August 31, 2006


Check out Pat Buchanan's dream for a better, whiter America.

August 30, 2006

Howdy Strangers

Hey kids! I was on vacation back to WA for a while, which explains most of my absence. It was, as always, fantastic and is truly the best place in the world. If you have the means and the time, I highly recommend going there. In fact, I highly recommend moving there for the rest of your life. As for the time between I got back and now, well, I've been kind of out of it and a bit bored. Nothing really has presented itself to post up here, until now.

Check out Keith Olberman in what may be his best clip ever.

August 29, 2006

Moth blogging!

Camouflage is neat. I spotted this critter on the concrete wall surrounding a series of benches. Either none of the half-dozen people nearby noticed, or they simply don't care about moths. It's pretty incredibly in either case, since the wingspan was probably ~6 inches.  

The Internet suggests it might be a Pandorus sphinx moth, though I certainly don't know for sure. It also looks rather like a gypsy mothPosted by Picasa

August 28, 2006

Teaching! (feat. interspersed random quotations)

I taught my first two philosophy discussion sections on Friday. It was quite an experience!

You need to understand the format of the course to fully appreciate how intimidating this was for me, going into the classroom. The class of ~90 students has two hours of lecture each week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. Every Thursday night, the students email me (or whatever TA they have) 2-3 questions about the text (that's about 50 questions total). My job is not to answer these, but to pick out the best 3 or 4, and then, in discussion on Friday, facilitate a discussion of the questions amongst the students. No lecturing. Whatever questions they have at the end of discussion get forwarded on to the professor, who spends Monday and Wednesday answering them. The idea is to help the students in their own individual struggles with the texts, not force-feed them Textbook Plato, Textbook Descartes, etc.

Feminism ain't about equality / It's about reprieve

This also means almost all of the weight of the course is on the shoulders of the TA, ie, me. I'm the one who has to work with them one-on-one (well, one-on-sixteen, but that's still much more personal than one-on-ninety) and shape their questions into the content of the class sessions. And me? I teach math, and write papers about Kant. I don't want the responsibility of trying to goat-herd teenagers to Truth. What am I supposed to do if they come up with something completely crazy?

From a pro-feminist standpoint, there are few greater enemies of social progress than marital "labor specialization." Relationships built on mutual dependency and need (wife needs financial support, husband needs dinner cooked and baby's diaper changed) do little to challenge either party in the relationship to develop their full human potential. The feminist ideal is one in which marriage becomes a supportive framework in which both men and women can become competent in a wide variety of arenas both in and out of the home. A rigid belief in "labor specialization" robs both sexes of the chance to complete their own journey of transformation into the best people they can possibly become.

(No, I do not mean to imply that Hugo's point is in any way crazy.)

So on Friday afternoon I walked into a room full of anxious eighteen-year-olds, armed with nothing more than a cup of tea and a selection of their own concerns and confusions. And they honestly blew me away with their insight and facility with the text, and their sheer eagerness to contribute to the discussion. The pace of discussion was a bit slower in the second of my two sections, but never did I feel the least bit frustrated or as though my students were truly lost.

I'm really excited about the rest of the term. And the next forty years of teaching philosophy. Hooray!

(Today's homework assignment: Read Twisty, then this drivel (including the comments!), and then Twisty again.)

Also, French is a bastard language with the most ridiculous rules for pronunciation possible. In what sane world would `aout' and `qui est-ce' be pronounced `oo' and `kee-eh'?

August 21, 2006

Week 1

Classes start tomorrow, and I need to spend today finishing up my incomplete, buying books, getting a hair cut, etc. I'm taking a hiatus from blogging until next Monday-ish.

August 18, 2006

Have I mentioned

how much I love The Stranger's film reviewers?

dir. Steve Pink

Accepted, less a movie than a stupid piece of shit, has thrown me into a mighty rage. I know some of you harbor secret teen feelings for Justin Long—fine, he's perfectly lovable—but unless your name is 'Justin Long's Mom' and you're paralyzed from the eyeballs down, you need to let this one go.

Ostensibly a critique of our nation's higher-education system (oh, the elitism!), Accepted is about a bunch of horrible, entitled, middle-class teens who don't get into college for perfectly legitimate reasons. Well, boo fucking hoo. You're such a smarty-pants that you only applied to Yale? Your bad! Busted rotator cuff busted your sports scholarship? How about some studying, champ? Oh, you just didn't try that hard? Wow! Fuck you!

To appease their grumpster, goal-oriented families ('Get a job! Wear pants! Blah blah blah!'), the kids invent a fictional college ('South Harmon Institute of Technology' or SHIT, if you're into uproarious chuckles), renovate an abandoned mental hospital, and pocket the tens of thousands of dollars in tuition money that the oppressive 'rents toss their way. Did somebody say pizza party?

Accepted would be just another dumb loser comedy if it didn't have such a destructive chip on its shoulder. When it's not insulting those who actually worked hard and enjoyed college, Accepted farts boldly in the face of anyone facing real educational hurdles (stop crying, poor people!). Screenwriters Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (whose other collaborations include New York Minute and 2008's much-anticipated Untitled Brett Ratner Project) want their movie to be irreverently anti-intellectual and heroically antiestablishment, but it's neither. It's just pro-lazy. Tired of being 'told what to learn,' the self-proclaimed 'SHIT-heads' create their own course catalog, which unironically includes 'Hooking Up,' 'Wingman-ing 101,' and 'Walking Down the Road Thinking About Stuff.'

I wish it were possible to punch a movie in the face (can we get to work on that, science?). LINDY WEST

August 17, 2006

Holy shit

I just found one of my students on Facebook before I found them on the university's own registration system.

How did I find her? Because, in an experiment that's surely going to go horribly, horribly wrong, I am going to attempt to host groups for my discussion sections on Facebook.

By the way, I'm on Facebook, if anyone would like to friend me.

The Nexus of Politics and Terror

That's Olbermann's phrase, not mine. Watch below the fold.

August 16, 2006

Link dump and Kierkegaardean considerations

Some of the links are rather old, so I may have posted them already.

NPR: Charles Fishman on corporate secrecy

Our deterministic DNA: Another media myth

NYT: The insanity defense goes back on trial

The FMA and the new one drop of blood rule

Chron: Poor pay more for services, study says

NYT: Brainy robots start stepping into daily life

Reappropriate: Lois Lane

NYT: Saving the world, one video game at a time

Guardian: Families of soldiers killed in Iraq win right to challenge legality of going to war

Evolving thoughts: Niches and theology

Femme mentale

Gender differences in cognition

PZ: A brief overview of Hox genes

NYT piece on the recent proof of the Poincare conjecture

Sensing a trend here? Yeah, neither am I. Preliminary thoughts on my Kierkegaard paper below the fold.

Kierkegaard has a radically personalistic and subjective understanding of `faith'; this is historically quite significant because, on the one hand, Kierkegaard is reacting to Hegel, who in turn saw himself as a logical completion of Kant; while, on the other hand, Kierkegaard is one of two critical nineteenth-century forerunners to twentieth-century existentialism (the other being Nietzsche). In other words, understanding Kierkegaard's notion of faith is critical for understanding the relationship between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries (this relationship being one way of formulating my historical focus).

Kierkegaard's subjectivity is actually so radical that the notion of God seems more or less irrelevant. Not only does Kierkegaard argue that the existence of God cannot be known, but his notion of faith is more about the subject's relation to themself, not an external object. This immediately makes me wonder about the possibility of reconstruction Kierkegaardean `faith' is an atheistic context. The paper will start by identifying several structural/subjective features of Kierkegaardean `faith', ie, explaining exactly what `being subjective' is in a way that does not presuppose reference to an external being, divine or otherwise. The next step is to give a candidate notion that can have these same sorts of features -- I'll be using a radical understanding of `autonomy'. Several obvious criticisms of this particular notion have to be dealt with, and then the final step is to show how this approach is genuinely atheistic (and not simply neutral with respect to the God question).

This is a very silly project, but it's something I can accomplish in an eighteen-page one-off paper over the next five days (with time off for Week 0 parties and stupid new TA orientation crap), and that's all that counts.

August 13, 2006

Those evil, evil Democrats!

I'm not a Democrat, but I often play one in the voting booth. Well, on my absentee ballot. Which is why I was shocked, SHOCKED to discover that Democrats are unhinged, and support such INSANE pieces of legislation that, to protect the innocent, I'm going to have to put them behind the fold.

10. H.R. 63: Democracy Day Act of 2005 (a.k.a. "The Paid Holiday for Government Union Workers on Election Day Act")

Rep. John Conyers (D.-Mich.), ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, wants government workers to get ANOTHER day off work -- courtesy of the taxpayer - on election day while every other American has to take time away from work or their families to vote ... and everyday taxpayers won't get paid by the federal government to participate in our Democracy like their federal union-member counterparts.

Of course, it would be ridiculously unconstitutional for Congress to require private employers to give their employees election day off, not to mention an economic disaster. (No, emergency room nurses! No, taxi drivers! You aren't allowed to work today!) That's why the text of this bill encourages private employers to do that at their own discretion.

9. H.R. 1018: "The Permanent Welfare Housing Act"

Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.), ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee, has ignored all of welfare reform’s lessons about helping families exit the cycle of poverty. H.R. 1018 rejects the idea of empowering welfare recipients through the incentives of getting back into the workforce or otherwise giving back to their community.

Public Housing Tenants Respect Act of 2005 amends the United States Housing Act of 1937, removing provisions that residents of public housing are required to participate in eight hours per month of either community service or economic self-sufficiency activities in order to retain their public housing.

I am shocked and appalled at Democrats' unwillingness to treat living in poverty and unemployment as criminal activities.

7. Massive Tax Increase Act

Rep. David Obey (D.-Wis.), ranking members on the Appropriations Committee, in the 109th Congress has costly amendments to Budget and various Appropriations bills -- meaning new direct spending offset by increases in taxes.

So far this year, Appropriations Committee Democrats have proposed $45.2 billion in new Democrat spending above and beyond the levels included in FY 2007 appropriations bills -- all of which have been rejected by House Republicans. Click here for a breakdown of Democrats’ fiscal irresponsibility.

Yes, Democrats were solely responsible for all the budgetary mismanagement of the past four years. Republicans only had a majority in both houses of Congress and controlled the White House! (Note there's no link under that bit that says `click here'.)

6. H.R. 2456: "The Decreased Penalties for Crack Cocaine Act"

Rangel wants to reduce the criminal penalties for crack dealers and users.

H.R. 2456 amends the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to eliminate specified mandatory minimum penalties relating to the trafficking in, and possession, importation, or distribution of, crack cocaine.

He wants to make the penalties associated with crack the same as with other forms of cocaine -- probably because he thinks poor, urban cocaine addicts shouldn't be punished more severely than wealthy, suburban cocaine addicts. The nerve of this class warrior! I bet he sleeps with a copy of The communist manifesto under his pillow!

5. H.R. 4683: "The Government-Run Health Care Act"

House Democrats want to create a federal health care system without choices that would combine the efficiency of the DMV and the compassion of the IRS -- and tax you through the nose to get it.

Damn socialists! Every right-thinking person knows that quality health care is a privilege of the wealthy, not a right that the other classes are entitled to. And those Democrats are so sneaky, they even included specific clauses explaining how the American people would be just as free (if not more so) to choose their physicians, just to make the authors look like complete jackasses!

3. H.R. 1300: "The Automatic Voting Rights for Felons Act"

Conyers thinks that murderers, rapists and child molesters aren’t having their voices heard by Congress.

H.R. 1300 states that the right of an individual who is a citizen of the United States to vote in any election for Federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense.

These lunatic moonbats seem to believe in a so-called `right to vote' and `universal suffrage', and that the penalty for a crime should be material, not the revocation of citizenship.

2. H.Res. 636: "The Second Step in Impeaching President Bush Resolution"

Conyers wishes he could aggressively pursue his legislation to censure, and ultimately impeach, President Bush.

H.Res. 636 seeks to censure President Bush for a slew of unsubstantiated allegations....

1. H.Res. 635: "The First Step in Impeaching President Bush Resolution"

Conyers and House Democrats want to set up a select committee with the purpose of investigating grounds for the impeachment of President Bush.

H.Res. 635 establishes a select committee to investigate the Bush Administration and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.

He only lied to Congress and failed in following through on his legal obligations as President in order to invade a sovereign nation that was of no threat to us! It's not like he lied about sex in a civil dispute. And, anyway, the only grounds for saying that he lied and failed in following through on his legal obligations are the facts (as documented in the text of the bill) that he lied and failed to follow through on his legal obligations; these allegations are completely unsubstantiated!

There you have it. How any sane person could support these attitudes towards civic involvement, class conflict and civil rights, and the rule of law is beyond me.

Indirectly via Amp.

August 11, 2006

It lives, I see

First of all, Ra points to anyone who can give the name and publisher of the game whose opening line is the title of this post. Since we haven't given out any Ra points in about a year, let's make it, say, 50 points.

The exam went really well, thanks for asking. If you care (not that any of you do), you can see my answers here (PDF). The after-party was fun for a while, too, but eventually involved my bathroom becoming a biohazard of epic proportions, plus a visit from the paramedics. Hooray!

In other news, the sinking of the world into complete paranoid, vindictive chaos continues. As I'm sure you've all heard, the British foiled a plot to blow up as many as nine planes headed into the US from Heaththrow. Calm and level-headed statements described it as having the potential for `unimaginable destruction', which apparently means either the number of people on a 777 is unimaginable, or nine times that number is unimaginable. Unsurprisingly, Republicans immediately tried to make political hay, despite the facts that
  1. The UK is not the US, and the GOP can take no credit for this in any way whatsoever.
  2. The invasion of Iraq has only exacerbated the problem of Islamic extremism.

Next up, the use of torture in interrogation moves one step closer to quasi-official status:

The Bush administration drafted amendments to the War Crimes Act that would retroactively protect policymakers from possible criminal charges for authorizing any humiliating and degrading treatment of detainees, according to lawyers who have seen the proposal.

Because the only way to fight theocratic radicals who indiscriminately kill civilians and regimes with gross human rights violations is with theocracy, indiscriminately killing civilians, and gross human rights violations. BushCo take `To beat my enemy, I must become my enemy' a little too seriously.

My housemate does not understanding what the big deal is with Snakes on a plane (via Amanda). He simply seems tragically unable to comprehend the brilliance of a plot based, simply and elegantly, on the combination of snakes and a plane in such a way that the former are actually located inside the latter.

Obligatory feminist link: Modesty and raunch culture: two sides of the same coin
Obligatory science link: Debunking the upper tail: More on the gender disparity

I'm taking a break from heavy philosophizing this weekend, but maybe -- just maybe! -- you lucky people will be privy to an in-depth liveblogging of me writing the paper for my incomplete next week! (Try to contain your joy, it's a bit unbecoming.)

August 10, 2006

Meet The Halo Director

Neill Blomkamp looks to be directing the forthcoming Halo movie. Never heard of him? Not surprising as he's mostly done commercial and short film work. Joystiq compiled a page of You Tube videos of his work for you to check out, and you'll probably recognize a couple things there. Of the stuff you probably haven't seen, I recommend Tempbot.

Edit: Here's another transforming Citroen car one that's not on the list. Though I'm not 100% sure he directed this one, it sure looks similar.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Don't like political stuff? Find primary elections dry as the Gobi? Like kittens? Well this may be just your thing. I heard about this on the Colbert Report, so right after the show the site was a bit wanged, but it seems to be performing a bit better now that the initial burst of traffic has died down.

More Politico Vids

First, O'Reilly and Rivera complain about Mel Gibson, people that have been taking, evidently, too much pleasure out of Gibson's implosion, and, of course, Keith Olberman and Comedy Central.

Next, Keith Olberman calls them the jackasses that they are acting like.

Ah, Tony Snow thinks liberals, especially those that support Ned Lammont, are the original causes of 9/11 and terrorism generally.

But wait, David Horowitz says that liberals are more dangerous than terrorists! More dangerous than people that think that blowing themselves, and anyone nearby, up is a sweet way to get in good with God? And we're supposed to be the unhinged ones?

And finally, here's Lewis Black on Lieberman, Katherine Harris, and Mike DeWine (whose senate campaign Photoshopped in smoke to a picture of the WTC towers on 9/11 because, evidently, the real photos didn't do the job).

Man, there are some out-of-their-mind people out there, eh?

August 09, 2006


Ned Lamont beats Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Senatorial primary. Evidently this has only happened a small handfull of times in the last half century. Of course, Lieberman's decided to run as an independent because he can't stand to lose. What a wanker.

Oh, and Bill O'Reilly blames rape/murder victim for her own rape/murder.

August 08, 2006

The Best of You Tube

Ok, I know I'm not starting off with the best, but here's a music video about net neutrality. Yeah, the song is pretty lame and I don't know who the first two people are, but damn it, the video has the overweight guy in a tron suit and those two Asian kids that lip-synched N'sync. "Lip-synched N'sync." Boy, that's a weird phrase. Anyway...

A banjo supergroup featuring Steve Martin, who can really wail.

As the post there asks, what the hell is this European commercial advertising? Still, it's fun.

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is my favorite Beatles song, and here's a really good version from the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame induction played by Tom Petty and Prince, who can really wail.

Garbage Day!!!!

This sucker weighs in at twenty minutes long, but if the idea of spot on impressions of John Madden, Al Pacino, George Bush, Robin Williams, Robert De Niro, and more, you should check him out. Pretty hot stuff.

August 07, 2006

Shouldn't someone be reading these sorts of things BEFORE they're published?


MEXICO CITY, Aug. 7 — High-ranking Cuban officials worked hard today to send the message that Cuba was stable after the handover of power from Fidel Castro to his younger brother last week.

Fair enough. Oh wait, no. What?

One member of the island’s council of state, or politburo, Roberto Fernández Retamer, told reporters at a news conference that the country had set in motion a peaceful political succession. It was not clear whether he meant the transfer of power to Raúl Castro would turn out to be permanent, but the statement was clearly meant to suggest the Castro regime was not about to crumble.

Now I'm confused. Is the country stable, or is there a change in leadership? The two seem mutually exclusive, though I suppose you can have a change in leadership that's minimally disruptive.

I'll think I'll eat some leftover Indian food and take a nap.

This sounds ... familiar ...

PZ Myers:

The fear that the purpose in your life is your responsibility, that it is your job to provide intent and meaning and that there is no higher being who will tell you what to do, is one of those defining differences between theists and atheists, I think. I embrace the idea that I must find my own purpose; Christians like Collins dread it, and it leads them to invent ridiculous ideas like his all-knowing god and a predestined universe, where every coin flip is predetermined and lorded over by the all-knowing eye of an omnipotent sky-father.

PZ uses the phrase `God is dead' in the title. I'm not sure how well he understands Nietzsche (he's a biologist, not a philosopher, and that's okay), but, as I've argued before, this is precisely what Nietzsche meant by the phrase `God is dead'.

Next up, we have this gem from John Wilkins, a philosopher of biology, which is about the anti-evolutionary trope that it's a theory of `chance':

Why is chance such a problem for theologians? Apart from the obvious problem of God's foreknowledge, it appears to indicate that the very idea of a providential hand is unnecessary, and that is deeply troubling to them....

And here's the payoff of the series of misunderstandings. We need, it seems, a role for religion in biology. Because, no doubt, biology has been having such a hard time without it. Evolution has not been an argument for blind chance, only for the blindness of variation. There's nothing ideological about that. Indeed, arguing that variation is not blind is the ideology. There are no plausible mechanisms, nor any evidence in favour of, the idea that variation, which fuels evolution, is not the results of undirected chance happenings, in the sense that they are not correlated with the needs or aims of organisms. To assert this is ideological: it's to assert that the basis for all science since Bacon is false. And we need to do that why? Because of the failures of biology and the successes of teleological religious thinking? Hardly. The only reason is to provide some breathing room for religion, and there's no scientific rationale there at all.

That's the breathtaking thing about Darwin's theory: it's not a theory of chance and utter randomness, and it's not a theory of development in accordance with natural principles intrinsic to the `essence' of critters or some divine plan. It's a theory of emergent complexity, and emergent complexity is probably the second greatest innovation of Enlightenment thinkers (the first being intellectual and political freedom).

August 06, 2006

More Review City

I read a couple more comics and wrote up some reviews for a forum I post in, so here's a cross-post for you lovely people below the fold.

1. Transmetropolitan: Spider's Thrash
Spider's on the run, but time's running out. What started for me as a rather meandering and preachy book has really managed to consistently build up all the major characters in interesting ways over the course of the seven books I've read thus far. By the end of this book it looks like this story is going to build to a frenetic pace until a blockbuster conclusion, and I can't wait until I get some more money and can finish the run.

2. Swamp Thing: Reunion
This is the capstone to Alan Moore's fantastic run which completely revitalized and reinvented the b-level character of the Swamp Thing. Most of the book finishes the sci-fi turn the series took in the last volume and really takes the character in some interesting places, both literally and metaphorically. The story dealing with the rape of the Swamp Thing, who was pretty much a plant god at that point, really shows what sets Alan Moore a cut above even the best in the business of writing comics. Ultimately, if you've read the first five trades of Moore's run you *have* to read this one and if you haven't read any of the trades then this really isn't the place to start. This really is a historic run in comics history though, and if you haven't read it yet, you really should.

3. Superman For All Seasons
The thing that bothers me most when discussing Superman as a character is when people complain that he's too perfect. As I've said a number of times, the fact that quite a lot of Superman stories give this impression is just proof that any character can be boring in the hands of weak writers. The Superman we see here is, of course, full of power, but for whatever physical invulnerability he may have, this is a man full of doubt, excitability, a temper, and impetuousness. This really is the mark of a good Superman story: you can't put him in physical danger so you show us the man underneath. I wouldn't put this as my favorite Supes story ever, but it does come with a strong recommendation.

4. Lex Luthor: Man of Steel
In a genre dominated by stories about heroes in brightly colored spandex, it's not refreshing when you find a really strong story written about a traditional villain. Brian Azzarello does a fantastic job of exploring Lex Luthor's motivations and showing that even villains are more complex than their plans for global domination. I truly believe that one of the marks of a really talanted writer is to make the audience sympathize and empathinze with a character they really don't like, and in this Brian Azzarello completely succeeds. I don't know why I've been spending so much time lately with Superman based books, but with quality this high it's hard to complain.

11.5 hours

until I fail out of grad school.

At this point, I just wish the damn thing would be over with.

August 04, 2006

FRT And A Video

Here's an awesome video for you to laugh at.

And here's my Random Ten! If you wanna show off your own Random Ten, just load up your mp3s into some kind of player, set the sucker to random/shuffle, and then post the first ten songs that come up in the comments to this post.

(Song - Artist)
1. My Sky - Ashland
2. Watch Out - Atmosphere
3. Travelin' Band - Creedence Clearwater Revival
4. Brain Damage - Pink Floyd
5. Rocky Mountain High - John Denver
6. Come So Far feat. Birdapres - John Smith
7. Bury Me Standing (Feat. Luke Sick) - DJ Z-Trip
8. Will The Sun Rise? - Stratovarious
9. Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits
10. Alteration X 10 - Tiamat