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59:55, Bitches.

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.27.10

Admittedly, I got lucky on every single light, and had an excellent rabbit to chase all the way down, a guy who looked slow because he was pedaling very slowly in a very high gear, but was actually going slightly faster than I'm comfortable with.

Still, I'm pleased.


 

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(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.27.10

The Army's punishing soldiers for refusing to attend Christian rock concerts. Major General James Chambers organized something called the Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concerts; on May 13, 2010, to quote a review of the show, "Christian rock music's edgy, all-girl band BarlowGirl brought the armor of God to the warriors and families of Fort Eustis." A soldier who didn't think this sounded like a fun way of spending the evening explains what happened when his company was marched under orders, after they would normally have been dismissed for the day, to the theater:

"At the theater we were instructed to split in two groups; those that want to attend versus those that don't. At that point what crossed my mind is the fact that being given an option so late in the game implies that the leadership is attempting to make a point about its intention. The 'body language' was suggesting that 'we marched you here as a group to give you a clue that we really want you to attend (we tilt the table and expect you to roll in our direction), now we give you the choice to either satisfy us or disappoint us.' A number of soldiers seemed to notice these clues and sullenly volunteered for the concert in fear of possible consequences.

"Those of us that chose not to attend (about 80, or a little less that half) were marched back to the company area. At that point the NCO issued us a punishment. We were to be on lock-down in the company (not released from duty), could not go anywhere on post (no PX, no library, etc). We were to go to strictly to the barracks and contact maintenance. If we were caught sitting in our rooms, in our beds, or having/handling electronics (cell phones, laptops, games) and doing anything other than maintenance, we would further have our weekend passes revoked and continue barracks maintenance for the entirety of the weekend. At that point the implied message was clear in my mind 'we gave you a choice to either satisfy us or disappoint us. Since you chose to disappoint us you will now have your freedoms suspended and contact chores while the rest of your buddies are enjoying a concert.'

Now, no one seems to have been beaten or imprisoned -- this incident in itself isn't anything horrific. But it's kind of awful (1) that the Army is officially endorsing ("Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concert") one specific kind of sectarian worship, and (2) that it's not clear to whoever was specifically responsible for punishing the non-worshippers that punishing people for not participating in an Evangelical Christian event is not permissible. The Army's apparent confusion about acceptable norms there is really disturbing.

Update: Forgot the hat tip to Echidneofthesnakes.


 

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Magic bacteria

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.26.10

So, it is a huge relief to hear that there are magical bacteria and super strong solar death rays that are disintegrating the oil in the gulf far better than anyone hoped. It feels like we got a giant reprieve, and I don't want to undercut that in any way.

Anyone else also have a lingering discomfort that this feeds the belief that environmentalists are alarmists who make dire predictions that don't actually come to pass? I wish there was a shared sense that environmental predictions are made in good faith and therefore worth heeding, even if we get lucky sometimes.


 

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The fallacy of shared aesthetic interests

Posted by Ben
on 08.25.10

The striking thing about this post and the accompanying audio is not the fact that apparently spam is within NPR's discussion rules and terms of use, nor is it Jarenwattananon's assumption that screening for musical compatibility just is practiced by his readers, nor yet is it his belief (understandable, given who he is, I guess) that jazz is particularly well suited for discovering whether another cares deeply about music—it is, rather, how absolutely godawful the song at the top of the post is, especially when compared with Dolphy's fantastic "Something Sweet, Something Tender" (the most approachable tune on Out to Lunch!) later on in the post.

I find it difficult to imagine that anyone could really dislike "Something Sweet, Something Tender", but then, I know someone who thinks "The Heavenly Music Corporation" and "Swastika Girls" sound basically the same, so I should keep an open mind, I guess.


 

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Good to get these things cleared up early in the semester.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.25.10

My colleague has a student in his upper level theology class who got clarification today that Martin Luther King is not the guy that started the Lutheran religion.

For the first day of class, they watched a dramatization of Martin Luther and the theses and the reformation. The student wasn't bothered by the kitchy ermine cape and crown on the king, or how everyone wore tights and 1500s garb, but he did want to know why Martin Luther was white.


 

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Books: check 'em out!, huh?

Posted by Stanley
on 08.24.10

The recent hubbub about the Eat, Pray, Love book and movie reminded me: didn't someone buy me that book?

[Bookshelf visit]

Oh, right. Mom. Months ago.

The meaning behind her gift is inscrutable.


 

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Hell!

Posted by Stanley
on 08.24.10

Holy wow: there's finally a new Strindberg and Helium episode up. This truly is a great day of discovery for me. And I share.


 

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The Afghan National Police

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.24.10

This article is behind a paywall, for £1. I'll try to make it sound enticing.

Apparently the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are birds of very different feathers.

The Pentagon has said the Afghan Army may hit its target of 134,000 troops next month, almost one for every US soldier. But mention the ANP and people groan...
...America has spent more than $6 billion since 2002 in an attempt to create an effective Afghan police force, buying weapons, building police academies and hiring defence contractors to train the recruits. But the programme has been a disaster.

So, the ANP is supposed to take over internal security at some point. They are a very strange bunch. The sexuality stuff is eye-catching and lurid, but the weirdness runs much deeper than that. But here's the eye-catching, lurid part:

What [the photographer] saw was patrolmen and commanders finding solace in each other's company and beds. Living in units of as few as eight to 14 men in their tumbledown rural police stations, they held hands as casually and naturally as children as they stood around talking and smoking. At night they cuddled on their simple mattresses, a physical ease that routinely extended to sexual relations. Sometimes two men were "an item", but more often one or two of the younger, prettier officers were the designated "chai boys". A Pashtun tradition known as bacha bazi or "boy play", they made the tea, and sexually serviced the commander (and possibly others), enjoying a special status and protection, like concubines.
Symondson's photographs show the chai boys lounging suggestively on cushions, one minute languorous and sultry, the next boiling water in a big kettle, passing round big bowls of sugared almonds, making the evening meal of fresh chillies, yoghurt and cucumber, or mending the commander's hat on an ancient sewing machine. They are an alluring hybrid of geisha and gofer.

They decorate their AK47s with flowers in the barrels and beads and wear make-up. At the same time, the article stresses that they are into heavy drug use and are wildly reckless, in addition to living in an area plagued by violence. They die a lot. Also they are breath-takingly incompetent, which comes up more later.

Then the article goes into how it came to be this way, but it really doesn't address how this particular combination of traits gathered momentum within the police force. I'm still left clueless as to how exactly these features came to dominate the ANP.

First the Germans were in charge of them. Things went badly. Eventually the US State department handed things over to the company DynCorp. Things still went badly. The article chalks most of this up to the serious incompetence of the trainees:

"DynCorp thought they could get these guys and in six or seven weeks could train them," says Calbos. "But the first thing they realised was they couldn't even spell their names.
They had no idea about basic hygiene, so had to spend 10 days training how to wash and go to the bathroom. At the end they were given belt, baton, uniform and boots, and sent off. When the State Department asked DynCorp how many they had trained they said 30-40,000. What they meant was 30-40,000 had been through their camps. But when you asked where is Mohammed or Bashir they had no idea.
They said, 'You told us to build centres and train -- not to track them afterwards. We can't stop them running away and selling their baton and uniform.'" An inquiry found 300,000 weapons had gone astray...
...Cack-handed as small children, they are typically so uncoordinated that teaching them contact drills -- the essential choreography of a firefight -- was farcical.
"Half of them couldn't walk in a straight line," one officer told Symondson. "You had to tell them things again and again, endlessly repeating yourself, as if talking to children."

The illiteracy, corruption, lack of infrastructure - all this is a big ongoing problem. The article talks about how complicated (and intractable) it is to get the policemen paid without their officers taking a cut.

The end of the article:

Nobody has much to say about the chai boys, the eyeliner and the erotic undertow of law enforcement, perhaps because as a benighted country begins to straighten its disarray, the rituals of "man-love Thursday" seem the least of its problems.


 

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Hello Roomie

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.23.10

Apparently the new thing is web services that match you up with your frosh roomie, cyber-style. Jezebel bemoans what's lost when you're paired with your profile match.

...the good, old-fashioned assigned roommate is one way of introducing students to the realities of the wider world. It's not always possible to select who you interact with based on eating habits and musical taste, and it might be a good thing for 18-year-olds to get used to getting along with people they wouldn't necessarily choose for themselves.

I don't know; I bet the new web matching services don't actually increase your compatibility. Randomly matched dormmates probably fight over neatness and bringing the opposite sex over way more often than having mismatched musical tastes and posters. In other words, I think Jezebel is getting misty and nostalgic unnecessarily.

My first assigned roommate broke up with me within the first three days of class. She switched with someone across the hall. Literally, directly across the hall. So that wasn't awkward. (Actually, it wasn't.) The second, infamous, dorm roommate has been documented elsewhere on Unfogged. I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. We got along decently well, though.


 

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It's not easy seeing green.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.23.10

This kind of thing drives me nuts. It's an article about how mistaken Americans are on which are the important green measures to take:

The top five behaviors listed by respondents as having a direct impact on energy savings (turning off the lights, riding a bike or using public transportation, changing the thermostat, "changing my lifestyle/not having children" and unplugging appliances or using them less) yield savings that are far outweighed by actions cited far less often, like driving a more fuel-efficient car.

You know what the most energy-saving action is? Voting for politicians who will regulate coal factories. Who will pass a climate change bill. Who will get their heads out of their fucking asses and legislate sound policy. If we had effective politicians and also all owned refrigerators without doors, we'd still come out far, far ahead.

I just get so aggravated with the virtuous approach to climate change: if everybody is a good little citizen who puts a shiny nickel in their piggy bank, then we'll be done! Corporations who sell a green version of their product are virtuous too! What could be more effective than being virtuous?

This part is funny:

About 2.8 percent of those responding said they could save energy by sleeping or relaxing more.


 

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The Billable Hour Is What I Blame This On. And, Of Course, The Breakdown Of Society.

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.23.10

Jill Priluck has an article in Slate on big firm partners hanging out their own shingles, and becoming solo practitioners or starting small firms. The idea is that they can provide service of the same quality the big firms do, but undercut them on price -- in this economy, that's going to be very attractive to clients. The bit that struck me about it was a couple of paragraphs on how leaving BigLaw means they don't have to charge for useless associates; as an ex-useless associate myself, it seems right on the mark:

Another reason partners want to move on is that Big Law makes big bucks--up to $1.3 million per year for a sixth-year associate who bills $650 an hour at one firm that shall remain nameless--on the inexperience of young lawyers. "Some make a point of objecting to junior associates on the bill," said Joshua Stein, a former real estate partner at Latham & Watkins who left last month to start his own practice. "In the context of [my practice], those issues won't exist and, so far, what I've seen is that it's appealing to clients."

It's hard for non-lawyers to grasp, but, in many instances, Big Law work does not even provide associates with any tangible skills--and it's hard for partners to bill their clients high fees for less than stellar work. Working on a large case can be a lot like putting together a 3,000-piece puzzle. The first-year associate holds onto one tiny, possibly bent, piece of cardboard that fits in the middle somewhere and the eighth-year associate maybe has a few corners or, if he's lucky, some completed sections. "Firms think they give associates really good training, but you can find yourself an eighth-year associate with no skills," said Jeffrey Ifrah, a former white-collar defense partner at Greenberg Traurig who started his own firm in the fall and has since hired five associates. "I don't want to charge my clients a fortune for associates who don't know anything," he said.

This is pretty much what I've complained about when talking about my big firm experience. I wouldn't say that all six years of it were useless -- I did some actual work in those six years. But from a junior associate's perspective, a big law firm is a tournament where the prize is being given actual work that's necessary to serve the client (and that will teach you something about lawyering). When you can't get enough of that, and there's nowhere near enough to keep all the associates busy, you then need to find enough busywork to bill clients for to fill 2000 hours a year. Partners will help you find busywork -- they want you to keep your billables up, of course, because that's how they make their money -- but they can't make real work appear when it doesn't actually need to be done. And you can't admit any of this out loud, because it's a basically dishonest system: the point is to raise prices for legal work by inflating the number of hours spent on any case rather than the hourly rates. (For any specific BigLaw partner reading this: I'm sure your firm doesn't work this way. The ones I worked at did.)

The key quote, I thought, was the partner saying "you can find yourself an eighth-year associate with no skills." You can get a doctorate in physics in eight years, and have time for a number of long vacations in there. Eight years is plenty of time to learn any profession, and is certainly long enough to become a perfectly competent lawyer. If big firms have eighth year associates with no skills, it's because their business model requires them to have associates on staff billing for a whole lot of hours that aren't really legal work, and an unlucky associate can spend eight years of late nights at the office eating takeout without doing much of anything that would teach her how to be a lawyer.


 

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Calling All Nerds

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.22.10

Ken Keeler writes for Futurama. He wrote and proved a theorem for a recent episode.

In the episode "The Prisoner of Benda," the Professor and Amy use a new invention to switch bodies. Unfortunately, they discover that the same two brains can't switch twice and have to come up with some equation to prove that, with enough people switching, eventually everyone will end up in their rightful form. This, of course, leads to much hijinks as well as the grossest sex scene the show has ever done (take that, Prof. Farnsworth and Mom!).

Of course, Keeler decided to go the hard route and come up with a suitable equation himself.

In all fairness, the proof doesn't look very hard. But how often do serious nerds end up writing for a syndicated show? Way to represent, Keeler!

Via Tweety


 

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Everything is terrible

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.22.10

gillette%20sensor%20for%20women.jpg

I've had the same razor probably since college. They've discontinued it and they aren't selling the replacement cartridges anymore. I can find them online. But come on now.

I liked the compact little handle. Mostly I don't want to think about razors very often. Why are they doing this to me and does anyone excessively love their razor and recommend it heartily?


 

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Parenthood

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.22.10

Some good hating on that NY times article about why parents are miserable.


 

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The wanting comes in waves.

Posted by Stanley
on 08.22.10

My least favorite term of the week is "donor fatigue"; it grates.


 

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