief that needs this much work to believe in isn’t really a belief but a very strong desire to believe.
But you should read the whole thing.

word to the skeptical

Submissions to the next Skeptics' Circle are due Tuesday, November 22 at noon (time zone unknown). Send yours to blog1 (at) milezero.org.

useful sources for the torture debate

This is by no means finished. Please suggest other important articles, resources and postings in the comments.

Sen. John McCain, Newsweek, Torture's Terrible Toll
"To prevail in this war we need more than victories on the battlefield. This is a war of ideas, a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists. Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become public, and when they do they threaten our moral standing, and expose us to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes. This is an existential fight, to be sure. If they could, Islamic extremists who resort to terror would destroy us utterly. But to defeat them we must prevail in our defense of American political values as well. The mistreatment of prisoners greatly injures that effort."


Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, ABCNews, "CIA's Harsh Terror Techniques Described"
"Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and supervisors."


Jean Maria Arrigo, member of the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security, "A Consequentialist Argument against Torture Interrogation of Terrorists"
"Stated most starkly, the damaging social consequences of a program of torture interrogation evolve from institutional dynamics that are independent of the original moral rationale. Further, a legal, regulated program cannot eliminate use of rogue torture interrogation services, because they still serve to circumvent moral and procedural constraints on the official program."


John B. Roberts II, Washington Times, "School for scandal"
"Because the Guantanamo 'emerging strategic interrogation techniques' appear to have become the baseline for military intelligence interrogations worldwide, what is urgently needed is an independent evaluation of the value of the interrogation techniques being used at Guantanamo. They may be less valuable than was originally believed."


Julian Sanchez, Reason Magazine, Habeas Corpses
"Of course, in the absence of any judicial review, not only will we remain in the dark about how well interrogators are sticking to the rulebook; we also can't know how many of our detainees are hardened al-Qaeda killers and how many are Afghan farmers who'd been conscripted by the Taliban, or targeted at random by bounty hunters eager to reap a reward for catching terrorists, or singled out by informers who happened to be personal or political enemies, or simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time."


Editors, The Economist, How to lose friends and alienate people
"Mr Bush would rightly point out that anti-Americanism is to blame for some of the opprobrium heaped on his country. But why encourage it so cavalierly and in such an unAmerican way? Nearly two years after Abu Ghraib, the world is still waiting for a clear statement of America's principles on the treatment of detainees. Mr McCain says he will keep on adding his amendment to different bills until Mr Bush signs one of them. Every enemy of terrorism should hope he does so soon."


Mark Olson, Pseudo-Polymath, Torture and Cultural Norms
"IAs we deal with “torture” as defined with respect to our foreign affairs, one might wonder if “cruel and unusual” or “torture” should be defined relative to the cultural norms of the people we are dealing with and not the culture of the beltway. One does not have to be an advocate of moral relativism to admit that there are cultural norms regarding comfort and how one defines unusual treatment."
(See also A Final Comment on Interrogation, Is "Perfect" Interrogation Torture?, Clarification (yet again) on Torture, Zero Sum Assumption and a Note on Torture, and Clarifying Torture.)


Jim Anderson, decorabilia, the ends justify the mean
"This is moral calculus of the lowest common denominator, and a wholesale rejection of the purported moral role of this nation in its war on terror. Apparently "moral clarity" applies to all subjects except torture."
(see also the efficacy of torture)


Jason Kuznicki, Positive Liberty, Torture Yet Again
"I argue here that torturing detainees is not only morally wrong, but that it is far more likely to elicit false information than true, and that separating the one from the other is a task that few torturing regimes have ever performed successfully. Indeed, I will argue, the mere use of torture makes them ill-equipped to do so. It’s not so much that “forceful interrogations” will “never” produce correct information, as Mark Olson somewhat inaccurately distills my position, but rather that any true information is almost certain to be mixed in with and outweighed by a consistent narrative that matches the torturer’s own expectations."
{See also Truth Serum and Read This.)


Edward_, Obsidian Wings, The Bush Legacy: America's Human Rights Record is Now a Subject of Legitimate Debate
"If, as we're told again and again, this is a war of ideas and values, then there's no room for this sort of misstep. Forget whether Bush and Cheney's personal definitions allow them to baldly declare that we don't "torture"; through sheer stubbornness, one must assume, they're undoing hundreds of years' worth of human rights advances right before the entire world's collective eyes. The civilized world is dumbfounded. The terrorists' recruiters are delighted. And increasingly the citizens of the United States are being shamed by this incomprehensible, treacherous policy."


Matt Welch, Reason Magazine, Inside Outside U.S.A.
"It's easy to get distracted by the semantics and immorality of it all, but the ABC News story suggests a very pragmatic rebuttal to the administration: By whatever name or euphemism, water boarding seems like one of the worst methods possible of obtaining quality information. And treating water-boarded data either as a strong basis for policy, or as a prop to make a political argument, seems unwise at best."

Nov 19, 2005

I'll see you in my dreams

Normally I would reserve great skepticism for a woman claiming to have foreseen her watery motorcycle dive off a Highway 520 offramp.
No problem, because Reid says she saw the whole thing two weeks ago in a dream.

"The whole thing was that I'd already see it happen to me, and I don't know how to explain it, because I saw myself go over twice. I'd already lived it once. It's like I know I'm going to make it because there is a reason and a purpose," said Reid.
I'd be skeptical because, among other reasons, I have trouble remembering dreams from two weeks ago--and I've been keeping a dream journal.

But maybe there's something to the whole dream prophecy deal. So, I shall cast aside my skepticism and offer prognostication instead.

Here are the woes, both mine and yours, that you can expect in coming weeks, based on eighteen dreams recorded over thirty days. (As Dave Barry would say, I'm not making this up.)

1. I will attend a spaghetti dinner that will magically transform into a pancake breakfast, after which I will spectate a playoff game in Elma, in frigid weather. Later, I'll head to a warehouse, where a group of students filming a class project will be stalked by a knife-wielding maniac. In the ensuing class discussion, I will be confused for a student.

2. My uncle John will die in a bizarre accident, breaking his back while windsurfing off the coast near Westport. Remarkably, this will not upset my aunt Sherry. His coffin will be measured with a saxophone.

3. My wife will become pregnant, and I'll tell her she's cute.

4. Instead of reaching the summit of Mount Rainier by climbing, I'll tunnel up through winding caverns. Then I'll pick beans on a gigantic farm that transmogrifies into a school building, and get lost looking for a particular row of beans / desks. A nearby man's face will melt and bubble like a burning marshmallow. Somehow, mysteriously, this will be my fault.

5. My car will crash into a lake, and I will be mostly preoccupied by recovering sunglasses from the dashboard.

6. I will go to Disneyland with my older sister Cathy and brother-in-law Jon. After dining in a Thai restaurant where the owner feasts on Chinese food while ordering his employees to make more sourdough bread, we will finally reach the Magic Kingdom, only to be turned away when Jon's credit card is rejected. A trip to Ross (dress for less!) with my parents will devolve into an argument over whether I appear to be shoplifting.

7. I will give various speeches at school assemblies on sundry topics, and will sing songs of some kind.

8. While playing drums with fiber-optic brushes, one will break and slice through my fingernail, revealing a tongue-like appendage underneath. The nail will heal itself. Later, I will grow hair as long as my wife's, and will debate whether I should cut it or grow out my beard to match. (I'll look quite good with long hair.)

9. Behind my high school, I will discover a fellow English teacher raising nettles in the school's raspberry patch "to keep birds away."

10. Driving to White Sulphur Springs, Montana, in a pickup truck, I will be saddened to learn that the town is a shell of itself. Distressed by the ruination, I'll crash into a vehicle parked behind me, and cry when explaining the situation to the police. Later, a rainy-day trip to a mountain in northwest Washington will be interrupted by technical support crews who offer computer assistance to a room crowded with alpenfolks.

11. In a postapocalyptic future, I'll set up a rebel camp in an abandoned building or parking lot or something.

12. Back in that same rainy northern Washington locale, my wife and I will be busted for breaking and entering when we try to take a photo of a photo of Mount Rainier, because the real Rainier is obscured by clouds and we just want a photo. The police will not be sympathetic.

13. I will witness a couple breaking up as I walk through a suburban landscape. Then, playing touch football on a hospital lawn, I'll get in trouble for accidentally clocking a doctor with an errant pass.

14. When a great flood destroys most of Olympia, I'll help people rescue their pets and possessions by climbing ladders made of firewood.

15. James Bond will finally meet his match as I track him down and shoot him up pretty badly. He will need face transplant surgery, and will be forced to talk by making gurgly noises with his throat, which only his nurse will understand.

16. While Goodwill hunting for classic books and clothes, a little girl will pester me, after which I'll be dragged out into the desert and thrown off a cliff, ending up in a museum in Montana. My eternal fate: stuck in the cafeteria, drooling into a sink.

17. I will become a deejay at a local radio station, although a computer will mix most of the tracks. Running for president, or being president, will be stressful to the point that I'll have to take a shower. The drain will be blocked by my pocket watch.

18. I'll skip class after storming out of a "knowledge bowl" round where the judge makes a bad decision which costs our team victory. Why I will be back in high school, I'm not entirely sure.

Don't blame me, blame fate. The future is set.

history doesn't write itself

It takes diligence, time, research savvy. Kudos to The Mudville Gazette for a good start at providing perspective on the long-running saga of Saddam. As more bloggers notice and contribute, some of the gaps will be filled, and some of the spin corrected.

help from above

One of my favorite websites is The Christian Prophet, largely because it offers direct access to the Holy Spirit's wisdom in these times of trouble.
Our Holy Spirit answers:

Your spirit does not care if your government forces you to turn over some of your rightful assets to support programs you never would have supported voluntarily, true or false? Listen inside, true or false?

Taxation is a form of theft. Or since you probably have to work for a living, you are literally living under a system of slavery, working part of your day for your government masters.

In a spiritually-guided world everyone would be exempt from taxation, not just churches. But in your zany world of church-state separation, especially churches should be exempt.

Better yet, create a government that is entirely voluntarily funded and does only those things for which assets are voluntarily donated. Churches are asked to operate under these reasonable conditions. Why should governments be exempt?
Who knew God was such a big fan of The Emancipation Party?

po-mo Lewis

An earlier post by my brother got me thinking about the postmodern crack in C.S. Lewis's modern edifice.

Look at Lewis's famous formulation that a Tash-worshipper's love for Aslan is authentic despite lacking the proper referent.
"Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me... Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him..."

But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. "Beloved," said the Glorious One, "unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."
Similarly, consider Lewis's response to a mother who was concerned her son loved Aslan "too much," perhaps even more than he loved Jesus. Lewis consoled:
"Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing.... For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply things that Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus; and perhaps loving him more than he ever did before."
Lewis does a po-mo jig with the word really. Love for Aslan is really love for Jesus, for Aslan literarily did all the things Jesus really did.

To see the silliness of Lewis's position, imagine a reply to a spouse stricken by the revelation of her husband's infidelity:
"Your hubby can't really love his new flame more than you.... For the things he loves his mistress for doing or saying are simply things that you did and said. So that when your hubby thinks he is loving his girlfriend, he is really loving you; and perhaps loving you more than he ever did before."

Nov 18, 2005

torture versus the rule of law

Later I'm going to provide a list of links regarding the recent torture controversy, but I want to first point out a singularly forceful article by Julian Sanchez.

somebody call the feds

Starbucks' fourth quarter sales are up 8% over last year's. But their earnings are up 14%.

14% is 75% greater than 8%.

Gouging bastards!

Nov 17, 2005

really Lewis?

I had never seen this quote before, and am wondering if it's reputable. (It's cited in other places.) Any Lewis scholars care to help with a fact-check?
“Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing,” said Lewis. “For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply things that Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus; and perhaps loving him more than he ever did before.”
If authentic Lewis, it takes the edge off the claim that "...clearly Lewis himself didn't see the [Narnia] books as allegories or as metaphors."

(I'm with my brother on the point that the book is Christian--but only to those well-steeped in Christian mythology.)

Washington's economy growing

After all, that's what happens when you put a tax-raising business-killing Democrat in office, right?

Bonus quote:
But thanks to thousands of supporters throughout the state gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures for both I-900 and I-912, the voters are guaranteed two opportunities to send her a double-barreled message: WE REJECT YOUR ARROGANT, ANTI-TAXPAYER AGENDA....

Queen Christine and the Democrat-controlled Legislature pushed an agenda that did not even remotely resemble what they promised in the 2004 campaign. They thought they got away with it when they read the fawning newspaper editorials praising them for their "courage." But newspapers don't speak for us. Voters will speak for themselves in November. And it doesn't take a political genius to predict what they'll say.
Yes on performance audits, no on tax increases. Hey, one outta two ain't bad.

the efficacy of torture

Regarding torture (once more), Mark Olson claims,
I haven’t been convinced by Mr Kuznicki’s arguments that they never work, and I don’t think I’ve seen data to that effect from anyone who has access to the data and has done a careful study to verify that assumption or not. This is a matter which can surely be settled. The question is, why hasn’t it? There is the distinct possibility that the reason this hasn’t settled for the public is that the answer is the uncomfortable one, not the one that nice people in warm rooms wish it might be, not the one that voters would cheer.
The research is out there. It's just that Olson hasn't taken the time to find it. Consider a document that demands a much wider audience, "A Consequentialist Argument against Torture Interrogation of Terrorists. In language both banal and horrifying, Jean Arrigo addresses theories behind torture's efficacy to justify a particular course of action. If torture works, we don't yet have solid evidence to prove it.
Even under the Nazis, torture interrogation failed to break dozens of high state officials and military commanders involved in late-war plots to assassinate Hitler. According to Peter Hoffman’s History of the German Resistance: 1933-1945[27]:
Six months from the start of their investigations the Gestapo still had nothing like precise knowledge of the resistance movement.......This lack of information and knowledge is all the more astounding in that Himmler's men employed every means to extract confessions.... Moreover all forms of torture were used without hesitation....
Hoffman attributes the failure of the Gestapo to the “fortitude of their victims....”

A criminological analysis of 500 British court cases found that police interrogation of defendants contributed little to discovery and conviction. Rather, the study concluded that interrogation fulfilled certain psychological and administrative needs and that “police perceptions of reality dominate the criminal process.”[122]
Torture, Arrigo notes, simply isn't as effective as other methods.
Here I pass over a considerable literature pointing to the greater efficacy of noncoercive interrogation based on social skills: subtlety and finesse of interrogation,[34] sympathy with the subject,[35] appeal to the subject’s self interest,[36] and outright deceit and trickery.[37]...
Arrigo considers the obvious statistical fact that many, if not most, of the subjects will be useless, or worse--innocent.
What proportion of ignorant or innocent suspects are likely to be interrogated under torture? Modern crime statistics indicate that among suspects arrested and charged with serious crimes, one-half to three-quarters are not convicted, depending on the state of jurisdiction.[78] Under the proposed torture interrogation program, a detainee firmly believed to be involved in serious acts of terrorism will likely be tortured. The secrecy and urgency of terrorist cases certainly cannot improve the rate of accuracy over serious criminal convictions, for the counterterrorist program rejects normal judicial safeguards—the right not to testify against oneself, the right to legal counsel, habeas corpus, bail setting, public hearings, and so on. Moreover, in tracking terrorist operations it is customary to interrogate individuals just because they are acquainted with a person who has been detained, not because they are suspected of crimes.[79] So an error rate of one-half to three-quarters of torture interrogees would be a low estimate. For a long historical comparison, examination of court records for 625 cases of torture interrogation in France, from the 1500s through the mid-1700s, showed approximate rates of error—that is, no confession on the rack, under repeated drowning, crushing of joints, and the like—in 67% to 95% of cases, depending on the province.[80]
Arrigo considers the purported urgency that demands torture, and finds that the threat of societal backlash or instability caused by programs of torture is as destructive as the threat of civilian casualties; this, in Arrigo's final estimation, is reason to reconsider torture as an effective means of interrogation.
The moral error in reasoning from in the ticking bomb scenario arises from weighing the harm to the guilty terrorist against the harm to the prospective innocent victims. Instead, the harm to innocent terrorist victims should be weighed against the breakdown of key social institutions and the state-sponsored torture of many innocents. Stated most starkly, the damaging social consequences of a program of torture interrogation evolve from institutional dynamics that are independent of the original moral rationale.
Now, Olson may respond by attacking this evidence, as it is secondary, and perhaps oversimplifies the matter. But the larger point is that the information is accessible, and that these judgments can and must be made in its light. The burden of proof, as it always has, lands squarely on the shoulders of those who would promote, excuse, or rationalize immoral means to a moral end.

Nov 15, 2005

I lost myself, I lost my self

Memory is the self. What happens when the self disappears in a drug-induced vapor? The TeacherRefPoet recounts.
I got the IV. 7:45 AM.

I followed the doctor's instruction of "Roll over on your left side, please." 7:46 AM.

I woke up on my couch. 2:10 PM.

In the interim, I actually said something quite sweet to my wife, received help getting dressed (again, from the wife), was told the results of the procedure, received instruction about my upcoming prescription, got a ride in a wheelchair to the car, rode home, talked to my wife about usage of the carpool lane, trudged into the house, fell asleep on the couch, answered the phone to give my wife my insurance card information, and then woke up and called my parents and sister.

I REMEMBER DOING NONE OF THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH.
The brain can run on autopilot--a fascinating and frightening experience, when awareness returns. Highway hypnosis is the perfect drug-free example of this brain state. Another is blindsight. Consciousness is modular, not unified; a series of perceptions, not an overarching narrative.

Check out The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner for more fascinating examples of the brain's ability to fool you into thinking the conscious you is the controlling you.

Conan, Walker, Haley Jo, and health

Someone is suffering from sleep deprivation.

Nov 14, 2005

Biking Beats Blogging

Virtual life out, real life in

JIM ANDERSON
CORRUGATED TIMES-DISPATCH
LEMONT, ILLINOIS -- A stunned nation reacted with hostility to a local blogger's announcement that he was too tired to both post and exercise, and that exercise would have to come first.

"I don’t have the energy to devote to a good blog essay and I really need to get a workout in," Mark Olson, owner of the small but provocative blog Pseudo-Polymath, wrote earlier this evening. "The bike wins. I’ll try to get up early and write something tomorrow morning."

Neighboring blogger Lucille Hermansen responded immediately with criticism. "Who does this Olson think he is? The rules are clear. Blog first, the rest will take care of itself." Hermansen, co-founder of Not an Addict, began IM'ing others to "flame" Olson with harassing emails.

International outcry followed shortly after. "American pundits are an example to the world," fumed Norwegian Lars Grundal, better known as A Guy With a Bl√łg. "If they start trading in their keyboards for kayaks, the revolution will be finished."

At a late-night press conference, Olson expressed his perplexity at the speed and tenacity of the response. "Holy cow. I mean, I just needed a break. A night. That's all. I've had a rough day." He threw a sweat-soaked towel at reporters and headed for the showers.

Five hours after the announcement, Pseudo-Polymath was trading at $7,409 per share, down five hundred points from the previous day.

while we're talking about torture

Upon reading this distressing NY Times op-ed, Julian Sanchez asks,
So: How many of the folks who howled with outrage that someone might compare our tactics with those of despotic communist regimes will exhibit it in the same measure toward those who made the comparison apt by deciding to model our interrogation tactics on those of despotic communist regimes?
Your thoughts, Mr. Olson?

they are coming for your children


You've been warned.

Nov 13, 2005

blurbs

For no good reason, I'm going to march down the blogroll and describe a few recent additions, trumpeting appropriately when praise is merited. These days, I'm too busy to blog well, but if I can send you to places you enjoy, at least you'll remember me fondly.


don't drink the koolaid
"It's All About Memes." And really, really well-drawn cartoons.

the lady miss queer wordy
My wife and I met her at a Reason conference; we were glad to meet an ex-pat Washingtonian from the Other Washington. When we told her how we got there, she declared us her "new favorite couple." She needs to blog more often.

*they call him... josh*
He's on a blog break, but he'll be back soon, dispensing snark as only a college student can.

wherever you go, there you are
Thanks to my brother, Biola folks are tenuously connected to decorabilia. (The connection would be strengthened if he'd ever add me to his blogroll.) The latest Biola addition transgresses all binary classifications.

The rest of the blogroll is to your right, asking for your kind attention. Heed it.

debate weekend

The 35th annual Puyallup speech and debate tournament was long, exhausting, and fun. Christina took first in open oratory, gaining a state berth. Cortnei, Josh H., and August brought home speaker awards in Student Congress. And I grew exceedingly weary of the phrase "judicial activism," especially since at high speeds, it's tough to pronounce "judicial" without slobbering.

Final cheer: "It's a law dictionary. Because we're talking about the law!"

what we've come to expect from William A. Dembski

Another Update [ed. note: minor spelling error fixed]

I've moved this update to the top because Dembski is too amazing, too stupefying. Now, going beyond deleting others' comments, Dembski has deleted old posts on his blog, claiming they were a bit of "street theater."

In the posts in question--Shallit Yet Again and Shallit Yet Again - P.S.--Dembski engaged in speculation that was shot down by Ed Brayton (see below). Instead of admitting that he was factually in error, Dembski changed tactics, saying that they were some kind of game or joke, and tried to erase the evidence.

That is classic dishonesty. To call it "intellectual dishonesty" would be an insult to intellectuals.



(As an aside, Ed's other prediction is being fulfilled by Dembski's commentators.)


The Original Entry

I had to stop reading Dembski's blog, since it was bad for my blood pressure. Ed Brayton, though, kept slogging through the crap that Dembski flung about the Dover trial, and why Jeffrey Shallit never testified. Dembski had claimed that the ACLU withdrew Shallit because he was an "embarrassment." There was one small problem: this was wrong, obviously wrong, embarrassingly wrong.
Having posted that, I then placed the odds of Dembski actually admitting that he was wrong about this at being well beyond the "universal probability boundary" that he places at 1 x 10^150. A few people wanted to place one penny bets at those odds, but it appears I was right. Here is his latest post on the subject and he continues to get virtually everything wrong in this situation. And much to no one's surprise, he continues to refuse to admit he was wrong and tries to change the subject....
Read the whole thing--but only if you have an automatic external defibrillator handy.

Update: It gets worse.

Nov 12, 2005

an observation

You can wear a pocket protector. You can play Dungeons and Dragons. You can memorize and live by the maxims of Monty Python's The Search for the Holy Grail. But you haven't reached the pinnacle of nerditude until you're cited by a Lincoln-Douglas debater in a round.

(Yes, I'm talking to you, Timothy Sandefur.)

Nov 11, 2005

the wizard speaks

[A little over a week ago, I went to witness a Q and A session with Martin Teicher. What follows is a work in progress.]

Martin Teicher sits in the prongs of a horseshoe of conference tables, surrounded by twenty-nine high school students. An affable face rounded by a neatly-trimmed beard, tufts of gray hair atop a bald pate, thin-rimmed glasses with thick lenses. He fiddles with his lapel mike's battery pack as he answers students' questions and peppers them with his own, his Harvard accent betrayed every time he says "huge"--it comes out "yuge.

The students, members of an International Baccalaureate psychology class, have journeyed to the Vancouver Hilton to meet this well-known researcher and clinical psychiatrist. In this special session, Teicher goes without notes, without Powerpoint slides, without an agenda. His talk ranges from the academic to the personal and covers a slew of fascinating topics. Below are just the highlights from his two hour talk. I've tried to summarize accurately, and quote where appropriate. (As is my habit, I sit in the back, close to the only available outlet.)

The first question is about Freud, and it's surprisingly relevant, given Teicher's most recent research. According to Teicher, Freud was the first person to talk scientifically about the effects of abuse. He was "...enormously ahead of his time, and on to something important. But he got scared... and basically wound up saying that this couldn't have happened, this number of people couldn't have been molested." Freud's inability to accept the reality of child abuse had a lasting influence. For the next century psychiatry ignored it. When Teicher started investigating the neurological effects of abuse, he kept his data private for seven years, waiting for a receptive scientific community.

Later, in the most colorful and affecting part of the Q and A, Teicher explains his motivation for becoming a psychiatrist. "When I was a freshman in college, I had no clue about the difference between psychology and philosophy. I had no idea. My best grades were in chemistry, I wanted to be a chemistry major. But it was also 1969, the era of Woodstock, riots on campus, free love. I wanted to grow my hair really long and become a rock star. I spent most of my time playing guitar. Soon, it turned into sampling illegal substances. I witnessed this thing freshman year--this kid came in having taken some humongous dose of LSD. The stuff he said was absolutely fascinating. And that prompted my interest in psychopharmacology. I really screwed up the first two years of college... didn't have stellar grades."

In med school, Teicher initially studied to become a pediatrician, interning in an intensive care unit. "I used to run out of the ICU crying. The only contact these preemies would have was poking and prodding... they would experience huge amounts of pain.... I really like little kids, working with them. But I couldn't inflict pain on someone who didn't understand why I was hurting them. In some ways that's why I went into psychiatry. Neurologists knew a lot, understood all this stuff, but didn't help people. Psychiatrists didn't know anything, but most of their patients got well."

Teicher has made waves in these later stages of his career by tackling controversial subjects. "I've been gunshy in the past about stirring up controversy, after the issues revolving around Prozac problems. My first grant [for childhood abuse] scored 499, one away from the lowest score. Two years later, it scored 102. I had too much in the first one, I had to tone it down a lot. That's part of science--it tends to be very conservative. They're very prone to say it's junk."

"This is good and bad--you have to fight really hard to change your field. The nice thing about doing science... it's often much more interesting than I could have possibly imagined. I tell people who want to work with me that I'm wrong 70-80% of the time."

Teicher's clinical practice drives his research. "I just happened to have three or four people in practice who became suicidal when taking medication. I had three patients who had abnormal EEGs, symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy, etc. All had child abuse in common."

[more to come]

the ends justify the mean

Mark Olson sees the gray in the torture debate.
The point is that “cruel and unusual” and “torture” are terms which are very much culturally relative. In fact, what is cruel and unusual in the sheltered parts of the US may be ordinary existence in other parts of the world....One does not have to be an advocate of moral relativism to admit that there are cultural norms regarding comfort and how one defines unusual treatment....
This is moral calculus of the lowest common denominator, and a wholesale rejection of the purported moral role of this nation in its war on terror. Apparently "moral clarity" applies to all subjects except torture.

In a comment, Mark writes,
If the practices going on in those facilities is the standard and expected norm in that region and culture but is considered torture here, is it still torture? I don’t know the answer to that.
Change the moral term, and you'll see the amazing shift in perspective. The Bush Doctrine has been to spread freedom and liberty because they are universally good. Imagine Bush opining, "If jailing political dissidents is the standard and expected norm in that region and culture but is considered oppressive here, is it still oppressive?"

Mark also addresses the empirical argument against torture.
It has been also said of “torture” and more specifically using modern psychological techniques some of which involve varying degrees of discomfort never work. That they only can extract what the questioner or interrogator wishes to hear in the first place. This is well documented in modern fiction, but I have seen no references to studies claiming the same in any peer reviewed scientific literature. I think claims and counter-claims on that regard by almost everyone on this topic can be well compared with Medieval science. For neither side has fact or data or any basis in reality. Both are arguing from various principles which may or may not relate to reality. For while it seems certain that many times methods used in questioning of this sort certainly can fall into a trap of only being able extract information that the questioner wishes to divulge, it also seems likely that it might be more effective, e.g., The Quiller Memorandum.
First, there won't be any peer-reviewed studies of torture, given that researchers adhere to stringent ethical codes when dealing with human subjects. Second, as Mark points out in a comment, "...we haven’t done a very good job of understanding and documenting what is going on...." The Bush administration's secrecy regarding the matter, and the necessity of investigations by the ACLU into the treatment of detainees, only compounds our lack of necessary information. Last, the burden of proof is on those who justify torture as a means to an end. After all, if torture is justified by its ends, it'd damned well better work.

Nov 10, 2005

God to Pat Robertson: Shut up.

Ed and PZ are on it. Pat Robertson just can't remember the sage advice his mama told him--"Zip it, cretin"--and has to go on blabbering nonsense:
“I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover. If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because he might not be there.”
Earlier today, responding to a complaint that Intelligent Design is rejected by the closed-minded, I wrote,
If ID is truly designer- (or designers-) neutral, its proponents need to adopt neutral language. Otherwise, they'll continue to have an uphill battle convincing non-Christians that ID isn't just creationism in disguise.
Apparently they'll have to muzzle Pat Robertson, too.

tossed salad in space

(an update)

Adding a new line of evidence for panspermia, the hypothesis that life on Earth was seeded by interstellar matter, lichens can survive two weeks in the harsh conditions of space.
Once in Earth orbit, the lid of the container opened and the samples were exposed to the space environment for nearly 15 days before the lid resealed and the capsule returned to Earth.

The lichens were subjected to the vacuum of space and to temperatures ranging from -20°C on the night side of the Earth, to 20°C on the sunlit side. They were also exposed to glaring ultraviolet radiation of the Sun.

“To our big surprise, everything went fine after the flight,” says Rene Demets, ESA’s project scientist for the Foton project. “The lichens were in exactly the same shape as before flight.”
But can they survive two weeks in a house full of washed-up celebrities? Now that's an experiment worth funding.

though this be madness, yet there is method in 't

It's the latest Skeptics' Circle, and it's Shakespearean. Huzzah!

Nov 9, 2005

from the department of overblown rhetoric

The original has been slightly modified. But only slightly. To get the full effect, put on a tweed jacket with elbow patches, smoke a corncob pipe, and, speaking through your nose, read the essay aloud. Chortle, chuckle, or slobber at appropriate points (you'll know 'em when you read 'em). Then go back and read its progenitor and have a good laugh.



VHS is killing 8 MM - what will it do to the book?

The start of a cultural revolution is often imperceptible, and there is one taking place right now on your living-room shelves. In between the tattered paperbacks and last year's birthday cards a new format is demanding space, pushing at the party walls of categoric hierarchies. Video Home System has invaded our homes and the cultural consequences are going to be considerable.

The intrusion has occurred in the past year or so, without fuss or fanfare. I hardly noticed its effect on my own habits until a New York friend with an Adams-to-Zemlinsky opera collection and more cassette versions of the Brahms concertos than is probably healthy mentioned the other day that he is building a VHS library of must-have movies. So, I realised, was I -- one by one, and somewhat haphazardly until the pre-Christmas flood of gift sets established an addiction.

The complete works of Ingmar Bergman and Francois Truffaut are about to go on sale and no self-respecting cineaste will walk by without feeling a tug at the purse strings. To have and to hold every film that guided your artistic and emotional maturation, through adolescence and beyond, is something many will find irresistible. Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Tarkovsky and the Ealing comedies are equally on offer. What was formerly part of a romanticised past, glimpsed infrequently on late-night TV, has become urgently present (perhaps the perfect present). The eternally elusive turns up in plastic boxes.

What this means, in cultural terms, is that film now takes its place beside literature, music and visual imagery as an art that can be owned and bookmarked. Where once you had to visit a cinema or spool through half a mile of clunky film in order to access a seminal scene in an essential movie, you now fast forward to it on VHS as quickly as finding a name in the index of an artist biography.

I no longer need to conjure up in the mind's eye the sight of Jean Moreau toppling off a bicycle in Jules et Jim or Liv Ullman playing Chopin in Autumn Sonata. Using the pause button that is standard on most VHSs, a frozen frame is but a fingertip away and what was once an ethereal impression is resolved by immediate evidence. Did she fall off? Now we know. How did she play? Not badly at all.

Film has become fact on VHS. It has left the cinema and joined us for drinks, an emancipatory moment for the last of the great western art forms. Books and music have always furnished our rooms, but to have film as a point of home reference, like Oxford English Dictionary and the complete works of Shakespeare, signals a revolution in cultural reception and, inevitably, creation.

It will, for instance, make it that much harder for Hollywood to remake its own milestones when half the world has the originals to hand for instant comparison. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), with its dream cast of Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Janet Leigh was unlikely to be bettered by Jonathan Demme's 2004 reshoot with Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep. But if anyone had foreseen that the original on VHS would be around in the public hands, Demme's studio would never have raised the finance, let alone the enthusiasm, for an otiose update. With VHS to hand as a mass medium, directors will have to be more careful about cliches. Some, like Titanic's James Cameron, are so involved in shaping a definitive VHS version of past works that they have given up making new movies. Among the haughtier auteurs, VHS is the route to self-obsession.

But it is in public hands that VHS will make an impact, and one that is beyond present calculation. Television will be the first to suffer. Why zap through 139 brain-rot channels when you have just bought Some Like it Hot at Woolworths and can play it without adverts, programme trails and other network interpolations. Beside frenetic TV directors who change camera angles 20 times a minute, the long, cool takes of Billy Wilder, Fellini and John Ford make a sweeter ending to the working day. TV will have to change its ways.

And then there are the half-hidden extras. After seeing Ushpizin, a gripping Israeli drama of born-again orthodox zealots on selective international release, I cued in a VHS documentary on the making of the film. It revealed that the lead actor, Shalom Rand, had given up his movie career to embrace a life of ritual observance - only to decide to film his new world through the unsentimental eyes of a sceptical director who had once been his mentor. Their dialogue on the special-edition VHS adds a third dimension to an already memorable film, an edgy negotiation of polar outlooks.

The reason for such add-ons is to persuade people who have seen the film to pay again for the memory. But their inclusion makes VHS something more than a replica of film. The array of interviews, deleted scenes and sundry curiosities endow the VHS with what amounts to the critical apparatus that would accompany a modern edition of a literary classic of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, for instance, equipped (as one would expect) with scholarly preface, textual footnotes, celebrity commendations and comprehensive bibliography for further reading.

These fillers distance the VHS from the original film in much the same way as an audio disc is removed from live music. Recording may replicate a moment in art, but it also exists as an artform in its own right, with a history and archive that are quite separate from musical evolution. In much the same way, VHS is not just takeaway film. It is a genre that both presents film and describes it, content and context together, a bilateralism in tune with post-modern philosophies. Over the next year or so, VHS will come to be recognised as a stand-alone genre as VHS collections form an essential part of a civilised household.

VHS won't replace the printed book which has withstood more serious threats in the past half-millennium. But it will accelerate the obsolescence of the audio-only cassette, which cannot compete much longer in an image-centred culture. The video game, the Walkman and other new-tech marvels will challenge for precedence as entertainment carriers, but none can rival VHS for instant access and archival use. VHS has got the movies bang to rights and gives them equal status with music and printed arts. It is the medium of the Noughties, the remaking of our memories.

the soul, object of their concern: redux

Tonight the Mormons came. I had been expecting them.

Once, a while ago, I sat quietly when they knocked until they left. (They are the only ones who knock so boisterously.) But tonight I opened the door, squinted, leaned in uncomfortably close, tried to read their nametags with contactless eyes.

"This is brother Carson, and I'm brother Neuhaus," said the dapper lad on the right. Hand extended, cold handshake. Names matched tags. Good so far.

"Ah," I said. I had nothing more eloquent available.

"We're new in the neighborhood, just wondering if other brothers have visited before."

"I can't remember," I said. It was three-quarters true.

Briefest of pauses.

"Well, thanks, nice to meet you, good night."

Dismay. "Maybe we could help take the trash out?" Because you're obviously weak and infirm? Because we're scraping for an excuse to chill in your kitchen, so we can talk about Joe Smith and Moroni and golden tablets?

"Uh, no thanks, not really. In fact, you won't need to visit anymore."

I couldn't quite see if their faces registered dejection or disappointment, because the door closed too fast.

Legislators Bummed

Actually have to do their jobs

JIM ANDERSON
CORRUGATED TIMES-DISPATCH
OLYMPIA -- As I-330 and I-336 crashed and burned Tuesday, legislators across the state let out a collective groan.

"Crap," said Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (D). "I was hoping the people would choose one of the solutions, or maybe both. This insurance stuff is complicated."

Haugen, like many other Senators, has been taking it easy since the Senate adjourned in April. Back then, water rights and estate taxes were more pressing concerns than the tangled root mass of medical malpractice lawsuits.

"It's all so confusing," Haugen added, standing thirty feet outside the Capitol, smoking. "Tort reform, jury award caps, fee caps. It would take me days, maybe weeks to familiarize myself with the issue. Who has that kind of time?"

Other senators were cautiously optimistic. "I... like... working...," said Senator Brad Benson (R), member of the Health and Long-Term Care committee. "I really do... I think."

"There goes my plan to telecommute," said a dejected Representative Tom Campbell (R). "I had a laptop installed near the hot tub. It was gonna be great."

Dover over-and-out, Kansas down-and-out

The folks who voted to change the curriculum to include ID were swept out of office yesterday. Meanwhile, in the flattest state, evolution is just a theory.


[hat tip: PZ Myers]

what a difference a day makes

Congrats to Jeff Kingsbury, who resoundingly defeated Ira Knight for a spot on the Olympia city council. All the races were landslides:
Karen Messmer 4,881 69.73%
Michael Normoyle 2,117 30.24%

Position 5
Jeff Kingsbury 4,648 62.87%
Ira Knight 2,745 37.13%

Position 6
Doug Mah 4,939 65.92%
Phyllis Booth 2,550 34.04%

Position 7
Joe Hyer 5,366 81.64%
John Griogair Bell 1,205 18.33%
In other news, I-912, which would have repealed gas tax increases, appears to have failed, as the No's have increased to 53%. Both medical malpractice initiatives are failing by widening margins. Performance audits are in, smoking is out. The monorail is a vanishing dream. David Goldstein is gloating over Ron Sims' solid victory. Sound Politics' Matt Rosenberg sees the silver lining.

Huzzah for the initiative process. Even in an off year, elections are fun.

Update: Follow the statewide vote counts here.

Nov 8, 2005

election night in Washington state

Alas, my blogging couldn't stem the tide. I-901 passed by a huge margin (as predicted).
Supporters of the initiative raised more than $1.5 million — much of it from the American Cancer Society, with contributions from individuals and groups like the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Lung Association of Washington. The small, but vocal, opposition raised less than $27,000.
More to follow.

Update:

Sure bets
Initiative 336, 58% No
Initiative 901, 64% No

Too close to call
Initiative 912, 51% No
Initiative 330, 51% No

the soul, object of their concern

Geez, people. Lighten up.

this site is very very RUBISH!
when i wanted the names of Jesus's
12 disciples you gave me names like cuck there was not one of them with the real disciples names like Paul or Jon.i mey never come on your web page again!


hell is going to be a very painful place........you should think twice before mocking the disciples.


Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that is how you repaid him, by mocking the disciples. The real names of the 12 disciples are Peter, James son of Zebedee, John, Simon the Zealot, Andrew, Philip, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Bartholomew, and, of course, Judas Iscariot.

surreality TV

Weird, weird, weird.
In some ways, though, the biggest winner was the viewer, particularly those who have seen real presidential debates where rules are negotiated and statements are carefully crafted to stay on point, get out the message and drive home emotions through words that have been carefully tested in focus groups. This episode, though scripted, seemed more real than the actual debates. It showed what a real debate might be if candidates ever decided to risk being themselves and confronting the issues and each other. Odd as it may seem, it gives viewers a basis for comparing actual presidential debates and what is possible.

Nov 7, 2005

"And they load them up into one or two apartments and they take a family of five and pay them $1,000 a week..."

I don't shop at Wal-Mart. Many reasons.

One more.

neurofibromatosis: a recent advance

From NewScientist:
Neurofibromatosis type I (NF1) is a condition caused by a single gene defect that affects more than 1 in 3000 people. The defect is either inherited or caused by a spontaneous mutation, which can then be inherited.

NF1 causes developmental cognitive disabilities in up to half of those with the defective gene, including deficits in memory, motor coordination and spatial learning. It can also cause attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Previous mouse studies show the cognitive deficits result from the mutant gene causing over-production of a molecule called p21Ras. This leads to an imbalance between the signals that activate brain cells and those that inhibit them, creating problems in the cell-to-cell communication needed for learning.

Neurobiologist Alcino Silva and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, US, tried a commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering statin drug – called lovastatin – on adult mice with the NF1 mutation. In a series of experiments to test their cognitive functions, the team showed that the drug reversed the learning disabilities and brought the cognitive functions of the mice up to normal levels.
Three clinical trials are already FDA-approved.

sparring partners

I'm not blogging here because I'm busy over there, talkin' 'bout ideology in the Air Force and the real reason movies move us.

Nov 6, 2005

rockslide closes I-90

Our speech and debate team didn't go to the Whitman Tournament in Walla Walla this year. Oh, the fun we missed.

Dover over. ID down, but not out.

It was the beginning of the end. But who could have foreseen the sheer inanity that would follow? The lies? The bloviating?

Now that the arguments have wrapped up, as PZ Myers points out,
There are two things on trial here: the intent and behavior of the Dover school board, and the appropriateness of including Intelligent Design creationism in the schools. The former has been so outrageously, obviously bad that the judge could rule exclusively on that, disregarding the larger issue of Designism, and produce a narrowly limited decision that isn't much use in keeping the IDists in check elsewhere.
Just like after Edwards v. Aguillard, IDers will bounce back with a freshly-minted strategy, new buzzwords, and a gaggle of new voices and faces to try and undo the damage caused by the Thomas More Law Center.

little-known Samuel Alito

a decorabilia exclusive

I've been reading through Alito's 4000 cases, the work of a fifteen-year term on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Out of that vast output, I've come up with the three that truly define his character as a human and his philosophy as a jurist.


Frederick v. Tappan (2001)

Tappan had created genetically-modified banana trees, which Frederick claimed were transferring virulent DNA to his neighboring orchard. The orchards happened to lie across state lines, so the relevant FDA regulations, which had been written a century previous, were challenged on constitutional grounds. In a footnote to the majority opinion, Alito wrote, "I don't like your peaches. They are full of stones. I like bananas because they have no bones. Don't give me tomatoes. Can't stand ice cream cones. I like bananas because they have no bones."


Bowie v. Ice (1990)

In Alito's first case in his 3rd Circuit career, the landmark copyright dispute in which David Bowie accused then-megastar Vanilla Ice of stealing the music to "Under Pressure" for the hit "Ice Ice Baby," Alito dissented. Siding with Ice, Alito thundered, "This lyrical mastery represents a new paradigm in musical expression. Though the musical accompaniment is markedly similar, the freshest words, the zigging and zagging bass line, the hippity-hop beat put this song in a class by itself."


Pineville v. Hanbury Baptist (1996)

The church in question put up a nativity scene that encroached on city property. Alito's decision, which stood when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, was written entirely in the following limerick.

The warrants for taking down Jesus
Were entirely torn into slices.
Since the plaintiffs are wrong
And the precedent's strong,
This court will rule
stare decisis.

rain and misery

We battled back, but it just wasn't enough. Down 31-0 in the third quarter, Capital rang up three touchdowns in a loser-out playoff contest versus the Everett Seagulls--but that was it, as a late interception sealed the Gulls' first state berth in over two decades.

Kudos to a Capital team that never quit in a season where a raft of injuries would have made for easy excuses.

Nov 5, 2005

tossed in space

David Warmflash and Benjamin Weiss have a great summary of some recent advances in astrobiology--what's known, what's speculative, what's wildly speculative.

Nov 4, 2005

the thoughtful traditionalist conservative

Hey, Oregon, listen up as Dale Carpenter finishes his week-long rebuttal to Maggie Gallagher in convincing fashion.
In the end it comes down to this: Given that gay families exist, and are not going to be eliminated or converted by any means acceptable to the American people, what is to be done with them? Is it better for society that they be shunted aside, marginalized, ostracized, made to feel alien to traditional values and institutions? Or is it better that they be included in the fabric of American life, including the most important social institution we have for encouraging, recognizing, and reinforcing loving families? I can see why a sexual liberationist, or a radical of any stripe, might say, “Keep them out.” I have never been able to understand how a conservative could say that....

Recently I came across this passage, written in 1994, that I had saved. I quote it here because I think it expresses something pretty universal about human commitment. It was written by someone, deeply in love, who looked forward to a future life of marriage:
I want a silver dipping bowl with our names engraved on it. I want to send out invitations and have a joyous occasion on which to see old friends I haven't seen in years. I want someone to throw bachelor parties for me and showers to mark the end of my celibate life. I want to spend time choosing the place for the ceremony, and the colors for the tuxes. I want people to come up to me and tell me how happy they are for me, and give me best wishes for my bright future. I want to cry as I proclaim my love for you in front of all whom I hold dear and I want you to cry as you do the same. I want my mother to cry. I want my father and brothers to cry. I want to ride away in a chauffeur-driven limousine to a place where I can kiss you to the clanking of forks against champagne glasses. I want to have cake smashed in my face and I want to dance the dance of succession with my husband, and then my in-laws. I want the rights, the responsibilities, the privileges, the good times and the bad times and the love that goes with the institution of marriage. I want to publicly commit to the person with whom I have fallen in love and want to spend the rest of my days with.

I want to savor growing together. I want to feel the support of your love when I am blue. I want to be the shoulder you cry on when things go badly. I want to laugh at your jokes and smile with pride at your accomplishments. I want to snuggle up next to you at night and feel the security of your presence. I want to feel the day brighten when you return from work and greet me with a kiss. I want a history with you. I want my life with you.
It was written by one of those traditionalists, you know the type. One of those people who, foolishly and romantically and against all the evidence to the contrary and all the derision heaped on marriage by our culture and its cynics, still thinks marriage is worthwhile, still a beautiful and noble thing.

It was written by my partner to me.

society crumbles; news at 11

Yesterday Washington's Supreme Court recognized the right of de facto parents in a landmark ruling.
The decision, which significantly impacts parenting laws in the state, may also signal the direction the high court will take in deciding a gay-marriage lawsuit pending before it — a prospect that delights same-sex marriage advocates and horrifies opponents.

In the 7-2 decision hailed by gays as an acknowledgement of the complexity of families, the court recognized what it called a "de-facto or psychological parent" under the state's common law as one who "in all respect functions as the child's actual parent."
Woe, woe, woe! Or not.

Opponents pointed out a possible consequence of the law:
But Brian Krikorian, attorney for Britain, said the ruling undermines parents, particularly single parents, by taking away their authority to decide what's in the best interest of their own children.

"This decision puts every single parent on notice: Anytime you allow another adult to assist in raising your child, you could potentially be giving that person 50-percent authority over your child."
A tad overblown. The criteria for parentage of the appeal case in question:
(1) the natural or legal parent consented to and fostered the parent-like relationship; (2) the petitioner and the child lived together in the same household; (3) the petitioner assumed obligations of parenthood without expectation of financial compensation; and (4) the petitioner has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature.
The ruling upheld this basic construct:
Critical to our constitutional analysis here, a threshold requirement for the status of the de facto parent is a showing that the legal parent 'consented to and fostered' the parent-child relationship. See supra p. 34. The State is not interfering on behalf of a third party in an insular family unit but is enforcing the rights and obligations of parenthood that attach to de facto parents; a status that can be achieved only through the active encouragement of the biological or adoptive parent by affirmatively establishing a family unit with the de facto parent and child or children that accompany the family.
You can't just waltz in on a family and declare yourself a de facto parent, or assume you have parental responsibility because you run a day care.

The opposition wasn't exactly rationally responding:
The Rev. Joseph Fuiten, pastor of Cedar Park Assembly of God Church in Bothell, decried Thursday's decision.

"There's no such thing as de-facto parent; you're either a parent or you aren't.... They've changed the definition of parents today; they'll change the definition of marriage tomorrow. Who do these people think they are?"
They're judges. They interpret the law. If he'd read the law, he'd know why they ruled this way. "You're either a parent or you aren't" has never been a matter of simple biology. (Ironically, this is the sort of reductionism traditionalists usually denounce.) It's about something much, much greater: love. Which, incidentally, is a verb.


[read the dissent here]