succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Just finished I, Robot. The "you can't deny my logic" bits were neat, but I would have preferred it if the humans 'won' by forcing a contradiction in the three laws. Isn't that how it worked in the book? Or was that how they created perpetual motion/energy? Or am I just making things up? It's definitely been way too long since I read the collection of short stories, and I know the movie basically only used the three laws part, so really not much in common...Also, the movie was produced by Topher Dow, to whom I'm sort of not related, in a convoluted kind of way, which is cool. (he is my aunt's late girlfriend's son. confusing, I know.)

Fellow Atlantians! I want to climb trees!

Just another reason to love Amy Poehler:

"I'm so enamored of and nostalgic for that time when girls are all arms and elbows, and they're just really, really fun and crazy, and no one's told them they can't do anything yet, and they have, like, 50 things that they want to be and do."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Yep. This just about captures my sentiments exactly. Too bad if I actually put one of these on my car I could never venture outside the perimeter again...not that I really want to all that often.

We have become continue to be the enemy. From Baghdad Burning, a blog written by a 20-something female living in Iraq:

Now Newsweek have retracted the story- obviously under pressure from the White House. Is it true? Probably? We've seen enough blatant disregard and disrespect for Islam in Iraq the last two years to make this story sound very plausible. On a daily basis, mosques are raided, clerics are dragged away with bags over their heads? Several months ago the world witnessed the execution of an unarmed Iraqi prisoner inside a mosque. Is this latest so very surprising?

Detainees coming back after weeks or months in prison talk of being forced to eat pork, not being allowed to pray, being exposed to dogs, having Islam insulted and generally being treated like animals trapped in a small cage. At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. That's not to say that all troops disrespect Islam- some of them seem to genuinely want to understand our beliefs. It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy.

By doing such things, this war is taken to another level- it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists- it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secular Muslims are being forced to take sides.

(emphasis mine)

At this point it hardly matters what our intentions were, whether, overall, this debacle was 'worthwhile' (whatever that means) as long as Saddam is no longer in power, insert any other justification you choose here. We have reached the point where our actual behavior hardly matters, since our past behavior has made nearly anything believable. I don't know what it will take to convince Iraqis, Muslims, the rest of the world that we are the 'good guys' and that we have the international community's best interests at heart. But actually considering the interests of others may be a good place to start.

And speaking of religious tolernace, this book has been added to my wishlist. Longer excerpt available here.
I merely make this distinction: Conservative Christianity understands a Christian to be someone who subscribes to a specific set of theological propositions about God and the afterlife, and who professes to believe that by subscribing to those propositions, accepting Jesus Christ as savior, and (except in the case of the most extreme separatist fundamentalists) evangelizing, he or she evades God's wrath and wins salvation (for Roman Catholics, good works also count); liberal Christianity, meanwhile, tends to identify Christianity with the experience of God's abundant love and with the commandment to love God and one's neighbor. If, for conservative Christians, outreach generally means zealous proselytizing of the "unsaved," for liberal Christians it tends to mean social programs directed at those in need.

(the longer excerpt features an interesting list comparing different interpretations of the same passages and events in the Bible by the two categories)
Carrie has written far more eloquently and knowledgeably on this subject, but let me just add this - at the risk of sounding incredibly judgemental, it seems that those who belong to the former category (those Bawer refers to as "legalists") follow a lazier, simpler version of religion. If one ascribes to a set of beliefs because they lay out an authoritarian law, with a clear set of rules to follow in order to be a 'good' person, no matter how hard those things may be to follow, it's still easier than struggling through your own moral dilemmas. As Jack Hitt writes:
Curious. Jesus updated the Ten Commandments in his most famous speech, the Sermon on the Mount. In it, one finds the Eight Beatitudes. Why don't we ever hear about nailing those somewhere? Here's why: It's not simply the law in the Ten Commandments that attracts fundamentalists. Rather, it's the syntax. The authoritarianism of so many "Thou Shalt Nots."

The syntax of Jesus' Eight Beatitudes is not so easy (Blessed are the poor in spirit…. Blessed are the peacemakers). These words invite the kind of hard questions that Jesus loved to tweak his followers with. How are they blessed? And why? It's just like Jesus to leave us with questions instead of answers.


Taken as a whole, it's not a parable with a clear and right answer. None of them are, and that is the point. You have to sort of toss it around in your head, think about people you've dealt with who've said one thing and done another, and then try to come to some answer. Chances are that few will agree in their interpretations, an outcome that is rhetorically so sly. Jesus makes you work through your own doubt and hesitation to arrive at an answer that becomes the very foundation of your own certainty.

This guy's good, isn't he?

Wow. Thinking. How revolutionary. Of course, my favorite Beatitudes reference comes from a movie. "I recall a blessing; blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." "I wonder how meek they'll be when they do, sir."

And to end on a lighter note, one of the reasons I love Bob Harris is that, in addition to his excellent writing, he's just a big dork. Exhibit A:
This was as intimidating and fun as it sounds. I mean, those people have actual educations and stuff. True story: on one of the questions, the referee got as far as saying, and I quote:

"Eight-point-eight-five-four-two times ten to the minus-twelfth Farads per meter..."

before one of the kids across the table from us hit his buzzer and chimed in:

"Permittivity of free space!"

which was, of course, correct, leaving me to mutter under my breath:

"Holy f@#$ing sh*t."

Still and all, we managed to hold our own against these feisty young ones, and even managed to push them down and take their bicycles a few times.

And for those feeling a bit of wanderlust, his travel journals are superb.

Bonnaroo tickets just arrived! Yippee!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I've been getting restless at night lately. I don't know what my deal is. I perk up around 10, get in a couple more hours of good studying, then around midnight, instead of settling down, maybe reading a bit, and going to bed like a normal (responsible) person, I just get bored and fidgety and stay up way too late doing nothing. If it were two weeks from now I'd write it off as a pretty standard stress reaction for me. But this seems a little off...and if I'm seriously starting to stress out this early in the game, well, I guess I just hope to wear myself out soon because I certainly can't keep this up for 23 more days.

The sunscreen my school was handing out at graduation yesterday says, "Sunscreen: The other protection in a foil wrapper." Oh public health school!

Also, over on her blog, Carrie describes fellow Case grads thusly, "Most of us have had really messy social and romantic lives, but we've fallen in love with ideas." Which, actually, seems to capture Case pretty accurately. Love it or hate it, the vast majority of Case students were the kids most likely to get picked on in high school, most likely to eat lunch alone, most likely to prefer computer interaction to the human kind. Even the most 'socially well-adjusted' among us are pretty far from 'normal.' Still, it's nice to hear that we (at least, some portion of us) found things that make us tick. (and more than just our rather unique group of friends, since the portion carrie refers to aren't people she knew very well as an undergrad) What I'm surprised and saddened by is that more nerdy types don't seem so "in love with ideas." Case hardly had the market cornered on the socially inept who turn to books and facts and ideas for comfort and company. Is it beaten out of them by the process of higher education? Maybe I'm just extra sensitive/paranoid after Shelby's excellent-but-depressing podcast about the perils of graduate school. Lord knows he's had a hell of a time over in his program, but his podcast features three (four?) others, in different fields, who likewise are only going through with their degree because at this point they've come too far to turn back. I know I'm in a different place in my education, all bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed and just on the verge of starting to do research, but I just don't get it. And (no offense guys and gals) I hope I never do. I don't mean to imply that these folks (Shelby and his friends or any of the number of other students I know who share their sentiments) aren't "in love with ideas" in general - all of them have found other things into which to funnel their passion. But you don't end up in grad school because you're pretty good at math or you kind of like to read books. You end up studying something in a PhD program because it's the thing that you can't not do. I know that's cliche, but hell, it's why I'm here. And I know it's why Carrie is willing to be so poor she can't afford regular meals from time to time. So what happens? Maybe I'm naive, but it feels like it must be more than terrible advisors or depressing funding situations. Don't get me wrong. I am in no way trying to imply that unhappy grad students have only themselves to blame. I'm just, rather selfishly, trying to learn how to avoid their plight.

Monday, May 16, 2005

I got to talk to Mark and Carrie both in one evening! It's like Christmas!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Well. Shit.

Dear Case Community,

It is with a heavy heart that I must pass along tragic news. This afternoon, Ignacio J. Ocasio, known to everyone as "Doc Oc," passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at University Hospitals of Cleveland.

Doc Oc, a classically trained pianist and prodigiously talented chemistry professor, came to the Case campus in 1980. Since that time, thousands of students have passed through his chemistry courses and have been infected by his energy, enthusiasm, and dedication. A 1993 Wittke Award winner, Doc Oc was a permanent fixture in the lives of students. He supported them outside the classroom as well as inside, whether it was through his celebrity judging of the Mr. CWRU contest, as Hudson Relay coach to the first-year class, or as fraternity advisor.

Advisor, teacher, mentor, and friend, Doc Oc will forever remain a part of the Case Western Reserve University family. Our community will come together to mourn his loss at a memorial service in the fall semester, when all of our students and faculty can be on campus to celebrate Doc Oc's remarkable life and contributions.

We realize that many of you will want to express your feelings and share your memories of Doc Oc, in addition to participating in his memorial. In the upcoming week, an online scrapbook will be established to capture our memories of Doc Oc as well as to plan for his memorial.

To Doc Oc's family and the many devoted friends, students, and colleagues who are grieving his passing, I offer my deepest condolences.

Very truly,

Edward M. Hundert, M.D.


I went to a reception Friday night thrown by the Emory college of arts and sciences. I met a somewhat-higher-up in the A&S food chain, someone who controls the distribution of money throughout the college. A grey-haired white guy. We spoke briefly, and to a friend's off-hand comment about the number of women in college this higher-up said, well, it will always be that way because women will always be distracted by family. They'll never have the time and energy to devote to college and career that men have. I was so caught off guard and unsure of the appropriateness of a rebuttal that I held my tongue. But he didn't even acknowledge that, you know, maybe there's something wrong with a system that works that way? That maybe it takes two to make babies, and perhaps, just perhaps, we'd all be better off if men were a bit more distracted by their off-spring?

So then last night I was helping my advisor throw a graduation party for her son. And I swear all the mathematicians in the room were women! It was fantastic. And not only were they women, but they were cool, functional, well-adjusted, healthy women! The math teacher at her son's high school reminds me of Tina Fey's character in Mean Girls and also happens to be the coach of the men's ultimate frisbee team. One of her former students just finished her second year at Emory, and plans on being a math major. She wants to grow up to be just like her old teacher. This girl's mother went back to school and earned a BA in math. Because 'if you have the choice, would you rather take flower arranging or differential equations? I mean, really?' When I caught up with my advisor at the end of the night and told her how great I thought her friends were she just smiled at me and swept her arm around the room and said, one day this will be you.