Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Education inflation -The PhD fallacy

In what will probably heat the academic blogs for a while, the Dean of Admissions at MIT resigned yesterday.

And she resigned for that most horrible of academic crimes, faking her credentials. According to the Harvard Crimson

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s dean of admissions, Marilee Jones, resigned today and admitted to the ultimate sin of her profession: lying on an application.

Jones, a 28-year veteran of the admissions office, listed degrees on her resume from three schools in upstate New York but did not earn any of them, an MIT spokeswoman said. The schools were Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Albany Medical College, and Union College.

In a prepared statement, Jones said she had “misled the Institute about my academic credentials” in applying for her first job at the school in 1979, and “did not have the courage to correct my resume when I applied for my current job or at any time since.” She was appointed to lead the admissions office in 1998.

There are a couple of points I’d like to make here.

First, it was wrong for her to have faked her credentials. It is like Michael Deutsch, a scandal just waiting to happen. It is doubly wrong for MIT not to have ever checked anything. That seems to be a fool-me-once-shame-on-you, -fool-me-twice-shame-on-me situation.

But I think this points out something far more important. It brings up the assumed usefulness of degrees in general.

I seriously doubt that Jones would have been considered for the position she held without the misinformation she had given. And according the accounts I’ve been reading this morning, she wasn’t just good at her job, she was great at her job.

From her (likely soon to reworked) biography at MIT,

Marilee Jones is Dean of Admissions at MIT. A scientist by training, she joined the MIT Admissions Office in 1979 to lead the recruitment efforts for women. She has served on many national professional boards including the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), the College Board and the Women in Engineering Programs Advisory Network. Marilee is the recipient of MIT’s highest award for administrators, the ‘MIT Excellence Award for Leading Change’, as well as the ‘Gordon Y. Billard Award’ and the Dean for Undergraduate Education Infinite Mile Award for Leadership.

As a national spokesperson on the changes in today’s college admissions climate, speaking out against the pressures it induces in both students and parents, she has been featured on CBS, National Public Radio and profiled in USA Today, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She is the co-author of the book, “Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond.”

And most importantly, Marilee has just gone through the college admissions process with her daughter, and sees things in a whole new light… [my emphasis]

She was apparently nationally acclaimed to be an excellent leader and very well liked. The New York Times

At M.I.T., where Ms. Jones has been widely admired, almost revered, for her humor, outspokenness and common sense, faculty and students alike appeared saddened, and shocked.

“It was surprising,” said Mike Hurley, a freshman chemistry student. “Everyone who was admitted here probably knows her, at least her name.” Mr. Hurley added that the admissions office was unusually accessible, with Ms. Jones’s “bright” personality and blogs for incoming students. “Whenever someone’s integrity is questioned, it sets a bad example,” he said, “but I feel like the students can get past that and look at what she’s done for us as a whole.”

“I feel like she’s irreplaceable,” said Rachel Ellman, a 21-year-old who studies aerospace engineering.

From the WSJ coverage comes the following quote,

“It’s amazing that she only spent that much time in college. She’s really smart,” said Michael Behnke, the admissions dean at the University of Chicago and Ms. Jones’s predecessor at MIT. “She’s really been a leader in the profession. She was a leader when she worked for me. Very creative. Obviously, too creative,” he said.

Behnke makes the same incorrect and foolish assumption that is causing these kinds of scandals. You go to college and get a degree if you are smart.

No Mr. Behnke – I beg to differ. No Mr. Behnke – that is bullshit!

You go to college and get a degree if either A) you have the will and ability to do the work or if B) your parents have the money, control and willpower to force you through it. You might fail to get a degree if you lack money, determination, or perhaps have a fit of depression at an unfortunate time. Lot’s of reasons.

I am continually amazed at the number of well educated people who fall for educated=smart fallacy.

It is not a shame that Jones didn’t get advanced degrees. It is a shame that she needed one.

As a matter of fact, how many people have advanced degrees that seem to be utterly and totally incompetent? Aren’t there enough examples in current and former administration officials to underline that point: Paul Wolfowitz (PhD political science, University of Chicago); Douglas Feith (J.D. Georgetown University Law Center/A.B. Harvard College); Alberto Gonzales (Harvard Law School)?

Somewhere along the line the idea behind education got sidetracked from being about knowledge to the race for the magical piece of paper to hang on the wall. I’ve got some bad news for you sunshine. Unless you go into academia or research, it’s just about the piece of paper.

Most people who get degrees, don’t go into the areas where they were working while learning. Education inflation requires the production of some kind of academic credentials because – well – because everyone else has one.

The Pew Research Center released a poll two weeks ago banishing the myth that better education automatically means more knowledgeable citizens.

Since the late 1980s, the emergence of 24-hour cable news as a dominant news source and the explosive growth of the internet have led to major changes in the American public’s news habits. But a new nationwide survey finds that the coaxial and digital revolutions and attendant changes in news audience behaviors have had little impact on how much Americans know about national and international affairs.

On average, today’s citizens are about as able to name their leaders, and are about as aware of major news events, as was the public nearly 20 years ago. The new survey includes nine questions that are either identical or roughly comparable to questions asked in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 2007, somewhat fewer were able to name their governor, the vice president, and the president of Russia, but more respondents than in the earlier era gave correct answers to questions pertaining to national politics.pew-what-americans-know-1989-2007.jpg
[…]
Aside from news media use, demographic characteristics, especially education, continue to be strongly associated with how much Americans know about the larger world. However, despite the fact that education levels have risen dramatically over the past 20 years, public knowledge has not increased accordingly. [my emphasis]

Read that again;. “despite the fact education levels have risen dramatically over the past 20 years, public knowledge has not increased accordingly.” Look at the data. This poll concentrated on political views and if I weren’t in the middle of this rant, I could dredge up similar statistics for science knowledge, history, geography and just about anything else including, I am sure, knowledge about the current American Idol series.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a correlation between schooling and knowledge. But the correlation is starting to change not because the American and international systems of education are falling apart, but because different people are being forced to get educations that have little meaning and arguably less use. Think about the credentials Jones forged (chemistry and biology) and her real work.

Academia and industry needs to finally realise that the educated are just that – educated. Education is not necessarily smart. Educated is not necessarily competent. Educated is not necessarily honest.

Most people don’t need nor will ever used the education they receive in the form it is given.

Perhaps it is time to finally abandon that idea and accept that the traditional concept of university education is flawed. Perhaps it is time to move toward a apprentice training program for areas like business, administration and similar fields.

Not because the academic qualifications aren’t important. They are. They are far too critically important to be made irrelevant by to education inflation.

Was it right for Jones to lie? No. But remember; although she was more than qualified to do the work, she would have never been considered for the job if she hadn’t have lied.

Remember that while sharpening the pitchforks and lighting the torches.

Hat Tip: Ralph E. Luker/ CLIOPATRIA)

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The Wolf Ate My Post

I had this really long, involved piece about the whole Paul Wolfowitz thing including the background to the infamous sock scandal. Wolf Paws

But then the Gods of the Intertubes, whose names must remain untyped, determined that that post must be religated to the black hole that is Dick Cheney’s heart or perhaps the Blog Post Nervana – which is pretty much the same thing.

Then I notice that Wonkette managed sum up my 800 word piece in two sentences and a picture. *sigh*

Everyone at the World Bank hates “Shoeless Paul” Wolfowitz. They didn’t like him from the beginning (you start one little unjustified war and endless bloody occupation based on specious intelligence…) and once he took over he didn’t win any new friends by giving his girlfriend a huge, illegal raise

I really can’t add much to that.

A Defense of Faith

I finally got around to reading [Sam] Harris’s End of Faith.

On the one hand, it is an astounding document, a frontal assault on religion and faith. On the other, it is clear that Harris is writing from the heart. (I am sure he would resent my using the phrase ‘with heart and soul’ but it would reflect my opinion.) He seems most concerned that the irrationality of religious beliefs is not only dangerous but the most fearful threat facing mankind today.

He spends half the book with broadside after broadside directed at religion; Christianity and Islam being the primary targets. Judaism is attacked primarily as a precursor to these two and Hinduism is only mentioned in passing. Buddhism as a belief structure is left largely unscathed and Apollo, Zeus and Athena merely dismissed as myths. Wiccans are left unmentioned.

I found this part of the book to be the least balanced. Perhaps I will devote another post to the problems I see in that part of the book, problems which are far too numerous to be listed here. His main attacks seem based on a literal reading of the various holy works. He therefore makes the connection, since the scriptures are not consistent, not only are beliefs based on them irrational, but any idea taken from them dangerous. He seems fascinated by the more graphic portions both of the Bible and the Koran and dedicates page after page to debunking any belief that could use these works as a basis. Fine.

In the second half of the text, Harris looks at the connection between ethics and religion and asks the important question of whether research will be able to find a science of good and evil; a clear delineation between what is right and wrong without discourse to holy books (or constitutions). Further he looks at the connection between spiritually and consciousness arguing that spiritually and mysticism are possible without the fetters of religion. These chapters are designed to show a path out of the horrors of dogma and into a more structured and intellectual understanding of the world.

This part of the book was more balanced and less polemic; he wants to reconstruct the social order torn down by the removal of religion. I found Harris treading well understood ground here, he studies neuroscience. In the acknowledgements, he mentions two chapters on the brain that were cut from the final version of the book. While I think this would have explained both Harris’s impatience with religion and his hope for the future, they were probably too complicated and erudite for the audience Harris reached otherwise.

As a bridge between the attack and the reconstruction, Harris shows two of examples of how dangerous religions can become – the Inquisition and the Christian origins of anti-Semitism as a precursor to the Holocaust. I think both of these examples show Harris’s distortion of truth and use of polemic to make marginal or invalid points.

He describes the Inquisition as an example of the tortures used to extract confessions from innocent, religious prisoners while leaving out the fact that similar methods were used to extract information from secular prisoners as well. The idea that pain and suffering might induce people to give incorrect or misleading information wasn’t religious doctrine but common knowledge at the time. Trial by fire was not merely a platitude in the middle ages. The only thing particularly spectacular about the Inquisition was its targeting of a relatively peaceful and prosperous segment of the population. And note, the emphasis is on prosperous. Most pogroms were carried out for financial and not purely religious reasons.

Harris’s explanation that Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in Christian faith is as true as it is trivial. The Nazi’s were chasing a mythical racial purity that had nothing to do with faith as such. Indeed one of the principal goals of the Nazi’s was to replace existing religions with a new (or as they pretended – old) religion. This wasn’t out of any dogmatic belief but because the Nazis knew the power of using that from of emotion. The racial discrimination that has been and is being carried out in the United States is arguably not of religious nature. The concentration camps set up in Colorado during the Second World War had little to do with Christianity but a lot to do with race. While the group selected by the Nazis was based on age old religious predudices, the problem wasn’t the religion but the predjudice.

Harris might be described as a neocon to religion looking for dogmatic WMDs wherever they might be found and disregarding any evidence to the contrary.

The neocons were certain Sadaam and Iraq presented a threat and played up every possible hint of danger while passing over any evidence that it might not be so. While getting Sadaam out of power might have been a good idea, the neocon ‘strategy’ was focused on the destruction of a dangerous regime and on the democracy that would bloom in its place. The fuzzy part was the path from dictatorship to democracy and it is that fuzziness that is what is ending life after life in the Fertile Crescent today.

Harris makes a similar mistake. While he points to a proud new world, a world of science of ethics and an understanding of how and where feelings of spirituality can be nurtured and supported, he makes no concession to reality. Not only does he not tell us how to achieve these goals; it is unclear whether there is a ‘there’ there. In a sense Harris sees religion as a kind of social WMD. Extremists driven by frenzy of religion will seek not metaphorical WMD’s but real ones and the world will be destroyed. I would argue that lacking religion, any of the other traditional excuses – race, nationality, etc. – will be used to foment hate and dissent.

The book makes a startling and excellent case for the danger the world is in today. Wherever peoples with differing religions come into conflict, the religion will be used to magnify and define the suffering. But if the only option is to condemn all religious thought, to ‘outlaw’ beliefs and myths, then we are doomed and no book can save us; not Harris’s, not the Bible, not the Vedas, not the writings of Confucius – none. We are doomed.

We live in a world where we are permanently bombarded with the message that, we should be satisfied with our lives (but are not) and that dissatisfaction is a condition to be combated, something to be exercised – preferably through conspicuous consumption and greed. The feeling that dissatisfaction is ‘curable’ leaves the human mind open for anything that offers relief. There are those few blessed with the ability to fill that void with intellectual pursuits: Eugenie Scott, PZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins to name a few. There are others less fortunate who use alcohol and other substances to deaden the ache. But nature does indeed abhor a vacuum, and religion and belief are used by many to fill the gap.

If Harris does not offer a substitute for belief, his attempts at dismantling organised faith, if successful, would leave a chaos making Baghdad look like a children’s party.

There is no doubt that spirituality and belief are experiencing a renaissance in the world today. Not only are religions growing, but belief in New Age silliness like Integral thought and Therapeutic Touch are increasingly trusted despite the rational arguments of scientists.

I would argue the true danger to the world is not religion per say but the use of extremism in any form. To portray religion as the driving factor in all the world’s woes and conflicts, either implicitly or explicitly, is mendacious. Dogma did not drive Napoleon to Waterloo; the American Civil War was not a conflict driven by faith; neither WWI nor WWII were set in motion by theological discourse; the Soviet purges and the McCarthy show trials were not done for God.

For me, someone who is firmly in the strong agnostic camp (not only do we not know whether God exists, I feel the question is unanswerable as such), I would have to say I found Harris’s book reprehensible

I found his descriptions of religion to be cartoonish and his use of exaggeration, polemic, and a combination of truth and well spun opinions presented as truth distasteful. Harris discounts all theological activities performed in the last 300 years. He carefully mixes generalisations about the beliefs held by splinter groups with the larger group of moderates.

His rhetoric is often flawless, attacked on any specific point he can truthfully explain that no, go back and read that passage exactly – any resemblance to what you understood and what he wrote is solely the responsibility of the reader. I felt I was reading denialist literature of the highest calibre.

But I did have a personal revelation while reading Harris’s book – don’t take a break and watch cable news. During a report about the latest Iranian/UN tug of war, the CNN announcer pointed out that Iran claims that all its nuclear efforts are peaceful. Then, in a tone dripping in irony, he pointed out that Iran also “claims that CNN is simply a propaganda arm of the American government.” I found myself yelling at the screen “But you are an American propaganda tool!” Harris’s book and tolerance do not mix.

I believe the CNN announcer would have as little use for my comment as Harris will for the rest of my comments. But both are only beliefs. And I will hold faithfully to them.

The Snapshots of Existence

Jason Steck at The Moderate Voice has an excellent post about his move from the conservative right into the moderate middle. He uses as his lede the similarities between his shift from the right towards the left to those presented in the new book Conservatize Me by John Moe, an NPR broadcaster.

Where Moe moves from the safe and comfortable liberal world of alternative music and health food to country and jerky, Steck outlines his move from being rabidly anti-gay to someone who would consider having a gay ‘comfort zone’ in his office.

In the end both adapt a more moderate viewpoint.

What amazes me is that both these obviously intelligent individuals felt it necessary to travel the distance. Perhaps it is Moe, the open minded liberal who surprises me most.

While a staunch belief in dogma is considered to be critical to conservative ideology, the suggestion ,or perhaps better phrased – the myth, of liberal open mindedness still lingers around most leftist positions.

For me, and what has always forced me into an uncomfortable position in almost any argument, is my inability to harbor the belief that the other side is completely dishonest. While there is enough disingenuous manoeuvring in all walks of life, I think most people argue from the knowledge and mindset they have. They rarely step outside the issue to look at both sides.

And excellent example is the current war in Iraq and the soon to be decided Libby perjury trial. Through all the political disinformation and attempted smear campaigns, one thing is absolutely clear. Even though the administration and specifically Dick Cheney publicly and perhaps privately (perhaps even internally) refuse to believe that the casus belli supporting the war in Iraq was erred, it was nevertheless felt that military action would not harm America. Had the current marginalisation of the American political agendas been seen, the difficulties in the “disablement” of North Korea, the increase of Iran’s influence in the Middle East, the setbacks in the ‘global war on terror,’ I doubt neither Cheney nor the administration would have preceded as we have seen.

Perhaps Cheney still refuses to see these ‘facts’ as reality. Perhaps he still manages to choose his information and his informers in a manner that reflects the world he wishes to rule live in. Perhaps Cheney does not realise that, by pandering to the extremes, an inevitable extremism is created. By choosing not to discuss homosexual issues, a hot button topic in his own party, he chooses to ignore the treat by unstable extremists to his own family.

On the other side of the coin are people like Noam Chomsky, Israel basher extraordinaire. By repeatedly and continually exclaiming that Israel is an American puppet is to enflame the issue for those who choose to look no farther. Thus he does not fight against American imperialism as much as he fights for American anti-Semitism. For Richard Dawkins to decry as child abuse the mere naming of a child to be a member of a religion does not advance the cause of atheism and dismisses the horrors of true child abuse.

Both positions manage to alienate those who might have had an open mind. Those people who might have been prepared to listen to the ideas being presented.

But by the very act of being extreme, the view of a ‘middle,’ the ablitily to see the other side is moved farther and farther from mainstream discussions.

And that is the cost of debate.

Instead of nurturing a society where solutions are sought, modern and most specifically post-modernist societies have deified debate. Discussion trumps solution. Reality is unimportant because there is only a marginal understanding of reality. My word against hers. And ultimately it is the rhetoric being debated, the realities long forgotten.

In Slate, Jonathan Alter points to a solution-based philanthropic effort. There is no debate, there is action. By highlighting the efforts of the New York based DonorsChoose, he shows that often the solution is not found through a single monolithic debate but by solving each mini-problem to bring about a wider answer.

Perhaps that is more important than the move from right to the middle or from the left to the middle. It is the ability to agree not on the proper course but on the very reality of the situation.

But not on the big picture, just the snapshots of existence.

Fighting The Ghosts

There is an amazing op-ed in the Washington Post today.

If I have ever seen a more pointed reason for why America should not have invaded Iraq, why America should leave and why, if America chooses to stay, ultimately America will fail, it is in this statement.

A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for help, but I’m afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.
[…]
The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.
[…]
We have failed to properly address the abuse of Iraqi detainees. Men like me have refused to tell our stories, and our leaders have refused to own up to the myriad mistakes that have been made. But if we fail to address this problem, there can be no hope of success in Iraq. Regardless of how many young Americans we send to war, or how many militia members we kill, or how many Iraqis we train, or how much money we spend on reconstruction, we will not escape the damage we have done to the people of Iraq in our prisons.

I don’t think he wrote that piece for us. He wrote it for himself. Unfortunately many coming back from Iraq will see themselves in his words.

Go read it now. Blog it, e-mail it. Make sure people are aware of it. It is an important peace of prose.

While you’re at it, remind people of the movie Outlawed about the detention of Khaled El-Masri and Binyam Mohamed. (27 minutes, my original post here.) That is American policy and whether the conservatives say it is OK or not. This is how the world views America. This is the reality that the policies put in place by the Bush administration have created. Congragulations.

But back to Eric Fair.

Sir, you have done wrong. You are being punished for it. While I don’t condone what you have done, I salute you for what you are doing now.

I thank you for fighting your ghosts in public.

Evolution Sunday

Better late then never, I would also like to get the word out.

Next Sunday, February 11 will be the second Evolution Sunday. The organisational web site for 2007 is here. Evolution Sunday is basically a chance for the science friendly churches to strike back and show the false dichotomy between materialistic science and theology preached by the far religious right. The idea is to allow evolution to be praised not in the school room but from the pulpit. To show that the idea of evolution does not destroy religion but simply allows a different interpretation.

Even though time is short, I would encourage you to speak with your ‘spiritual advisor’ – ahem – pastor/priest/imam/rabbi – and ask them to preach on the subject of evolution next week.

This isn’t just for fun, it is very important.

The only country in the ‘western’ world lagging behind the US in belief in evolution is Turkey. An earlier fundamentalist Turkish government basically banned evolution from school textbooks in the 1980’s. I somehow don’t think that’s an area where America wants to be number one.

I’m also very glad to say that Carlos Wilton, of the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church in New Jersey will be giving a sermon on this and was one of the early signers of The Clergy Letter.

In February 11, 2007 hundreds of congregations from all portions of the country and a host of denominations will come together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science. For too long, strident voices, claiming to speak for all Christians, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science. More than 10,000 Christian clergy have already signed The Clergy Letter demonstrating that this is a false dichotomy. Now, on the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, our church will join these thousands of others in affirming that Darwin’s theory of evolution does not threaten biblical Christian faith. Dr. Wilton will preach the sermon.

For those that haven’t noticed, Rev. Wilton is also (alphabetically) the first entry on my blog roll. I have been following his struggle with Non-Hodkins Lymphoma for more then a year. Perhaps because I clearly see the relationship between evolution, biology and medical care, I find his contribution especially appropriate.

So, is your church taking part? And why don’t you know? If your church isn’t taking part in Evolution Sunday, beg, barter or cajole your mosque/synagogue/church into taking part in this. If you only go to church on the ‘normal’ holy days, suggest to your imam, etc. that this might be a good day to add to the list. E-mail, talk and scold.

It’s us against the Philistines.

Cobwebs of thought (Updated)

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently, reading not about the present situation in Iraq, but how the American government, the media and the American public came to think that an invasion might be a good idea.

Hopefully, I will be able to pull all that information into a couple of posts giving the perspective of someone outside the loop (or the beltway for that matter).

But that isn’t what’s bothering me today. The number of comments and discussions on Iran in the political/military/media blogs I read have skyrocketed in recent months. It should be noted, that although I don’t read the hardcore right-wing American-hegemony/empire-building-is-a-good-thing blogs, I do try to keep up on what realistic threats there are.

That’s why the recent spike in Iran chatter is starting to worry me.

I think one of the reasons for invading Iraq was a ‘heads-up forward-looking smack them before they smack us groupthink.

Largely generated and supported by people who developed worldviews and thought processes during the surrogate conflicts during the cold war, the idea of an international anti-American movement not being directly supported by a nation was inconceivable. Some country must be behind the attacks and after the fall of Afghanistan the only countries actively providing anti-American rhetoric were Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Thus, an example must be made, fear sown in the hearts of those who would hurt us.

The choice to attack Iraq was bolstered by the thought that we had been there and done that and that Iraq was widely perceived to be a disruptive influence in the area and, of course, Iraq was the weakest target. But I think perhaps the most important feeling being acted upon was one of pre-emptive protection.

Today, my morning blog reading presented me with the following stories,

Iran’s “Sat Launch” No Sure Thing
Iran and IAEA Cooperation
Two Can Play at This Game
What the Iranians detained in Hakim’s compound last month were doing

These are all fairly ‘liberal’ if realistically militaristic sources.

I wonder where the extra 250,000 thousand troops for the invasion of Iran will come from? This is starting to look like major sabre rattling on both sides of the border. Iran feels America isn’t strong enough to stop Iranian expansion and is pushing. The American government is starting to push back. But as we know the current American government isn’t really reality good at appropriately applying pressure, too much (Iraq) or not at all (North Korea).

It doesn’t matter whether the threat is real or whether the proposed solution has a realistic chance of success, a solution must be found and implemented. Once implemented, the soulution was, is, and will be correct. Period (or Full Stop). But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Iran isn’t pushing, I think Iran might becoming a threat to regional and international stablitiy; it is simply unclear what the world can realistically do about it. What can be done without making the situation worse and not better.

I also think we need to keep an eye on the hawks in the Democratic party. What kind of anti-Iranian information will start to appear through those channels?

This was a fairly rambling post. I’m not even sure I believe what I am writing and perhaps I am only putting these words to keyboard to clear the ideas from my mind.

Like cobwebs, these thoughts are annoying – but there. I just wanted to clear them out for a couple of days.

Update:

I’d just like to point out that I wrote this without having read this morning’s NYT headline.

Iranian Reveals Plan to Expand Role in Iraq

Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad outlined an ambitious plan on Sunday to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq — including an Iranian national bank branch in the heart of the capital — just as the Bush administration has been warning the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Iran’s plan, as outlined by the ambassador, carries the potential to bring Iran into further conflict here with the United States, which has detained a number of Iranian operatives in recent weeks and says it has proof of Iranian complicity in attacks on American and Iraqi forces.

The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraq government forces training, equipment and advisers for what he called “the security fight.” In the economic area, Mr. Qumi said, Iran was ready to assume major responsibility for Iraq reconstruction, an area of failure on the part of the United States since American-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein nearly four years ago.

You rattle our cage, we’ll rattle back. *sigh*

Is God AWOL?

UPDATE: See below.

Wow. I didn’t even make it to the fluff part of the SOTU address.

I know better than to actually try to watch GW. I’d curl up into a ball and probably be catatonic for several days, thus I read the prepared text. Assuming he followed the teleprompter, (we now KNOW he can read), I suspect I got a good idea of what he was trying to say. The SOTU is a show and the text usually little more than visions and rhetoric.

But this SOTU is perhaps more notable for what is missing than what was included.

God has finally deserted America! At least he has finally stopped calling George W (or perhaps GW wouldn’t let him reverse the charges, national debt remember?) But don’t believe me? Check the transcripts of all the previous speeches. The last words of all his earlier SOTUs.

2001 – “Thank you all. Good night, and God bless. “
2002 – “Thank you all and may God bless.”
2003 – “May he guide us now, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.”
2004 – “May God continue to bless America.“
2005 – “Thank you. And may God bless America. “
2006 – “May God bless America.“

Contrast and compare with the end of last nights speech.

In such courage and compassion, ladies and gentlemen, we see the spirit and character of America — and these qualities are not in short supply. This is a decent and honorable country — and resilient, too. We have been through a lot together. We have met challenges and faced dangers, and we know that more lie ahead. Yet we can go forward with confidence — because the State of our Union is strong … our cause in the world is right … and tonight that cause goes on.

Oh! My! God!

Is this a hidden message to the religious right? Satan has entered congress with a Democratic mask and a skirt. (At least Nancy Pelosi didn’t wear red.) But the Democratic response included the obligitory god reference. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) ended his smackdown with “Thank you for listening. And God bless America.”

*sigh* Can’t anything stay normal! Which party am I supposed to support now?

All in all, the whole speech just made me sad and depressed. I think I’m going to go find my huge stuffed serpant and rock myself on my apple shaped beanbag for a while. The rhetoic was so bad, I’d just like to drop dead.

And of course, I’d be going to hell because God has deserted America. Thanks GW.

UPDATE A miracle has occured!:
The clever conservative trap for unwitting prerelease speech readers. The Whitehouse web site is quotes the end of the speech as follows

…because the State of our Union is strong, our cause in the world is right, and tonight that cause goes on. God bless. (Applause.)

See you next year. Thank you for your prayers.

And the WP updated the original link to include applause comments but cutting  the pitiful plea against impeachment and groveling for prayer support. Probably drowned out in the applause!

I was SO worried there for a second.

Watching Grilled Rice

Instead of blogging, I’ll be watching Condi Rice being grilled  at the on C-Span. I’ll probably catch Robert Gates at the House Armed Services hearing as well.  For some reason, I can’t listen and snark at the same time.

But at the same time, I can’t keep myself wondering, if Dr. Rice is one of the Post-Grad, Conservatives that believes in evolution. (Hat tip: Trees and check out the cool graphic at  Pharyngula.)

I’m sure if her belief is a problem, there will be a surge, an excalation, an augmentation to take care if it. Otherwise she’ll end up being grilled.

A New Arbitrary Celestial Orbital

Sure, I know. Posting New Years Wishes on January 2nd is probably the luck equivalent of playing hopscotch in the direction of a herd of black cats. Tough.

I had considered writing a long post about different historical new years. How each culture uses its own markers, it’s own measures. The Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans each chose appropriate and different times for starting afresh. Despite the cultural conquest of the Christian/Western calendar traditions, the Hebrew, the Chinese, the Japanese and even the Russian new year persist into modern times.

Phil Plait, Bad Astronomer and gentle loser to squids, has an excellent post about the astronomical meaning of the word year. This is important to those who wish to measure time in billionths of a second and actually send probes or spaceships into the vastness of space and actually reach the target. For us mere mortals, that kind of accuracy isn’t necessary.

Indeed it is the cultural difficulties that sometimes stand in the way of scientific progress. Remember the Mars Climate Orbiter, the probe lost because one side of the team used American units and the other side had data in Metric (MKS)? It seems that sometimes scientific similarities can cross the immense vastness of space but the cultural differences can’t even be bridged here on Earth.

I won’t write about the different cultural new years. I’ll let my readers do the research themselves.

But I would say, that for me, the differences are as important as the similarities. Despite having a different day and a different manner of celebration, almost every culture understands the meaning of year and has an appropriate celebration. But the differences, not only in the New Year but in almost every aspect of life, separate cultures, nations, religions. The differences also highlight the similarities between individuals. Although wars are fought between cultures and nations, driven by economic necessity or religious zeal, the people fighting and dying are individuals, often with more in common than the political powers would like.

Thus, for me a new julian year means simply the rather difficult time remembering to put the correct digit at the end of a date. It is not a new beginning but rather a continuation. Each person needs to learn that the past is past and that a new future beckons every day. Every day is a new start into a fresh and hopeful future. Every new day must be celebrated, the lessons of the past learned, the pleasures remembered, the pains assimilated.

Sometimes time is too precious to research cultures and needs to be channeled into more appropriate places. Each arbitrary celestial rotation, often called day and as arbitrary as the year, brings a new, fresh chance to start, a new way to look at life and the ability to appreciate the luck and happiness one already has. May your next 364.25 rotations and your next celestial orbital bring you luck and happiness. And maybe a little more understanding of the differences and similiarities.

Happy New Year.

The Zen of Ironing

I am one of those weird individuals who can get enjoyment out of braindead activities. Like Ironing.

I actually spend time shopping for things to make my ironing experience more pleasurable. Good videos or music to accompany ironing, a comfortable ‘bar stool/thing to semi sit-on while ironing’, a first class ironing board and most importantly a good iron.

Slate has a  review of irons.  The German version of my iron, the Rowenta Advancer Iron, came in second.

This is the iron that serious ironers—the Ironistas, if you will—breathlessly recommend. “Have you tried a Rowenta?” they cry. “Oh, you simply must!” 

Mr. Ironista (shouldn’t that be Ironisto) – that’s me.

If you hate ironing. Spend some time with it. Get to know it. Trash those un-iron-albe shirts – you know the ones, with the neverending fold problem. Find a good place and good music. Get the best equipment you can afford. Make it a challenge – iron by the clock.

Ironing takes no brains, just time. Thus it frees your concousness to roam and create new and better things while doing it.

Center yourself and go find the Zen of Ironing.

Not a-Mused

I am having trouble finding something to write about. Everything I look at either seems trivial or depresses me to the point of inactivity.

Take for example the most current entry in Bagdad Burning by River. She is a twenty-something middle class Iraqi blogging from one of the hotspots in the insurrection. She puts a face on the violence, understanding both the American soldiers and hating them for what they are doing to her country. I couldn’t read much simply because it was too difficult.

You could watch the Frontline episode ‘The Lost Year In Iraq’ in case you missed the original broadcast. Summarizing the information from Assassins Gate, Cobra II and Fiasco, the show really doesn’t add anything new. But for those who haven’t read those books, you soon see how bad the administration has fumbled the GWOT-ball. It also makes an excellent bookend to the entries in Bagdad Burning.

I could point you to the case of a twenty-year teacher fired for mentioning peace in her classroom; fired because one student found it necessary to complain about her mentioning peaceful alternatives to the war. It would be interesting know more about both sides of the issue. Did she preach for peace (would that have been so bad?) but have or did she simply try to paint some gray in a world of black and white? At the same time, her son will be sent to Afghanistan. I can really understand her mother’s concern about her son, trained as a nuclear engineer in the Navy, volunteering to do duty doing something. I’m sure the Navy has lots of uses for nuclear engineers in a country without reactors. (Hat Tip: BlondeSense)

Or for those flu suffering ferret fans, I’d  point them to Cocktail Party Physics. An excellent entry in an excellent blog by Jennifer Ouellette making the connection between the flu, gene sequencing and ferrets. She shows how little I know and how badly I write.

Thus, just as the green color seems to be abandoning the leaves, my muse is deserting me. I’ll try to find something interesting or funny to write about. But at the moment, I am not a-mused.

Light Posting: Under the Weather…

Sorry for the light posting today, despite the wonderful fall weather here, I’m just not up to it today.  I’m fighting some weird bug that just doesn’t seem to want to stop bothering me. 

Hopefully more tomorrow…