succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, January 12, 2008


My student waited until the second week to blow it.

Friday, January 11, 2008


So I was a little overly-ambitious with my reading plans over the holidays. But I did finally manage to finish The Last Town on Earth (overall very good, quite impressive for a first novel, but somewhat dissatisfying ending) and the collection of Sebastian Junger essays, Fire (from which the two articles about Massoud that I linked to previously came). Fire contains some excellent information about Massoud and (unrelated, obviously) the diamond trade in Africa and the ongoing conflict in Cyprus. There are other pieces about fighting forest fires, post-civil war Kosovo, kidnap victims in Kashmir, and whale hunting in Bequia. They're all fairly interesting, but I can't say that any of them turned me into a big Junger fan or anything. It's sort of not surprising that I found this one in the bargain pile.

And now I'm fully entrenched in the Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. I polished off The Golden Compass a few days ago and promptly headed out to Wordsmiths for The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass (because I like my gratification to be instant). Although the stories themselves are quite enjoyable, I have to say that all the anti-Church stuff is actually a tad distracting. It's too clumsy and heavy-handed and, frankly, not clever, to really add much to the story. It feels a lot more like Pullman had this interesting story idea, and developed this cool other world with witches and fighting polar bears and dæmons (all humans have dæmons, get it?) and then shoehorned this anti-Church agenda into it. I certainly dig, from time to time, criticisms of organized religion, as there is certainly plenty to criticize, but I guess I was just hoping for/expecting something more interesting and subtle and clever. Then again, I'm only halfway through the second book, so maybe things improve in the end.

I'm also continuing to page through The Impossible Will Take a Little While, though I have to confess to being a tad disappointed thus far. I'm only a few selections in, still in the first section ("Seeds of the Possible") but nothing particularly moving or inspirational to report so far.


I finally got around to watching Talk to Me last night (Netflix delivered it weeks ago) which is worth watching for the depiction of the night MLK was assassinated alone. But there's plenty of other good stuff too, and stellar performances by Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Taraji P. Henson.

Feeling Accomplished

Despite all my pop culture indulgences recently, I'm actually feeling (for a brief, fleeting moment) pretty good about my research. And now I've gone and jinxed myself. But I thought big thoughts about two of my research topics yesterday and today, and actually, maybe, made just a bit of progress on this sticky theoretical problem that has been intimidating me for weeks, and edited a paper and an abstract, and re-did some analyses, and just generally chugged right along on my agenda (which I finally wrote down in excruciating detail earlier this week because I was starting to freak out about everything). So there's that.


Oh, and I need to do just a bit more research, but I think I've decided to go ahead and get a cortisone shot for my hip. My doc didn't put any restrictions on me in terms of physical activity, but still, I've been feeling guilty ever since the MRI results, like I'm blissfully running around damaging myself, which may or may not be true. But the cortisone shot should reduce inflammation and may potentially slow down my joint degeneration, so I think I'm going to go for it. And keep planning to put surgery off a couple of years...unless...


I've been avoiding talking about this, but last month I applied for a teaching fellowship. I'll find out in 11 days whether or not I got it. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but I can't seem to stop my brain from making plans for if I get it. And one of those plans loops back to the timing of my potential surgery. But I don't want to say anymore, because it entails laying out all these ideas about how the next year would shape up and I don't want to write them down in case it all falls through...but I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Philip Seymour Hoffman

It felt too incongruous to move from political lamentations to actorly praise in the same post, so Charlie Wilson's War post #2! As usual, PSH continues to prove himself to be one of the best actors around, and although the Salon review favored his opening line ("Excuse me, what the fuck?"), I was partial to "Can we just take a moment to reflect on all of the ways that you are a douche bag?"

"These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world... and then we fucked up the endgame."

Why do we have to be so Goddamned bad at learning? That's what I kept thinking walking out of Charlie Wilson's War last night. Initially, I wanted to post a rave review, jumping up and down about how every citizen and politician should go see it right now. And while I still think it's a great movie, after a night of sleep I'm a bit more tempered about it. Then again, maybe I just like my movies to be a bit more heavy-handed politically. The movie does a great job of showing just how up to our eyeballs we were in Afghanistan's war against the Soviets. And it even makes a pretty compelling argument as to why we were so invested. But about halfway through the movie I started wondering if they were somehow going to just tell this story in blissful isolation, without any acknowledgement of the straight line you can draw through history from our funding of the mujahideen through to the Taliban, then al-Qaeda, then 9/11. What we get is one last scene of Charlie begging the appropriations committee for $1 million to fund schools in Afghanistan (as compared to the $1 billion they eventually invested in weapons and training) and then the above Charlie Wilson quote just as the credits start to roll. Just imagine how different things might have been if we had worked to provide Afghanis with some alternative to madrasahs. I know, I know, our government investing in schools in another country when we have our own problems here can be a hard budgetary item to sell. But a) we were invested enough to recognize that our own interests would be served by helping the Afghanis fight the Soviets, so we should be invested enough to recognize that it also serves our interests to help the Afghanis get back on their feet instead of abandoning them to the whims of the Taliban and b) I'm just so fucking tired of the bottomless pit of money we're willing to throw at wars and then the oh-we're-so-poor routine we play whenever money needs to be allocated to the sorts of things that might prevent wars.

What I also thought was interesting is that we get one brief mention of Massoud, and none of bin Laden. Now, my knowledge of this particular bit of history comes from just a handful of essays, so I'm hardly an expert, but my understanding is that by this time bin Laden was already a mover and shaker within the mujahideen and, at least according to Sebastian Junger, the CIA wasn't investing much in Massoud as they found him too independent to be trusted to carry out American interests. But maybe talking out loud about our direct support and funding of people like bin Laden was too much for Hollywood.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Asleep at the Wheel

One of the (few) good things about having a bunch of tedious, time-consuming modeling to do is that it gives me an opportunity to catch up on some episodes of Fresh Air. First, the fun stuff - this excellent interview with Dave Grohl from last year features anecdotes about Kurt Cobain destroying his drum kits and songs he writes for his daughter.

Now the serious - I don't know how I missed so many details of this two-year old story, but yesterday's interview with James Hansen and Mark Bowen got my blood boiling all over again about the administration interfering with NASA scientists debacle. I knew that all over federal agencies scientists were being forced to vet their expert opinions through clearly non-expert political appointees. But somehow I missed these gems:

The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most." (NYTimes, 2/06)

From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.”

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. In this year’s budget and planning documents, the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”

David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.


Several NASA researchers said they were upset that the change was made at NASA headquarters without consulting the agency’s 19,000 employees or informing them ahead of time.


The “understand and protect” phrase was cited repeatedly by James E. Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA who said publicly last winter that he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking out about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Hansen’s comments started a flurry of news media coverage in late January; on Feb. 3, Mr. Griffin issued a statement of “scientific openness.”

The revised mission statement was released with the agency’s proposed 2007 budget on Feb. 6. But Mr. Steitz said Dr. Hansen’s use of the phrase and its subsequent disappearance from the mission statement was “pure coincidence.” (NYTimes, 7/06)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Best Response

Yes, yes, sometimes we have to rise above and be the bigger person and resorting to name-calling and the like doesn't change people's minds or the patriarchy in general, blah blah blah. But sometimes we just need to make ourselves feel a little better, and have a little chuckle. From The Curvature, in response to the Iron My Shirt 'protest':

“Iron my shirt!”

How ’bout we iron your crotch, dude?

Many thanks to RachelPhilPa for being more quick-witted than I.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Cashmere Mafia

I'm not sure how I feel about this.
“Look at what a man gives up to be with one of us,” she tells her girlfriends. “We make more money. We rise higher. We take up more space. We are as far from the idea of a wife he grew up with as it’s possible to be and still wear his ring and go by his last name.”
On the one hand, the show just isn't all that great (and egads, that title!), and the above is certainly no excuse for infidelity (as it sort of plays in the pilot), but on the other hand, the above is a pretty damn eloquent description of some of my fears. Sure, there are secure, progressive men out there, but they're still the minority. It's going to take another generation or so before relationships with a logical division of responsibilities are the norm.

Not that I think television is some great answer, but I'm wondering if with more characters like Miranda and Sarah et al we might at least have a few more conversations about the uncomfortable things that start happening when the female partner in a heterosexual relationship is more successful in terms of job/money/power. Things like being told 'You're too good for him.' Not that I even remotely agree with these sorts of labels, but how come it's ok for men to date 'down' (i.e., well-educated man with successful career dates less-educated stay-at-home type) but not vice versa? We were still students and people (friends!) had the balls to say that shit to me while I was dating Dan. It was always clear in our relationship that I was headed for a more (traditionally) lucrative career while he primarily wanted to draw comic books and design video games. And he was a way better cook that I am. Back in the day when we thought we'd get married, we agreed that I would be the primary breadwinner and he would be the primary homemaker/parent. It was an arrangement that made us happy. And made other people confused.