Friday, April 13, 2007


Animations set to poetry by Billy Collins. The poetry is generally good. The animations are amazing.

Abstinence education does not increase abstinence

Study: Abstinence classes don't stop sex
"This study began when (the programs) were still in their infancy," said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. "The field of abstinence has significantly grown and evolved since that time and the results demonstrated in the Mathematica study are not representative of the abstinence education community as a whole."
I find the sputterings of pro-abstinence educators to be hard to believe. But maybe they're right. If so, they should prove it.

A former hostage talks about his 1970 ordeal.

"The first time I realised something was going on was when the hijackers jumped up with guns," says Ernest, looking back almost 40 years. "They told us they had got somebody in the aircraft with a bomb and that if anybody interfered, it would be blown up."

Today's news...

Wild horses in England. Interesting, but I would like to know more about how horses revitalize the marshland. As it is, a superficial article. (You can get some real info here at the BBC...)
They do the job of restoring habitats simply by eating the grass and reeds to stop the woody scrub building up.

Without them the wetland would dry up and become woodland.

Normally the conservation organisations would use heavy machinery to keep down the vegetation. But now the horses do it for them the natural way.

These horses come from Holland, and they are genetically the closest thing to wild horses that roamed across England 7,000 years ago.

The Dutch have been breeding them for the same purpose in their nature reserves
World Bank to decide on Wolfowitz. The World Bank is both an old boys club and the US's play-toy. I would be shocked if they actually gave Wolfowitz the boot. (The best take on this that I've seen is over at Daily Kos.)

A Canadian documentary on why Canadians hate Toronto. I know someone from Newfoundland who has lived in and hates Toronto. That said, I love Toronto and don't understand why anyone would hate it. I'm perplexed.

Interracial marriages surge across U.S. I'm sure there is a geographical basis for this trend as well. In Rochester it is not uncommon to see multiracial families. In northern Florida, where I am from, it was rarer than hens' teeth.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Actually they are

"This increasing interest in measuring everything – these so-called science-based measures of [educational] outcomes and the like – seems to me to be so misguided that it's now captured the imagination of the leadership in higher education," says Christopher Nelson, president of St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., who heads an association of 124 prestigious liberal arts schools. "This is a bad way of talking about an education. [Students] aren't consumers shopping for a product."
(Emphasis mine.)

Every year the Kabuki is reenacted (or is it Commedia del arte?) as the US News and World Report prepares its annual rankings of the nation's colleges and universities. There are many reasons to despise the ranking, and there is an effort brewing to organize a boycott of the US News and World Report's effort.

But this is where educators like Nelson miss the boat: education is a commodity, and it always has been. It is one thing to try to promote the humanistic cultural ideals that can make a university (or college) a great place... but it is another to bury one's head in the sand and ignore the fundamental reality that shapes the decision making process: people don't go to college to learn, they go to gain entry into the middle class.

If you don't like the way in which the US News and World Report does its rankings, perhaps the colleges in question could come up with a better way in which to do the same thing.

I would suggest having a results-oriented approach: poll graduates 5-years, 10-years, and 20-years after graduation and look at their fields, salaries, life-style satisfaction, and degree of educational advancement. These factors are quantifiable and, furthermore, provide a better measure of outcome than SAT scores and reputation stats.

[As an aside: I decided to go to where I knew I would have a full scholarship, but in many ways I wish I had applied to St. John's, since I found their educational approach so appealing.]

Reason retreats...

Teachers in public schools changing or omitting what they would normally teach (about the Holocaust or evolution or the Crusades) in order NOT to offend Muslims or Christians who may be being taught differently at their homes, churches or mosques.
Nice rant. (via Pharyngula)

Grace and gracelessness

Today's poem at Poetry Daily is quite good despite having what I consider the death knell for many many poems: an awkward first line.
How in the bowl the collards steamed,
I sincerely think the first two verses need refining--but somehow, like a dancer who stumbles gracefully, the final verse transcends with a great deal of thought.

Just an impression.

Recently read

An Expensive Place to Die, by Len Deighton. A spy novel and 1960s psychosexual drama that is interesting as a historical document but completely uninteresting as a thriller, a mystery, or a novel. Deighton was a popular author in the 1960s and 1970s... so I'll be charitable and assume that this is not his best work. (An aside: Deighton was no dummy. His analysis of the nuclear state of affairs in the 1960s, used as a backdrop for this novel, was spot-on.)

Consider Phlebas, by Iain M. Banks. This is the first of the "Culture" novels and the ideas presented are vast, tangled, and breathtaking. This is not a perfect novel and has two especially rough passages that can seem unconnected, in pace and delivery, from the rest of the whole (the first of these is the protagonist's escape from the island of religious fanatics and the second is the panic-striken escape of the CAT from the General Systems Vehicle (a term that won't make sense until you read the novel, sad to say). The subtext of the novel is the question of personal loyalties.

The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks. This is a science fiction novel in the grandest sense of the word. Completely breathtaking. This is not a novel of the "Culture". The nominal antagonist, a powerful empire-ruler who is self-named Luseferous, turns out not to be the 'true' antagonist of the novel, and as such his role is abortive--he drives some of the plot elements, but not enough to be essential. He strikes me as completely nonessential--in a more refined version of the novel (a remix, if you will), he would probably not even exist.

Quote of the day.

"We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane."
--Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Quote of the day.

My best friend Sasha’s dad was Carl Sagan, the astronomer. He was the biggest pot smoker in the world and he was a genius...I’ve never been a major smoker, but I think America’s view on weed is ridiculous. I mean — are you kidding me? If everyone smoked weed, the world would be a better place.
--Kirsten Dunst (via Mic Check Radio)

Science and alcohol

Always a delightful combination.
Now scientists find bats are savvy enough to dine on certain types of fruit sugar to help them get over the ill effects of alcohol. These findings could shed light on how wildlife deals with alcohol.

An interview with Lewis Black

At the Progressive... hmmm something else to add to my link list. (via Daily Kos)

Sometimes a dream...

Sometimes a dream is only a dream, just as sometimes pajamas are only pajamas.

I awoke this morning from a dream where everyone I knew was criticizing my lack of taste when it comes to sleepwear.

Hard to suss anything meaningful out of that one.

No one wants the job.

An essential post at Polical Animal:
"The Washington Post reports that the White House is casting about for a "high-powered czar" who would have authority over both military and civilian operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only problem is, no one wants the job."
What it comes down to, of course, is that no one in their right mind (no one sane that is), would want the responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan without the power to do something about it. The only course of action, at this point, is to withdraw from Iraq and reinfoce Afghanistan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More news articles like this please...

Taliban netting millions from poppies
Today, officials say the militia nets tens of millions by forcing farmers to plant poppies and taxing the harvest, driving the country's skyrocketing opium production to fund the fight against what they consider an even greater evil — U.S. and
NATO troops.

"Drugs are bad. The Quran is very clear about it," said Gafus Scheltem, NATO's political adviser in southern Afghanistan. But to fight the enemy, he said, "all things are allowed. They need money and the only way they can get money is from Arabs that support them in the (Persian) Gulf, or poppies."

This article does a good job at teasing apart the complexities and consequences of NATO's occupation of Afghanistan, while reminding people that we are in Afghanistan, and also looks at the motivation to produce heroin and indirectly at our failed war on drugs.

A different perspective

Sara at Orcinus talks about her semester at Regent University.

Link courtesy of the fact that I'm working on my blogroll.

Maybe I just draw connections?

Elephants gone wild:
In a 2005 essay in the Journal of Nature, Oregon State University psychologist Gay Bradshaw argued that the worldwide population of elephants is suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, making them excitable and prone to violence.

Bees being kidnapped:
US beekeepers have been stung in recent months by the mysterious disappearance of millions of bees, threatening honey supplies as well as crops which depend on the insects for pollination.

Bee numbers on parts of the east coast and in Texas have fallen by more than 70 percent, while California has seen colonies drop by 30 to 60 percent.


Hurley's Indian wedding an insult, Hindus tell court
An Indian court will this week hear testimony that British model Elizabeth Hurley and her husband Arun Nayar mocked Hindu traditions with their "showcase" wedding, a laywer said Tuesday.

Always shocking to see my name in the news (Hurley, not Elizabeth). Although, I did get a chuckle at the article.

Annals of the Police State, volume 28993

In what has to be one of the more wasteful expenditures of tax dollars, Undercover New York police officers traveled around the United States and to Europe to observe activists who planned to protest at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

One of their targets was Joshua Kinberg's internet-connected, sidewalk-printing graffiti bike. Mr. Kinberg was arrested on criminal mischief charges "prior to the convention start, during an interview on Broadway Avenue with MSNBC's Ron Reagan."

The war on civil liberty had a good year in 2004.

Banana Yoshimoto

I consider myself a fan of Banana Yoshimoto, even though I have only read two of her books, the essential Kicthen and Lizard, a collection of short stories. The most important thing in her writing is the space she writes in--a landscape of longing, belonging, of wanting to be whole. Her official web-site is hopelessly out of date, but she maintains an online journal there which is updated semi-regularly (it seems she writes her entries in English?). This entry from October of 2006 rings true and expresses that which appeals to me about her work.**
I had a talk with Mr. Mamoru Oshii (* a film director, known by "Ghost in the Shell" and others) and felt as if I came back to my home. All the people there were exactly the same kind of people that I used to hang out with in the past; from my childhood until I finished high school. They were, in short, a bunch of ultimate OTAKU (a variety of geeks, obsessed with something). They brought me back to my old days. I can't remember the last time I talked with people as naturally as on this day.
Mr. Oshii was a very warm person of bossy disposition. He made me feel as if I'd known him for a long time.
I have absolutely no interest in film directors, unless I can catch a glimpse of their childhood obsessions or possessions in their work. In Mr. Oshii's films I see this: vehicles running through the town at night, lights from the windows of the skyscrapers, a dog living in a single person's apartment. And he got these shots all in the right angles. These arrangements are not just for fun. They are the expressions of his urgent inner screams.
I felt so happy and honored to have met him.
I have gone back to reading Japanese poetry (in translation) and I have been thinking on the relationship between a society's appreciation for romantic love and a cultural celebration of transient beauty. Carpe diem may be the Western formulation, but it seems to me that in Buddhist societies every breath resonates with the understanding of the impermanence of beauty.

Ultimately it seems that all true love stems from mourning, from the knowledge of what it means to lose that which you most long to hold.

Just a thought.

**extra comment about her journal: it is mostly snapshots... which somehow strikes me as being stereotypically Japanese.

Then there really is no point, is there?

President Bush on Tuesday invited Democrats to discuss their standoff over a war-spending bill, but he made clear he would not change his position opposing troop withdrawals. The White House bluntly said the meeting would not be a negotiation.
Do they really serve kool-aid at White House functions?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Hometown Baghdad

via Firedoglake, this amazing web-site, Hometown Baghdad, which presents life from the point of view of middle class (male) Iraqis living in Baghdad. Life is full of hardship, but it is much less the constant chaos one might expect from the headlines and more like living in a bad Samuel R. Delany novel. (Well... maybe this comment is unfair, certainly his work has influenced me.)

Saved for later: Betrayed: The Iraqis who trusted America the most. You had to know, after all, that it was always a lie.


via Steve Clemmons, an interesting interview and photo gallery for the PBS documentary Revoluc!on.

I am thinking more about photography and images these days. So this was a happy find.

Richard Avedon, photographer

It hasn't been updated since his death in 2004, but Richard Avedon's professional web-site is quite good, with many images to mull over.

Time's retrospective of Avedon's work includes Dovima, which is exquisite.

Also worth a gander: PDN and Kodak's site of Avedon's The Sixties. This image of Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa is particularly good.

Forbidden Poetry

When I have succeeded in insinuating
my soul into words, when the revolution comes
and there are bodies on the street and women scream
with grief and anger over the senseless murders
of their husbands and sons while policemen arrest
them for unlawful assembly, when we shake our
heads in silence over the reactionary
headlines in the shit sheets we used to call papers
and we drink our coffee without watching while the
ever-so-smug professional liar tells us
the official version of the news, when the only
effective form of protest is to quit your job —
because no one sees the downtown rallies, the handmade
posters advocating change, the police riots —
I hope I will not be like Lorca, among the
first to die — there will be forbidden poetry.

This poetry will be what we are not — one part
venom, one part medicine, rubbed into the wound
of the American dream — it will be strong, moral,
boisterous, and loud. We will deny reading it,
we will deny hearing it, of downloading the
MP3s. It will be indirect, like tango —
the words will say one thing but will insinuate
another. It will wail like the blues and dare to
call to account paramilitary killings.
It will sing hymns and praises to God, echoing
el Mozote in America. And it will
comfort lovers who have lost their loved ones — crying
yet silent. And it will be the fuel for violence,
for young poets will understand that words are not
enough, and yet the words will have meaning — perhaps
not my soul, but the soul of America, reborn.

(I was inspired to repost this by the post at Balkinization (see below).)

On my to-do list...

  • create a blog roll... really an xml roll.
  • add an 'about me' snippet on the side bar.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Sunday

Today is Easter, the day which Christians celebrate the reincarnation... err, resurrection of Christ. That said, Jesus's resurrection was much more like Obi-Wan's than Frankenstein's monster's. And it should be obvious that our interpretations of George Lucas's story and Mary Shelley's story are inherently colored by the story of Easter (a Christ-like resurrection is inherently good, while a non-Christ-like resurrection is inherently bad).

And here is the key thing, Easter is not just an important holiday, but it is an important story. To my eye, Easter is the most important story Christianity has given to Western civilization--far more important and more meaningful than Christmas, the various miracles, or the temptations of Christ. It is a story that works because it combines the mysterious and profound, with rituals, and with a specific time and place. The Christian story of Easter, whether by design, refinement, chance or miracle resonates because all of its pieces work together.

The first layer is the tale of Christ himself, the miracle worker who seeks to cleanse Judaism and to transform it from being a tribal religion to being a universal religion. The second layer is the celebration of Passover, a celebration of freedom that was divinely given via Moses to the Jewish people, at a time in which the Jews live in a Roman vassal state that many see as oppressive. The third layer is the Roman provincial government's attitude to keep the peace at a minimal cost. And these layers rub against each other with a great deal of friction, producing a fiery story that is amenable to the fourth layer: the long-standing history in the lands of the fertile crescent and the greek Mediterranean of Tanist kings and Orpheic cults.

In the lands of the fertile crescent, Tanist kings were ritually killed every Spring and their blood would be collected and scattered over the land, so that their fertility would make the land fertile, and the harvest would be good again that year. It was, to be frank, ritual cannibalism--a practice echoed in the story of the transubstantiation of Christ when Christ passes the food and the wine. In Greek mythology, Orpheus went into the land of the dead in order to bring back his young wife. The mystery of that journey was the basis of many cults.

The story of Jesus's death and resurrection ties together these cultural threads--the Passover's celebration of freedom, the ritual of the Tanist king, the Orpheic mystery--into a very real time and place with its own easily understood and all-too-human mix of politics, jealousy, greed, and even love.

Well... not a particularly polished piece of writing, but a stab at why Easter is important.