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<------- Greg

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Happy Memorial Day! [2009/05/25 (Monday) 15:57 EST]
Hope you're all enjoying the remembrance of our dead soldiers by having barbecues and buying shit on sale!

Things are good here. Pretty lazy weekend that I've mostly occupied so far by watching my roommate's DVDs of Veronica Mars. (Just figured I should leave *some* kind of update since it's been like a month since my last post.)
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"I'm yours" [2009/04/29 (Wednesday) 22:00 EST]
So, how would you explain or simplify the meaning of this expression (in the romantic sense) for someone learning English, *without* bringing up (and then trying to somehow also explain) all the complicated baggage of love-as-possession and such? Because in addition to that being extra difficult to explain on top of it, it's probably not literally in anyone's mind when they use the phrase, anyway. (At least, I would hope that the student in question didn't hear that from someone who meant it with the same depth one might impart in their marriage vows or something. After all, there's clearly still a language barrier to work through first.)

Also, I don't want to creep the student out by interpreting as an expression of deep undying love, something that might have just been innocent flirtation from someone else who also lacks a complete grasp of the language...
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Well that's concerning as hell [2009/04/26 (Sunday) 09:01 EST]
Tests show that eight students at a Queens high school are likely to have contracted the human swine flu virus that has struck Mexico and a small number of other people in the United States, health officials in New York City said yesterday.
In less concerning news, I've once again registered for the 20-mile Walk for Hunger this year. Feel free to donate to that if you'd like. Twenty miles may seem like a lot, but I watched people finishing the Boston Marathon last Monday, which made it seem a lot less impressive than it felt last year...
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Boston Area Rape Crisis Center Walk for Change [2009/03/22 (Sunday) 03:12 EST]
So I registered awhile ago for the BARCC walk happening in two weeks, and kept forgetting to mention it here in hopes of possibly getting some other donations from people. My own sponsorship page is here, if anyone wants to donate.

My best friend's mom actually helped start BARCC back in the 1970s, but while it's great that it's continued helping survivors since then, it remains the *only* provider of comprehensive rape crisis services in the greater Boston area. Anything you can give to help them continue doing what they do would be awesome. (And if you're in the Boston area and want to walk with us, that'd be excellent, too.)
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Oops, suppose an update would be in order [2009/03/21 (Saturday) 11:52 EST]
Watched the BSG finale last night with folks. It's kinda sad now the whole thing's over, both in terms of no longer being with those characters we've seen through so much, and in terms of no longer getting together with people to watch it. I first got interested in it when I was in Berkeley on my way back from Oz, in early 2006. And while the finale was kind of disappointing, in retrospect it does compare favorably to quite a few other series endings I've seen for other shows, which either ended way prematurely or got driven into the ground by continuing several years longer than necessary.

In other news, things are going well. I'm enjoying the nicening weather, though I'm worried about how to get an AC unit into my casement window, which will at some point be a necessity given how much the sun heats up my room in the morning. My dad and Candice may be visiting in April, during their spring break, which should be cool. Also visiting in April is our (Internet) friend Jesse, from England.

On the job front, I still definitely enjoy teaching, though I'm thinking now that it most likely won't be a long-term career for me. So probably at some point in the vague future (when the economy gets better and there are actually other jobs to be had, perhaps?) I'll start thinking about what else I might like to do.
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Yay cheap! [2009/02/15 (Sunday) 12:28 EST]
Happy Discount Chocolate Day, everyone!
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On saving *our* environment [2009/02/06 (Friday) 09:52 EST]
I like wordsmith.org's word of the day emails, because they come with a "thought for the day" quote, which is usually quite edifying.

Myth: we have to save the earth. Frankly, the earth doesn't need to be saved. Nature doesn't give a hoot if human beings are here or not. The planet has survived cataclysmic and catastrophic changes for millions upon millions of years. Over that time, it is widely believed, 99 percent of all species have come and gone while the planet has remained. Saving the environment is really about saving our environment - making it safe for ourselves, our children, and the world as we know it. If more people saw the issue as one of saving themselves, we would probably see increased motivation and commitment to actually do so.
-Robert M. Lilienfeld, management consultant and author (b. 1953) and William L. Rathje, archaeologist and author (b. 1945)
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Fuck Twenty-Five [2009/01/30 (Friday) 20:20 EST]
Because I'm about to say goodbye to being 25 years old, so it seems appropriate to feign something against the number itself, right? (Also, I am totally not participating in the viral Facebook meme everyone else is doing. And don't you forget it.)

So what I'm going to do is share a number of random facts about myself, and then tag another number of people on Facebook. A different number, mind you, and one *much* closer to being negative than the number of facts.

1) I was born at 4:16pm, and use this fact to remember that the first Moon landing occurred at 4:17pm (though that was Daylight time, while my birth wasn't, as it was in winter).

2) I have seen Ani DiFranco live five times. Six if you count seeing her warm up before 2004's March for Women's Lives in DC, but I didn't actually see her play her concert on that occasion.

3) This is more than I've seen any other artist.

4) In tenth grade, I computed how much antimatter would have to be evenly distributed throughout the Great Lakes to completely vaporize them all. (No, I don't still remember. It was rather a lot, though. It takes a lot of energy to heat and then boil water.)

5) Adding to the nerdcount, the following year I was in a Quiz Bowl match that our team won because my friend Carolyn remembered the capital of Bulgaria before the other team. This scene in my memory has ever since been how I know it's Sofia.

6) I live in an apartment now with five other people. We sometimes finish each other's sentences and thus call our house the Hive.

7) We buzz at each other sometimes on the Internet.

8) The first pro-choice event I ever went to was held at my church, on the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I went with my dad. (That was also the first time I remember hearing anything about Ani DiFranco, because there was a silent auction and one of the items a friend of ours won was an autographed poster of her.)

9) The only famous person whose autograph I ever got was David Copperfield. I have no idea whatsoever what happened to that.

10) My education/career plans evolved as follows: a) when I first started thinking about it, I was definitely going to college out of state. b) the University of Michigan offered me money and I had no idea what I wanted to study so I figured it was stupid to spend tens of thousands of dollars on that, so I went there. c) I was definitely going to major in physics and philosophy. d) physics classes were at inconvenient (read: early) times, so I switched to math. e) I definitely wasn't interested in law school, despite my mom's insistence that I'd probably be good at it. f) I took a class on women and the law and thought maybe law school would be a good idea, so I took the LSAT. g) while living in New Mexico with my aunt and uncle, intending to work for a bit to move to CA for law school, I decided to go to Mexico and teach English for awhile. h) After returning from Mexico, I decided I liked Boston, largely because I had friends there who I met on the Internet, so I moved here.

11) I'm starting to get bored of this entry.

12) Twelve is a nice number, and I'm going to go over to Heather's for Battlestar soon, so here's where I stop.
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Pros and Cons of Swearing [2009/01/26 (Monday) 17:13 EST]
So I'm currently reading Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought (which is fan-fucking-tastic and I highly recommend it to all y'all), and he's got a chapter on the linguistics of swearing. There's a lot of fascinating stuff about the etymology and neurophysiology and pragmatics of swearing, which I may talk about when I feel like writing a more boring entry that fewer of you care about at all. For now, I'd just like to quote a bit that I think is quite good about the actual costs and benefits of swearing. I particularly like his bringing up that words can truly hurt because we can't help understanding them, and so they can force listeners to think about certain things whether they want to or not (the bolded part is my own added emphasis, since I think it does a good job of explaining, on an emotional level rather than a political one, why even good liberals find certain exercises of speech objectionable):
Language has often been called a weapon, and people should be mindful about where to aim it and when to fire. The common denominator of taboo words is the act of forcing a disagreeable thought on someone, and it's worth considering how often one really wants one's audience to be reminded of excrement, urine, and exploitative sex. Even in its mildest form, intended only to keep the listener's attention, the lazy use of profanity can feel like a series of jabs in the ribs. They are annoying to the listener, and a confession by the speaker that he can think of no other way to make his words worth attending to. It's all the more damning for writers, who have the luxury of choosing their words off-line from the half-million-word phantasmagoria of the English lexicon. A journalist who, in writing about the cruelty of an East German Stasi guard, can do no better than to call him a fucker needs to get a good thesaurus.

Also calling for reflection is whether a linguistic taboo is alwyas a bad thing. Why are we offended--why should we be offended--when an outsider refers to an African American as a nigger, or a woman as a cunt, or a Jewish person as a fucking Jew? The terms have no real meaning, so the offense cannot come from their perpetuating a stereotype or endorsing oppression. Nor is it a reaction to learning that the speaker harbors an abominable attitude. These days someone who displayed the same attitude by simply saying "I hate African Americans, women, and Jews" would be stigmatizing himself far more than his targets, and would quickly be written of as a loathsome kook. I suspect that our sense of offense comes from the nature of speech recognition and from what it means to understand the connotation of a word. If you're an English speaker, you can't hear the words nigger or cunt or fucking without calling to mind what they mean to an implicit community of speakers, including the emotions that cling to them. To hear nigger is to try on, however briefly, the thought that there is something contemptible about African Americans, and thus to be complicit in a community that standardized that judgment by putting it into a word. The same thing happens with other taboo imprecations: just hearing the words feels morally corrosive, so we consider them not just unpleasant to think but not to be thought at all--that is, taboo. None of this means that the words should be banned, only that their effects on listeners should be understood and anticipated.
Those are some of the reasons to think twice about giving carte blanche to swearing. But there is another reason. If an overuse of taboo words, whether by design or laziness, blunts their emotional edge, it will have deprived us of a linguistic instrument that we sometimes sorely need. And this brings me to the arguments on the pro-swearing side.

To begin with, it's a fact of life that people swear. The responsibility of writers is to give a "just and lively image of human nature," and that includes portraying a character's language realistically when their art calls for it. When Norman Mailer wrote his true-to-life novel about World War II, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948, he knew it would be a betrayal of his depiction of the soldiers to have them speak without swearing. His compromise with the sensibilities of the day was to have them use the pseudo-epithet fug. (When Dorothy Parker met him she said, "So you're the man who doesn't know how to spell fuck.") Sadly, this prissiness is not a thing of the past. Some public television stations today are afraid to broadcast Martin Scorsese's documentary on the history of the blues and Ken Burns's documentary on World War II because of the salty language in their interviews with musicians and soldiers. The prohibition against swearing in broadcast media makes artists and historians into liars, and subverts the responsibility of grown-ups to learn how life is lived in worlds distant from their own.
When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive. More than any other form of language, it recruits our evocativeness of metaphor; the pleasure of alliteration, meter, and rhyme; and the emotional charge of our attitudes, both thinkable and unthinkable. It engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern. Shakespeare, no stranger to earthy imprecations himself, had Caliban speak for the entire human race when he said, "You taught me language, and my profit on't is, I know how to curse."
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Books of 2009 [2009/01/18 (Sunday) 00:04 EST]
In keeping with last year and the year before, this will be a regularly updated list of the books I read this year. It's been awhile since the last one I finished (December 8), because I'd started three before finishing any one of them. But I got a lot of good ones for Christmas, so hopefully I'll get some good reading done.

1) Alan Moore: Watchmen (finished 2009-01-17) Very, very good. Deals with some interesting themes I toyed with a bit in Mexico when I made some short-lived efforts to write stories. In particular, the fact that a true super"hero" (i.e. person with superpowers who wanted to do good things) would likely become pretty dehumanized, because he or she would place big picture concerns above individual people. And as much as it might intellectually make sense to kill, say, a couple million innocent people to save a couple billion, most of us would be completely unwilling to actually go through with something like that, and would see as pretty horrific anyone who did.
2) Steven Pinker: The Stuff of Thought (finished 02-08) I already wrote an entry about this book, which was excellent. There were, however, a few unquestioned conventions (and untrue conventional beliefs) he had about gender and sexuality, which bothered me even more than the couple incorrect etymological stories he gave for words, which a few seconds with the OED were sufficient to contradict.
3) Simon Singh: Fermat's Enigma (finished 02-25) Like his Code Book, this was well-written, accessible by the layperson and at the same time not dumbed down too much. Sure, he doesn't get into the real hardcore mathematics of it, but it's not a graduate-level textbook, after all.
4) Steven Pinker: Words and Rules (finished 03-19) More analytic and dense than Stuff of Thought, but also without some of the annoying problems of that book. If you are interested in how the mind works, particularly with respect to language, it's definitely something I recommend reading at some point.
5) Phil Plait: Death from the Skies! (finished 05-31; in the intervening time I also caught up on about a year and a half's worth of the SGU podcast) Excellent book, which I highly recommend. It's a very humorous and readable account of all the ways the cosmos can kill us.
6) Mike Mignola and John Byrne: Hellboy: Seed of Destruction (finished 06-22) Read this one afternoon on a day off from work. Pretty quick read, but interesting, and my roommate has quite a bit of the series if not all of it, so I'll probably continue at some point.
7) Mike Mignola: Hellboy: Wake the Devil (finished something like 06-30)
8) Terry Pratchett: Soul Music (finished 08-23) Read this one instead of listening, because the audio book had big chunks missing.
9) Steven Pinker: The Language Instinct (finished 09-14) Also excellent, but subject to a couple minor examples of problems I also had with Stuff of Thought. It took me such a long time to finish this one (which I think I started shortly after finishing Phil Plait's), because, as you can see, I proceeded to get distracted by nearly 20 audiobooks...
10) Terry Pratchett: The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (finished 10-11) Some glitchiness in this audiobook as well, so I read it the old fashioned way.
11) Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon: Preacher (finished the 9-volume series on 12-10) Really good and a bit fucked up. This is another series that Jordan has in its entirety, so I figured I'd check it out.
12) Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra: Y: The Last Man (finished 10 volumes 10-12) Also rather excellent. I have always been a fan of the post-apocalypse genre, so of course I liked that aspect of it, but the character development and social commentary and such were also good.
13) Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson: Transmetropolitan (finished the series about 12-17) Yet another series of graphic novels. The artwork in this is a lot denser, which makes it interesting because you can look at the main subject of a panel and just read the dialogue straight through, or take a much longer time to actually notice all the little things going on in the background.

1) J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (finished 06-13) As good as the book, seeing as they're the same. I liked the audio versions I listened to in Mexico, so after catching up on SGU podcasts (as well as one on the history of the Byzantine Empire), I decided this should be the first audio book I downloaded.
2) Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters (finished 06-18) Good, like other Discworld novels. Unfortunately there were bits missing from the audio version, which didn't include big chunks of plot, but did include presumably humorous dialogue. Plus the sudden shifts were rather jarring, even if I didn't miss much of great importance.
3) Terry Pratchett: Pyramids (finished 06-23) I actually read a bit of this one, because once again there was a part missing, but at least Meaux had the paper version.
4) Terry Pratchett: Guards! Guards! (finished 06-27) This one didn't even have missing bits, which was nice.
5) Terry Pratchett: Eric (finished around 06-30)
6) Robert A. Heinlein: Starship Troopers (finished 07-09) Typical Heinlein, in that the fictional society is an odd mix of some progressive elements and 1950s sensibilities. This one also includes the oft-criticized militaristic social structure, though I don't think that's any worse than a number of other futuristic scenarios. Heinlein himself does seem more in favor of it than other authors are of their fictional governments, however.
7) Terry Pratchett: Moving Pictures (finished 07-10) Probably don't need to say Pratchett is good every book I finish...
8) Terry Pratchett: Reaper Man (finished 07-16)
9) Terry Pratchett: Witches Abroad (finished 07-21)
The audio book I have for Small Gods is abridged, which I don't like, so I decided to skip it until I can read the whole thing.
10) Terry Pratchett: Lords and Ladies (finished 08-05 or so)
11) Terry Pratchett: Men at Arms (finished 08-10)
12) Terry Pratchett: Interesting Times (finished 08-15)
13) Terry Pratchett: Maskerade (finished 08-18 or 19)
14) Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (finished 08-22 maybe?)
15) Terry Pratchett: The Hogfather (finished 08-31)
16) Terry Pratchett: Jingo (finished 09-04)
17) Terry Pratchett: The Lost Continent (finished 09-10) I suspect much of this wouldn't have made sense if I hadn't been to Australia before. But since I have, it's possibly one of the funniest one I've listened to lately.
18) Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum (finished 09-16) I'm pretty sure the witches are my favorite set of characters of the whole series, with the possible exception of a few members of the Watch. Granny Weatherwax and Vimes in particular are prone to the sort of introspection that proves Pratchett is really thinking about some deep things, in addition to superficially making fun of just about every trope found in fantasy universes.
19) Terry Pratchett: The Fifth Elephant (finished 09-22)
20) Terry Pratchett: The Truth (finished 09-28)
21) Terry Pratchett: The Last Hero (finished 10-06)
22) Terry Pratchett: Night Watch (finished 10-16)
23) Terry Pratchett: The Wee Free Men (finished 10-20) Listened to this one again in order, and some parts make a lot more sense now. (I did once before in 2007 before knowing anything at all of Discworld.)
24) Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment (finished 10-23)
25) Terry Pratchett: A Hat Full of Sky (finished 10-27)
26) Terry Pratchett: Going Postal (finished 11-05)
27) Terry Pratchett: Thud! (finished 11-12)
28) Terry Pratchett: Wintersmith (finished 11-18)
29) Terry Pratchett: Making Money (finished 11-23 or 24) Odd to be done with the Discworld audiobooks now...
30) Terry Pratchett: Truckers (finished 12-18) This is the first of the Bromeliad trilogy, which is quite excellent and actually set on modern-day Earth.
31) Terry Pratchett: Diggers (finished 12-21)
32) Terry Pratchett: Wings (finished 12-30) Last book of the year, I think.
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Tattoo? [2009/01/15 (Thursday) 17:35 EST]
Poll #1331862 So I'm seriously considering getting a tattoo now.

Which Carl Sagan quote should I get?

We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.
Look death in the eye and be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.

Though my sister and my friend Heather and others already have text tattoos, it didn't really occur to me to think of words I'd want on my own body (as opposed to a picture or symbol) until Heather specifically suggested it the other day. At that point, I immediately thought of the first choice above, as well as some part of the extended quote the second one comes from. (I think I posted it on the anniversary of my mom's death, as well...):

The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.

The entirety of that would be a bit much for a tattoo (especially a first tattoo), but I think I sort of captured the idea in the part I chose. Maybe like to include "vulnerability" as well if there's a way to do that without making it obvious that half the quote is missing...
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Oh right, I have an LJ, don't I? [2009/01/08 (Thursday) 10:21 EST]
Yeah, so I know I've been pretty lax in updating this.

Went to MI for Christmas, which was fun, but also weird because it wasn't at any place I consider "home". (My dad and Candice moved to Grand Rapids almost a year ago, and my dad finally sold the house in Allegan just this December.) It was pretty sad to put up my family's Christmas ornaments on a small, fake tree in the basement of a new condo...

I got good gifts, of books and movies and music, which is the only thing I ever ask for these days, what with pretty much buying other things I need. I did get some nice clothes from my sister, though. My dad was also disappointed that we'd stopped doing regular Cake Nights, because one of my stocking stuffers was a cake decorating set. Conferring with my roommates, though, we jointly realized that there's no reason Cake still has to be done on Sunday night (which is part of why we weren't ever interested in having so many people at our place until late-ish), simply because it had been Sundays when it was at Alex's house from January to August. Also, of course, we can make and decorate cake and invite some friends over without having to do a real, honest-to-goodness everyone's-invited Cake Night. So I'm sure they'll get some use.

Actually, that may happen this weekend, because an xkcd forumite from Russia is staying with us for a few days and it's his birthday soon.

On the job front (which I'm thinking of because I'm currently at work waiting for class to start), I quit my job in Malden in the evenings, because it basically felt like I had no real free time for myself during the week. And conveniently there's now a full-time position here (at GEOS) that opened up when one of the full-time teachers got promoted to academic coordinator. It's not certain I'll get that, of course, since there's at least one other current teacher interested. But if I do, that'd sure be nice. (And even if I don't, there may be additional full-time positions created over the next few months, which I'll apply for as well.)

Anyway, time now to see if I have more than the one student who showed up yesterday...
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Thanxkcdgiving [2008/12/07 (Sunday) 22:54 EST]
We had a ton of people over to the Hive (what my apartment is called, if you didn't know) for the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Some of the pictures I took can be found here.

Yesterday I went to the New England Aquarium with some friends, and will eventually be uploading the pictures and videos I took there. (Videos mostly being of penguins, since they're adorable. But also a cuttlefish whose skin was constantly changing colors slightly, which looked awesome.)
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Better Imagery of San Cristobal [2008/11/28 (Friday) 15:24 EST]
I discovered today that Google now has much better images of San Cristobal than it did before, so I went ahead and made a map including where I worked and stayed while I lived there. (Eventually I may put in some other interesting or important locations from my stay.)

Also, of course, happy Thanksgiving to everyone (belatedly) and Black Friday (on time). Hope you had/have a wonderful time. I didn't do much last night, but friends came over and we watched Futurama and ordered Indian food. Our big (as in, like, 30 people) thing is happening tomorrow, since a lot of people were with family yesterday.
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Sheltie Song [2008/11/16 (Sunday) 16:17 EST]
stacebass's dog.

If You're Happy and You Know It Sheltie from Stacy H on Vimeo.
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Even Fox News gets it right sometimes. [2008/11/08 (Saturday) 07:55 EST]
Also, why I will never ever vote for Ralph Nader. Whether he's knowing and still completely unapologetic, or whether he really somehow doesn't get what's wrong with saying Obama might be an Uncle Tom, he has, as the interviewer says, basically argued himself into complete irrelevance now. (Though, to be honest, some of his "These two clearly different candidates are basically the same, so you should vote for me" rhetoric got really damn old years ago, when said about two so clearly different candidates...)

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Results [2008/11/05 (Wednesday) 10:18 EST]
So I'm proud of the state where I live (for decriminalizing marijuana and not abolishing the income tax) and where I voted (for allowing medicinal marijuana and stem cell research), but can't say as the other ballot measure results are particularly nice. Well, some are, like allowing assisted suicide and CO's decision *not* to define life beginning at conception. (Seriously, wouldn't that require things like passports for fetuses traveling overseas and all sorts of other ridiculous implications, in addition to making abortion murder?) But a number of states, including (probably?) California, have again voted to ban gay marriage, and Arkansas has banned gay adoption now, too.

Good job, Arkansans, way to take a nice pro-life stance. All those not-aborted babies are totally going to have an easier time of it now that you decided certain combinations of people can't be parents.
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Gamblers are pretty sure Obama will win [2008/11/04 (Tuesday) 17:19 EST]
Official polling in swing states annoy me, and reading about some of this year's round of "irregularities" was positively depressing. But then I saw something that made me happier, in lieu of actual election results which won't start coming in for hours yet.

Hardcore gamblers like Obama for the win. That site, which correctly called ]all 50 states in the historically close elections in both 2000 and 2004 (and presumably DC, since any child with access to the past voting record knows that'll go Democratic), has odds at 94% to 5%, in favor of Obama. So that's heartening.

(The reason it's more heartening than mere polling data is that gamblers have a vested financial interest in being accurate, and so they consider things like inaccurate polling and voting "irregularities" in battleground states, while poll data simply tells us how the people they happened to call claim they're going to vote.)
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It's been awhile, obviously [2008/10/28 (Tuesday) 16:47 EST]
Firstly, I'll just reassure everyone that I am indeed still alive. I know I haven't posted in a long time, and that's only partially due to the fact that I spent about a week and a half in the hospital after getting my appendix removed two weeks ago. It hadn't quite burst, but they said it was about golfball sized when they removed it, and it's supposed to be closer to the size of the last two joints of your little finger. So I'm glad I got that taken care of. Also, while it has kept me out of work and the rest of my normal life for awhile, at least it didn't happen when I was traveling, or back when I had exams or something at school. And I'm very thankful for my housemates and other friends here for how helpful they've been. It's always nice to have people to count on even when far away from "home" and family.

Otherwise, things are going swimmingly. Still enjoying both of my jobs, and looking forward to getting back to those tomorrow. We have a Halloween party this Friday, which should be fun. I'm going as Chester A. Arthur, as he was the only US president whose official portrait included muttonchops. We carved pumpkins last Saturday, and I took pictures which I may eventually post somewhere, but then again I may not, since I seem to be pretty damn terrible at following through with that sort of thing ever.

Going next weekend to Florida for my cousin Andy's wedding, which should be a nice break now that it's getting cold here (and less miserably hot there). Though of course having just spent a long time out of commission anyway, I'm less in need of a vacation than I might have been had there been no extended hospitalization...
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The Hive [2008/09/05 (Friday) 16:16 EST]
So, I moved into my new place on Monday, which is all sorts of neat. At some point, I may post pictures, though that'll probably wait until we've done more unpacking/putting away of things. That there are six of us may become problematic with respect to shower scheduling and fridge space and such, but overall I think it'll be pretty grand.

Still a bit surreal, though, to suddenly be living with these people who I'd previously only talked to much online (apart from Monique, of course).
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Five Years Ago Today [2008/08/12 (Tuesday) 19:07 EST]
My mom died in a car accident.

Two weeks ago, my friend Heather lost her dad to pancreatic cancer.

I think Carl Sagan said it pretty well, when he was facing his own death in 1996:
I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. ... The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
"In the Valley of the Shadow" PARADE magazine (10 March 1996)
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On Fast Food [2008/08/06 (Wednesday) 18:54 EST]
Before coming to Malden just now, I spent some time reading Barry Glassner's The Gospel of Food while eating at McDonald's. For a cheap, fast, and (since I got their Asian salad) even healthy meal, it can't easily be beat.

As it happens, I'm currently reading his chapter on fast food, in which he mostly criticizes the overboard reactions of critics to McDonald's and other fast food joints.

One thing that bothered me back when I first watched Supersize Me was the glaring (to me, at least) lack of any mention of economic issues. The guy's girlfriend was a vegan chef, so he was privileged enough to have ready and cheap access to plenty of healthy, low-fat food whenever he wanted it. Even if he didn't have her, he still seemed a pretty decently paid middle-class sort of guy. He can afford to spend the money and especially the time required to prepare and eat fresh, healthy food. Here's a quote from Glassner's book:
In Super Size Me, his anti-fast food film released in 2004, Morgan Spurlock eats three large McDonald's meals a day for thirty days and vividly demonstrates that such a regimen is enough to make a healthy thin man fat and enfeebled. But from the vantage point of some less fortunate folks, the picture looks qutie different. Having spent most of his savings and unable to find a job, Les Gapay, a former Wall Street Journal reporter in his mid-fifties, gave up his apartment and moved into the only shelter he had left. "One of the most difficult aspects of living out of my truck," he reported fifteen months into his ordeal with homelessness, "was finding places to go to the bathroom or just to sit during part of the day. I quickly learned the ropes. I often ate at fast-food joints because of the $1 promotional items. Two of those made a meal."

For Gapay and thousands of other homeless people, fast-food places are safe places in which to warm up, while away the hours, and get a hot meal. When I hear activists and food snobs bemoaning the frequency with which low-income Americans patronize fast-food chains, a famously sardonic observation made by Anatole France in the late nineteenth century comes to mind: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

No one disagrees that the poor, like most of the rest of the population, would do well to eat more fruit and veggies, but where else, for a few bucks, can a person of modest means get the complete, tripartite American meal (meat, potatoes, and vegetable), in a clean setting, with toys and diversions for the kids thrown in at no extra charge? Or should low-income Americans be forced to subsist on the Department of Agriculture's "Thrifty Food Plan," whose recipes, even if followed slavishly, are barely lower in fat and additives than a Quarter Pounder dinner with small fries and a salad, but require hours of shopping and preparation and don't taste nearly as good?

There's also the ideological objections to McD's simply for being a huge corporation. But it is largely because of this that it and other fast-food chains are able to require better practices of their suppliers, and to buy some of the cleanest beef available. It also means that, urban myths aside, the actual kitchen environments in most fast-food places are going to be incredibly clean. I really strongly doubt that the little independently-owned Chinese place I ate at yesterday had a cleaner kitchen or cleaner meat or was supplied by farmers with better treated livestock than the McDonald's I ate at today. There's no corporate oversight and probably less health department scrutiny (and certainly less public scrutiny) of a little mom-and-pop place than there is of a company that everyone loves to hate.

Regarding environmental waste, yeah, the more than a million tons of packaging annually produced by McDonald's sounds pretty bad, though you also have to consider how many thousands of restaurants that counts. And at least McDonald's feeds people, rather than simply adorn their bodies. Glassner writes, "A gold mine in Papua New Guinea called Ok Tedi generates two hundred thousand tons of waster per day, Earthworks reports."
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Writer's Block: In the Event of a Zombie Emergency [2008/07/29 (Tuesday) 23:50 EST]
Are you prepared for a zombie outbreak, or are you just going to wing it?

I've got friends preparing for the outbreak itself, so I figure to just follow their well-planned instructions whenever it actually ends up happening.

I'm far more interested in what happens afterwards. Okay, so zombie outbreak. Billions dead. Cities destroyed or unsafe to return to. Et cetera. But eventually the disease runs its course or whatever, and we're left in a drastically altered world. What now?

(Also, I figure that thinking about more generic post-apocalyptic situations means I'm far more well-prepared, at least mentally, for things I believe might *actually* happen, like a meteor or comet impact, or nearby gamma ray burster, or pandemic or nuclear war or something.)
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Job stuff [2008/07/18 (Friday) 11:36 EST]
So, another month on, I figure I should probably let you all know that I have started working at the new place, doing the afternoon classes as well as substituting occasionally in the morning (which makes for a really long day, but also a fair bit of monies). I still don't know how long they'll need me to fill this position, because if student numbers drop again at the end of the summer, it'll be newer teachers whose hours they cut first. The school's fairly conveniently located right on the Orange Line, though, so even if I get cut back to two hours a day instead of four or something, it'll continue being worthwhile to hold onto the position.

Otherwise, things are going well. Only a month and a half until I move, so I'm getting pretty excited about that. It'll be nice when, even though I do work until 10pm, I can hang out with friends afterwards because it doesn't mean like an hour train ride (and walking) both ways, sandwiching an hour at most of actual time spent with them. It's also nice because I've only got a bed to move, which can be strapped atop a vehicle if need be, while Monique is coming in with enough to singlehandedly furnish at least a two bedroom apartment. So my own move will be convenient without it meaning the place is empty to start with. (The local xkcd contingent will of course be helping her pack and move stuff, though.)

In the meantime, I've been terrible at keeping up with people's journals, so if anything super important has happened, sorry I missed hearing about it.
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New Job [2008/06/23 (Monday) 18:08 EST]
I did a training today for another teaching job I start tomorrow in downtown Boston. It will be more intensive classes (20 hours a week with the same group, or if I decide to do just their summer classes, 15 hours), but from a book that gives a much better guide to teachers, so I won't need to spend that much extra time planning lessons. It's also nice because, time-wise, it doesn't conflict at all with the classes I'm already teaching, so I won't have to stop teaching here at all. Which is good, because I love the students and enjoy my coworkers quite a bit.
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Update because Sharon told me to [2008/06/12 (Thursday) 23:20 EST]
It's been awhile, I know. Nothing too exciting has happened in the interim, though, and my primary online activity continues to center around http://forums.xkcd.com rather than LiveJournal.

But I still love you, LJ! Also, Sharon did tell me to write something about her, and I was kind of bored anyway.

So Sharon, as I've mentioned before, is a coworker of mine. We hang out on the train after work a lot, and occasionally meet for foodery before work as well. Tomorrow she's bringing her friend Liena along, which is cool since I think Liena seems cool.

Sharon does not, however, ever come to Cake Night. Which is silly. Because Cake is awesome and I think she would get along well with my friends. So Sharon, if you're reading this post you made me make, you should totally come to Cake Night for once.

Everyone should, really. I mean, if you're not anywhere near Boston, it might be impractical. But I know for a fact that some of you have moved here recently, and you're the ones I'm talking to. Contact me for directions. It's 7-11pm on Sundays, in Mission Hill. There is Cake.
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Conspiracy Theories and Science [2008/05/28 (Wednesday) 01:06 EST]
Okay, now for the longer and probably less interesting entry.

Occasionally there are topics that float around in my consciousness for awhile until it seems I should just go ahead and type them up, and this time it's 9-11 conspiracy theories. I argued about WTC 7's collapse with the friend of Danielle's coworker who did the Hunger Walk with us. At appetizers last week Sophy and Patrick were talking about the Pentagon and Flight 93 (the one that crashed in Pennsylvania), respectively. Meaux's dad buys into all sorts of...interesting theories about things, including how 9-11 was executed by our government to cover up all the incriminating documents that were in the buildings. Tonight Sophy's roommate Luke began spouting general conspiracy theories about the whole thing (he touched on WTC 7, the Pentagon, the first tower that got hit, and a few other bits). I didn't really engage my friends last Wednesday, because they're my friends and arguing with close friends tends to be unpleasant, and I didn't get into it with Meaux's dad because he will apparently get rather angry at people who disagree. But I did argue a bit with Dave at the Hunger Walk, because he seemed a reasonable sort of fellow who probably could change his position given enough evidence against it. And I argued tonight with Luke, because he seems to like to argue anyway (though it wasn't exactly a fair argument, seeing as he was about halfway through a bottle of (62% abv) absinthe at the time...) and I figured I wasn't going to alienate him by disagreeing.

But anyway, because of that it seemed to be a good time to get some of my thoughts down here.

The conclusion I will get to if you read this whole thing is that 9-11 conspiracy theorists, just like Holocaust deniers and massive JFK conspiracy theorists and Moon landing deniers and evolution deniers, fail at basic scientific thinking. They like to poke "holes" in the "official story", most of which aren't even holes to begin with, without positing any real alternative explanation themselves. And until someone posits an alternative explanation that has less gaping holes than they claim the official one does, I'm going to go with the official one, every time. As long as it continues being the best (and in most cases only real) explanation, I'll continue believing it.

No, I'm not trying to create emotional bias by lumping 9-11 conspiracy theorists in with young-Earth creationists and Holocaust deniers. I will readily admit that denying the Holocaust marks one as more morally reprehensible than thinking our government orchestrated 9-11. But *intellectually*? I think all three fall into most of the same traps as Moon landing deniers and people who think JFK must have been killed by a massive international government conspiracy.

The vast majority of people who believe any of these "theories" have gaping holes in their knowledge of the "official story".
It's very easy to poke "holes" in evolution if you've never taken the time to see what evolutionary biologists have to say on the matter. It's even easier if you have these holes specifically pointed out to you by someone whose own information is woefully out-of-date (the lack of a "missing link" comes up in evolution denial all the time, despite the fact that the "gap" was never that big and that it has been completely closed for decades) or, worse and probably more common, someone who is deliberately cherry picking the facts, or lying outright, to make it look like the anomaly is bigger than it really is. In the 9-11 example, this is like only showing the last 7 seconds of the 11-or-so-second collapse of WTC 7 and then claiming this quick demolition must therefore have been deliberate. Or only showing the back side of that same building and claiming it was only burning "slightly", when in fact the entirety of the opposite face was obscured by smoke from the massive unfought fires that had been consuming the building for several hours. Or denying that any plane wreckage was at the Pentagon until conspirators shipped some in, when in fact one of the coordinators of that emergency response has said
I saw the marks of the plane wing on the face of the building. I picked up parts of the plane with the airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane, and I found the black box. I held parts of uniforms from crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?

I have never met an evolution denier who didn't have gaping holes in their understanding of evolution, and I have never met a 9-11 conspiracy theorist who didn't have holes at least as large in their understanding of what the "official" explanation actually has to say about each of the alleged anomalies. I will grant that 9-11 conspiracy theorists are far more (intellectually) forgivable in this matter than creationists, because at the 9-11 conspiracy debunkings have "only" been around for 5-7 years, unlike the decades most of the refutations of alleged anomalies in evolution have been around. So it's completely plausible that people who think there was a government conspiracy or cover-up surrounding 9-11 simply haven't yet been exposed to the arguments against any remote plausibility such a grand conspiracy theory has.

But the fact remains that I have never heard a single reasonable explanation of how a conspiracy requiring literally thousands of people to keep quiet for 7 years is even remotely plausible. And I also have never heard any way it could have been pulled off by a much smaller group of people. If someone gives me either kind of explanation, I might actually be interested in hearing what they have to say about the actual events of that day. But however many holes you think you found in the official explanation for why WTC 7 fell or what really hit the Pentagon, if your own "theory" requires thousands of people to have kept quiet since, in many cases, months before 9-11, I will call it absurd on its face. Though I imagine that in most of those cases, the alternative "theory" has plenty of huge holes in it (far more than the official story) besides "merely" requiring a conspiracy of monumental proportions from a government that can't even keep secret some little incidents of torture in a prison halfway around the world.

So, again, if your own explanation has more holes in it than the official one, it is a worse explanation and should be thrown out in favor of one that works better. This is basic science.
You think evolution isn't sufficient to explain the eye (even though that explanation has actually been given repeatedly), but ID isn't sufficient to explain genetic evidence, or vestigial structures, or embryonic development, or radiometric dating, or, perhaps most importantly, how the "intelligence" that "designed" everything came about itself. You think the hole in the Pentagon can't be explained by the theory that a 757 crashed into that building, but your missile theory doesn't explain why there was damage that clearly corresponds to at least one of the wings hitting the building. Your theory doesn't explain how parts clearly identifiable as belonging to a 757 came to be at the scene, without resorting to another impossible conspiracy of people shipping in wreckage and arranging it meticulously in a way consistent with a plane crash, all magically before anyone not "in on it" arrived at the scene.

And even if we grant that a perfectly-organized and orchestrated conspiracy could have pulled all that off, you're at about the same place, in terms of scientific and intellectual honesty, as a creationist who admits that the world *looks* pretty old, but only because God meticulously planted all the fossils and radioactive elements and volcanic ash and vestigial organs and junk DNA and everything else.

And at least it *is* plausible that an omnipotent being, assuming one exists in the first place, could do such a thing. But unless this same god helped cover up 9-11 or the Moon landing hoax or the JFK assassination or the Holocaust conspiracy, in which case we should stop prodding because God's obviously on their side, human beings in large groups are simply not capable, according to the entirety of history, of pulling off something so massive, so flawlessly.

If I haven't bored you away already, here are some links to other 9-11 debunking sites.Collapse )
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Weekend Update [2008/05/28 (Wednesday) 00:51 EST]
Before I write a more serious (and thus less interesting to most of you) entry, I figure I should update this with real life information.

Firstly, this weekend was great. Saturday I went to Gloucester and then out on a boat with Meaux, her boyfriend Greg, Sophy, Alex (who makes the cakes), and Sarah (who is his girlfriend, and who made the bacon cookies back in January), and Meaux's dad. Then we went back to her parents' house and had snacks and pizza and Scrabble with them and a couple of her other friends.

Sunday began with brunch at Johnny D's in Davis Square, followed by the flying of kites and hanging out in Danehy Park for several hours, followed by an hour or two at home before going to Cake Night. Which, being the middle of a holiday weekend rather than the end of a normal one, involved people staying a lot longer and drinking a lot more than normally happens on a Sunday night.

Monday I relaxed by myself in the morning, because I'd pretty solidly spent the previous two days with people, and then helped the rest of my roommates prepare for our BBQ. The barbecue itself was a lot of fun, though there were pretty clearly three distinct social subgroups. James's Massachusetts friends, Mitch's (and Marlon's and Gene's) Northeastern friends, and my friends, who were generally all older and on the whole less "student-y" than the rest of the guests.

Things are going quite well otherwise, too. A couple more of my friends have started talking of moving to Boston (Ruthie, who I know from UMich and who Karen lived with in the summer of 2005, is actually planning to move by the end of this summer, and Meredith's moving in like a week!), which is awesome. The more of my awesome friends who move here, the easier it will be for me to keep up with all of them without having to go halfway across the country. Money will be an issue for a little bit, because the morning class I was going to be teaching has ended up not happening, so I'm a bit short on hours right now. But I've started looking on Craigslist again for some possible additional part-time employment that won't change schedules and hours every three months, which is how long classes are at Harvest. And I still have a bit of the monetary buffer I moved here with (thanks in part to my dad's not being impatient about me paying him back for the hospital bill from when I got hit when I was here in September), so I'm not looking at being actually broke any time soon or anything.

Okay, hopefully that'll hold everyone over until I make another day-to-day life post, which will likely be in another three weeks or so, at this rate. :-)
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Online Communication [2008/05/11 (Sunday) 12:58 EST]
(I know I'm largely preaching to the choir here, as you all are clearly unbothered by reading about my life online instead of or in addition to hearing about it from me directly. But whatever.)

First, some context: Every one of my current closest friends is someone I met originally on the Internet. Sure, I now regularly spend face-to-face time with all of them, and wouldn't consider them my best friends if I didn't. But in every case, we first started communicating online, and in most cases, I think we generally felt pretty close before ever starting to spend much time together in person.

So obviously this biases my personal reaction a bit to people saying they could never get into Internet communities because they can't get close to someone they've never met. But I also think that, objectively speaking, that attitude only deals with one aspect of online communication. If you're talking about regular everyday things, the sort that you would be just as comfortable discussing in person, then sure, typing about it online may not be as bonding or fulfilling or enjoyable an experience as having that same conversation in person. And it's most definitely true that consoling someone by typing *hug* pales almost to nothingness in comparison to actually being able to give the person a real, honest-to-goodness hug along with a real shoulder to cry on.

But it's still better than nothing.

And depending on what you're talking about, nothing may be exactly what would be happening if you were together in person. Some things are really, really hard to even mention face-to-face, let alone talk about at length. And this isn't the fault of people who are socially maladapted or awkward or whatever. It's not the result of our "too impersonal" society training kids to interact better with a screen than with a person. Because I'm pretty certain that even people with great interpersonal skills have a hell of a lot of trouble revealing, say, that they were raped. And other people with equally magnificent social intelligence have nearly as much trouble, when they're right there on the spot and in person, reacting to such a revelation.

With the result that, were it not for the distance of online communication, a lot of these things would probably never get talked about, at all.

Ignoring for a second the not insignificant number of people I know primarily or exclusively through the Internet who I know to be rape survivors, that still leaves about seven or eight close friends, who I can think of off the top of my head, who have at least one sexual assault in their past. And in every case but one or maybe two, I initially found out about it online. In every case but one or two, I first "listened" to a person recount some of her (or his) experiences in the form of reading something they'd typed. I first responded by typing something back, minutes or hours or even days after reading it. Sure, now some of these people are okay with talking to me about it in person, but not all of them. And for the ones who aren't, I'm not sure how much emotional support they would be getting if not for the ability to write about it instead of having to work up the nerve to talk about it every time.

I've heard language described as the only thing that isolates us from the raw emotions of other people. And sometimes that is the only way certain topics will ever get broached. Sometimes we absolutely *need* to strip out everything but the words themselves, in order to feel comfortable bringing something up. It's a letter with a note attached: "Here. Have some words. Read them when you will, and get back to me if you want. For now I'm going to run away and not think about it for a bit, since writing that was draining enough. But I'll be back later, and I really do want you to know this."

Having to deal directly with your own and other people's emotional responses, immediately and in person, can very easily make the whole thing too scary to want to think about.
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[2008/05/06 (Tuesday) 15:01 EST]
The walk was enjoyable, especially once the rain finally stopped around mile 5 or so. The sun never came out to dry everything up, but at least we weren't continually getting more and more wet. I walked with Danielle (who I teach with) and her co-worker Joanna (from another job) and Joanna's friend Dave. The group of friends who I originally knew were doing the walk got way ahead of us early on, and then ended up finishing way behind us because they took a side trip to someone's apartment for a couple of them to change into drier clothes.

After the walk I crashed for a couple hours and then went to cake night. Luckily Sophy was there, and she gives really good massages. So my back and feet were not nearly as stiff and sore Monday morning as they probably would have been without that.

Yesterday I did appetizers with friends before work, which is always nice but which may no longer happen once I start a 6pm class in the near future. I should still be able to do it with Sharon (another co-worker) at 4:30-ish, but not with the friends who get out of their day jobs at 5pm or so. She and I then went out after work, because the boy she's seeing invited a bunch of people to drink on 5 de Mayo. That was enjoyable, though would have been moreso if I'd known more of the people there.

Walking to the train from work, Sharon and I noticed the perpetual toasting-bread-like smell that seems to hang over parts of Malden, and wondered if it might actually be some kind of nasty chemical that we just interpreted as yummy foodstuffs. In Sharon's words, "Mmm, toast. What a nice smell... WHY IS MY BABY RETARDED?!" It was maybe funnier if you were there...

The rest of this week, during which I have no morning classes, should include lunch with Monique tomorrow and perhaps with Danielle on Thursday, and maybe another trip for appetizers some evening before work.

Edit - I've been informed, regarding the smell:
it's the New England Coffee Roasters...the plant is housed in Malden. my roommate had me thinking i had a brain tumor when i first started to smell the toasted almonds ALL THE TIME, but then i figured it out...
So Sharon, if you're reading this, you can stop worrying. Your babies will *not* be retarded as a result of you smelling that in Malden every day. :-)
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