Friday, March 30, 2007

First, pushing hall monitors. Soon, killing babies and punching kittens!

I live in Kansas, so I'm quite familiar with the practice of judging an entire state based on the problems with a few significant areas. If you say "Kansas" and "Evolution" in the same sentence, you'll see what I mean.

Because of that and this next story, I'm not painting Texas with a broad brush. I refer only to Paris, Texas, when I say it's a backwards relic and overtly racist. This story makes me frustrated and angry at society. Fair warning to others. STORY in the Chicago Tribune.

It's about a 14-year old black girl. She enters the school building before the school opened to students in the morning. She shoves a hall monitor (a 58-year old woman). She is convicted of "assault on a public servant" and sentenced to prison for up to seven years. She's already served 10 months, and attempted to kill herself.

Months earlier, the same judge sat on a case involving a 14-year old white girl. She was convicted of burning down her families house intentionally (arson). She was given probation.

I suppose that a responsible society can't allow people young black girls to just go around pushing people. What next, anarchy?

*** *** ***

In the same article, it mentions that a 19-year old white man was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the killing of a black woman and her grandson. His punishment is probation, and sending the family a Christmas card each year.

If someone killed members of my family, the last thing I'd want from the killer would be a Christmas card.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Got the Wrong Address, Buddy...

I was chatting with a fellow blog writer about the search terms that lead random people to our respective blogs. I commented that what few searches I get are often very bizarre.

"curing madonna whore complex"

clapton photography restrictions

odds of correctly completing ncaa bracket

"dimitri shostakovich daughter's conversion to christianity"

She was envious, because most of hers are things like "young boy sex". People get my monthly blog index pages when they search for random terms, because that one page accrues all the words I type in a month. And since the people aren't searching using quotes around their terms (eg. "tennis scores"), they get any page that contains those words, regardless of context (eg. "Tennis a bigger number than nineis." and "Unbelievable how much that guy scores with the chicks.").

Well, today, I got one that's different.

german whore

Interesting choice, especially since it came from Turkey. Turkey and Germany are having cold relations at the moment, due to the Turkish immigrants coming across the border and taking the low-paying jobs in Germany no one wants. Rather like the situation over here with Mexico. Anyway, someone wants a German whore. And they came to my page looking for love....

I may need to sanitize my webserver.

Just get one of the other guys to stand up with her!

I was reading the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning at breakfast. One of the articles was getting ready for prom season, and where to find good (cheap and not-so-cheap) dresses. The title of the article is "PROMinent Advice", which is funny because... well, 'prom' being...the name for...the fancy occasion...get it?

Anyway, there are some pictures with high school students standing in front of vintage cars from the Museum of Transportation. The cars are neat, the dresses are fancy, the colors are fun. But I noticed that each photo has one guy and one girl. There are two exceptions. One photo has one guy and TWO girls, but one of the girls isn't looking at him. I assume the story we're supposed to concoct in our heads is that he used to date the other girl, but dumped her for the girl who's got her hand around his arm. Meanwhile, the dumped girl has gotten her groove back (as evidenced by the skirt split above mid-thigh) and is putting the scoundrel behind her, literally. Or maybe they just cut her date out of the picture for not looking fabulous enough.

Or maybe you're just supposed to ignore the situation and look at the clothes. I'm not very good at that.

The other non-couple photo is this one, of a single girl in a red dress. She's pretty (although it's hard to tell from the small photo I found on the website) and dressed in a shiny dress. But she's the only girl without a boy in the picture. Part of it may be that she's not smiling (which tends to improve most everyone's looks) and part of it may be that she's obviously hiding behind her hair.

What I hope accidentally escaped notice is that she's the only plus-sized girl. The article (online HERE) lists "Size Doesn't Matter" as one of the talking points, listing some places to look for "larger-size young women". I think that's great. But the only large-size girl in the pictures is standing in an uncomfortable posture, with no date, and radiating self-consciousness.

And since there's pretty obviously the same guy in all the other pictures, would it have killed them to put him into this one, too? Or is it OK for him to have a harem of girls, but not the heavy one? Maybe they just ran out of tuxes, and didn't want him to repeat. Or maybe her photo was tacked on at the last minute.

Or maybe I'm thinking way too much about high school prom fashion and a vacuous newspaper article. Just seems weird, somehow.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Doctor is Out: Spring Break 2006

I'm on Spring Break and visiting with friends and family. Expect semi-regular entries to begin again soon, most likely next weekend.

Keep yourselves busy whilst I'm away, because... well.. you know.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Did I just get hit with retroactive guilt?

Months ago, I made a careless and off-hand comment to someone. I wasn't thinking too hard about my response at the time, and I basically answered a question that was put to me with complete honesty, not bothering to think "diplomatically". Unfortunately, this is one incident where I may have been better to hold my tongue.

I'd basically forgotten about it, until it was recently brought back to my attention. And now I'm feeling retroactive guilt for all those months when I thought nothing was wrong. Plus interest.

I'm even feeling guilt because maybe nothing is wrong. What I said to this nice guy might not have registered at all, or it may have been thought about and discarded soon after.

So now I sit, no doubt until the small hours of the morning, worrying about something that may (or may not) be a big deal. It's certainly a problem for me, because I'm trying not to be the sort of person who gets into a habit of crushing other people. In this case, it was so unintentional I didn't even notice I'd stepped on him until months later.

Just a by product of being tall, I guess. And possibly insensitive.

Time Flies By....

... or does it?

I've been blogging for more than a year. It wasn't I considered very important, at the time (it's a month ago, now). I suppose it's notable, since I wasn't sure how long I'd even want to keep going on this. I've enjoyed the time I've spent writing the entries. I can see how people can get sucked into making their published blogs into a "full time" affair.

So, over 200 published entries in that time. It doesn't seem like that long ago, so I guess the time passed quickly. If I actually start to think about the individual days, though, some days were excruciating. On that level, the time passes slowly.

I get asked why I blog. Is it about carving out a niche on the internet? I don't think so. I'm not usually the sort of person who needs to stake a claim to everything I interact with, so that question doesn't connect with me. I think it's much more about a way to connect with other people. I certainly started it because I realized that friends of mine had blogs, and that reading them taught me more about them. Cool! I think perhaps I started writing only because some of them didn't update often enough to suit my taste, so starting my own blog was a way of fulfilling the "new content" feeling. Even if I was the one who had to provide it!

In the time I've been writing, it's gotten around. A good number of my friends and most of my family are aware that I blog. This has lead to two interesting side-effects. The first effect is that some people now explicitly state "you're not going to blog about this, right?" when discussing personal matters. I pride myself that, almost from the beginning, I've had a very clear idea on how to draw those privacy lines. Whenever I want to write about a sensitive position or feeling, I take very careful pains to expunge as much identifying information as I can. I do this because I'm not using my blog as a forum to expose what other people do. I write mostly based on my reactions to other people. Since the focus is mostly on me and how I react, that gives a lot of freedom and latitude towards "privatizing" any identifying descriptions.

Some people have come up to me and been confident that something I was deliberately vague about was written about them. And in all cases, they have been wrong. That's been a by-product of my writing style, it seems: it draws the reader in. And since I often speak in very broad terms or descriptions, it can seem eerily appropriate. I also go to great pains to obscure the time frame. Things that happened months ago are just making it to the pages, and things that may not occur for some time (but could happen) are already in my archives.

It's not unlike horoscopes. Their language is often so vague, almost anyone can read any sign and feel as though it applies to them. Here's today:

When expressing your feelings, you might want to tone it down a notch. It's especially important to cut the fat on any verbal communication. Lean and mean is the way to go if you want to get your point across effectively.SOURCE (March 19, 2007)


I was just thinking about whether or not my blog entries were too wordy, and whether or not they'd have more punch and effectiveness if they were slimmer. I've also been worrying that in my personal life, I've been pushing my own thoughts too aggressively, to my detriment. This horoscope is dead on for me!

Except it's not for me. It's for a Capricorn, and I'm a Cancer. Or a Leo; it depends on where they draw their date lines. The advice it gives is sound, and I can certainly apply it to myself, but there's no knowledge of "me" involved. It's like a mirage, created by my own mind.

The second interesting side-effect is that there are some people who aren't curious about my blog. These same people who would gladly listen to me talk all day long, but have expressed nothing other than "acknowledgment" when I mention I blog. I don't pretend to understand it. It's one thing to take a quick read and decide it's not for you. That I understand, since I write in a particular style and cover topics that aren't FOR everyone. Another thing completely to be
so interested in what I have to say, yet be uninterested in...well... what I have to say!

Which leads to another issue. This issue would drive some people crazy, but doesn't really get much thought from me. I'm talking about the readers. I have a pretty idea who reads the blog, but only because people have gone to the trouble of telling me. The amount of data I get from the hit counter at the bottom is basically enough to allow me to see what people who stumble across my blog were searching for initially. It does provide for some interesting reading, and never fails to make me wonder what context they were searching in.

So I don't know who reads it. The information published here is not private. It may be UNLIKELY that a person would stumble upon my site accidentally (and know who I was), but it is technically possible. A much more likely situation is a friend of mine mentioning the blog to a friend of theirs. I probably haven't met that "second degree" of visitor, so the blog is all they know about me. Not to mention that anything I type could be linked and distributed to anyone from my past. If I write about a particular person, who I may believe doesn't read this, the new entry could be in their computer inbox within seconds after I write it.

Scary, in a lot of ways. But helpful, too. I find it helps to focus my writing and establish boundaries, just so I don't go too overboard and find myself in the uncomfortable situation of having shared TOO MUCH.

But without sharing TOO MUCH, I admit it saps a lot of the reason for even bothering to read a blog. Without embarrassing revelations, this internet stuff is just bland.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Picture-IMperfect life?

Over the years, I've come to grips with the fact that I am very exacting in some areas of my life. While other things languish (like keeping my home tidy), other things are subjected to meticulous examination. In this case, I'm specifically talking about specialized electronics.

Many years ago, I intended to buy a camera. Digital photography had arrived, and everyone was clamoring for cameras. For those of you who need a time line, this was before the entry level cell phones had picture-taking capability. That puts it around the turn of the century.

I researched the cameras that were in my price range and made a decision. And I waited. And waited. Six years later, I still haven't bought a camera, even though I now live in a place with some of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. Not to mention lots of wildlife, picturesque snow scenes, performing musicians in dark halls, etc. Lots of photographic targets.

I've basically made up my mind about what camera I'd like to buy. Again. It helps that they've just lowered the price. For whatever reason, I can save close to 50 dollars in taxes by buying it from Best Buy in St. Louis as opposed to my local store, so I even have the knowledge that I'm filling up with gas, driving 200 miles, and it STILL works out to be cheaper. That's satisfying.

The only note of pause comes because I don't really need a camera. I haven't owned a camera for years. My last one took film, and the shots that I had developed were of me and my friends-- in fifth grade. Andy in elementary school seems a long time ago when I look at the pictures, but if I try to recall the scene, it seems fresh in my mind. That's a different entry, though.

There's nothing in my life that requires a camera. I want one, though. When I look back through the pictures from oh-so-many years ago, I remember each one. I remember everything about the days. I'd like to start work on that again, saving my experiences now so that in 20 years, I can laugh about my haircut and other people's clothes.

I don't begrudge myself the money spent on a camera, but it does make me pause because I'm considering buying another electronic device: a solid-state recorder. No moving parts (thus no mechanical noise) coupled with the ability to record hours of CD-quality audio, all in a convenient package. Sounds great! Considering it's been a few years since I've bought any complicated devices, perhaps I'm due. That's the justification I tell myself, anyway.

I have a device that can record .mp3 audio already, but it's a hard-drive based audio player, and the noise of the drive spinning is unbearable on any recording I've made. So, I'm buying something that does what another thing I own already does, only better.

But, hey! What else would you do with the money you make from jobs? Rent? Food? Pah!

I ate last week, and if that doesn't hold me until Easter (or at least Good Friday), I'm just a whiner.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Like a book I can't put down...

It's after 2:30 am. I hadn't intended on staying up this late; quite the contrary. I got up this morning early (for me), so I expected to be in bed long ago. Instead, I watched a documentary on a facility that cares for women dealing with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

I'm sure I'll have something else to say about this, after I've had some sleep and more time to reflect on it. For right now, I can't believe how tired my body feels, but how fast my brain is moving.

I may need to start setting a strict bedtime for myself, with no exceptions for trying to learn new things or read really exciting books. Compounding this late night on top of the time change, and I lucked out that I don't have anything to do tomorrow morning.

Or rather, this morning. In a few short hours.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

July 28, 2061

That's the date when Halley's Comet will next visit the skies above our planet. And thanks to a news story today, I'll have an excellent chance of being here to see it happen.

Study Links Sense of Humor, Survival

Unless, of course, we get hit by a meteor before then.

Asteroid Apophis Comes Close

Hmm... while waiting for a comet? That's some strong situational irony.

However, if you're worried about a big rock from the sky ending your life, head on over to the NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab website, where they keep tabs on all the big pieces of rock floating around our solar system near earth.

Near Earth Object Program

There's enough math there to make anyone believe that anything this boring couldn't possibly be earth-ending.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A bit more on Chinese Internet Censorship

Floating around the news this morning was that China has blocked Livejournal.com. This seemed like a big deal to me, but it seems that China has previously blocked Blogspot, Myspace, Wikipedia, and sites like usa.gov (which seems just too obvious).

It makes me wonder about the lives of the guys sitting at computers inside of the Great Firewall of China, whose only job is looking at the websites the rest of China can't look at. Are they ideologues, who feel it is their duty to keep out pornography and dissidents? Or are they just people who like the feeling of controlling what a billion people can see?

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Dark Side of Knowledge Democratization

When I was working on my undergrad concentration in applied psychology, I heard lots of people say, "A little psychology is a dangerous thing." Such proclamations were usually accompanied by a brief widening of the eyes, as though conveying dangerous knowledge (possibly usable by John Wayne to defeat the Nazis).

In my naivete, I thought they were telling me that it was dangerous to acquire a bit of psychology knowledge, because it might lead to self-diagnosis, and a tendency to see everything in terms of a disorder. The "dangerous" part is the belief that things are some sort of syndrome each and every time something happens. I'm pleased to say that I don't react that way to the evens of my life. With the addition of a few years of thought, I'm not too sure that's what the danger really is.

In my opinion, the danger is knowing a bit of knowledge, then trying to teach beyond your means. Having it effect your own life is one thing, but if you pass on corrupted or misleading information, that's a bigger problem. Due in part to our educational system, we're programed to accept knowledge that comes from sources we respect. Our high school science classes tell us about the scientific method, and how experimental process can create lasting and repeatable results, leading to scientific solutions to issues. In effect, this allows scientists and other "important" people to talk about issues with a certain weight given to their words.

One of the greatest innovations of the internet is the accessibilty to publish information. Because it is relatively simple for anyone to have a blog or other personal "fountain" of knowledge, information flows much more readily than at any other point in our history.

There are positive aspects to this. My cousin is currently living abroad in Switzerland while doing some nature of legal study. Ordinarily, that's all I'd know about it: she's over there, having fun, working, and happy. That's the reduced version of what my cousin would tell her mother, who would tell it to her sister (mom) and pass it down to me. This time, she's set up a blog, where she writes updates about the sessions of the World Trade Organization meetings she attends, intersperced with photos from her hiking and skiing trips. It's probably the most I've actually "seen" her in years.

There are neutral aspects to the ease of publishing information. China, which has long been in the business of controlling what information passes through its borders and is consumed by its citizens, is in the middle of a colossal struggle over the internet. The state censor institution monitors all internet traffic, making sure that "forbidden" content (as defined by the state) is not accessed. Some of it is politically dissident ideas (Tibetian independence, Falun Gong, etc.), others are scam websites and pronography.

You may have heard about the situation when GOOGLE tried to expand into China. The Chinese government would not let the company enter unless it agreed to apply and enforce the Chinese censoring program. GOOGLE initially refused, repsonding that censorship was contrary not only to their ethics, but in some ways to their business model! After all, what good is a search engine if it can't find anything?

Eventually, GOOGLE indicated it would abide by the Chinese restrictions. Coming from a company whose motto is "Do no Evil", I leave it to you to ponder whether it is more evil to censor out sites on Taiwanese independence, or leave Google unable to expand into the Chinese market, losing out on a large untapped market. The discussion is almost irrelevant, as there are many ways for citizens inside China to access the un-censored version of the internet, GOOGLE included. Not legally, of course, but people will do just about anything to be able to access ESPN.com during the Superbowl.

There are also negative aspects. The example I wish to focus on is Wikipedia. I love Wikipedia. I use it almost daily, whenever I run across a concept I don't know anything about. It's helpful for finding information on "geocentrism", "YEC movement", and "Abraham Lincoln Birthday". I use it like an encyclopedia. But I don't trust it.

I don't trust it, because it can be edited by anyone. Much of the information is good, but it can be altered. The famous journalist John Seigenthaler found himself under suspicion of assassinating President Kennedy, just from looking at his biography. News to him! He wrote an editorial in USA TODAY about the experience. People aren't neccessarily responsible (or even scrupulous) about what information they add or subtract from Wikipedia.

My history professors have needed to issue blanket statements that Wikipedia cannot be used as a source in any paper, because students began to use it. I understand that; it's easy to access, and can allow research from my couch at home! But it's not scholarly. It carries very little authority. I can long on right now and change Beethoven's birthplace to Boston, and his occupation to right-fielder. Granted, this information will be corrected soon (I would hope), because of the self-righting capacity of the Wiki. But what if I do something more subtle? What if I change the date of composition of Beethoven's fourth symphony? What if I change him from being "accomplished on the violin" to being "accomplished on the viol d'gambois"? How long would that take to correct? What if I introduce an idea that "scholars theorize his left ear experienced more profound deafness due to an early childhood incident involving an influenza epidemic at the time"?

The end result of this academic discussion on the validity of information is the Conservapedia. It looks a lot like Wikipedia in how the site is organized: someone who walked behind me while I was writing this entry mistook one for the other. The main difference is that the Conservapedia was created to counteract the "liberal bias" found on Wikipedia. Compare the entries on Sir Isaac Newton on both Wikipedia and Conservapedia. I could write an entry comparing these two, but the Conservapedia entry has an amusing line regarding Newton's belief in a single God (no triune God) and his belief that Jesus was divine but not eternal. Quoth Conservapedia:

"Both are commonly regarded by conservative Christians as the foulest of
heresies, and Newton's adoption of them illustrates the folly of adopting
personal religious beliefs rather than submitting to lawful authority."
I appreciate the attempt to purge liberal bias, but I think they may have missed the middle ground.

My point in bringing this up is a cautionary tale. The internet offers lots of information, and it's easy to add to that data stream. But not everything is policed and verified with as much vigor as must be done in order to prove anything. A friend has on his web page the quote (which I am paraphrasing from memory), "Saying 'For Example' is not proof." We seem to be heading to a society where anyone who makes the motions for "looking like a scholar" is afforded similar credibility as someone who actively tests and examines knowledge. Just be wary of your sources.

P.S. If you find Conservapedia as amusing as I do, please enjoy the entry on dinosaurs. It is quite tasty. Plus, it inspired someone to create this parody image. I have tentatively captioned it "Suffer the little Velociraptors to come unto me."


Fruitless

I've been trying for two hours to write an entry. In that time, I've started three and composed approximately three pages worth of text. However, much like my current state, it was jumbled and rambling. I have no doubt I'll be able to salvage something coherent out of it at a later date.

In a fervent desire to put something down and make an entry that is postable, let me list out some of what's moving through my head.

--A tempting job offer

--James Dobson reviewing movies and trying to be modest

--Albert Einstein's sincere belief in "the God of Spinoza"

--Possible attempts to get a tighter and more active motion from my valve linkages.

--Being confided in because of my honesty, but being told that some of my perceptions are untrustworthy

--Thinking about the discomfort involved in the breakup of a highly social person

--Trying to decide how much people reach out to others because of loneliness

--Trying to plan for a whirlwind trip to Chicago

--At war with myself over how much I'm like other men in particular, and how much I'm like other people in general

--Determining how much patience I have with myself (and others)

--Friends who know the right course, but refuse to take it because of discomfort