succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, April 09, 2004

From the Center for American Progress:

The NYT reports countries in the Middle East increasingly see the surge of violence in Iraq as a sign that the United States, "rather than helping to stamp out extremism, might have created a new, toxic incubator for it." President Bush repeatedly said Iraq would serve as a model of democracy in the region. Instead, "there is an almost universal sense in the Arab world that Washington is paying the price for entering Iraq with no coherent plan beyond toppling Saddam Hussein, and that the anarchy they allowed to run unchecked in the first days of occupation a year ago has never really been tamed." This has led to widespread concern in the region that "the violence will further inflame existing divisions in Iraq, which could easily provoke similar ethnic or religious schisms in neighboring states."

The is one of the (many) things that freaks me out about our current situation in Iraq and the current administration - if I, a person with no foreign policy knowledge or experience, feared that this was one possible outcome of our war with Iraq, why the hell didn't it occur to *any* experts in the administration that this was even a possibility?! Ok, obviously it ocurred to some, but the people who matter and make the decisions clearly didn't listen to them. So why are they still in positions of power when they were so clearly and unequivocally wrong in such a tragically big way?

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
-George Orwell

Saw the above quote on a bumper sticker in my professor's office and thought it was the perfect idea and motivation for these times.
In other news, it's a good day. Reason #1:
Doctor Testifying for DOJ Says Aspect of Banned Abortion Procedure Could Be Necessary in Some Cases
Reason #2 (although this one is a bit of a mixed good and less good thing):
Utah Prosecutors Drop Murder Charges Against Woman Who Gave Birth to Stillborn Infant After Allegedly Refusing C-Section. They dropped the murder charge because she pled guilty to two counts of child endangerment. Though given the positive test for drugs in the female baby's system, that seems a more reasonable charge. Also says they took her mental instability into account in deciding to drop the murder charges and as part of the plea agreement she'll go to rehab, so at least she'll get some help.
And reason #3 (just for fun):
Consumption by Pregnant Women Has Positive Impact on Infants' Behavior. "The researchers concluded that chemicals in chocolate associated with "positive mood" may be passed to infants in utero, according to Reuters (Reuters, 4/7). The researchers concluded, "In addition to producing subjective feelings of psychological well being, chocolate may have effects at multiple environmental and psychological levels" (Early Human Development, February 2004)." Yay for chocolate!

Lastly, atrios has this to say about being for or against the war in Iraq:
"There were plenty of reasons to be against the war, but the only one which was necessary was the fact that the people in charge were utterly incompetent - that people opposed to "nation building" had no real desire to carry it out. Once their incompetence was clear, no other reasons were necessary. Even Tom Friedman recognized this was a risky venture, but he failed to understand that you do not support risky ventures run by inept lunatics."
Something along those lines has been percolating in my head for a few days, hopefully I'll come back and expand on it soon, but for now, I have to get back to research.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Rizwana mentioned during break today that she wants to write a book someday. And perhaps not a research/technical/scientific/textbook but a novel. Which we all thought was awesome. And Anna and I mentioned how we each have lists of things we want to do before we die. Which reminded me that I haven't looked at my list in ages. So I dug it out. Here it is, written 1/4/98:

take a photography class (almost did this one, but had to drop the one I enrolled in at Case)
learn how to play the guitar (again, almost, sort of did this one, but now I don't remember how, so doesn't count)
learn how to cook
travel - Caribbean Islands
every country in Europe
Mystic, Connecticut
Denver, Colorado
New Orleans
Prince Edward Island
(ok, that's a pretty random list of locations, but at least I've been to Seattle!)
intern at magazine or newspaper (done!)
help with a concert/be a roadie/assist with production of movie/tv show/theater
do habitat for humanity
visit a rain forest
take up karate (take up karate?!)
become a snowboarder (well, I did learn how a few years ago, but by the end of the weekend I was still falling on the bunny slope)
go to a spa (done after qualifiers)
get belly button pierced (done!)

So there's a little glimpse into my 17-year-old-high-school-self. I think the notion was that I would come back and keep adding to the list, but I guess that didn't really happen...

A really lovely op-ed piece about Kurt Cobain in today's Times. Here's the end:

When Kurt died, a lot of the capitalized froth of alternative rock fizzled. Mainstream rock lost its kingpin group, an unlikely one imbued with avant-garde genius, and contemporary rock became harder and meaner, more aggressive and dumbed down and sexist. Rage and aggression were elements for Kurt to play with as an artist, but he was profoundly gentle and intelligent. He was sincere in his distaste for bullyboy music — always pronouncing his love for queer culture, feminism and the punk rock do-it-yourself ideal. Most people who adapt punk as a lifestyle represent these ideals, but with one of the finest rock voices ever heard, Kurt got to represent them to an attentive world. Whatever contact he made was really his most valued success.

You wouldn't know it now by looking at MTV, with its scorn-metal buffoons and Disney-damaged pop idols, but the underground scene Kurt came from is more creative and exciting than it's ever been. From radical pop to sensorial noise-action to the subterranean forays in drone-folk-psyche-improv, all the music Kurt adored is very much alive and being played by amazing artists he didn't live to see, artists who recognize Kurt as a significant and honorable muse.

The kid who looked like him sat next to me in the basement where we were playing and I knew he was going to ask me about Kurt. This happens a lot. What was Kurt like? Was he a good guy? Simple things. He asked me if I thought Kurt would've liked this total outsider music we were hearing. I laughed, realizing the kid was slightly bewildered by it all, and I answered emphatically, "Yeah, Kurt would have loved this."

Good Morning America did a bit about wounded soldiers this morning, and apparently one of abc's primetime shows will be doing more coverage tonight. I think this is the first time I've seen anything about the wounded on mainstream media, and it's about damn time.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

I've been thinking this for years, but then again, sometimes people call me naive. Glad to know I'm not the only one (via tom tomorrow):

"If you make $300,000 as a owner, what's wrong with you getting $200,000 and the other $100,000 added to your payroll budget?"
-Zachary Tabor, owner of several Sonic Drive-in franchises

Tuesday, April 06, 2004


Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!

How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Increased troop deployment, delayed returns home, increased body count...sure, most of the rest of us are just hunkered down, waiting until November. But for the soldiers encamped outside Fallujah that might as well be a lifetime away. I don't even know what to say...

Monday, April 05, 2004

one more before I run to campus to get some actual work done:

The Union of Concerned Scientists produced a report in February accusing the White House of manipulating scientific results to suit their own policy stances on various issues. The White House recently issued a rebuttal, to which Kurt Gottfried, chair of the Union of Concerned Scientists, replied, "It's possible there are things we got wrong. We're not infallible, like the Vatican or the White House. But I don't think there's any reason to think we got the big picture wrong. In fact, our case is stronger now than when we produced that report" (New York Times, 4/3). (emphasis mine, 'cause I think it's so damn funny)

Math is Hard!

A new study has found that downloading music files for free may not actually be hurting album sales. Of course, this needs to be replicated before the results are really trustworthy, blah blah blah. What I think is really funny is that the crux of the music industry's argument against the study's findings appears to be simply that the analysis is too hard to understand. At one point the article states, "Using complex mathematical formulas, they determined that spikes in downloading had almost no discernible effect on sales." And later

One consultant, Russ Crupnick, vice president of the NPD Group, called the report "absolutely astounding." Asked to explain how the professors' analysis might be mistaken, he said he was still trying to understand the complex document: "I am not the level of mathematician that the professors purport to be."

I love that he basically accuses the professors of faking their mathematical abilities. I'm sorry, but I'm not so sure I'd be calling out economists from the Harvard Business School and UNC - Chapel Hill on their math skills. Of course, it is very likely that a rigorous study does contain complex mathematical analyses. But it's equally likely that, to a lay person, any equation containing a single Greek letter look complex and intimidating. I just hate that the slant of the article seems to be that math is scary and not understanding it is enough reason to doubt the results of a study. Damn innumeracy!

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Political bias in higher education?

This is a topic Amelia deals with a lot, and I've mostly avoided as I don't have much experience in the area and honestly, haven't given it enough careful thought to pose a very coherent arguement. But this Times article got me going again, so here goes: First, a disclaimer - for two reasons, I come to this debate from a very different side. 1) I attended Case Western, which is predominantly conservative (at least, among the students, perhaps not the professors) and 2) I'm in a math field, where it is significantly more difficult for professors to insert their own personal social and political views into a lecture. That said, I'm very skeptical of the allegation that there is a strong liberal bias in higher education and that conservative view points, from both students and teachers, result in discrimination. I won't dispute that a majority of college professors appear to be/are liberal/democrats. But that doesn't necessarily translate into discrimination. Sure, it sucks to be the minority viewpoint. But that doesn't necessarily mean that you are being disciminated against. And mandating quotas of how many conservatives and how many liberals a university must employ seems fruitless to me. The article states:

Last year the Center for the Study of Popular Culture surveyed the political opinions of professors in the humanities and social sciences at 32 top universities and concluded that Democratic views vastly outnumbered Republican ones at each of them. To many of Mr. Horowitz's supporters, that is strong evidence.

Again, simply being outnumbered does not immediately imply discrimination. In fact, in my mind, the answer might lie in the very next paragraph:

"We have 60 members in the department of government," said Harvey Mansfield, a well-known Harvard professor. "Maybe three are Republicans. How could that be just by chance? How could that be fair? How could it be that the smartest people are all liberals? Many liberals simply don't care for the kind of work conservatives do."

I agree that an unbalanced representation of views is not fair, but turn around that last sentence - what if many conservatives simply don't care for the kind of work liberals do? What if there are an overwhelming number of liberals in education because it's an underpaid and often unrewarding job and many conservatives don't really want it? I know I'm jumping to all sorts of generalizations here, but what if the skewed distribution doesn't imply that "all the smartest people are liberals" but simply that similarly educated conservatives choose to work in other fields? Rather than bemoaning the distribution of political beliefs of professors, why not deal with the curriculum? Because a teacher who is honestly doing his or her job will present differing viewpoints. A student is quoted later in the article complaining that he's been assigned Marx four times and never Adam Smith. Ok, that seems like a potentially legitimate complaint. But that's in the quality of the teaching, which I don't think needs to be tied to the proportion of conservative vs. liberal professors. Anecdotally, I took intro. philosophy from a professor who openly admitted her feminist perspective. But my impression was always that she was very careful in lecture to avoid her own personal opinion, even when asked for it. She would always return to, well, Descarte says this, and nietzsche says this and what do you make of that? Then again, I am both a feminist and a liberal, so perhaps I'm just not sensitive enough to these sorts of biases.