Wednesday, January 25, 2006

When's the First Flight?

Did you hear the good news? Scientists have announced the discovery of the first "earth like" planet outside of our solar system. Astronomers have discovered dozens of planets outside our system, but up till now they have all been giant, gaseous, Jupiter-like planets. But now, for the first time, astronomers believe they have sufficient data and evidence to show that a recently discovered planet in a system 20,000 light years from earth is in fact a smaller, rocky planet and just as significantly, this planet appears to orbit its star in an orbit that is in the "habitable" zone. In other words, in an orbit that is neither too close to the star, nor too far from it (in either case, temperature extremes would make the evolution of life extremely improbable).

Now we just have to figure out how to get there.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Big Balls = Tiny Brain

Bad news for bats. It turns out that there is a tradeoff between sexual prowess and brain size. The bigger a bat's balls, the tinier its brain. But the real kicker is, this can all be blamed on the female bats (are we really surprised, gentlemen?) The problem appears to be that in some species of bats apparently the female bats are terribly promiscuous. So if the poor male bat wants his genes to be inherited by a new generation, he is forced to have lots of sex with lots of female bats. And to do that, he has to have really big balls. But in order to evolve those big balls, the male bat gives up brain size and thus intelligence. In other species of bats where the females are content to settle down into monogamous relationships, there is no such problem. Yes, the male bats have smaller testicles, but they also have much bigger brains. Well I suppose the question is, if you were a bat, which would you prefer: lots of sex but being dumb as a....well, I don't know, a bat maybe; or a whole lot less sex but being smart as a....well, a really smart bat? Maybe this isn't such a raw deal for the male bats after all.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sure To Be A Hit

Here is an idea for a movie script. A man and a woman (initially strangers) are thrown alone together, basically by accident, in a remote place on earth. So they're basicall isolated from the rest of the world. As time goes by, the woman develops an emotional attraction to the man (despite the fact that he is basically cold, aloof, and emotionally unavailable) and the man, naturally, becomes horny. So one night the man semi rapes the woman. Oh it isn't full out rape, because the woman, desiring the emotional bond is consenting, but the man is clearly in it just for the physical release, shows absolutely no affection, is rough in his technique, show no concern for his partner's pleasure, and rolls over and goes to sleep after. The next day, the man disavows the entire thing and lets the woman know it didn't mean anything and that nothing is going to come of it. Not wanting to alienate the man, the woman goes along with it. But of course the man gets horny again and sex happens again, and again and again. Finally events conspire to release our main characters from each other and they go their separate ways to live separate lives (both get married to other people and have children). Except the woman, not able to get this man out of her head, gets in contact with him and they start an affair. It's completely one sided. The man gets free sex and the woman gets emotionally abused over and over and over again. The man is a complete asshole and the woman is a coward who can't break free from the stranglehold emotional bonds the man has placed her in. This goes on for 20 years until finally....

Well I can't tell you that part because it might spoil the ending of this real winner of a movie. I mean the concept has blockbuster written all over it, doesn't it? Oh yeah, Golden Globe and Oscar winner for sure right? Or does this sound like a heaping load of stinking shit? It sounds really horrible - doesn't it? Who the hell would go to see such a movie? And wouldn't any respectable person who did go to see it be really offended by it?

O.K. now, in the first paragraph, replace every instance of the word "woman" with "other man" and you get an accurate synopsis of Brokeback Mountain that "epic cinematic masterpiece" getting all kinds of praise and awards and great reviews. What a load of crap! I can't even begin to tell you how angry this movie made me and how offensive I found it. This movie is not a love story, it's a movie about a dysfunctional and abusive relationship, that, like most dysfunctional and abusive relationships, ends badly. But worse, there is nothing redeeming in the film. The characters are not likeable (one is weak, and one is just a complete asshole), the events don't provide for redemption of either character, and basically the circumstances of both characters just get worse and worse and worse until....well until the movie ends. And that's it. Things start out badly and proceed to turn into a complete train wreck.

Great, now movies can tell the story of a closeted gay man and the abusive relationship he endures with a man who is so completely fucked up in the head that you can't even call him closeted. He's just abusive and emotionally closed to every person in his life. He's not straight, not gay, not bisexual; he is just a complete asshole. Yeah, this is real progress forward. What ever.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Truth on a Bumper

This morning on my way to school I saw the most profound bumper sticker I've seen in a long time. It simply said, "If you aren't OUTRAGED then you aren't aware."

Enough said.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I Always Suspected....

Hey, interesting news. It turns out that ants can teach each other. This is the first time scientists have observed and verified teaching behaviors outside of the human species. Apparently most animals don't exhibit real teaching, they tend to display modeling/mimicry behaviors. For example a female lion will model hunting behaviors to her cubs who will mimic her behaviors. But this isn't real teaching. Apparently, according to the scientific definition, real teaching requires that the teacher modify his or her teaching behaviors in reaction to the learning rate and responses of the learner. And in all of the animal kingdom, only ant teachers demonstrate that kind of behavior modification in reaction to their student's responses.

All of this only goes to show what I've long suspected, ants are far more intelligent than many people who not only couldn't teach a rock to sit, but clearly aren't able to learn much either.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I Dont Know Why I Feel Compelled to Post on This...

I see things and I feel compelled to comment on them. That was my whole reason for starting a blog in the first place. So I saw this article on CNN's website and I feel like I need to say something about it. This despite the previous post I made a couple weeks ago on the topic and over which I'm still smarting. I'm not kidding - my feelings were really hurt when I read some of the reactions to what I had to say. You will need to read the complete strands of postings on both sites to understand why, but suffice it to say I got a good verbal thrashing for what I posted and still feel it was unfair and based on emotion rather than logic.

Maybe I'm just a masochist (yeah, those of you who actually know me are rolling on the floor laughing over that one, I know) but I'm gonna post on this subject again, so here goes....

O.K., I support the death penalty. I'll say that up-front for anyone who was unwilling to go back and read the previous posts. But like that previous post (and ALL the subsequent comments) the purpose of this post is not to defend that position. That is the subject for a later, hypothetical post. Rather, it is the purpose of this post to attempt to provide some perspective on what was reported on in the CNN article referenced above.

So, the CNN article reported on an execution in Virginia that may have been a mistake. A man there by the name of Robert Keith Coleman was executed in 1992 for brutally raping and murdering his sister-in-law. To the death, Coleman continued to insist that he was innocent, and indeed, there were some strange twists to this case. The DNA evidence collected (sperm samples) came from two men, not just one, and another man confessed to the killing. On the other hand, Coleman had a history of violent sexual assualt, the DNA tests revealed that Coleman's DNA was consistent with the DNA collected (in 1992, this meant that Coleman fit in with the 0.2 percent of the population that could have been a match with the sample), and Coleman failed several lie detector tests about this case. Now I am the first to admit that those pieces of evidence do no conclusively prove guilt (they are however, pretty strong circumstantial pieces of evidence). In fact, there are enough questions surrounding this case that negotiations are underway to have the DNA sample re-tested. In 2006, with more sophisticated tests and better equipment, tests can now be performed to determine exact DNA matches, rather than just narrowing down a population. Not privy to the other evidence in the case, I have no choice but to concede that it is possible in this case that an innocent man was executed. A final DNA test should answer that question.

The question is, if it turns out that an innocent man was executed, will my support of the death penalty waver? That is the question raised by the CNN article. Apparently some people are resisting having the DNA retested because they are concerned that if the tests do reveal that an innocent man died, public support for capital punishment will waver. Well of course public support will waver....but should it? My position wont change and I would argue that a development like this shouldn't change the support of anyone else either. The reason for that is, if you are a person who supports the death penalty today, you must acknowledge that mistakes can and will be made, and that along with the death penalty comes the possibility that an innocent victim will be executed. That baggage comes along with support of the death penalty. It's one of the many concerns that makes the death penalty such a sticky, complicated difficult issue.

For some, this one issue - the possibility that mistakes can happen - is enough to push them into the anti-death-penalty camp. They argue that even one innocent life is too great an expense. And I really respect that opinion. I can very much understand why a person would be against the death penalty on the basis of this issue. For me though, it isn't enough of a reason to change my support. But I can understand why it is enough for some people. As awful as this is going to sound to some people, I do honestly believe that the cost associated with the death penalty (as awful and terrible as it is - and it IS awful and terrible) is worth the service and protections that capital punishment affords society.

But the point is, I understand and acknowledge that there is a terrible cost associated with the death penalty. I've weighed that factor into my thinking on this subject, and still, I come out of my personal deliberations steadfast on the side of capital punishment. And that ought to be true of anyone else who supports the death penalty; otherwise their position is not well formulated. It is impossible to take the stand, "I support the death penalty unless it results in the execution of an innocent man." Because those two things are completely contradictory. We live in an imperfect world, and mistakes are going to be made, given the death penalty, innocent men will be executed. But as forensic science and criminal investigations grow more and more sophisticated we can continue to make efforts at reducing the number of mistakes made to a bare minimum.

So why would public opinion waver if it is discovered that Robert Keith Coleman is discovered to have been innocent? If you support the death penalty then you've already factored this possible scenario into your stand on the issue. Right? Wrong!Because too many people out there have NOT developed well formed positions on this issue (and many other issues). They haven't really considered all the ramifications and nuances and subtle twists that are wrapped up in this issue. But here's the real outcome of all of this: the people who waver in their support of the death penalty because of a case like this - guess what? They are the very same people who will waver right back again when the next young woman is brutally raped and murdered in their home state and a convicted sex-offender is arrested and tried for the crime. They'll be right back there saying, "we need to kill this monster!"

Hey, wavering is the national pastime of the "enlightened" American public.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Return to Work

Today was the first day back to school after the winter break. Generally this day would be a fresh new start, and usually the students are ready to get back into the swing of things and back to work. In other words, teachers generally get a little honeymoon period (3 to 4 days) before things revert back to normal - disinterested students, nagging parents, overbearing administrators.

Well today wasn't that day. Early New Years day, one of the students at the school I teach at was brutally beaten to death with a brick. The perpetrators of the crime were a former student and 2 current students from my school. I never taught the student who was the victim, but I knew him from seeing him around the halls of the building. On the other hand, last year, I taught the student who was the main aggressor in the incident. When I saw the news reports about the crime I was really shocked and saddened to hear about the students involved.

Now you need to understand, as a teacher in an inner-city high school, I've taught many students who "make the news" in similar fashion. I've taught students who were arrested for violent crimes. I've taught students who were murdered, and others who were arrested for murder. So this isn't a new experience for me. But this case took me off guard. The student I taught who was arrested for the crime was truly such a nice kid. He was respectful and polite both in and out of the classroom. And he was a very hard worker. This was a kid who always struggled at math - his entire life. And he really struggled in my class first semester as well. But he kept working away at things - he never gave up. Then, second semester, something happened and things really began to click for him. He really got what we were doing in class and he was clearly enjoying it too. This kid stands out because he was so demonstrative of his appreciation for what he was learning and of his enjoyment for the class. It was a joy to behold. Teaching is not a profession with many tangible rewards, but it is those kinds of experiences that make teaching the profession I love so much. So seeing this story on the news really threw me off kilter.

I don't know many of the details of the incident, so I have no idea what set this young man off to such brutal violence - not this boy who I always experienced as kind and gentle. I don't know in what way he was the "leader" in the aggression as the news media is reporting. I only know that this young man is in jail today, and is look forward to a lengthy prison sentence. Sure, lots of kids were talking today - but without any real information. Those students in a position to really know the details weren't in school today and that is probably a good thing.

As you can probably imagine, things were oddly quiet and subdued in school today on this, our first day back from the holiday break. Hushed conversations with rumors flying were the norm. Some students were oppenly weeping in class, while others were confused and were having difficulty dealing with their emotions in reacting to the weekend events. Meanwhile emotionally stressed teachers were working hard to keep everythign calm and running with the appearance of a semblance of normality. Over all it was a rather surreal process.

And now the job of getting things back to normal begins. Schools are resiliant institutions, and it wont take that long for it to happen. But for now I still feel a little bewildered, a little off my game. It's a bitter start to the new year.

Monday, January 02, 2006

as close as i'm going to get...

Thanks April, for passing this on. Trust me, this is as close as I'm going to get to real resolutions.

Your New Year's Resolutions

1) Get a pet bunny
You know, I'm already spending way too much time petting other things.

2) Eat less tofu
Is it possible to eat less than none?

3) Travel to Korea
Korea?!?!? Could I get away with Fiji?

4) Study animal behavior
I certainly hope to study "pig" behavior in greater depth.

5) Get in shape with surfing
I don't know, channel surfing hasn't done a thing for me yet.

Happy New Year all.

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