October 31, 2003


This morning as I was lying in bed listening to the news (and avoiding becoming fully awake) I heard a segment on the primaries, which brought to mind something that irks me about the primaries.

Are primaries purposely set up so that states like West Virginia don’t count?

Why can’t they arrange the primaries so that those of us in smaller states actually feel like our vote is worth something. Last presidential election everything had been long over and done with by we voted (May), which means that even fewer people bother to show up at the polls, which should (although I do not know if it does) have a significant effect on local primaries.

If we can’t have all primaries occurring on a single election day (and I’m not sure I think that is a good idea anyway), then primaries should be set up so that states with the fewest electoral votes have their primaries first, and those with the most go last. So California and Texas and New York don’t get to have their primaries until May—after everyone else has already had their primaries.

With the current system, candidates tend to skip West Virginia, since our primary is so late, and we have too few electoral votes. Because the New Hampshire and Iowa primaries occur so early, candidates spend days in those states, despite the fact that they don’t have many electoral votes.

So why not allow smaller states to have their primaries earlier than the larger states? It’s not like the candidates won’t have the option of spending time in the larger states instead, but it at least gives us a fighting chance to getting some of the candidates attention.

Posted by Michelle at 12:49 PM |


Why on earth would a MAC machine in West-by-God-Virginia speak with a British accent?

Posted by Michelle at 12:41 PM |

October 30, 2003

Mountaineer Week

One week until Mountaineer Week!

I just got my flyer in the mail at work, and so I can tell you that there will definitely be funnel cake this year. So now you know where I will be.

Bil Lepp will be there Saturday at 7, so if you have not heard him before, here is your chance.

And as always there will be the craft fair and the quilt show the 7th, 8th and 9th. It's also a good opportunity to find Christmas gifts, assuming you are not one of those people who has already finished your Christmas shopping.

And funnel cake. Don't forget the funnel cake.

Posted by Michelle at 06:39 PM |

Speaking of Worthless Information Taking Up Memory...

Final Score: 122

Takes longer than you think, because you won't want to submit until you remember that ONE LOUSY VERSE!
(via Laliak)

Posted by Michelle at 05:40 PM |

October 29, 2003

Too... Far... Away...

An article in the DA this morning turned on my rant button. They were talking about the Kroger strike, and how it is affecting Morgantown and students who live in Evansdale.

It was the following sentence that particularly stood out:

"The closest place to go [for groceries ] is Bi-Lo, and it's too far away," Linder said.

Two blocks is too far away?! Students in Towers are "going hungry" becuase they are too lazy to walk an extra two blocks to Bi-Lo?

I have to say that may well sum up everything that is wrong with American society today.

Posted by Michelle at 12:18 PM |

All My Exes Live in Texas...

Why songs get stuck in your head. The researchers call such songs Earworms and suggest that pop artists and commerical writers are actually trying to write such songs.

Isn't that grounds for damnation in one of the lowest rings of hell?

Posted by Michelle at 10:39 AM |

Russian Mine Rescue

There's a very nice article from the BBC, with pictures, of the Russian Mine Rescue in the Rostov Province.

Now as it was when I just woke up, I might have misheard, but the bit on the news this morning I thought said that the men did so well becuase the section of the mine where they were trapped was 70-some degrees, and they had water to drink. I'm baffled by the 70-something temperatures.

But it is fantastic amazing thing, and wonderful to hear good news, especially considering that "no group of miners is believed to have survived so long underground in recent history anywhere in the world."

Posted by Michelle at 10:13 AM |

October 28, 2003

Mmmmmm... Chocolate....

Just made a batch of double chocolate cookies from Alice Medrich's Cookies and Brownies.

I think I ate about six cookies in ten minutes, they are really that good.

(This is the book from which *the* brownie receipe comes, if you need another recommendation.)

Posted by Michelle at 07:33 PM |

Satellite Photos

Go look at these satellite photos from the current California fires. (via Making Light)

Posted by Michelle at 12:16 PM |

October 27, 2003


Bil Lepp made US News in their article on the National Storytelling Festival.

If you've never had the chance to hear Bil Lepp, well, you're missing out. I beleive this year he sat out of the West Virginia Liar's Contest at Vandalia, to give someone else a chance.

Here is his 1997 winning lie.

Posted by Michelle at 07:33 AM |

October 26, 2003

Now That I Do Know It I Shall Do My Best to Forget It

Recently in my gerontology class, we were talking about memory, and the theory came up that you can only remember so much, after which you start to forget stuff.

This of course reminded me of Sherlock Holmes:

My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it."
"To forget it!"
"You see,” he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is little like an empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose."
(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle "A Study In Scarlet")
This made me think of all the useless information I am carrying around in my head, that is taking up space where something valuable might reside. I'm not talking about the obscure facts I can pull seemingly out of thin air in response to an unrelated topic ("that reminds me...") no, that's fine, because I like that information. What really bugs me is all the stupid user names and passwords I am forced to remember just to go about my daily life. I am forever entering the wrong user name or password, and then having to sit there and figure out what goes where. And worse, most user names are simply variations on my name (like e-mail addresses) so sometimes I have to remember different combinations before I figure out which one is correct.

How much valuable brain space is all this worthless information taking? If I fail a test, may I blame it on the fact that I have 6 e-mail addresses that I use on a regular basis, and each has a different password?

No, I don't think so either. But it might be worth a try.

Posted by Michelle at 09:09 PM |

October 24, 2003

Finally Reloaded

Erin came over for dinner tonight, and after dinner we watched The Matrix: Reloaded, and I got to check out some things that had been nagging at my mind.

First, I think Neo did completely miss the point of his conversation with the Counselor Hamman in the engineering sector. Humans are dependent upon machines, and even though humans "control" the machines in Zion, they are still dependent upon them. There is a parallel between the human’s dependence upon the machines in Zion, and the machine’s dependence upon humans in the Matrix.

Now I still don’t buy the batteries explanation—violations of the laws of physics and all that—but that doesn’t mean that the machines do not need humans. I think they are necessary, but just not for the reasons stated by Morpheus in The Matrix. We’ll see.

But I think that Neo is going to have to come to terms with the fact that the machines and humans will have to coexist for either to survive.

I still really like the fight scene with the Merovignian’s henchmen, and Neo’s fight with Seraph. I think they were just beautiful. The freeway scene, however…ugh. I looked away on several occasions. Primarily when Trinity was weaving in and out of traffic on the motorcycle, and the fight scene on the back of the truck. (shudder) Too much too fast. Upsets my stomach even thinking about it. Which is really too bad, because I like watching Morpheus fight—but not against that moving background.

I’m still disappointed in the speech Morpheus gives in Zion. I don’t think it was good enough to inspire the reaction it got. (All through that scene we kept making jokes about sneaker sex. Can’t remember where I read it, but someone made a comment about Neo and Trinity looked like two sneakers mating.) He did do a good job giving the speech however.

We watched the scene with the Architect again. Still don’t know what he meant by the “Please” in response to Neo’s “The Oracle”. Could be anything. But what we did check, was that all of the scenes seem to be from inside the Matrix. We couldn’t find any scenes that occurred in Zion or any of the training that occurred in the construct. Now we didn’t look at every monitor closely, so we might have missed something, but it really looks like all the scenes on the monitor were of Neo in the Matrix, which is, I think, somewhat significant, and is hopefully a blow to that damned “Matrix within a Matrix” theory. After all, the Zion was a second Matrix, then there should have been scenes from outside the Matrix on the monitors, since many significant parts of Neo’s life occurred there.

I’m hoping it’s significant anyway.

Posted by Michelle at 10:49 PM |

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya

It's been awhile since I've mentioned it, so here it is again:

As of today, 343 U.S. service members have died in Iraq since March.

Please take the time to go and look at the names and pictures of the soliders who have been killed in Iraq.

This page is an alphabetical listing. You can also view a reverse chronological order list of soldiers who have been killed.

Posted by Michelle at 02:51 PM |


Google has now implemented a calculator.

This is probably the most useful thing I have seen in ages, especially when I sometimes do want to know how many teaspoons are in half a cup!

Posted by Michelle at 09:58 AM |

Oooh! Pretty!

Erin has redone her website, and it's quite lovely, especially the code. (The code I think is quite pretty, and I even told her so, which led us to wax almost poetic about the joy of Arachnophilia, notepad, and not using Microsoft.)

(Yes, that was Erin at http://www.sff.net/people/erin/. Go support her in her time of joblessness by buying some of her writing.)

We were wondering, however, whether it was possible to combine rollovers with an image map. Anyone out there know? I don't particularly want to attempt it myself right now, but would like to know.

I am hoping this site redesign thing isn't contagious, because I really don't have time to redo my site right now...

Posted by Michelle at 08:40 AM |

October 23, 2003

Dear Virginia Tech,

Neener. Neener. Neener.

Posted by Michelle at 08:30 AM |

Today's Humor


Posted by Michelle at 08:00 AM |

October 22, 2003

Still Standing

Fireworks for halftime ended a bit ago, and were still around. I left early, but expect Michael to be home soon--Joe said they were closing up after halftime, regardless of how things went.

All the outside lights are on and shall remain so. The car is as far back in the driveway as it can get without blocking the basement door.

Here's hoping the rain starts up again, and temperatures plummet.

and just for Michael...


I hope we trounce VA Tech.

Posted by Michelle at 09:35 PM |

Religious Suppression and Faith

Last nights talk started to crystallize and idea that has been in my mind since I started writing my “book review” for The Rise of David Levinsky for my American Religious History class.

What struck me in that book, and again last night, was the role that oppression seems to play in faith. In The Rise of David Levinsky, the main character was an Orthodox Jews who studying the Talmud while living Antomir Russia, where he suffered persecution and loss (including the murder of his mother) because of his Judaism. But he arrives in New York and becomes a secular American business, focused on the bottom line.

Something similar was mentioned in the talk last night, about whether Catholicism (and Christianity in general) could survive the secularism of the EU.

What is it that allows a religious faith to survive for years under persecution, but causes it to dissipate under freedom? Is this common? Is it cyclical?

Will there be a reactionism in the EU along the scale of what has happened in the US and in much of the Middle East, with a distorted fundamentalist view of religion rising to take the place of the mainstream religion that has seemingly died out?

I don’t know enough history to know whether this is a common occurrence, but it is interesting. There has been an almost amazing increase in conservatism in recent years, a rise in fundamentalism here and abroad, in Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths alike, each claiming that their way is the correct way, the only way, and all others be damned (literally). Why does this happen? Has it happened time and again throughout history? What are the repercussions for society that it is occurring now and how does the melting pot of American change this? After all, it is one thing for extreme orthodoxy to occur in an insular community, but it is something else entirely for extreme orthodoxy to appear in a multicultural society, where many religions must interact on a day to day basis.

Is there something about persecution that allows faith to bloom? Is there something about faith that allows it to wilt with freedom? Is there something about secularism that allowed reactionary fundamentalism to thrive? I don’t know, and I wish I did, for such an understanding would make society far easier to understand.

Posted by Michelle at 11:19 AM |

Religion and Society in Central and Eastern Europe

Last night's lectures were definitely academic in tone, and that combined with the failure of the av equipment and the thick accents made the lecture very difficult to understand.

Despite that, I’m glad I went, for it is an interesting subject, and I did get something out of the talks, although not as much as I would have hoped.

The first speaker was Péter Török, whose lecture was "Mapping the Influence of Religion During the Transition to Post Communism: A Critique of Gauteir's Model." (I cheated and got the title from a news blurb about the event) and he discussed the transition that occurred in former Soviet Bloc countries and the role that the church played in the redevelopment of a civil society.

He stated that religion was treated on one of three ways in Soviet Bloc countries. First was an outright assault on religion which occurred in countries like Albania, where there was a complete prohibition of religion. Church lands were confiscated, clergy were murdered or jailed and no expression or religion was allowed. The second treatment was a containment of religion, such as occurred in Romania, where Catholic schools and such were banned, but some religious activity was allowed. The third treatment occurred in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia, where religion was viewed as having a potential role and allowed to function, although there were restrictions. He said that Hungary fell into the second and third models, where there was initially more suppression but this lessened with time.

The Hungarian transformation from communist satellite to civil society was quiet and peaceful, and although this was partially due to the relative wealth in the country, the Catholic church did play a role in the formation of political opposition parties and assisted in the peaceful transfer or power. He then talked about Romania where there had been a suppression of all sources of independent social life (and even birthday parties of ten or more people required state approval) and because of this no easy transformation was possible.

He mentioned different names associated with the various political transitions, but I unfortunately was unable to catch any of them, and so although he described an interesting process, which included rioting in Romania following the suppression of a Catholic priest, details are just a bit too shaky for me to relate.

The second speaker was András Máté-Tóth. He said that this was the first talk he had ever given in English, and although he struggled at times, I enjoyed his talk. It may have been because I know so many non-native English speakers and had sympathy for him, or it may have been simply because he was trying so hard, but was amused rather than frustrated by his errors. I just have a lot of respect for people who can laugh at themselves. His talk was on "The Role of Religion in the new European Union."

One interesting point he mentioned was that the Hungarian church could not take part in Vatican II. This is simply something that I had never considered before, that such a momentous change in the Catholic church occurred without the input of Catholics in the former Soviet Union.

A second interesting point he mentioned was the entry of Hungary into the European Union, and asked whether the EU was a “godless” entity. He questions whether membership in the EU effect church effect membership, although there is no way to accurately predict what will actually happen, it was hypothesized that the secular emphasis of the EU might actually lead to a resurgence on religious faith.

There was a great deal more covered and conveyed, but unfortunately my limited knowledge of central and eastern Europe hindered my understanding, so I’ll just leave with what I did understand, little as that may be.

Posted by Michelle at 10:39 AM |

October 21, 2003

Time Wasting

Take the Alchemist's Challenge. (via Making Light)

I got 52%, but I'm irked about a misspelling that made me miss a question.
Erin also took the quiz.

Don't cheat!

Posted by Michelle at 05:02 PM |

Chance of Snow!

And I have not even been doing the snow dance!


But perhaps I'll do it now!

I love snow!

Posted by Michelle at 10:28 AM |

October 20, 2003

Picture This (or Vacated Updated)

Just because I am supposed to be working on my papers, here are the pictures from our trip.

Pictures with human beings in them, primarily Grandmom, Michael, and Dad.

Pictures without humans, hills and trees with some leaf color change.

Posted by Michelle at 09:28 PM |


Back from Baltimore, and we had a wonderful time, despite the hard labor involved. Oh, you though we were going to have an easy weekend lazing around with my grandmother? Nope. When we visit Grandmom there are always Things To Do! And since my dad came with us, there was to be no slacking!

Especially since he filled the trunk of my car with tools.

Michael and Dad fixed Grandmom’s chimney, damaged by hurricane Isabel, and replaced the squirrel cage the flew off. We replaced her mailbox, and I wrote a new note, asking the mailperson to please take the mail to the house. I fixed the tiles in the bathroom, with some adhesive we picked up at Home Despot, and we trimmed her shrubs. The shrub trimming sounds like a small task, and no big deal, until I mention that there were twenty bags of trimmings when we were done. Her shrubs had grown out of control in recent years, and in the spring I’d really like to come back and do some major renovations to them, but for now, despite the fact it’s fall and now none of the shrubs will bloom in the spring, everything was cut back. Except for the forsythia. I cut much of the middle out of that, but left much of the growth on the sides so it will bloom in the spring. Then in the spring, my intentions are to go back and seriously thin out and trim. From the ground up. I know the concept, I’ve just never done the technique, but how hard can it be? (ha)

We did, despite the hard work, eat well this weekend. Friday we stopped at D’Atris in La Vale for dinner. Partially because we didn’t want Grandmom to have to make dinner and partially because I would have been very unhappy had we waited that long for dinner. If you haven’t been to D’Atris, you should probably make a point to stop there next time you’re in the area. They have they best subs and hoagies.

Saturday we went to Romano’s which is not far from Grandmom’s house. My only requirement for the trip was that one night we go somewhere with good crab cakes. I was fine going to Kibbie’s, but said we could go anywhere, as long as the food was good, so someone suggested Romano’s and we went. Dad and I both ordered the crab cake platter, which was $20. Michael ordered the everything-deep-fried-platter and Grandmom got the crab stuffed flounder. Everyone’s meal came with two sides, but none of them sounded good, so I substituted a side salad for the two sides. I have to say that when the salad came I was a little worried. Chopped iceberg lettuce and the salad dressing tasted like it came out of a bottle. Bleh. But I ate it anyway, wondering they whole time why iceberg lettuce was worth two sides.

The dinner came and everything because clear. The crab cakes were HUGE. I’m taking unbelievably large. And made of lump crab meat. Many, many crabs died so that we might eat well Saturday night. No one finished their meal, so we all had leftovers for lunch on Sunday. As far as flavor goes, I think that I like the crab cakes at Kibbie’s best, but these were still very good, and well worth the price. Especially since I had them for two meals. Everyone else liked their meal, although Michael never managed to finish the piece of fish that came with his meal (I think it was fish, crab cake, scallop, shrimp and oyster) so Harry got a very expensive treat when we dropped my dad off last night.

Yesterday on our way out of town we made the trip downtown to Altman’s to pick up corned beef to bring home. Dad insists that driving down Lombard street and through town was the fastest way to the beltway, but I have doubts, since it seems like it took about an hour. Corned beef is the only think that makes me regret not eating meat. But not enough that I’d make myself sick just for one sandwich. (Though if I ever start eating meat again, I’m definitely making the trip to Altman’s for a corned beef sandwich.)

So that was our weekend.

I did get some pictures. The leaves along 70 and much of 68 past Cumberland were still green, so not a lot of scenic views, but we did get picture taken with Grandmom, and I also got pictures of Dad with a pink feather duster. What more could we want?

Posted by Michelle at 10:31 AM |

October 17, 2003


I'll soon be off to Baltimore to go visit my grandmother. I'm going to try really hard to remember to take my camera, becuase I am hoping the leaves are going to be beautiful on I68 and and 70.

I'll be attempting to write papers the whole way up (and probably back). Is it possible to get writer's block for school papers, because I'm really stuck on the one. It's the Sociology of Aging for my Gerontology class, with a focus on end of life care, and I know lots about the subject, and have plenty of ideas, but can't make a coherent paper out of everything I know. How frustrating.

Perhaps if I get very frustrated I'll write up a long blog entry about it, and that will get me going.

Other than that I'll be enjoying myself as we fix things at my grandmother's house, and I will make certain that at least once we go out for crab cakes. I'd offer to bring some back for people, but they'd never make it into town.

Perhaps there will be pictures Sunday night or Monday, though if we do what we usually do, I'll forget we have the camera and won't take a single picture.

Posted by Michelle at 03:36 PM |


I missed the final Benedum lecture last night, which is too bad because not only was I interested in the subject (the use of DNA evidence in criminal cases), but the DA's coverage was atrocious, so I can't even figure out what her focus was.

Next week there is a lecture on "Religion and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe" which I will make a point to attend, and not just because the person in charge is the instructor for my American Religious History class. The speakers are Hungarian, but as the lecture states Central and Eastern Europe, I am hoping they will also discuss Poland and Lithuania. When my cousin Ben spent the summer working in Lithuania in 2002, he said that despite Vilnius being a large city, religion and the church still dominated the lives of the people, and that the high school kids seemed to be very much involved, which is just something you don't see here in the U.S.

He also sent me some postcards, including one of the Hill of Crosses, which is quite fascinating.

Not that I won't enjoy the talk if they talk about areas other than Lithuania and Poland, but it would be extra fascinating if they did.

Posted by Michelle at 12:34 PM |

Childish and Immature

In the grand tradition of ABC News Is Gay, today Gina sent me a headline from CNN, and asked "I wonder how Mrs. Bush feels about this."


Posted by Michelle at 10:46 AM |

October 16, 2003

Chomping at the Bit

Michael decided that he does not want to work late today, for when we arrive home we should have waiting for us a box containing "The Matrix: Reloaded". We missed yesterday's delivery, but it should be there today.

Of course we were supposed to go the the Benedum Lecture this evening, and he has projects to finish for school, and we have to pack and get ready for our trip to Baltimore, and my grandmother most definitely does not have a DVD player.

So it looks like he might not get to watch it until next week.

I'm more excited about the impending release of the third movie, although I'll watch Reloaded again, assuming we can fast forward through the car chase.

....actually, I think I'd like to watch "The Architect Scene" with captioning on.

And also the scene with the Merovignian.

But first I must study and write papers.

Posted by Michelle at 04:07 PM |

I've Considered Some of These


Posted by Michelle at 01:40 PM |

October 15, 2003

Political Compass

This shouldn't really be too much of a surprise to anyone.

Your political compass
Economic Left/Right: -6.50
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.92


Take the political compass test.

Posted by Michelle at 04:53 PM |

The Demented Bride Strikes Again!

I wish I had thought of this first.

http://www.goingbridal.com/etc/ via Making Light

Posted by Michelle at 11:36 AM |


Today's amusement:

"People say a cluttered life reflects a cluttered mind. I say a person with clutter isn't going to die today because he's got too much shit to do."

Not that I know anything about clutter. The house is a mess, and my mother's coming over this weekend the check on the cats.

Well, cluttered it is, will be, and shall remain.

Posted by Michelle at 10:24 AM |

October 14, 2003

Neil Gaiman Again

I read this the other day, and it made me laugh out loud. Today, when I checked back from something new, I read it again AND Erin mentioned it, so let me recommend Neil Gaiman's journal, specifically the interview entry.

("What do you think of the Frankfurt Bookfair?" asked another interviewer.

"I think if I am a very evil man while I live, when I die I will be sent to a Frankfurt Bookfair that will go on forever in every direction, and will never end, and the interviews will never stop," I told him, honestly. I don't think that a multiple choice exam of possible correct answers to give journalists in answer to that question would have had that one listed.)

But you really need to read the bit that comes before that.

Posted by Michelle at 08:14 PM |

It’s Raining. It Must Be the DMV

I got the two big Ds today. Dentist and DMV.

The dental news was that the tooth they’ve been watching has finally moved into cavity status, but it’s just a small cavity, and I’m now back on Michael’s health insurance, so I’m not worried about it. I’m not going under, so I’m not worried about an ‘On Edge’ experience. (Plus, I’ve never been afraid of the dentist.)

The trip to the DMV was to deal with the license plate for the car issue. When we bought the new car we said (oh, five or six times) that we were going to transfer the plates from our old car, to the new car, but couldn’t do it right then, because we had to drive the old car to where it would eventually be picked up. I called AAA to find what we needed to do, and found out that I needed to wait until I was sent the point of origin paper, and then they could do the transfer. So we waited patiently, and then last week, in the mail arrived… A brand new license plate. The next day the registration came.

Today I got to go to the DMV and try and sort everything out. Besides having half an hour wait, and then the person at the desk not have a clue what to do with my situation, it wasn’t really that bad. Everyone was pleasant, and I decided for the path of least resistance, which was just accepting the new plate and registration, which were already paid for, and turning in the old plate—did you know that you’re supposed to turn in your old plate? I’m not sure that supposed to is the correct word, but I turned in the old plate, and she made a point of giving me a receipt for it, so the whole thing is over and done with, and only took about 45 minutes, including the wait.

I also got to listen to some whiny chick complaining about the fact that because she had laminated her social security card and didn’t bring a second form of identification, thus she couldn’t receive her ID. As if the people at the DMV make the rules. I felt like leaning back and saying “You have President Bush to thank for all these new changes in the identification process” but decided it was NOT worth it to get involved. Besides, I’m not sure that making illegal ids difficult to get is a bad idea.

Have I yet gotten caught up on my school work? Nope. And we’re going out for a bit after work, so that’s a few more hours gone. But I’m going out anyway. And tomorrow I’m going out to dinner with Erin and Gina and Melissa. And Thursday is the last Benedum lecture. And at some point I need to do laundry. And pack.

But other than that I haven’t a thing to do but study.

Posted by Michelle at 04:21 PM |

October 13, 2003

Religious Liberals and History

Religious liberals were all Arminian or even Pelagian in their theology. This means that they emphasized human freedom of choice and also humanity's innate capacity to do good. Liberalism, could, then, argue that sin is really only an error in judgment, an error that the proper education of morals or improvement in social conditions like nutrition, and housing could eliminate. What is most important for Christian liberals was that everyone seek to follow or mimic Jesus' example and work to eliminate social ills.”
What I found so striking about this passage from my history class is that the predominant Christian theory in the US, at least the one that gets the most publicity, seems to have swung to the exact opposite direction.

Is it a reaction to the social experiments that failed time and time again, because the “compassionate conservatism” of the Republicans is about as far away as you can get from this idea of improvement of the moral and social conditions of America to bring about social change. And probably as far away as you can get from the actual message put for in the New Testament as well.

It seems as if “compassionate conservatives” which includes those who want “creationism” to be taught in schools, are actually pushing Social Darwinism:

"But many liberals also moved toward Spencer's Social Darwinism which posited that weaker human beings such as the poor or dispossessed, were being properly weeded out of society and should be left to their extinction. Ministers like Henry Ward Beecher firmly argued this position. Some historians have called them the right wing of liberalism because they took such a laissez-faire position toward humanity."
How strange that many who purport not to accept the ideas of Darwin, are actually pushing a bastardized form of his theory.

How did the US end up where we are, with a society that pushes a narrow view of Christianity that misses the point of the New Testament entirely? Push for temperance (find that in the bible!) and a strict dug policy, but vote for “welfare reform” that pushes some mothers into the workforce without providing them adequate childcare.

I keep hoping that the class is going to explain how we moved from a society that believed that education and improvements of societal conditions was the answer to societies ills to our current state of ‘damn the poor, full speed ahead for the rich!’

Don’t get me wrong, there are Christian campaigns that do follow the spirit of Christianity, like Alabama tax reform and the ‘What Would Jesus Drive’ campaign, but for the most part those ideas are laughed off and ignored by the main stream. Not sexy enough I suppose.

Posted by Michelle at 11:45 AM |

October 12, 2003

Is This a Good Time?

Yesterday was ridiculously busy. It was Joe, Michael and myself. We left he house a little after 8:30 am, and got home at about 4:30pm. My parents actually jumped in and helped a bit before the game, and a volunteer from the house came down for an hour or so at halftime. But that was about it. Mostly it was the three of us, and I was completely exhausted by the time we came home. Partially because I was one my feet for so long, and partially because there’s not a lot for me to eat there, and I was too busy to think about being hungry, so by the time we got home, I was past feeling hungry, and just wanted to shower. So by the time we got around to dinner I had a headache and was mildly nauseous.

I have got to figure out something to eat there, cuz that wasn’t a whole lot of fun.

I also decided that if things don’t get better by the end of the season, I won’t do this again. It’s not that I don’t like it, but you’d think that the house would do a little bit to support the people who are attempting to make money for them.

Bah humbug.

Besides that, Friday night we made a trip to Lowe’s, ostensibly to pick up something to block the hot water heater exhaust pipe (meant to do that when we put in the hot water heater) and ended up coming home with $60 some dollars worth of plants: a dwarf spruce, to replace the one that was stolen, a clematis, and a burning bush. All were placed along the fence, and ended up being planted at 8:30 in the evening, since I knew we were not going to want to do that Saturday. Luckily there is a street light directly across the street, so it was a well lit project.

At times like that, I wonder what people driving by think, other than “Why the hell are they planting trees in the dark?”

We also went to Michael’s and picked up supplies for Christmas presents. No, I’m not going to tell you what we’re making, on the off chance someone in my family reads this. And I also picked up spray paint. Why, you may ask, do I need spray paint? Because I have many plants in clay pots, and the saucers for clay pots are just as porous as the clay pots, and so if they are sitting on furniture, I have to put a plate under the saucer that is under the clay pot. But, if I spray paint the clay pot, then it is no longer porous, and the saucers may be placed safely on tables and floors. So I’ve been spray painting today.

That does, however, reminds me, two weeks ago Michael looked in the refrigerator and thought “Ooh! I wonder what she bought to eat that is in this white box! Oh, dirt.”

Yes, I have dirt in my refrigerator, because I am once again forcing bulbs. Just paper whites this time. But I realized that we are so much our refrigerator isn’t really that full, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to put one box and one bag of dirt in there.

This is one of the many things Michael loves about living with me, I’m sure.

And now I must go and study, for I have 3 chapters of gerontology to read this evening, and should also go over my history notes.

And it’s already five o’clock.

One last thing though—the trees in Morgantown are starting to change color. When we were driving around today running errands I said I wish I’d brought the camera, because it was quite beautiful in spots.

So get out of the house and look at trees! Nature is putting on a free show! Go enjoy it!

Posted by Michelle at 04:57 PM |

October 10, 2003

Death in the Sand

Back to a subject about which I have complained before, here is quote from Senator Byrd's website

Byrd also raised concerns about National Guard units continuing to experience equipment shortages while serving in hazardous areas. Byrd wrote to Secretary Rumsfeld in February after reports of West Virginia Guardsmen being deployed in Iraq without proper desert equipment. Byrd followed up by asking about potentially life-saving equipment that seems to have not been provided to National Guard forces.

"I have learned that many National Guard units, including the 157th Military Police Company of Martinsburg, West Virginia, are without the ceramic inserts that are needed to maximize the effectiveness of their bullet-proof vests. This Iraq war supplemental requests additional funds for the ceramic inserts, but this supplemental comes six months after the war began," Byrd stated.

That's right ladies and gentleman. Our soldiers still don't have all the protective equipment they need. Is it going to come as a surprise to anyone when our soldiers don't re-enlist and we lose significant numbers of troops from the national guard?

Posted by Michelle at 04:46 PM |

An Ecologist’s View of Genetically Engineered Crops

Professor Allison A. Snow spoke on the subject of Genetically Modified (GM) crops and what ecological consequences their use may have. She also gave a brief overview as to how GM plants are produced, and the difference between GM plants and traditional crossbreeding in both technique and end result. The focus of the talk was weedy plants that can cross with cultivated plants, and what changes occur in this population after the introduction of Genetically Modified crops.

Professor Snow described the many challenges to growing crops, with weeds, disease, insects and harsh climate causing the largest problems for farmers. The problem is that when we develop the ability to fight a pest, such as a weed, disease or insect, the pest frequently develops the ability to resist eradication.

Traditional agriculture has developed methods to combat these problems, and professor Snow gave crop rotation and the flooding of rice paddies as examples of these traditional methods. These traditional methods will not continue indefinitely however, as the use of pesticides becomes more frequent in developed and developing nations. The problem with pesticides is that they may not always work, and they may contaminate the water and environment for both humans and animals. Herbicides and insecticides frequently work for a time, but then the pests develop a resistance and the chemicals no longer work.

Conventional agriculture causes its own problems, such as habitat loss for native species, pesticide toxicity, fertilizer pollution that creates dead zones in estuaries and rivers, and that there are frequently unsustainable practices that lead to top soil loss, water loss from irrigation and so forth. Professor Snow stated that conventional crop development can solve some of these problems, through the cross breeding of resistance to insects or disease into the crop plant from wild relatives. Typically, when this is done and crops are cultivated, there is then gene flow from the cultivated plants back into the wild relatives.

I found fascinating the fact that when some crops go to seed, they quickly revert back to weeds, with the example of carrots reverting back to queen Anne’s lace.

Transgenes occur when genes from other species, such as fish, bacteria, chicken, viruses, are selected and inserted into a plant species. Because these genes do not need to be from a close plant relative, or even from a plant, this allows the development of a much wider variety of traits, and also allows traits to be developed much quicker that typically happens with a traditional cross breeding program. The problem is then that when these crops are planted, these transgenic traits can then flow to the weedy relatives.

Professor Snow said that there have been field tests for over 50 species of transgenic crops, that are developing resistance to disease, insects (Bt), herbicides (Round-up) but scientists are also to developing other traits, such as the ability to create oils, vaccines or medications.

GM crops have been very successful in the US, Canada, Australia and Brazil, but remain banned in Europe, Mexico and other areas. Professor Snow presented charts showing the use of GM crops has increased in both numbers of plants used, and the percentage of plants used.

There are both risks and benefits to the use of GM crops. Some of the benefits are a reduction in pesticide use, the promotion of “no-till” farming, a possible reduced need for fertilizer, a possible reduction in irrigation, the possible development of high yield trees, low-mow grasses, as well as the bioremediation of toxic soils, such as contamination after a chemical spill, or following years of industry. Some of the risks of GM crops are that the benefits of pesticide use may be short lived, that use of GM crops leads to a greater reliance on herbicides and less crop rotation, the probable effects upon non-target organisms, and cross pollination with weedy relatives.

Because the issue has become so polarized, it is difficult to find good information on GM crops, and it has also become hard to do good science on them, because funding is not easy to find

One of the major issues with GM crops that Dr Snow discussed was gene flow from transgenic crops to weeds. This happens very easily, especially in closely related crops, or in areas where the crop plant has native relatives. The distances which genes and pollen can disperse is also quite high, with GM pollen dispersing up to 1000m for one species, and for corn, at 60m there were ~2500 pollen grains per meter squared. This means that despite precautions taken, it is likely that conventional crops will become contaminated with GM traits.

Her research found that Bt worked as well in the wild relative of the sunflower as it did in the cop—there was boosted seed production, decreased damage to seeds, yet there was no fitness cost to the plant. Thus it is possible that if Bt plants were used, they would escape into the wild, which could lead to an increased abundance of the weed, although whether this would happen for certain is not known.

What has been discovered is that there has been a significant increase in unique cases of herbicide-resistant weeds world-wide since GM crops were first used, which means that these genes are not isolated as has been discovered. Crops of traditional canola grown from certified seeds in Canada were found to be contaminated with transgenes, and despite the fact that Mexico has banned GM crops, transgenes have been found growing even in isolated areas, as farmers there plant grain and seeds that they were given to eat.

There is also fear over the contamination of “Landraces,” or native populations of wild relatives that help to conserve genetic variation. The reason “landraces” are important is that they are frequently crossbred into crop plants to increase health and as a source for naturally occurring helpful traits.

To end, she stated that there are consequences of gene flow in GM crops, because the containment of GM crops is impractical, so we need to weigh the risks and the benefits, which include the contamination of non-GM crops, possible effects upon genetic diversity of wild relatives, as well as the benefits from reduced pesticide use, the development of plants able to tolerate harsh conditions, and the development of plants that are able to produce medicines or to solve problems, such as decontaminating soil.

Posted by Michelle at 08:00 AM |

October 08, 2003

Windows Into the Soul

Windows Into the Soul: Surveillance and Society in an Age of High Technology by Dr. Gary T. Marx

I am sorry to say this lecture was a disappointment. Not that the topic wasn’t fascinating, because it was. And not because the speaker wasn’t energetic and entertaining, because he was. But that it was just a poor talk.

What the talk seemed to be was a compilation of a variety of PowerPoint lectures that had been written for class(es), and were merged together to create one large overview. This was definitely a good example of why so many people dislike PowerPoint so much, and that doesn’t even take into account the fact that they could not get the technology to work correctly at first. He also seriously glossed over what the technology available right now is truly capable of doing. There is so much going on right now, and he basically mentioned a few things ultra quickly and went on to the next item.

So what did he say?

Dr. Marx wanted to address the question of why this technology exists, and is it being used appropriately. (This was a sociology lecture after all.) Should the government be using technology to pry into our habits and lives? Quite obviously I fall squarely upon the side of no, but he did not really address the government uses of these technologies other than to mention Predator and Magic Lantern, and didn’t even describe fully what those technologies do, other than that they are devices to remotely monitor computer communications, and that the government does not require a warrant to use these technologies. (He also didn't mention Carnivore and the capabilities of that program.)

The next big privacy challenge, according to Dr. Marx, will not just be genetic typing, but brain wave analysis, which has not only the potential to detect illness and to predict diseases like alcoholism, but also to monitor the thoughts of private citizens—not their direct thoughts but their patterns of thoughts. How they think rather than what they think.

Chipping, which has moved from pets (my brother’s dog is “chipped” so that if Cyrus is stolen (ha) or lost, Brian can identify him) to actual human beings, was mentioned as a new potential surveillance technique. I read a news story about one family that has implanted chips with medical information in themselves. (US NEWS article) These chips, of course have the ability to imbed much more information, that could be theoretically read at a distance by anyone with a reader. The speaker did not, however, discuss either the “chipped people” or the privacy implications of chipping humans becoming more common.

There are radio chips that have been developed and can be imbedded in just about anything, and many businesses are considering using these chips to track products (Wal Mart is the business I have heard most associated with this idea) but he barely touched the implications as to whether these technologies will then continue to track these items even after they have left the store. It is not the thought of a chip embedded in a DVD player that bothers me as much as the idea of a chip embedded in an article of clothing. After all, unless I make the purchase in cash, they know where I live already, but they don’t know where I go and what I do in my free time.

There was mention of wireless data mining, and the emerging ability of cell phones to track where you are and pop up ads for businesses as you pass by them, as well as the ability of cell phones not only to take pictures, but to instantaneously transmit those images to the internet. (Just think, your bad hair day could soon be visible not just to those you pass by, but to people all over the world with internet access.)

Ubiquitous computing, with sensors everywhere, is also an increasing concern. Computing has so changed that it is now easier to keep information than to destroy it, and information storage has implications for anyone who has ever written a personal e-mail from their work e-mail account. (Personally, I avoid using my work e-mail account for anything that even smacks or personal. Just because someone isn’t looking at e-mail messages right now doesn’t mean they won’t in the future, and people have lost jobs for sending off-color jokes through company e-mail.)

We have satellite technology that is capable of reading the numbers of a license plate if the light is right, night vision goggles that can track us in the dark (not that we have much dark in urban US areas any more) and heat sensing equipment that can track us through walls. He did mention the supreme court ruling on thermal imaging, but didn’t clarify really what the ruling was. It wasn’t about tracking an individual, it was about using thermal imaging to determine if a guy was growing marijuana in his basement.

You can buy all these products, from night vision goggles, to equipment that magnifies sound yards away, to hidden camera devices, to inexpensive voice recorders. All these products are readily available to anyone, but what he didn’t mention was that if this is the technology available to the average citizen, we can only imagine what the government has.

These products are becoming so common, that you can install cameras to monitor your baby, intercoms to monitor your child, and receivers to track your children, with alarms that go off if the child strays beyond a certain distance. Children are being encouraged to spy, with products marked directly to them, and flyers from the police asking them to tell if they see anything illegal.

Of course it is not just children that are encouraged to spy, but adults are also encouraged to spy on one another. He mentioned ads attempting to boost reporting of abusers of HOV lanes, but didn’t mention the failure of the TIPS program, which I think is very important.

After this, the talk really degenerated into a classroom type lecture with many bulleted PowerPoint items, although there are a couple more interesting points made.

He did discuss what encourages surveillance, and mentioned not just modern society, but the “welfare/warfare state” and enforcement agendas. He mentioned that there are factors that discourage surveillance, such as the expense of the equipment, privacy concerns of groups and individuals that form special interest groups, fear of backlash and concerns about control.

Interestingly, throughout his talk, he did not mention the Patriot Act and the ramifications of 11 September and privacy issues, which I found very strange, for it seems to me that the reason privacy has become such an issue in the US recently, is because of the privacy abuses being committed by the government in the name of national security.

As far as what can be done, his focus seemed primarily upon marketing research, with “opt in” versus “opt out” policies, although he did mention that a warrant is required to tape a voice conversation, but a warrant is NOT needed to secretly video tape someone, because when the laws were being written, video surveillance was not an issue.

All in all I wish he could have concentrated more on one portion of the subject and covered it in greater detail, than trying to tell a little bit about everything, and not telling us much at all.

He did close on an interesting quote that was, unfortunately, unreadable from where we were in the room. Luckily I got enough to look it up:

As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression.
In both instances there is twilight.
And it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air,
however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
- Justice William O. Douglass

Posted by Michelle at 09:48 PM |

Tonight's Lecture

Another lecture to attend! This one:

Gary T. Marx, the Anna Deane Carlson Visiting Professor in Social Science in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University, will present a public lecture entitled "Windows Into the Soul: Surveillance and Society in an Age of High Technology."

The event will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8, at Erickson Alumni Center. Dr. Marx will examine social, cultural, comparative, ethical, legal and policy questions arising from recent developments in society, especially new surveillance and communication technologies (video, DNA, biometrics, computer dossiers, cell phones, electronic location, Internet and work monitoring, heat and motion sensors, drug testing, etc.).

It'll be a rush to get there on time, but we'll manage, since this one looks to be VERY interesting.

Posted by Michelle at 04:12 PM |

October 07, 2003


Kim gave me a copy of this picture from Mike's going away party.

I am as amused now as I apparently was then.


Posted by Michelle at 06:12 PM |

Discount Shop for Terrorists!

Kim sent me this news story from CNN:

"we certainly don't need DoD to be a discount shop for potential bioterrorists"

Yes, that's right, you can buy deeply discounted equipment to create bioweapons from our very own Department of Defense at pennies on the dollar!

Personally, I'd rather wait for some of that super secret spy equipment from No Such Agency. Not that I have anyone to spy on, but just because it would be cool to own equipment that would pull the pixels right off your monitor through the wall.

Posted by Michelle at 02:51 PM |

There is a Reason we Have Vaccination

From the NY Times:

In the last two months, the county Health Department reported, 17 children and 2 adults in Cortlandt and Peekskill have contracted whooping cough, a bacterial infection formally known as pertussis. Once a common ailment and a leading killer of infants, whooping cough became rare in developed countries after the introduction of a vaccine in the 1940's.

Among those infected in Westchester are four children who were not vaccinated against the disease, and the outbreak began with at least some of those four, said Dr. Joshua Lipsman, the county health commissioner. He said the children were not vaccinated because of their parents' conscious decision and not because of an oversight.

Four of the other children infected are babies 4 months old or younger, and have not yet received their immunizations, or have received only one or two of the five shots needed to complete the vaccination. The illness is far more serious for infants than for older children and adults, but in the United States, the fatality rate for babies under 6 months is less than 1 percent.

It never fails to amaze me how people fail to understand the basic concepts of public health. Those parents who refused to vaccinate their children have placed not only their own children at risk, but the lives of innocent individuals as well.

When healthy individuals refuse vaccination they placed those who are unable to be vaccinated, infants and the immunocomprimised, at risk. We can only hope that the infants who became sick with Whooping cough will be fine.

Posted by Michelle at 12:27 PM |

October 06, 2003

Taxing the Rich Is Just Like Slaughtering Millions

Here is the bit from the Fresh Air show where Grover Norquist compared taxing the rich to the Holocaust:

Mr. NORQUIST: Yeah, the good news about the move to abolish the death tax, the tax where they come and look at how much money you've got when you die, how much gold is in your teeth and they want half of it, is that--you're right, there's an exemption for--I don't know--maybe a million dollars now, and it's scheduled to go up a little bit. However, 70 percent of the American people want to abolish that tax. Congress, the House and Senate, have three times voted to abolish it. The president supports abolishing it, so that tax is going to be abolished. I think it speaks very much to the health of the nation that 70-plus percent of Americans want to abolish the death tax, because they see it as fundamentally unjust. The argument that some who played at the politics of hate and envy and class division will say, 'Yes, well, that's only 2 percent,' or as people get richer 5 percent in the near future of Americans likely to have to pay that tax. I mean, that's the morality of the Holocaust. 'Well, it's only a small percentage,' you know. 'I mean, it's not you, it's somebody else.' And this country, people who may not make earning a lot of money the centerpiece of their lives, they may have other things to focus on, they just say it's not just. If you've paid taxes on your income once, the government should leave you alone. Shouldn't come back and try and tax you again.

GROSS: Excuse me. Excuse me one second. Did you just...


GROSS: ...compare the estate tax with the Holocaust?

Mr. NORQUIST: No, the morality that says it's OK to do something to do a group because they're a small percentage of the population is the morality that says that the Holocaust is OK because they didn't target everybody, just a small percentage. What are you worried about? It's not you. It's not you. It's them. And arguing that it's OK to loot some group because it's them, or kill some group because it's them and because it's a small number, that has no place in a democratic society that treats people equally. The government's going to do something to or for us, it should treat us all equally. And the argument that Bill Clinton used when he wanted to raise taxes in '93 was 'I'm only going to tax the top 2 percent. So this doesn't affect the rest of you. I'm only going to get some of these guys; not you, others.'

The challenge there when people use that rhetoric in addition to the fact that I think it's immoral to separate the society by--when South Africa divided people by race, that was wrong. When East Germany divided them by income and class, that was wrong. East Germany was not an improvement over South Africa. Dividing people so that you can mug them one at a time is a bad thing to do. Whether you're doing it on racial grounds, religious grounds, or whether you work on Saturdays or not grounds, on economic grounds.

GROSS: So you see taxes as being the way they are now terrible discrimination against the wealthy comparable to the kind of discrimination of, say, the Holocaust?

Mr. NORQUIST: Well, what you pick--you can use different rhetoric or different points for different purposes, and I would argue that those who say, 'Don't let this bother you; I'm only doing it'--I, the government. The government is only doing it to a small percentage of the population. That is very wrong. And it's immoral. They should treat everybody the same. They shouldn't be shooting anyone, and they shouldn't be taking half of anybody's income or wealth when they die.

Posted by Michelle at 09:54 AM |

October 05, 2003

Almond Chocolate Biscotti

I just finished a batch of Almond Chocolate Biscotti, I'm listening to the CDs Sergei sent me, and am reading the second of two papers for my gerontology class.

I was thinking that if it weren't for the fact of Monday hanging over our heads, Sundays would be the most pleasant of days. Then again, perhaps it's knowing that the following day brings work and school that makes Sunday so pleasant.

The biscotti, which I just pulled out of the oven, look and smell delicious. I used the recipe from David Lebovitz's book 'Room for Dessert' which is not one of my favorite cook books, but this biscotti recipe is very good. I did make one small cheat, however, and instead of using large chunks of bittersweet chocolate, I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet chunks.

A working girl has to make some concessions after all.

So if you want some biscotti, feel free to come over. Supplies are, however, limited.

Of, I will have to remember to look for the transcript of the Fresh Air show that had me screaming in rage and disbelief Thursday evening. This cretin, Grover Norquist, who is president of Americans for Tax Reform and apparently for the tax debacle of the current administration, had the audacity to compare the taxation of the rich in the US to the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust.

No, I am not kidding.

The fact that president Bush has listened to this degenerate and based his tax policy up the recommendations of this creep explains much.

In fact, just thinking about it even now has enraged me nearly to the point of incoherency, so I think I’m going to go upstairs, make a cup pf hot chocolate, and eat some biscotti.


Posted by Michelle at 01:41 PM |

October 04, 2003

Th' Fence

I was surpised at how easy the fence was to put up, mind you we didn't put up a BIG fence, but still it was quick and easy. Much easier than the privacy fence we put up at my parent's house.

But anyway, it's done and we're pleased.

How well it keeps out rabid football fans remains to be seen.

Posted by Michelle at 10:47 PM |

Post Human Updates

I finally updated my post on Jean Elshtain's lecutre Will the Future be Post-Human. Hopefully instead of just a gathering of random thoughts scribbled in the program and typed before heading to bed, the post should be a bit more coherent now.

Posted by Michelle at 09:46 AM |

October 03, 2003

Diggingest Dog

Sorry about the lack of posting, but things have gotten busy and work, and I don't even wanna talk about it.

Taking a lead from S at Hillbilly Sophisticate we're going to be putting up a split rail fence at the bottom of our yard. The ridiculousness after last night's game made me decided I want to have at least some small barrier between my home and the insanity that will occur in Morgantown after the Virginia Tech game, win or lose. And to be honest I don't know which will be worse. A win and the insanity that follows, or a loss that will just fuel the anger that has been seething since Virginia Tech pulled out of the Big East (See! I DO pay attention to sports. It's just very selective and involves things that involve my self interest. Like pissed off football fans streaming past my house)

Not that the game isn't completely ridiculous anyway. Who decided that it would be a good idea to have the Virginia Tech game on a weekday night anyway? Someone who needs a swift kick in the head I'm sure.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Morgantown, the football stadium shares a parking lot with both the Health Sciences Center and Ruby Memorial Hospital. So there is little to no hospital parking game days. As far as what will happen for this Wednesday night game, nothing in the HSC gets to shut down early, professors are supposed to hold classes, but who knows where students and faculty are supposed to park, since employee lots are to be empty at five for football parking.

My friends at NIOSH (right next to the hospital) are discussing taking at least the afternoon, if not the day off, to escape the insanity. I'll be taking the afternoon off, but only because we volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House tailgate, and Joe wants to set up early. (I'll be heading home before the game is over, since I was unable to get the following day off, and I'll need a couple hours to wind down.

So anyway, we're putting up a fence this weekend, since next weekend is a game weekend and we'll be busy. We borrowed a post hole digger from my parents instead of Harry Houdini, the diggingest dog, mostly because he doesn't necessarily dig exactly where you want him, but instead seems to have some artistic desire to place his holes in exactly the right spot--typically within a few feet of the fence, but he's been known to dig out stumps before.

So we'll see how the fence goes, I'll decide how we're going to cover the Jasmine in burlap, and this should really be the end of our projects for the year.


Posted by Michelle at 10:38 PM |

October 02, 2003

Will the Future Be Post-Human?

Thursday night was the first Benedum lecture for 2003. The theme this year is “Implications of Genomics: The Potential and the Peril” The first speaker was Jean B. Elshtain, Political Philosopher, who spoke on “Will the Future be Post-Human? The Possibilities and Peril of Genetic Manipulation”. As far as the overarching theme of the lecture series, she was definitely in the ‘Peril’ camp regarding genome research, and didn’t seem above manipulating her stories to make them fit the theme of her talk.

She started out asking whether biotech engineering and genetics are capable of giving us a human future where people will be unrecognizable, and stating that yes there are some reasons to worry that this could be true. Here, I agreed with her. There is a great potential in genetic engineering to create benefits that will work only for the rich while the poor, who are unable to afford expensive techniques and lack health care, with the biological results being continual long term biological improvement of the rich, while the poor fall further and further bend. She didn’t address that issue at all.

She did point out that the US has issues with culture; we are fitness and youth oriented, and interested in “perfecting the human body”. This is true, and observable through the rates of anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. But she also stated, with some disdain, was that we Americans believe that our bodies are our exclusive property and are malleable. This was the first instance in which I took issue with her talk. My body is my exclusive property. No one, not the government, not my husband, not a religious organization, has rights to my body but me.

But to continue, she discussed the fact that we have a largely unregulated genetic/biotech industry which is pushing for more and more manipulation of our genome. These industries insist that we not “remain mired in superstition” and they make their activities hard to criticize because they are scientific endeavors. I’m don’t believe that either, that genetic engineering and other sciences in the US are sacrosanct. They aren’t, and if they were, we wouldn’t have people out there trying to make creationism a science, denying the integrity of evolution, and trying to pass legislation to ban stem sell research. But again I digress.

She discussed the concept of ‘Finitude’, or the recognition that we humans are limited creatures, that we can not do everything. She said that humans are Natal and Mortal, but that more and more we choose not to recognize our frailty, weakness and mortality. We are bombarded with the promises of the human genome project—that we can create better human products through intervention, that we can achieve designer genes, that we have been given us the promise of cures, yet we have had few successes so far. In response to this she asked, do we want to return to a world where the cash value of some individuals is greater than the cash value of others, citing ads that ran in college newspapers several years ago asking for egg donors of certain specifications such as tall height, certain IQ, etc, and promising compensation of $50,000 for donating a superior genetic material. This, she said. Made those individuals who had those traits, worth more than individuals who lacked those traits. (One of the few reference she made to the gap between the rich and the poor in regards to genetic engineering.)

She then spoke of genetic enhancement, and the move to perfect already healthy individuals, to make people taller, thinner, more beautiful, etc, and asked what will happen to “short” people if the majority of those who would be short chose genetic height enhancement. Personally, I don’t think that everyone would take height enhancements, considering the fact that shorter people have longer lifespans than taller people. But once again I digress.

She mentioned eugenics, and the supreme court case of Buck v.Bell (which was recently discussed in American Heritage magazine) and the forced sterilization of “imbeciles” and criminals, and the fact that the scientific community still has only the vaguest idea of the capabilities of genetics, yet “experts” claim that genetics will cure all ills. We simply don’t know what will happen when we start manipulating genetics, especially the genetic code of infants. I think she has valid points here. We don’t know what we are doing in many cases, which is why the cloning of an infant strikes many with such horror. But she followed that with the statement that we don’t know enough of what we are doing to take the risks of genetically manipulation, and that as a society we are better off having “special needs” individuals, for those are the groups which would benefit the most from genetic engineering.

This is the point where I got irritated. You see, I had discussed this topic for several months with friends, and Gypsy made a multitude of excellent points. Unfortunately I could only find one (this discussion was several computers ago, so even though I saved the messages at the time, they’re long gone with whatever computer eventually died and took my e-mail with it), so I’ll quote her here and hope she doesn’t get mad at me for quoting her.

Don't get all defensive and freaked out here- but as the mother of a child who was born with a birth defect that may or may not be genetic in nature (they're still making up their minds about it) I want to point out one thing. There IS value to society in having less fortunate members. But see nobody in their right mind is going to volunteer their own child to BE that member. So we'll lose the less fortunates who make the world a better place for everyone else simply by being a living example etc etc.
Who are we, as healthy individuals, to say that society is better for having less fortunate members when we ourselves would never volunteer ourselves or our children to be those less fortunate ones.

Those who suffer from genetic disorders have the most to gain from genetic engineering. They would gain not enhanced beauty or athletic prowess, but what we would consider a ‘normal life’. It is those individuals who should be the ones to naysay genetic engineering into their disorder, not those of us who are of sound mind and body and who claim gains for society through the existence of those who have special needs.

Yes, as she mentioned Singer and those like him go too far, but to deny the possibility of eliminating downs syndrome or spina bifida because having members of society who suffer from those diseases makes society a better place, well, let those who make those claims be the first to line up and become those individuals that make society better.

Posted by Michelle at 10:15 PM |

Hats On!

At 10am it was still only 42 degrees in Morgantown, that means it's... HAT WEATHER!


I love hats. I have a wide variety, although my black Stetson no longer fits as I wore it walking home in the rain last year. (It probably fits Michael now.)

I have a variety of hats, although my favorites are of the floppy velvet variety. My favorite had disappeared several years ago, and I've never found one quite like it in replacement, but I do continue to look.

That is the one disadvantage to living in Morgantown, West (by God) Virginia. There is just not a wide selection of hats here.

I do have straw hats, that I'll wear in the summer when I'm going to be out and about, but it's more of a hassle than anything else to wear a hat every day to work. Not so in the fall, winter, and spring, especially since most of my winter hats can be folded and shoved into a coat pocket when I get to work. (We are absolutely forbidden to wear hats at work. The prohibition is really against baseball caps, but it was extended to mean any kind of hat. Bah humbug.)

Posted by Michelle at 10:49 AM |

Bok Bok

It's not that things are actually that busy, they just happen to feel like I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

Trying to write documentation for work, write a paper for my gerontology, read The Rise of David Lebovitz for my history class, get in a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, and pay attention to the news.

Regarding the news, I can't beleive that people are still are brushing off the Bush administration outing a CIA operative. Good GRIEF people! You're willing to brush off the exposure of a CIA operative, pay no mind to the fact that anyone she was running is now exposed, and ignore the fact that she was running intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, which is now lost. WTF?

ADDENDUM: Jim Henley's Unqualified Offerings has all sorts of information on this.
In other news, the number of troops who have died in Iraq has reached 314. Go to the Sun to see a list of the soldiers killed in Iraq. It's the very least you can do--go and look at the faces of those who have died in service to their country. Look at them and see how young they are. Look at them and try not to notice the pictures that have been cropped to show just the soldier, cropped so that you can't see the person the soldier was hugging. Look at them and try not to notice that they look like someone's father or grandfather, or brother--sister, for there have four women killed in Iraq.

They deserve to be remembered.

Posted by Michelle at 09:16 AM |