Saturday, December 27, 2008


Are the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza are in response to escalating rocket attack from Hamas? So say all the articles on the events in all of the major news outlets I could find in American (and Canadian!) media.

Suppose we take this idea seriously, and suppose the media are taking this idea seriously. Why then can I not find a single mention anywhere of the Israeli death toll from these 300 rockets? Even if not a single Israeli died in those attacks, that would not excuse the attacks. But if the airstrikes are indeed a response, then there is a question of the proportionality of that response, and before that question can be addressed, we need some numbers.

I see that Hamas responded to the raids with dozens of rockets, killing one Israeli and wounding others (at least six) -- but that's it. No other Israeli casualties are mentioned. Have there been no other Israeli casualties, before the Israeli airstrikes? I would imagine so. So could we have a tally, please? I would like to be able to compare the figures: at least 230 Palestinian dead and 780 wounded, according to Haaretz (higher figures than the 225 / 400+ figures in the news over here), versus how many Israeli dead and wounded? (This site does not quite provide the right numbers, but could guide estimates.)

But this is a very silly line of inquiry, because the idea that this is a response to the rocket attacks is silly. It is not just false, it's not even trying to be true. For a clear hint at this in a major English-speaking media outlet, it looks like we have to go to the BBC:
So why is Israel acting now and with such force? Does it really believe it can stop the rocket fire from Gaza when previous Israeli governments have tried and failed, using every military means? Israel's prime minister says that is his objective: to protect Israeli citizens living close to the Gaza border. To achieve this, his defence minister, Ehud Barak, said Israel would continue, widen and intensify its Gaza operation.

But Israel's politicians are pursuing a parallel campaign, too - an electoral one. Israel holds parliamentary elections in just over a month's time. The Israeli public has a generally low opinion about how their government has handled what they call "Hamastan" - Hamas-controlled Gaza. Until it started talking tough, the hawkish opposition leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, was leading in the polls. Now the gap has narrowed.
(Netanyahu has some great talent there: causing military misadventures without even being in power.)

This is a scandalous idea -- perhaps it's not a focus of the American coverage because it's just so unthinkable in this country that military actions could be politically motivated. Still, I did find it mentioned in a single sentence buried at the end of this Time article. As for the rest of the article, it provides such gems as
Israel is prepared to ratchet up the pressure still further in the hope that it will force a workable ceasefire.
But Israel will need to move carefully. Air strikes that kill large numbers of Palestinian civilians are only likely to fuel support for Hamas, and ramp up international pressure to end the operation quickly.
Meanwhile the White House is blaming Hamas (which is almost half right), and sternly admonishes Israel to avoid civilian casualties, which is a bit like condoning the making of omelets so long as one is careful about the eggs.

But now let's look ahead to America's (and the world's!) glorious hope-filled future. Give us a taste of that magical hope dust, Barack!
"In terms of negotiations with Hamas, it is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation state, does not recognize your right to exist, has consistently used terror as a weapon, and is deeply influenced by other countries."
Oh, this is all going to get fixed like on January 21, I can feel it.

Journey to Indiana

The car is on its last legs. The plan for Christmas was: take it on one last trip back to Indiana, sell it back (for parts) to Dawn's old mechanic, and take Amtrak back.

There were two problems with the first part of that plan. First problem: we haven't used the car in months, so it's stuck in a bunker of snow and ice (see previous post). We failed to dig it out, and ended up borrowing a shovel from one of the nearby construction sites. Conveniently, the shovel came with a construction worker attached, who was very efficient. Merry Christmas to construction workers! Second problem: the car's battery and / or alternator is shot. But we jump start it, and we're on our way. About eight blocks away, we stop at a traffic light, and the car dies. We give it another jump, park it, and decide driving is a bad idea.

This is a really disheartening moment: getting the car out felt like such a triumph.

Anyway, we go back home and look up Amtrak. Amtrak in Chicago had just suffered massive delays, due to the weather (see previous post), and so there were no spaces left on any trains going out.

So we end up arranging to take a commuter train which can get us about half-way to our destination, with Dawn's mom driving us the rest of the way. The train is SRO (with the normal commuter crowd, plus a big holiday crowd), which is probably illegal, but there's no room for the conductors to walk through, and they never bother getting us to buy tickets. So we get a free ride.

The trip back from Indiana on Amtrak was comparatively uneventful. Of course, the trip took longer than scheduled--what's an Amtrak trip without some sort of delay? Our delay was due to problems with a whistle. Yes, a whistle. Apparently, a train has to whistle at every road crossing, or else it has to stop at every road crossing. This makes it really important to have a working whistle, but ours got frozen shut by the freezing rain which was pouring down at the time. A maintenance crew tried to get it working again, but they failed, and we ended up hooking up to the back end of another Amtrak train (with a working whistle) which had come along while we were sitting there. This took nearly two hours, I think. But, all things considered, it wasn't a big deal at all, since the freezing rain was doing much worse things to the roads. At one point, as we were coming into Gary, we saw a cluster of overpasses and whatnot decorated by stopped cars, some vehicles going backwards, a several-car pile-up, and a busted guardrail (no sign of what had happened to the car which had done the guardrail busting). We heard later from Dawn's mom that a bunch of the main roads along our usual Indiana route had been shut down; if we'd been driving, we would have been forced down a bunch of side roads (which probably would have been in even worse shape). Hurray for rail travel (and see previous post).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas travel is stupid

Why does such a travel-heavy holiday have to occur in the depths of winter? This is the solstice. Winter doesn't get any deeper. It's the season for cold snaps, snow storms, freezing rain -- and everyone's got to get somewhere else right now. Whose bright idea was this?

The Museum of Science and Industry is a crock

So, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry with some out-of-towners. This place bills itself as the largest science museum in the western hemisphere. So, it has quantity, if not quality.

On the occasion of Christmas, there is this syrupy display, which also manages to be culturally insensitive -- possibly even to Americans. There are a whole bunch of Christmas trees decorated in the mode of different countries -- "beautifully decorated by members of Chicago’s ethnic communities", they say. Here's what that means: take the most obvious and stereotyped symbols of a place, and plaster them over an evergreen. Thus the Canadian tree is covered in maple leafs and hockey paraphernalia, and the American tree is covered in American flags (decorated by members of Chicago's American community). So, those are just silly, but it's starting to get a little tasteless when you get the Kenyan tree with a giraffe sticking out of it.

The museum has a whole exhibit devoted to petroleum and oil. Now you might think that this would be very topical right about now. Except it doesn't say a thing about climate change, or conflicts over oil, or the possibility that we could just plain run out. Why not? Well, a clue can be found in another exhibit, on nuclear energy. This exhibit features a map identifying different countries, and informing you how much of their energy comes from nuclear sources. Among the countries you get to learn about on this poster in the Museum of Science and Industry are the Soviet Union, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the German Democratic Republic.

The damn thing hasn't been updated in two decades. That map was older than a solid majority of the people in the room.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Katrina's hidden race war

"My uncle was very excited that it was a free-for-all--white against black--that he could participate in," says the woman. "For him, the opportunity to hunt black people was a joy."

Reminder to self: watch Welcome to New Orleans.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The FU25 network


This is something I've complained about before. I'm not going to link there myself now, but the first hit on google for "Matthew 25" is the website of a pro-Obama PAC: the "Matthew 25 Network". The front page features a big smiley picture of Obama and Biden, next to a big friendly message: "Congratulations President-Elect Obama!".

Above all of that is an actual quote from Matthew 25:40: "I tell you the truth, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

From which we can only assume that Obama is "one of the least of these", and that by "did it" Jesus meant "voted into the office of the President of the United States"; as such, America basically just elected Jesus president.

Eviscerating the gospel with no sense of irony: it's not just for the Christian right any more. I'm guessing crap like this gives Jesus a headache, no matter who's doing it.

Syrian lingerie

This is one of the awesomest articles I've read in a while.
Forthright displays of the some world's kinkiest "leisure wear" have long been a feature of Syrian souks.... It stems from the Syrian tradition for brides-to-be to be given a trousseau of exotic underwear - sometimes dozens of items - usually by girlfriends, aunties and cousins, to add spice to their wedding nights, honeymoons and beyond.
The article also says that foreplay is commanded in Islam (thou shalt get kinky), which got me googling my way to this essay. There's a reference there to Al-Ghazali, a medieval Islamic philosopher and theologian. I recognized the name because I read his argument against causation in a medieval philosophy class (he scooped Malebranche and Hume by several centuries). But henceforth I will also know him for his declaration that "Sex should begin with gentle words and kissing".

Saturday, December 13, 2008

One degree of separation from shattered dreams

A student I TA'ed this fall got a mention as an anecdote in the national news. His mother is in the real estate business, and, well, business is not so good. Plus the family got hit by medical bills (mutter health care mutter). So now he might not be coming back after the new year, unless he can independently scrounge together enough funds to pay the $50,000 a year it takes to live and study at the college here. He's got loans and some free money covering a good chunk of that, but not nearly enough. Where's he going to find a summer job that can cover the remaining 30K?

And $50,000? Really? I knew this place was expensive, but that is absurd. Expensive American colleges are such a scam... and so expensive (44K just for tuition at Bates, WTF?). I think the college here can (can) be a good place, but I don't see how it warrants a 50K / year price tag.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bad grad week =

Exam + dissertating + grading + tutoring

Today I found myself attempting to explain to some undergrad why it might be a good idea to follow up an argument in a paper by considering how someone else might object, and then responding to that objection. The student thought this was a crazy thing to do. I failed to change the student's mind. Not my best moment ever. Not a particularly good testament to whoever was supposed to have spent the past few months teaching this student how to write.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My American Thanksgiving

This is a little early, but for American Thanksgiving this year, I would like to give thanks for my Canadian citizenship, which releases me from an enormous amount of anxiety--for example, the anxiety which results from the possibility of losing your private employer-based health insurance. As it turns out, this might happen even if you're not personally caught up in the tide of rising unemployment. Even if you keep your job, there's still a chance of a total collapse of the American private health care "system".

What a country.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'll be telling my grandkids I lived here

On my way to Greek class I noted that there were dozens of cop cars, one after another, parked in a line all the way along University Drive.

Sure enough, when I mention this to Dawn, she says that Obama dropped his kids off at the Lab School in person today. (How did she know? Because pictures of the "event" were in the "news".)

If only I'd stuck around, maybe I could have gotten a picture of his silhouette through the tinted window of his armoured SUV.


Dawn and I know two couples: Nate and Jen, and Nathan and Jenny. We also know (not in a couple) a Nat and a Jenn.

And then, just recently, I met a married couple: Nathan and Jen.

Dawn has decreed that we're not allowed to be friends with that last pair. It's just too much.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The bible vs. the traditional conception of hell

With respect to the interpretation of the bible, the term "literal" is often used more or less interchangeably with "traditional". (Or, sometimes, maybe "extreme", or something like that--the "literal" account of the "end times", for example, is (a) not in the bible and (b) a very recent invention.) So people talk about a "literal hell", by which they seem to suggest that they're talking about a doctrine of hell which is right there in the bible, in black and white, and anyone who doesn't think it's in there must be reading the text in some terribly loose and metaphorical way.

But, as it turns out, it's awful hard to find traditional notions about hell in the bible. In fact, I'd say that the more literally you interpret it, the harder it is to support the traditional conception of hell.

A nice friendly run-through is provided by RLP in a new series of videos (plus a nifty .pdf). I agree with the vast majority of what he says.

The traditional doctrine of hell is a problem. It strikes a good many people as morally repulsive. It has caused Christians to leave the faith. But it's not to be found in the bible.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I gotta say, I'm not a fan.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Title of "Featured Video" on Yahoo Canada

"Family of man beheaded on bus calls for tougher laws"

I concur. Increase the sentence for stabbing a stranger dozens of times, hacking off his head, slicing off bits of his face and putting them into your pocket in a plastic bag, and then eating other bits of him! Because we really need a stronger deterrent against that sort of thing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Faint praise

Over the weekend we went to Boystown, probably our favourite neighbourhood to visit in Chicago. We mostly go for the second-hand clothes, and the vegetarian food (the Chicago Diner does very convincing fake meat), but the flaming gayness is also pretty cool.

When I informed an acquaintance of ours about this, he praised us for being "open-minded".

I had a hard time figuring out what he could have meant by that. If you're a graduate student in the humanities, it doesn't seem like you should get any credit at all for being happy visiting the city's gaybourhood (ha!). In general, you can pretty much take that for granted in our little sub-culture. But Dawn came up with what has got to be the right explanation: if you're a graduate student in the humanities and also Christian, you might be expected to fear the gay. And if you don't, then maybe that qualifies you as "open-minded".

That was a weird thought to get used to.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The meat industry is full of shit

According to a report just released by the US Government Accountability Office, a large factory farm can produce 1.6 million tons of shit a year, more than the 1.4 million tons produced by the entire city of Houston, the fourth largest city in America (see here and here).

So, it's no news that factory farms are awful polluters. But it turns out that I had no idea just how awful they really are. 1.6 million tons of shit every year from just one farm. More shit than all the inhabitants of Houston combined. That is a lot of shit.

Consider the case of poor North Carolina:
In one example, GAO said that five contiguous North Carolina counties in 2002 had an estimated 7.5 million hogs that could have produced as much as 15.5 million tons of manure.
15.5 million tons of manure is equivalent to 11 Houstons.

The state of North Carolina has 100 counties. The entire state of North Carolina has a population of 9 million, which is less than 4 Houstons worth of people. Meanwhile 5% of its counties are producing 11 Houstons worth of shit.

What are they doing with all that shit? What could they possibly do?

All that shit poisons the soil and poisons the water; meanwhile, fumes poison the air. (It should come as no surprise that the EPA is doing a shitty job of regulating all that shit.)

The moral of the story: factory farms are poison. To eat factory farmed meat is to contribute to the production of poison. Dinner for you could mean poison for a North Carolinian. So please don't eat meat unless you've verified that it's not from a factory farm (if you must eat meat at all).

Monday, September 15, 2008


In Alberta we saw more family, a volleyball tournament, and lots more rocks and trees and water, and also ice, of even more impressive sorts than you get in Vancouver. We started a fire. We went to West Edmonton Mall, the largest and possibly also most absurd shopping mall in North America (unless there is some other mall out there which contains an amusement park, working submarines, a full-sized pirate ship, and a metal whale). We saw a black bear having dinner at the side of the highway, and a truly magnificent elk in Jasper Park. No northern lights, but Dawn got her first clear look at the Milky Way (the stars don't get much clearer than in Jasper).


Lake Abraham.

Peyto Lake. It's gorgeous, and tourists love it, so shots like this are a dime a dozen. But I think the play of shadow and reflection here puts this picture in the top quartile of Peyto Lake pictures.

The other end of Peyto Lake. It is currently being fed by a tiny trickle of glacier melt water. I hear that trickle has been getting smaller, so Peyto might not be sticking around for too long.

The Athabasca Glacier. It would have come right up to the bottom of that picture just 20 or so years ago.

Dawn looking proud because she's standing on the glacier. Well, actually only about a foot onto it. The glacier was surrounded by hilarious warning signs concerning the risk of falling into crevasses.

The planet is getting warmer and the glacier is crumbling away. Just one tiny part of the approaching environmental apocalypse. It sure looks pretty inside, though.

I wish I'd got more pictures of warning signs.

By Siffleur Falls. My mom demanded that we sit on this tree.

Dawn is looking down at a slightly angry river flanked by treacherous cliffs. It's hard to make out the gap, isn't it? Well, it was just a few metres. I dared Dawn to jump across, but she chickened out.

At the top of the Falls, the rocks have been worn into the shape of waves.

My mom irresponsibly doing a jig at the top of a waterfall.

The water here is a quite a few feet deep. It only looks really shallow because of the crystal clear water.

Canada is really big (Dawn used for scale).

Rockies, there's a decent chance I won't be visiting you ever again, but, just so you know, you are way cool.


We took walks in Queen Elizabeth Park and Stanley Park in the rain. We got wet, and saw water dripping off of moss growing on trees growing on top of other dead trees. It was a real rain forest experience.

We saw the ocean. Dawn tasted it, and verified that it was in fact salty.

We did the Grouse Grind. It was pretty tiring.

We saw a variety of slugs. Dawn was really impressed by how big the slugs get in Vancouver, and all the pretty colours and patterns they come in.

We met up with some of my old friends on multiple occasions, and took a trip up to SFU.

We ate great food every day. Especially on the occasion of my Grandma's 88th birthday, when Dawn got to experience a big Chinese family dinner. (We suspended our vegetarianism for the day. This is now a rule: whenever celebrating an 88th birthday, we will allow ourselves to eat meat.)

Apart from family events, we went everywhere by environmentally friendly foot, bus, or bike.

Dawn decided she likes Vancouver. I decided I like it even more than I thought I did before. Chicago is a good city, but I'll never forgive it for not catching on to the fact that sushi doesn't have to be really expensive, or for making me have to actually expend effort in order to find some decent Chinese food. Its distinct lack of mountains is also disturbing.


A large wall of dirt in Stanley Park. (Dawn is used for scale.) This dirt is attached to the root system of what used to be a really big tree, but is now just a really big log. One heck of a storm came through Stanley Park in 2006, and ripped a whole bunch of really big trees right out of the ground. Nature sure can be intimidating.


A tree fell over. Some other trees grew out of it. Then the storm hurt them real bad, so their tops got cut off. Eventually other trees will grow straight out of those stumps.

Here we see a tree growing out of Dawn's back, with moss and ferns growing off of that tree.

Halfway up Grouse Mountain, we paused to watch some people taking the easy way up.

Confused trees on the side of Grouse Mountain.

Dawn with her proud face at the summit of Grouse. This is mere days after she saw a mountain for the first time, and she's already gone and climbed one! Behind her we see some of the more touristy bits of Grouse Mountain, bits of West and/or North Vancouver, then Vancouver proper across Burrard Inlet.

Looking to the southeast off of Grouse Mountain. Across the water on the right side of the picture we see Burnaby Mountain, home of SFU, and also decorated by the little white pimple which is Burnaby's oddly-located velodrome.

Richmond night market. The food was good, the stalls were fun, the entertainment was awful. Dear festival planners: Asian guys do not make good MCs, especially when they're ESL. Also, do a better job of auditioning people before you let them sing over your overlyloudspeakers.

Check out that slug. It is larger than Midwestern slugs, and is also festively coloured.

We went a ways off of the trail in Stanley Park, and ran across this fairly magnificent tree with a used syringe stuck in it. This picture really says "Vancouver" to me.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Dawn is amused that Li, the Evil Midnight Beheader What Beheads at Midnight, was an Asian guy from Alberta.

To this I would add that I am in the habit of carrying around a tiny Swiss Army Knife as a keychain. And I plan to be on a Greyhound early next month.

Dear Greyhound: please don't strip search me.

If it helps, I'd like to point out that, unlike Li, I regularly show signs of anger and emotional problems, I'm not very nice at all, and I'm pretty lazy.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Canada itinerary

Vancouver: Aug. 26 - Sep. 5
Alberta: Sep. 5 - Sep. 11

And a mighty curse to planes, trains, and their randomly changing fares.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"Canada, O Canada, da da da patriot love"

That would be Dawn, helping me celebrate Canada Day.

Apart from that, I couldn't think of a good way to mark the occasion, but then I saw Henry Morgentaler is getting into the Order of Canada, which is a pretty good reason to celebrate, assuming you hate babies.

Morgentaler is joined by Randy Bachman, which is also a good reason to celebrate, assuming you hate American women. (Of course, if you weren't like that, maybe you would have some sugar tonight in your coffee, and maybe some sugar tonight in your tea.)

Needless to say, these are both controversial appointments.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The zoo

We went to the Lincoln Park Zoo.

I don't like zoos. I haven't liked zoos for a long time. I didn't like zoos long before I became a vegetarian. (This now strikes me as weird.) Zoos just seem like such sad places to me.

Not that every part of a zoo is depressing. The parts with snakes and frogs, for example, are not depressing. Snakes and frogs are cool critters, and also don't have very demanding emotional needs. On average, I don't think they are made miserable by conditions of captivity.

I was expecting to be depressed by the primates. I hear zoo life can be hard on primates. But as far as I could tell, they mostly looked like they were doing OK. It might help that they're mostly kept in sizable social groups, and, as social animals, can get some happiness out of just grooming each other, or supervising their hyper kids tumbling around on branches and rolling around in packing paper (which is adorable).

Four "exhibits" were very depressing, though.

The birds of prey: I have a possibly irrational level of affection for birds of prey, and I really hate to see them stuck in a cage.

The polar bears: Their enclosure was too small, and Chicago in the summer is way too hot.

The sun bears: They had a big enclosure, but one of them just kept pacing back and forth along the edge of this tiny pool.

The depressed cat: This was the worst. I can't remember if it was a leopard or a jaguar, but there was one big hunting cat pacing back in forth in a tiny enclosure. It had room enough for maybe half a dozen paces before it had to turn around to pace back the other way, and then repeat the process for probably most of the day. Plus the "Lion House" where all the big cats are kept is like an echo chamber, and the voices of all the shrieking kids reverberate to create a din that is pretty awful even for a human.
The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars, and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tense, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

~ Rilke
Also I got some coffee at a cafeteria in the zoo, and even though I brought a thermos specifically so that I could get some coffee without wasting a paper cup, they insisted on pouring the coffee into a paper cup first because they apparently "count cups". I have no idea what that means, but whatever it is it pisses me off.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

One year down

So, it's been a year of marriage. This is a big deal!

On our wedding anniversary, Dawn's mom arrived in town. We went downtown to pick her up at the train station. Then we all bussed back, and had lunch at a neighbourhood Thai restaurant. Once we got home, I took a nap, while they went to the Oriental Institute. Quite a bit later (I take long naps), we all played a game of Scrabble.

A couple days later, Dawn bugged me about not giving her an anniversary present. The first anniversary is the paper anniversary, so I wrote her a nice message on a Post-It. I also folded her a paper crane using a piece of scrap paper. She'd actually doubted that I knew how to do that. I was so offended! What kind of ignorant American doesn't realize that all asians know how to make paper cranes?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Missa solemnis

Last Saturday I went to a free performance of Beethoven's Missa solemnis at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. This was maybe a rare opportunity: according to the wiki article this piece is infrequently performed (never mind for free).

The Pritzker Pavilion is open to the air; folks who pay (or who are otherwise lucky) get seats, and the rest sit on the lawn. I'm now pretty sure I prefer my Beethoven listening experiences to involve sitting on a lawn under the sky to sitting in a dark and enclosed auditorium. Picking at the grass is a great outlet for those of us with large amounts of nervous energy. And it's a considerably less hoity-toity atmosphere than the average classical music concert (which also has its drawbacks, like occasionally providing distractions from the music).

It was an especially nice effect when the sun broke through the cloud cover during the Gloria movement. (No God rays came through, though.)

Stuff Christians Like

A blog by a sarcastic Christian.

From the recent post on prosperity:
What Jesus said was true, "the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." That's because, when you're super rich, you can buy this sleep pod where you kind of sleep standing up in a cushion of tangerine-flavored air. So technically speaking, spot on Jesus.
I like.


Dawn's mom is visiting for three days. We are doing touristy things.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I can't drive 55

Well, I can, but just barely. Our car stalls if you push it much faster.

Anyway, I got my driver's license today. Another step on the path to adulthood!

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Exam week just ended, and all the seniors are moving out. A lot of them aren't too good at figuring out how to get rid of all of their stuff, which means that you can collect an awful lot of useful junk just walking up and down alleyways.

For example:
  • a small vase
  • a stress ball
  • a scarf
  • a skirt
  • a pair of Asics runners in Dawn's size
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • several spools of thread
  • a book from the university library (?)
  • like-new hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • two volumes by Frantz Fanon
  • a gift bag
  • binder clips
  • a pair of gloves
  • countless sheets of paper (some ruled, some blank, some used on one side)
  • also notebooks (partly used, but not nearly full)
  • one of those holders for soap and whatnot you hang off of a shower head
  • push pins
  • three hole punch
  • ruler
  • white board marker
  • small white board
  • package of Razzles labeled "HAPPY BIRTHDAY SHMOO!"
  • luggage
  • volleyball
  • 2 throw cushions
  • plastic knives, forks, cups
  • 2 pieces of tupperware
  • bowl
  • 2 full bottles of laundry detergent and other cleaning supplies
  • stand-up fan
  • box of chicken-flavoured ramen packages
  • pizza pan
  • oatmeal
  • stacking file crate with hanging files
  • fancy folder
  • sea salt
  • bottles: olive oil, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, peppermint schnapps
  • cans: chicken with rice soup (3), clear chicken soup, beef barley soup, chicken pot pie soup, chicken tortilla soup, coconut milk, bamboo shoots, chop suey vegetables, chickpeas, hot chili beans, pinto beans, tuna (4), kosher tuna (1), beef tamales (some of these will give me my first exposure to meat in a while--I wonder how that'll go)
  • lap top battery (for safe disposal)
That, at least, is what Dawn and I have retrieved thus far. (We plan to have another go at it in the near future.) We're not talking dumpster diving here, since all the dumpsters are overflowing; rather there are piles and piles of garbage-which-should-not-be-garbage external to the dumpsters.

If we'd needed furniture, we would've come back with a lot more stuff (potentially, absolutely everything you need to furnish an apartment). And if some of the piles and piles of clothes we found had been in a different size....

There really ought to be a convenient system in place whereby lazy departing seniors can get rid of all of their useful goods in a useful manner. (There's already a handy dandy website for advertising cheap or free second hand stuff to the university community, but that's apparently not enough.) Dawn and I figure something could be worked out with the Salvation Army or local thrift stores: sending some vans or trucks around at the end of every school year or some such. At any rate, the current system is crazy wasteful.

Plus I'm sure it's a big headache for the garbage collectors and / or the caretakers of some of these buildings. One of the piles of junk covered something like a 10 foot by 10 foot area, and was decorated with a fair bit of broken glass (nearby was an Apple monitor, which I'm sure was in perfect working order).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sacred Harp

A few weeks ago Dawn and I investigated the sounds of a great many people singing very loudly. It turns out there were dozens of people arranged in this big ole square singing hymns in 4 part harmony. It was the annual Midwest meet-up of this Sacred Harp thingy. We thought it was neat, I looked it up, and it turns out there are weekly "singings" in the area, some just a few blocks away. And today we tried it out.

It was neat. It was also hard. I sang bass, Dawn sang treble, and these are both harmony parts, which can be tricky to pick up. It was easier for me, since I think the bass tends to be easier, and I have some experience reading music, but I still struggled. If this were Sacred Harp Hero, I don't think I would've scored very high.

But we both think we'll stick with it. This Sacred Harp stuff is some good quality Christian music (which can be remarkably hard to find nowadays--but I'll leave those complaints for some other post).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Canada apologizes for residential schools


Wait, seriously? This wasn't done before? Boo.

(Not that I cared enough to pay attention to that sort of thing, apparently.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

For I was hungry and you gave a shitload of money to these people who talk about supporting this guy who talks about how good it would be if I got fed

So there's this new PAC doing this thing.
A fund-raiser is being held tonight in Washington for a nascent political action committee that is hoping to reach out to Christian communities on behalf of Senator Barack Obama.
Reaching out to Christian communities ain't cheap: "the suggested contribution is $1,000", and I guess that's per person.

The PAC is called "The Matthew 25 Network". As in:
The new group’s name takes its inspiration from the 25th chapter of the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus talks about how he will select people like a shepherd separating sheep from goats, saying, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Really? When I look at the list of acts which Jesus demands in that there parable, it seems to me that voting and campaigning are conspicuously absent, never mind holding fundraisers "in which the suggested contribution is $1,000". Now, I grant that I could see someone (assuming they are sufficiently untouched by cynicism) coming to the conclusion that they can best answer the parable of the sheep and the goats by supporting the Obama campaign. After all, the American president has the capacity to affect the well-being of people throughout America, and the rest of the world as well; and one might well hope that Obama as president would use that capacity to especially good effect, perhaps even altering the sorts of economic structures (etc.) which underlie problems of poverty (etc.), in a way that the normal individual cannot hope to do, and whatnot.

On the other hand, someone who is in the habit of participating in $1000 Washington fundraisers isn't someone I'd expect to take the parable of the sheep and the goats seriously. (Classmate Mark has this idea for a great new heresy: anyone who makes and keeps over something like $150K / year is ipso facto on the way to hell.)

This isn't the only biblically branded project to come out in connection with the Obama campaign (e.g.), and I gotta say that this whole thing where you slap religious brands onto political campaigns isn't making me any happier now that it's the Democrats doing it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Saint Matthew's "Churches"

In the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pseudonymous author Climacus complains:
Usually people abhor denying that [an eternal happiness] exists; so they include it but, just by including it, show that they do not include it. I do not know whether one should laugh or weep on hearing the enumeration: a good job, a beautiful wife, health, the rank of a councilor of justice - and in addition an eternal happiness, which is the same as assuming that the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom along with all the other kingdoms on earth and that one would look for information about it in a geography book. How strange that simply by talking about a thing a person can show that he is not talking about that thing, because one would think that this could be shown only by not talking about it. (p.391)
Dawn and I recently received some Junkmail from Jesus which provided a perfect illustration of the object of that complaint from some scam called Saint Matthew's "Churches". Click to embiggen the following image, and pay special attention to that blue box.

I especially like how salvation is sandwiched between two different ways of asking God for money.

You may also have noticed reference to a "Church Prayer Rug" and a "Prosperity Cross". I don't have images of those scanned, but I assure you they're just as ludicrous as you might be imagining.

So, that's all pretty funny (in response to Climacus, I guess I'm more inclined to laughing than weeping). Then I found this report, courtesy of the good folks at the Trinity Foundation. According to the graph at the bottom of the page, in 1999 Saint Matthew's "Churches" brought in nearly $30 million, and their income increases every year. Who knows how much they're making nowadays.

Every once in a while, I really feel like kicking someone in the head.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Superman hair

Today Dawn stepped out of the shower and got stabbed in her heel by one of my hairs.

My hairs have jabbed me underneath my fingernails (this is more or less a regular occurrence when I take the clippers to my head), but that's not nearly as impressive as penetrating heel skin.

My hair is a weapon. I've got like Superman hair.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Monday, May 05, 2008

He's better when he's talking about stuff no one can see

When Plato is good, he's very good. But when he's bad, he's hilarious.

There are a number of moments of the latter sort in the Timaeus. I ran across one of these some time ago, and it remains one of the funniest things I've ever read in philosophy. But there is so much more.

On the order in which a soul gets incarnated in different bodies on earth:
And if a person lived a good life throughout the due course of his time, he would at the end return to his dwelling place in his companion star, to live a life of happiness that agreed with his character. But if he failed in this, he would be born a second time, now as a woman. (42b-c)
On creating the human body:
Copying the revolving shape of the universe, the gods bound the two divine orbits into a ball-shaped body, the part that we now call our head. [...] They intended it to share in all the motions there were to be. To keep the head from rolling around on the ground without any way of getting up over its various high spots and out of the low, they gave it the body as a vehicle to make its way easy. (44d-e)
On why women want to have babies:
A woman's womb or uterus, as it is called, is a living thing within her with a desire for childbearing. Now when this remains unfruitful for an unseasonably long period of time, it is extremely frustrated and travels everywhere up and down her body. It blocks up her respiratory passages, and by not allowing her to breathe it throws her into extreme emergencies, and visits all sorts of other illnesses upon her until finally the woman's desire and the man's love bring them together....(91c-d)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Yay music

We went to a Brit pop concert yesterday. It consisted of a fellow grad student on an electronic drum kit, and one of his friends from back home (that being Britain) on acoustic guitar, playing mostly self-written songs. There were also surprise cameos by the drummer's roommate, who did karaoke-ish vocals for a cover of Springsteen's "Dancing in the dark", and then blew the hell out of a harmonica during the instrumental breaks of the next song.

The venue was an apartment dining room, specially decorated for the occasion with the Union Jack and St. George's Cross, and while it wasn't standing room only, there were way more people than there were chairs. There was only one short set, and the audio equipment left something to be desired (the drums were hooked up to tiny computer speakers), but it was as fun as any concert I've ever been to. This would probably lead me to reflect on the true meaning of music if I were into that sort of thing.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Beezus and the bee

We let our rat Beezus run around the living room for a longish time unsupervised, without knowing it. When Dawn went to stick her back in the cage, she discovered a partially dismembered, barely alive bumblebee on the floor in the middle of the room. It seemed pretty likely that Beezus had tried gnawing on the thing. The bee was missing, among other things, one of its legs, and a good chunk of its butt--where all the hurty bits are. We checked Beezus as best we could, but we couldn't see any indication of a sting, and she seemed to be breathing OK. If anything, she seemed quite pleased with herself. She rarely gets to play the role of the mighty huntress.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fafblog returns!


Maybe I will, too.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Card-playing in philosophy

I'm catching up on A Philosophy Job Market Blog posts, and ran across some fun posts about sexism and racism (mainly sexism) in the philosophy biz, and concerns about possible bias in hiring practices (either as a result of, or a reaction to, problems of sexism and racism).

I say "fun", because such discussions yield an opportunity for responses such as:
You know, I am glad to see some comic relief in these threads. You folks pretending to be a bunch of narrow-minded bigots is a laugh riot. It warms my heart to know that my potential colleagues have well-honed senses of humor. Kudos to all of you.

Wow, imagine how fucking scary it would be if you weren't joking. Ha!

Well, I guess us ethnic minorities don't have to worry about having any cry-baby, racist dipshits in our departments. Why? We stole their jobs. Ha ha! See, I can be funny too.
That alone makes it all worthwhile.

The backstory to all of this is that philosophy is basically the whitest, malest part of the university (with the possible exception of physics), which leads to the question of how to fix that situation without screwing over the occasional white male.

Well, I don't have much to say about that, though I will note that wifey is a woman, while I'm a member of an ethnic minority which is well-represented in the student body of philosophy classes in most major universities but not at all represented in the faculty of the vast majority of philosophy departments -- so if you were on a hiring committee wouldn't you just love to get the right to post pictures of this academic couple on your online faculty roster?

Oh, I dearly hope so.

I got some decent time-wasting links from those comment threads. For example, these online tests of implicit bias. I tried a couple, and it turns out, first, that I automatically strongly favour Judaism to other religions. Well, that's pretty weird, seeing as how I'm actually a member of one of those other religions. It also turns out that I automatically strongly favour African Americans to European Americans. This is even weirder, seeing as how I've met precious few African Americans, and I can only think of one or two African Americans that I actually talk to on a semi-regular basis.

One possible explanation I've come up with here is that I am such a thorough misanthrope that my ample interaction with European Americans has led me to hate them a great deal, while my near-total lack of interaction with African Americans means that I haven't learned to hate them quite so much yet.

Another possible explanation is that the results are a load of crap.

But feel free to give those tests a shot. They're kind of fun, and supposedly they are capable of yielding revealing results. (To be fair, I had my 80s rock anthem Pandora station on at the time, which is not the ideal test-taking environment.)

Also linked to was this paper (pdf) on sexism and racism in philosophy. It seemed mostly OK to me, except for the fact that it implicitly treats blacks as the paradigm case of a racial minority, with asians being a more peripheral case. (As for the others, who knows?) For example: "like women, non-Whites are often perceived through schemas that represent them as less rational, more identified with nature and the body, than Whites." Slot in "blacks" for "non-Whites", and you do get a statement that seems to fit a standard stereotype pretty well. Slot in "asians", and you get a bunch of nonsense, at least with respect to asian men. This can easily be seen from American movie with asian dudes as major characters. The asian martial arts master might feel some rage while engaging his nemesis in an epic battle, and the mandarin-like evil asian mastermind might delight in watching the round-eyed barbarian protagonist founder in his inscrutable plans, but for the most part they're going to be pretty passionless, and indeed will be indistinguishable from eunuchs.

Asian women are completely different in this last respect: if the movie has a female asian character, she's probably going to sleep with the white male protagonist at some point in time. But you know she's probably still good at math.

Getting back to the main topic, I think it's probably important to separate issues of sexism from issues of racism. There's no doubt that women in philosophy face problems of sexism. On the other hand, I don't think I've ever suffered from racial bias on the part of any of my profs, and I really couldn't care less that I've never had a philosophy prof who was of the same race as me. I mean, OK, I'm kind of a social retard, so I wouldn't necessarily notice if I was the victim of discrimination, but complaining about it is my prerogative, and I have no complaints.

It would probably be different for me if I were, say, black -- but now it sounds like we might want to make distinctions between racism against one race versus that against another, and wouldn't that be an awkward topic to bring up in a discussion of hiring practices.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I'd caution against using "Clitophon"

Awesome story from Anna in Slacktivist comments:
I think my favorite obscure regional naming trend is one I discovered growing up in the deep South. There is a certain generation of rural farmers (most are in their eighties now) who were named after greek philosophers. When I was young, the farmer who lived down the road from us was Plato Socrates Smith (everyone in the community called him Bubba). Off the top of my head, I can also remember a Democritus Corley (nicknamed Scooter), Xenocrates Oswalt (pronounced 'zeno-krats', nicknamed Junebug), Diogenes Blackman (AKA Rhubarb), and my personal favorite: Thrasymachus Aristophenes Kneece (AKA Bo). I don't know what inspired that particular enclave of farm families to name their children so oddly, but I've always sort of wondered about the story behind those names.

Monday, January 21, 2008

If only thought bubbles showed up in photographs

It's a busy quarter for me, which has this blog near death. But this picture is worth at least 10 blog posts:

The BBC caption for that goes: "On Martin Luther King Day, a US national holiday, President George W Bush took part in a in a special lesson for young children on the importance of the day." But somehow I don't think that quite captures the moment.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Gay is Thunderdome

Via the BBC, some excerpts from Pope B's 2008 Message for Peace: a healthy family life we experience some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them. For this reason, the family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace.
Well, sure, that sounds marvy. So, what's the punchline?
Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace. This point merits special reflection: everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace.
Well, there's something mighty queer about those conclusions.

Perhaps relevant is the context supplied by the BBC, that this "message followed a pro-family rally by hundreds of thousands of Spanish Catholics on Sunday, which he had addressed via a video link." A rally, that is, in response to, among other things, the legalization of gay marriage in Spain.

So. Pope B is thus claiming to take a firm stance against gay marriage on the basis of his concern for peace. If you allow for gay marriage, you weaken heterosexual marriage, and thus undermine peace. Oh, and let's not forget "openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life": this has to do with contraception, of course. So if you use condoms or the pill or have an abortion, you are likewise undermining peace.

Seriously. I'm pretty sure that's the argument.

In drawing the connection between family life and peace, Pope B notes that, "violence, if perpetrated in the family, is seen as particularly intolerable," because then children will grow up learning violence rather than peace. Well, fair enough, sir. But could you maybe explain WTF that has to do with gays and condoms?

The powers that be, that force us to live like we do

We have big important papers which are due next Monday, and thus kinda require attention RFN. This was sufficient to distract us from the passing of 2007. I'm not sure, but I think "Back on the Chain Gang" was playing on my headphones when midnight arrived.

In general, the philosophy biz is not a friend of the winter holiday season. Luckily, we're not much for celebrating holidays. But even I can recognize that it's less than ideal that pretty much everyone who wants a job in American philosophy has to try and get one right between Christmas and New Year's.

For a sample of how that works out, see here. Now there's something to look forward to.

Speaking of looking forward: as of next Monday, we start dissertating (supposedly). It turns out I'll be dissertating on Plato. Who knew? Until about a year ago (less than that, actually), I wanted as little to do with ancient philosophy as possible.