Monday, November 10, 2008

Phi Kappa Tau 5k

I'm pretty stoked because my time for the PKT 5k race I ran on Saturday was a big improvement on my previous time: According to the results list ran the course in 22:57!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The ever-expanding acronym LGBT/LGBTQ/LGBTQQIAA is a manifestation of the impossibility of discretizing the many dimensional continuum of human sexuality. In its longest forms, it is certainly cumbersome, but in its shorter forms it is certainly very recognizable as something more inclusive than "gay": We do not all need to be boxed together, but sometimes we do need a rallying cry to be free. However much one dislikes the acronym, one can hardly envisage setting up an LGBT group that did not have some combination and permutation of the people it was supposed to include.

It is also, however a statement inseperable from its history and within that aesthetic is unsurprising that it has grown. It has grown because many people over time have disagreed with the status quo, and have been disheartened by remaining prejudices within LGBT society: race, class, age, mysogyny, prejudice against transgender people etc. The growth of the acronym is a reflection of its users understanding of these prejudices and a consequential affirmation of inclusivity. It would be churlish and counterproductive to condemn people for attempting to be inclusive! Labels such as "politically correct" denigrate the utterly laudible actions of those who are sufficiently analytical to try to care about the way they talk.

Nonetheless, those who do perpetually extend the acronym are misguided: there will never be a satisfactory acronym or label that describes the sexuality of everyone since any label that affirms who it includes must do so by omitting those who it excludes. We can rid ourselves of the question of who to include by understanding the fundamental principle at stake: that discrimination for any irrelevant reason whatsoever is unjustifiable. I would contend that the labels we choose ought to communicate this truth as fully as possible. Metaphors like "Spectrum", liberating statements like "Out" are far better than boxes like "LGBTQQIAAS".

Sunday, October 12, 2008

In an ideal world....

I've heard this phrase a great deal recently. "In an ideal world.." in my experience is a phrase all too often used to dismiss perfectly sensible and practical solutions for society's ills and to subsequently propose whatever ill-conceived compromise the speaker has in mind. When we're spending a budget, there may not be a solution that satisfies all the constraints, and then of course a debate has to take place to prioritize those constraints.

But the quality of debate is NOT a constrained quantity: we can debate at as high or low level as we like! And that means we should keep in mind ideals at all times. Deconstruction of "truth", "deception" and "religion" may make pleasant poetry, but in politics there are real effects and real consequences that cannot be excised by application of inverted commas. Rather than form an opinion and then cherry-pick evidence that appears to support it, one should look for evidence and then form an opinion. Not idealistic at all, this is a strategy that seems to me to be quite mundane.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How John McCain Could Secure My Vote

An interesting point made by Republican supporters about Democrats is that “you’re never going to vote for John McCain anyway, so why should he care what you think?” This challenges those of us who are inclined to consider carefully our endorsement to coherently answer the (admittedly weaker) question Under what circumstances might I vote for a Republican presidential candidate?

If we are to be persuaded to vote for Mr McCain, or some future Republican candidate, we would naturally wish to be assured that they had a 'reasonable' stance on LGBT issues. A seemingly universal, and perennial, admission by LGBT Republicans is the judgement that LGBT rights issues are subservient to other issues, be they the war or the economy or whatever. We ought to question, then, presupposing that he is not a homophobe, whether Mr McCain is doing all he can within the confines of Republican ideology to support these issues, or if he is not, that there is an overriding justification for this.

In this spirit, allow me to propose two compromise positions that seem to me to be consistent with Republican values (by which I mean conservative and broadly libertarian values):

First, since there is excellent bipartisan evidence that DADT is harming the effectiveness of the military and its ability to recruit and train LGBT personnel, it would seem to be entirely consistent with McCain’s emphasis of military effectiveness to repeal DADT.

Second, on the subject of LGBT marriage, any number of compromises might be possible even within the Republican ticket: for instance, recognizing that the realities of California and Idaho (for example) are rather different, it would be consistent with the principles of small government and state supremacy to endorse the states’ right to decide for themselves; alternatively, recognizing that objections to LGBT marriage are may be recast as religious objections to the nomenclature, he might propose a federal definition of civil partnership and propose marriage as an (excluded to LGBT people) special case of this. Such compromise positions are intellectually problematic – they continue to discriminate even as they acknowledge the existence of value in LGBT relationships – but if indeed other issues are more pressing then such a compromise might well be acceptable.

In point of fact, if the various other issues are indeed so pressing, then any sort of statement that McCain acknowledges the contribution of LGBT people to society but that the time is not appropriate might well be persuasive. Tellingly, however, no such statement, nor either of the above suggestions, is a part of the McCain platform.

In fact the strongest argument that Mr Mcain is not a homophobe would appear to be that his Campaign Chief of Staff is, so it is alleged, openly gay. The fallacy of this argument ought to be manifest, but in case it is not, allow me to explain: my boss is a homophobe, and he is nonetheless content to employ me (an openly gay man). Somewhat conveniently, and rather unfortunately for me, I am a demonstration of this logical fallacy.

So why then are proposals like these, that are perfectly compatible with Republican views, not on a Republican platform that advertises itself as being “for change”? In order to explain this, I introduce a scientific (i.e. falsifiable) hypothesis:

NO LGBT issue will EVER be on a Republican Presidential ticket UNLESS and UNTIL LGBT Republicans are able to VISIBLY clinch an election for the Republican platform.

This claim is made from the experiences of many minority groups within many democracies and draws upon a common phenomenon: political access will change precisely nothing without political power. This was true for the Clinton administration, where despite LGBT people having considerable influence in setting policy, the lack of a grassroots LGBT movement meant that there was no political power to achieve that administrations goal of opening up the military. To take a second example, contemplate why, for that matter, did Boris Johnson (the Mayor of London) – a conservative – attend London Pride?

The ramification for Gay Republicans of this principle is this: you shall forever be repeating the mantra “there are more important issues” until you are able to use your voice specifically as LGBT Republicans to elect candidates. Having LGBT people within the Republican party will never be enough to bring LGBT issues onto the Republican ticket in any form beneficial for LGBT people. If you really do disagree with the Democrats, and if you’re not prepared to defer your freedom perpetually, then you must build your own political power.

Of course, the LGBT Democrats are a lot further along this road and there is a useful corollary for the Obama campaign: this will be a close election. If LGBT freedom is to be a concern of an Obama administration, it is essential that the LGBT Democrat vote is there and vocal in the swing states. Neither "I don't do politics" nor "I preferred Hilary" nor "I'm still deciding" is enough: this election is a unique opportunity to build considerable power for LGBT reform. We must not waste it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Abercrombie & Fitch Challenge




I ran the A&F challenge 5k yesterday in Columbus, OH. Complete race results are here. I did pretty well, coming in 187th place, with a time of 25'25" and an average pace of 8'11". The event was very well organized, with really good food afterwards, cool t-shirts and a very flat course. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Whoever reads this, I think you're beautiful


Found on the back of an advertisement for an exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England: "Whoever reads this, I think your beautiful" [sic]

What a wonderful sentiment.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thoughts on Cleveland Pride

Families planning to sail on the Goodtime III pleasure cruiser that is docked at Voinovich park might have initially had some apprehension after they boarded upon seeing that their principal view was of the 20th Annual Pride celebration. If they did look closer, they would have seen a crowd only a little more remarkable than those at any of the festivals in Ohio. Children, couples, friends, lovers, parents, pets and churches were interspersed with the odd drag queen or leather person, and even Foucault might have felt uncharitable in deconstructing the notion of an LGBT community of Cleveland. A very poignant image for me was of my friend Matt’s friend Michael carrying a child–an image of love and an empowering metaphor for the role of LGBT people in nurturing the future of our wider society.

Predictably the Parade was the (bloodless) battleground of a theological battle between the many Cleveland churches that embrace LGBT people and a small number of placard-bearing protesters. The ripostes were humorous and dignified; the marching band drowned out the microphone. How best to deal with them nonetheless provoked some debate: my friend Brandon was of the opinion that these people were attempting to provoke a fight and were best ignored. Perhaps there is some merit to the repudiation of homosexuality as a no-man’s land in the the internal politics of the church, but perhaps we are better if we welcome the protesters as humans, showing them the love they fail to reciprocate. The rights of freedom of speech and association that they enjoy are shared guarantees, even if we have had to fight to claim them and they have not, that allow us to be there in the first place.

Inside the festival, there were many interesting booths of the usual local and national organizations. Sadly absent was a Case Western Reserve booth (the LGBT Provost’s group did march in the parade), but for those who are interested, there’s plenty of groups to get involved with. Sexual health campaigners were encouragingly omnipresent although I wish the organizers had been more sensitive that to place Flex, a bathhouse, next to the AIDS campaign of Greater Cleveland.

Other people I talked to: I’ll now be going to the ACLU brown bag lunches on Wednesdays on Chester. I spoke with a representative from the Human Rights Campaign and offered to volunteer. I took a leaflet for my mom from PFLAG. I also offered to volunteer at the LGBT Center, who never got back to me last year. I’ve actually been looking for a while to volunteer somewhere but haven’t really found the right outlet yet. Perhaps these groups could do more to encourage volunteers. There were many other worthwhile groups, including musical, outdoors and athletic groups (softball and volleyball but alas, not rugby or snowboarding).

A minor peeve: I regret that groups like the HRC in trying to attract support for legislation like ENDA (which would prevent LGB but not T people from discrimination in employment on the basis of their orientation) lack the ambition for something more intellectually consistent. Such a bill would prevent discrimination against anyone–straight people too–for any reason irrelevant to their employment. The lady we spoke to unconvincingly reiterated Politics Is The Art of The Possible, but it is hard to see how this could not enjoy more widespread support than the more limited ENDA. It would moreover resist the distasteful and essentially discriminatory exercise of compartmentalizing subgroups of the community and then arguing separately on the rights that they ought, or ought not, enjoy.

It would have been churlish of me to have attempted to have argued this extensively at Pride even if I wish they might have more rigour in their sales pitch, so I did not, and signed up. I got a stylish bracelet with the Equals sign for my trouble. Matt got an equally stylish bag.

For one day a year we get to see that LGBT people cover the entire cross section of society and not merely those we see in bars. I heard the sharing of stories yesterday of discomfort within people’s families (I’m not immune to this either) about their orientation; I saw an evanescent vision yesterday of less conformist society. With the weight of Kant and Rousseau, Pride challenges us: Dare to know; Dare to be free.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The fallacy of appeals to biology

In the past few days I’ve read several articles (such as this one) about sexuality and biology connected to a scientific study into the claim that gay men have ‘similar’ brains to women. LGBT people, like all humans, have a need to understand our origins, and these sorts of studies have an appeal for some in fulfilling that requirement. To attempt to use them as a basis to legitimize us is, however, both superfluous and misconceived.

There is an old view that retains some lustre: one founded in the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, that sees in nature a revealed model for human society and that of course does not include LGBT people. The many intricacies and apparent arbitrariness of Nature ought to be sufficient warning that this continuation is suspect: just as some see in Nature a divine plan, others see chaos and if they were to follow the natural law argument ought to propose anarchy! Rather than project nature onto our society, there is more value in explaining society through parallels in nature, as we might recollect from Henry V.

The recent work with fMRI and DNA sequencing is not the first counterargument to Aquinas, nor even the first scientific one. Previously, the arsenal of evidence of gender non-conformity throughout the animal kingdom was amassed to demolish the myth of the nuclear family. The counter then, even accepting the inconsistency, was to divide homosexual acts, which of course involve choice, from homosexual nature and to condemn the former (the Catholic view). This is cruel and dehumanising, but the new science would be no better ammunition against it.

If we legitimize ourselves by our biology, in consequence we in fact proliferate a sanitised homophobia: Of all the words that are levelled at us–Poof, Queer, Faggot, etc.–the neologism homosexual is perhaps most dishonest in that the same disparagement is hidden behind a veneer of latin legitimacy. The facade works because it presents a false objectivity, and yet at the same time the medicalised term forces us to be patients suffering from a condition to be cured. It is admittedly possible to construe this as too much weight placed on a single word, but it is not too heavy a burden to place on this most recent body of biological analysis. Appeals to biology only serve to perpetuate the myth that LGBT have an aberration.

I do not mean that the research ought not be performed–it ought to be–but its limited use in moral arguments for LGBT tolerance should be recognised. We have much stronger arguments in our armoury.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Diverging elasticity and director uniformation in a nanopatterned cell near the nematic–smectic-A phase transition

Somewhat behind the times, I just realised that my recent paper in Physical Review E is finally available on the journal website (you need a subscription to download it). I'll be presenting it in digestible poster form–I printed the poster today incidentally–at ILCC in Jeju in a couple of weeks, so the timing really couldn't be better.

Messages from Home

I heard today from John. He said, simply, "Armenia's a hell of a lot different than anything I've experienced, but it's great." One happily wonders if Armenia is quite prepared for John.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Please Mrs Robinson...

It's delightful to hear that Mrs Robinson MP, the wife of the First Minister of the Northern Ireland assembly is exercising her right to free speech, however unwisely, her freedom of speech by declaring us, homosexuals, to be an abomination that may be cured by counselling. In the wake of a homphobic attack in Northern Ireland on a gay person, surely she does not imagine that her comments are not conflated with raw homophobia in the eyes of society?

Her husband, whose assembly funds the Belfast Gay Pride, reavowed his commitment to equality. Remarkably though, I am for once in total agreement with Sinn Fein: If Mrs Robinson believes in the pseudoscience of treating homosexuality as a disease, she must resign as chair of the Stormont health committee.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Legitimizing Pride

Pride celebrations are sometimes regarded by LGBT people as superfluous or, worse, somehow counterproductive. To what? To the legitimationist project of integration and broad conformity with the institutions of wider society. In its strongest form, their argument is this: LGBT people are already scattered randomly throughout the human race in all social strata and in every occupation. They have demonstrated, even in institutions such as the military, the same professionalism and commitment to society that other people have, and so they ought to be accorded the same privileges as everyone else, the implied contract being that they have to maintain the same responsibilities.

The festival is misconceived by them as a liberationist piece of theater, perhaps an attempt to recapture the spirit of the Stonewall riots, an act of defiance or even hedonism. It has been represented as so by sections of the media. To characterise it thus is nonetheless to ignore the effervescence and then equally swift evanescence of dramatic protest: once the point is made, only something more outrageous can upstage it. If Pride were that, why is the purportedly Foucauldian petard hoist year after year? Why does it gain in strength with time, with new celebrations in places long ago inconceivable, and not die out as all other liberationist projects seem to have done?

Even arguing from within their frame of reference, the failures of projects such as the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell debacle ought to be apparent to legitimationists, and the consequent paradox at the heart of their ideology manifest: if every LGBT person is expected to be undifferentiated from society, the political grassroots to pursue the goal of equality is non-existent. Pride is the start to claiming genuine political power because it uniquely crosses gender, race and class; it is uniquely open to any participant at any level from those who come to those who want to march, to those who want to help organize it.

There is therefore more to Pride than the dogma of the liberationist/legitimationist dichotomy. It is fundamentally a human event, a celebration of what in South Africa would be called Ubuntu–we are who we are because of our society–and I suspect that the majority of people go for the most human of reasons: so there are others like me. Personal beliefs, history and preferences are unquestioned, and legitimationists are indeed most welcome. Perhaps they ought to contemplate whether the norms that they would have us all conform to are founded on such a laudable foundation.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Towards an end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

A second reason to celebrate this week! A federal court has ruled that in effect automatically discharging someone from the military because they're gay violates the US constitution. While this does not bring down Don't Ask Don't Tell, it does mean that the military must now show that discharging the person is the only way to improve unit morale. 

Hopefully this is a nail in the coffin of this unnecessary and homophobic policy.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

California Supreme Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban

You can read the court's opinion for yourself; it is unnecessary for me to reiterate the many compelling points in favour of allowing LGBT people to marry. It's a good day :D

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tokyo Police Club

Very Radio-friendly band (i.e. all their songs are 3'05") that played at an unusually well-attended Spot last night. A lot of fun, and reminiscent of the Automatic. Check out their website and their MySpace.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Eurovision and Kosovo

The key attraction of the Eurovision song contest for British viewers is the wry tones of Terry Wogan as he berates the participant countries for their comically blatant tactical voting. You know -- the Greeks always vote for the Cypriots and vice-versa; the Scandinavian countries vote for each other; no-one votes for France.

No different then, is the blase list of International reactions to the Declaration of Independence of Kosovo, which might better be titled "Countries that have bits that might at some point want to break off refuse to recognise Kosovo":

China --- Taiwan (no really?)
Canada --- Quebec
Russia --- multiple parts but notably Chechnya
Cyprus --- self-explanatory
Spain --- Gibraltarian Sovereignty remains unresolved; the Basque country
Argentina --- are still after the Falkland Islands

It is so good to see that the compelling moral case for Kosovan independence has been considered in such great detail by these countries!

;-)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Expedition to Idaho: Reconnaisance

Having arrived safely in Idaho, John's dad took us yesterday in his plane to have an aerial look at Sawtooth Lake by Mount Regan, and moreover to check for the risk of avalanches and to verify the roads are clear. Everything looks good, and so we'll be setting off today (Sunday) to camp at the bottom of the mountain and hike up over the next couple of days (it's not very far - only a few miles - but we'll be carrying heavy packs and snowshoeing so it'll be tough going). We should be back Friday, so expect to see amazing photos then! Weather is very clear for the next two days, and should be okay after that with some chance of snow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Darwin's Birthday: Intelligent Design on Trial

In celebration of Darwin's 199th birthday, the Case Evolutionary Biology Department screened PBS's documentary "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial", which I went to see. The documentary concerns the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District court case in which a group of parents took their local School District to court to prevent a statement promoting Intelligent Design as a theory from being read to the class

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments."

and furthermore, both parties asked the judge to rule as to whether ID is a scientific theory or not.

Of course, ID is not a theory: it does not generate falsifiable predictions, nor is it sufficiently well-defined to allow it to be selected from a number of possible explanations in the Bayesian/Popperian sense. ID is a rewrapped form of Creationism, which is a religious and not scientific explanation for the existence of the world. It is, moreover, part of an avowed strategy by Evangelical Christians such as the Discovery Institute with their Wedge Strategy to "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God".

[Note to non-americans reading: The case seems rather strange to non-americans. In the UK for example, high schools curricula are determined by the National Curriculum and not by LEAs, which are in any case organized at the UK County level (equivalent to the US state level) and not at the City/Burrough/Parish level.]

The documentary is well worth watching and raises some interesting questions: What is Science? Who should control school curricula? On the other hand, as my friend Chris Ryan pointed out, the argument against ID by invoking the constitutional ban on promotion of Religion by Congress (and therefore by schools through their devolved power) is something of a red herring. ID ought not to be taught in Science lessons not because it is religion, but because it is not Science

On the other hand, the documentary did a great job, through the testimony of noted biologists like Kenneth Miller, of expounding the evidence consistent with the theory of natural selection, such as intermediate fossils such as Tiktaalikmodern genetic theory, and debunking the myth of irreducible complexity in cell elements such as Microbial Flagella. (One might profitably have added the emerging field of paleogeneology with such fascinating things as the recovery of ancient retroviruses from the human genome). Moreover, by reconstructing the testimony of the ID proponents such as Michael Behe (who is also in fact a Professor of Biology), the documentary cast the case for ID in its strongest form, which is important as it is often pejoratively attacked in far weaker forms.

The bottom line is that, thankfully, in Judge Jone's Opinion

"ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community."

Quite right.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

CWRU Ski Club trip to Seven Springs


Yesterday the Case Ski & Snowboard Club went to Seven Springs, PA. It's a fun resort, a lot bigger than Brandywine with probably enough trails to satisfy a full weekend trip. The trails are definitely more skiier friendly (most of them are a bit narrow), but as you can see from the resort map a cool feature is that there are plenty of beginner trails as well as the usual more difficult ones. I think actually, that the easy Lost Boy and Lost Girl trails are some of the most interesting trails to snowboard despite their simplicity. Certain of the more difficult trails are steep but a little dull. All in all, the weather wasn't bad; coverage in places was a little thin but it snowed whilst we were out on the slopes so there some nice fresh powder around that made things fun.

Andreas and Daria came on the trip, and considering neither of them had snowboarded before did amazingly well. They started off in the beginner's area and were soon developing speed control, balance and turning skills. I imagine it hurt – I remember my first day ever in Sexten, Italy! – but they were extremely brave and tried out the Fawn Lane trail. They made it down great if with many wipeouts!

Friday, February 8, 2008

NY State Must Recognise Canadian Gay Marriage, says court

According to the Ohio Gay People's Chronicle, an appeals court in the state of New York has ruled that NY state must recognise a gay marriage in Canada, just as it recognises marriage for other people. The state could theoretically legislate to not recognise LGBT marriages from other countries, but it must recognise them unless and until it does so.

A good result.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury backs Sharia Law

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in an interview on the BBC Radio programme The World at One (reported on the BBC website and somewhat less charitably in the Guardian) has suggested that Muslims ought to have the option of settling marital and financial matters in a Sharia court.

The Archbishop suggests that this would work in a similar manner to the Beth Din or religious courts used by Orthodox Jews for certain matters; this is permitted since UK law permits parties to settle Civil questions with a third-party arbiter provided that this is acceptable to both parties. 

I am deeply concerned about such a proposal. Self evidently, it seems to violate the principle of equality before the law. It also propagates the belief that Muslims in the UK are somehow separate from the rest of us (they are not: they are British, they make a valuable contribution to Britain and they are welcome to live here). Thirdly, it is ridiculous to suggest that a religious arbiter can be neutral. Whilst religions can threaten to excommunicate---which they are entitled to do so---or apply psychological pressure such as disincentives for noncompliance such as the threat of damnation, etc. the requirement for mutual consent can never be sufficient to ensure justice; the imbalance of power is too great. And not to put too fine a point on things, I am certain that muslim women's rights groups will see significant problems with the inherently male bias in such courts.

Perhaps the Archbishop is trying to mend relations with the muslim community after last months outburst that from the Bishop of Rochester that Islamic Extremism has created no-go areas in Britain (have a laugh; read the Daily Mail version). If so, such outreach is laudible, but would be better directed towards calling for the highlighting.

And yes, he mentioned gay adoption. Again proliferating that ridiculous story...... perhaps this was simply another attempt at garnering media coverage for an institution that is frought by division and increasingly irrelevant to society at large.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

First Time Driving and City Wheels

I guess I really can't let my first time driving in the States pass without making some sort of comment. I passed my Ohio test two weeks ago, and because I'm saving to buy a decent car rather than a wreck, I joined the City Wheels programme. You get to use a shared car at a cost of $7 (including gas and insurance and 20 miles of usage) per hour. It's great for use around the Greater Cleveland area, and not so good for longer trips (you can hire a car cheaper); but there's a lot of stuff around here that you can't really get to by public transport and you can with a car. Case in point: on Saturday night I went to Brandywine for some sick night-snowboarding. So much fun.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sunday, February 3, 2008

So much for the Superbowl


So the Patriots lost thanks to a last-quarter push by the Giants. Wes Welker was still the hottest guy on the field..... apparently a "wide receiver". ROTFL.

Being a Former Colonial Power does not mean that you can't object to abuses of human rights.

When you live in a country like the UK, a Former Colonial Power, where we live in a state of amnesia about our Former Colonial Past, you are very often tempted to complain about other countries' abuses of their citizens human rights, about some of their politicians' attempts rather shameless abuses of democracy. The rebuttal is predictable and swift: "Do not impose your European values on us." This sort of ad-hominem argument, alas, does not negate our charges.

Today's article by Ian Burama in the Observer makes this point beautifully: Culture is no excuse for China denying its people democracy

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Stewie Griffin is Gay.... And the Parents Television Council Don't Like It


Shamelessly stolen from the Malcontent's blog (which I guess was in turn spotted on the Advocate): If it wasn't already screaming at you, Stewie Griffin from family is gay. Hilariously, the Parents Television Council think that 

"Even though it is an animated series, Family Guy it is not recommended for children of any age". 

It's rather funny that these self-appointed guardians of the public's morality feel that anyone who programmes that do not fit in with their Victorian view of the world should not be broadcast. Worse, they put pressure on advertisers not to sponsor such programmes. The unwillingness to offend, and the lack of impetus to challenge viewers explain in part why America's television is so inferior to that of the United Kingdom. 

What sort of shows do these people approve of? "Family-friendly show promoting responsible themes and traditional values." So single-parents, gay people, unmarried couples and the rest are not "families", are not supposed to be on television, and children are not supposed to see them? As Seth McFarlane said 

"....they’re just rotten to the core. For an organization that prides itself on Christian values–I mean, I’m an atheist, so what do I know?–they spend their entire day hating people."

Scientific Exchange of Information

Exchange of information between scientists is crucial to the development of science, and yet there is a tension between making that information freely available, sharing it with colleagues and so forth, and the rigid and archaic system of copyrights that journals operate under. So it was gratifying to read a short essay on the history of Phys Rev Lett by a former editor that contained an explicit recognition of this tension:

"With the Xerox, ubiquitous after 1965, the production of high-quality copies of a paper was trivial and the dissemination of preprints expanded greatly. We Physical Review Letters editors understood that we neither could, nor should, attempt to interfere with this kind of prepublication information transfer."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Muttering Retreats w/ The Silent Years

Last night's UPB concert at the Spot was The Muttering Retreats, a local band from Lakewood, OH and The Silent Years. Pretty cool concert, and a few really neat songs, although the turnout was a little disappointing given that beer was only $1. I felt really old when one of the bands covered James's Laid and I think not one of the undergrads recognized it! :-(

Last semester, at a similar FREE  Spot concert, we had my favourite band of 2007, the Cinematics with their album A Strange Education. It's a song that totally described my year. So we get some really cool bands through. Case people: COME TO SEE THEM!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The highly symmetric Boron-80

The colloquium speaker yesterday mentioned a theoretical prediction of the existence of a stable 'buckyball' made from Boron atoms. It's like the structure of the famous Buckminsterfullerene C60 except that an additional atom is placed at the centre of every hexagon. It was publicised last year, and the paper with ab initio calculation was published in Phys Rev Lett

Is the symmetry really icosahedral? There's a question mark since some other scientists have released a preprint on ArXiv that suggests a structure with tetrahedral symmetry might be more stable (some of the atoms at the centre of the hexagons are pushed in, others are pushed out). We'll know for sure if this paper passes the peer review process.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Scanner Darkly


(I was asked by a friend to explain why I like
A Scanner Darkly)

Imagine you are arrested by the FBI and accused of being a terrorist. Despite your constant protestations of innocence, you are held in custody and interrogated. But suppose that really you are a sentient machine, moreover a walking bomb. You believe genuinely that you are innocent, and yet you are doomed to explode at some moment at the design of your creators.

The science fiction of Philip K. Dick is the reverse of the feel-good sci-fi of Star Trek, and not-so-removed from our society as the distant dystopian post-apocalyptic landscapes of such creations as I Am Legend. We as readers, as viewers, are drawn into Dick's creations because we could easily be one of his everyday characters. We laugh at conspiracy theories, but what if they were true asks the prototypical Dick story. And, most engagingly, what if we were the victim?

Despite its relative incoherence, A Scanner Darkly is one of Dick's most powerful novels, and interestingly one with the fewest elements of science fiction. Drugs as a means of social control occur in other Dick stories, most notably The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, but this theme is hidden in A Scanner Darkly until the end; the drugs instead being a source of comedy, escape and of course tragedy. The moment of revelation at the heart of the movie–that Donna is HANK–is utterly typical of Dick; the reality constructed thus far is interrupted and shown to be a falsehood, in the process revealing a new construction. The enemy thus far, the Despair Desolation and Death of Substance D, is revealed to be a tool of the greater enemy, the apparently benign New Path. 

Linklater's film (view trailer) distils the novel–it is far truer to its source than any Dick film yet including Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, Paycheck–into a coherent story; gaining an intensity that the novel's extraneous subplots lacks. The rotoscoping makes the film visually beautiful. Special effects such as the scramble suits are incorporated quite naturally within the animation (this was perhaps the primary motivation of the technique) and permit unintrusive comic moments, such as the Alien that reads Freck his sins and Luckman's metamorphosis into an insect. 

As opposed to the rotoscoping in Waking Life, which was stylistically simpler and with its shifting imprecision served to invoke the sense of Dream, the rotoscoping effect in A Scanner Darkly opens a ambiguity between what is real and what is drug-related. On repeated viewings of the film our answers to such questions as at what point FRED fails to recognise that he is Arctor, how real the conversations with the psychologists were, whether Arctor/FRED's imagined family was ever real.... seem to shift.

The brutality of the sacrifice of Actor/FRED into the persona of Bruce is made so very emphatic in the movie by juxtaposing immediately before the moment of revelation the beautiful soliloquy;

"What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me? Into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly because I can't any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone's sake the scanners do better, because if the scanner sees only darkly the way I do, then I'm cursed and cursed again. I'll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too."

but it is not at all clear that this was in fact delivered or imagined. The movie concludes with the image of the recurring little blue flowers growing under the eaves of corn; the view widening and retreating to see the cornfields and the mountains. It is a  poignant and homely image of America and the underlying visual metaphor–that the drugs, terrorism, control, the rot is within contemporary American society and outside the view of the scanners–is one that is not lost on the viewer. In this way, the novel and the film diverge: the former addresses McCarthyism, communism, hippie culture; the latter the War on Terror, the War on Drugs and the sacrifice of our civil liberties for the perception of public safety.

It would be easy to conclude at that point, but there is another layer above the reality heretofore constructed: the powerful anti-drugs message of the film is to an extent illusory. Dick himself never took heroin, he merely pretended to (read the biography of Dick I Am Alive And You Are Dead for the full story). Despite the strong indication of autobiography like the list at the end, there is a falseness to the story–as in The Man In the High Castle where one of the characters meets the novelist writing the novel–we are watching fiction. We are watching A Scanner Darkly: an image that does not let us get into the heart of the characters we see and does not allow us to see into Dick himself. Does this remove the stark, bleak, horrifying ending; does this mitigate the sacrifice of Arctor/FRED/Bruce/Dick?

Explosions in Cleveland

Explosions in the Sky are coming to Cleveland on 4th April at the Beachland Ballroom. W00t!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Michael Trucco

Surprise bonus on the deleted scenes from Season 3 of One Tree Hill (yeah, I know, I have no taste): a scene featuring the very minty Michael Trucco of Sam Anders Battlestar Galactica fame in a wifebeater. How could they let this material go to waste?

*Hot* :D

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A more tolerant Britain

Encouraging news from British Social Attitudes survey (reported in the Guardian and the Telegraph with rather different emphasis) that public perception of gay people's relationships has changed dramatically in the last two decades. Fools quote unqualified statistics, but apparently:
  • 1/3 (or 1/5 – the Guardian article is a bit inconsistent on this) of people view homosexuality as being morally wrong (compared with 3/4 in 1987).
  • roughly 1/3 of people believe that LGBT couples make suitable parents.
This is emphatically good progress, but the latter statistic is quite disappointing. One of the wonderful things about the sexual and gender-conforming liberation enjoyed by the LGBT community is of course the lack of a requirement to conform to the quite restrictive model of relationship that is imposed by heterosexual society. Notwithstanding that, the lack of belief that LGBT couples make suitable parents seems to suggest that old stereotypes of LGBT relationships, such as that they are somehow less secure or nurturing are still in place. Not all LGBT people want children, but those that do are usually well able to raise them in a loving environment.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Engaged/Occupied


A random difference between British and American culture is, I noticed for the first time today, the participle used to describe a loo when someone is in it. Engaged for the Brit, but merely occupied for the American. Paradoxically, the euphemism which I imagine originally occured to distance oneself from talking about using the toilet, now seems to imply the possibility of alternative uses!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a Federal Holiday which needs little introduction to Americans... although nationwide observance is a recent phenomenon.

How King would have viewed the gay liberation and legitimation movements is open to question; the fact he worked with and was advised by an openly gay man, Bayard Rustin is not. For my part, I have always taken the view (incidentally that also of the King Centre) that racism, homphobia, mysogeny and class-prejudice are social phenomena that can only be tackled as a whole. Perhaps for those of us within the gay community, the MLK holiday is a useful point for us to reflect on and challenge the racism, mysogeny and classism that is still very prevalent amongst gay people. 

For how can we remain intellectually coherent in our calls for tolerance as long as these remain?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Explosions in the Sky

I'm listening to Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever after a long hiatus. With Tired Eyes, With Tired Minda, With Tired Souls, We Slept and other equally superb titles... if you like to read or paint to music, this is enriching and fulfilling stuff to listen to. Pretentious? No, merely adult.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

MacBook Air

So I, and probably every other gay man on the planet, am already in love with the new MacBook Air. It may be underpowered, have inadequate graphics and unexpandable memory, but it is beautiful. Needless to say, I want one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Unseen Face of Mercury

NASA's MESSENGER mission has just sent back it's first photos from Mercury. This side of the planet has never been seen before, since Mercury's spin is locked to its orbit around the Sun (in a rather unusual way).

Nonetheless, I really do wish NASA would bother to provide scale bars on their images. Scale bars transform beautiful photography into scientific images.