Monday, December 19, 2005

Job hunting

They called to check references on Friday. Good news, even if they didn't reach Gordon. At least it suggests that I am still in the running for at least that one job.

Reading a post about job hunting on the Chronicle, I started to feel better about this. Making it to the stage where they are checking references is probably a pretty good sign. I suspect that it may mean that their first choices didn't work out, and they have moved onto a second tranche, but that's fine with me once I get considered. That said, I find the whole idea of interviewing to be terrifying. I doubt I will interview well, especially considering that I have never really been interviewed. Ok, I have had a grand total of three job interviews in my life - one with NIHERST, one with the Ministry of the Environment, and one phone interview with Gordon.

Anyway, there's no point in talking about interviews at this stage.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mushtaq 1977-2005

I don't know what to do with a death of a friend. I don't think I have ever had to sort something like this out. I don't have anything useful to think. It's even hard to say you'll miss someone when you haven't seen them in years, when you have probably had as few actual conversations as we had. But it doesn't change the fact that he was like family. It's all the more difficult to sort out something like this because you don't actually feel entitled to mourn - you feel like you'd have to appreciate a person's company more to be entitled to mourn them.

He always seemed so bright, upbeat and lively. He always seemed a positive person.

I don't even know how to pay my respects. I can't imagine how Ishaq, Nisa, Bedah and their mother feel. His cousins as well - they seemed more like brothers than anything. I really have no ideas what he was up to, what he was doing with his life.

I'm glad Carol told me, but I wish I had heard something sooner.

Friday, December 09, 2005


A week past the nibble and no follow-up calls to my references. Did I fail the phone-interview disguised as a phone conversation? Maybe. That's rather a shame - Georgia wouldn't be a bad place.

I have no concept of time in the academic job search. I wonder if the applications I sent out for December 1 have passed their 'sell by" date already. It's so hard to tell. Oh well, I'll stay optimistic, and at the same time hope that I'll be welcome to stay here another year, if need be...and focus on churning out some seroius pubs.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

John Lennon. 1940-1980

Twenty-fifth anniversary of a tragic day.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Job hunting

I got my first nibble in my job hunt this week. Just a follow-up call, but at least I made the first cut - they considered me worth calling my references, and they gave me a call. I failed on what may have been the most important question - "why are you interested in us"? (Ok, the most important questions were really "are you still interested in us" and "do we have your permission to call your references", because without saying yes to them I was automatically out.

As to the "why" question, I mumbled something about being interested in a small school. Gordon said that I should prepare a "stock" answer, but I have no idea what it should be. Why am I interested in . I don't think "because I am hoping for a pay-cheque" is the right answer. I don't see how I would come up with a stock answer. I am interested in a place where I have the chance to know my colleagues and my students? I don't want to teach classes with 2-400 students? Something like that. I like teaching smaller groups.

As for Georgia? I suppose proximity to Florida and South Carolina would be something to bear in mind. It seems like an environment that's closer to tropical - kinda almost subtropical. That kinda thing. And, of course, proximity to Savannah River and UGA are good things too. If you have to be at a small school you should at least be near to a bigger school with a proper library and more potential colleagues. That kinda thing.

For the moment it's just a day-dream, but it's a good sign nonetheless. It's reassuring - at least someone is interested in me, based on my (rather slim) cv. Gives you reason to hope.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Doing evaluations today. Gives me a few extra minutes to avoid teaching and try to find my sanity. Or something like that.

But seriously, evaluations are scary. I'm just not that entertaining a teacher, and this semester was not a good one, given the teaching load. And yeah, I realise I'm kinda boring - as a speaker in general, certainly as a lecturer. My tendancy toward really long pauses, too many "um's", that kinda thing...I don't really know how I got this way, and I don't really know how to change. It sucks. So I have evaluations.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

"That elusive national unity" (to use Carol's phrase)

Qualifying for the World Cup did more than heal the trauma of 1989 - it gave a glimpse of what could be. National unity seemed only to exist outside of Trinidad - until we won in Bahrain.

As various studies have shown, the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us, but race and politics seems to be unsurmountable obstacles. In 1986/87 after the NAR won there was a brief window of unity, but even then there were those who were on the outside. PNM supporters felt unwelcome at the party, and as things went bad they grew more bitter. But this was different. Even people who lost money betting against them are still winners. For once it isn't a zero-sum game. Victory can come without being at someone else's expense. And that, I suppose, makes all the difference

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Is there anybody out there?

Sure, if you look at the hit counter, there are a few people who end up here other than Linz and me. But it feels lonely. It feels like I am just talking to myself most of the time.

Part of this is probably a matter of being too vague. It isn't a content kinda blog, where you could come and learn something. And it isn't a diary sort of blog in which you could get some insight into a person's life. So what's the point of this?

That's the question I need to answer. Why do I blog? Why am I doing this? What should I be writing about? Or should I be writing at all? (Granted, I should not be writing now, since class starts in 2 minutes!)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Operation Falafel

This diary at dKos has a great point - with O'Reilly endorsing terrorism, it's time that people did something about it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Remembrance Day

I wanted to say something yesterday for Remembrance Day (or Armistace Day, or Veterans Day as they call it here in the US), but the truth is, I said it last year. I don't have anything major to add, not on a personal note.

It's an interesting realisation - this blog is more than a year and a half old. Amazing how time flies.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Ok, I'm an elitist snob. But I liked this place better when it was fewer families, more students. Last year, on our side of the building we had me, three undergrads in the apartment downstairs, a couple (marine/student and his wife, also a student, I think) and Neil and Ann (tech and grad student) below them. Simple, all OU people.

Now we have a strange looking man covered with tatoos downstairs, a couple with several small children next door (nice people, but they always smoke on their landing, and the cigarette butts in the bucket outside the door can lead to quite a smell), and finally the people below them - the ones who inspired the title.

Core group - guy who appears to divide his time between drinking and driving a taxi, and woman who appears to divide her time between drinking and yelling at him. Then there's a boy in his early to mid teens (seems to live there, or spend a lot of his time there), and older girl (twenties, pregnant) who appears not to live there, and what appears to be her siginficant other - in the real world I would just assume husband, but in this redneck fairystory I will say boyfriend. Anyway, a fire engine and paramedics show up, they are banging on her door trying to get the woman to open it while the others hand around outside, talking to the firemen about what sounds to be her drug and alcohol use, and something about her trying to stab the boy or something.

It makes me uncomfortable to live near them for a number of reasons. I don't like the idea of sharing a building with people who might get drunk and leave a cigarette burning or the stove on. I don't feel comfortable around them - they seem physically threatening, capable of violence, even if it's not directed at me or Linz. And their loud arguing impinges on my home time.

Can't say I like how interesting this place has become.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The dot-com Presidency

Apparently the US election took place a year ago today. Has it been that long, has it been that short? You mean we've still got more than three years of Bush? Well - three years from now I expect the Republicans will have stolen another Presidential election with rigged voting machines. Lets just hope it's enough of a margin that they can't, that no-one will believe them. You can always dream...

Bush and his "man date", his "spending political capital". Explains why he ran seven companies (and one country) into bankruptcy. You don't spend capital. Unless you're a dot-com during the bubble. Bush, the dot-com President.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Indictments and nominations - same old khaki pants, I suppose you could say. The Bush regime is corrupt. But everyone knew that already. But will they pay for their crimes? Do politicians ever pay for their crimes? Sure, the odd one here or there goes to jail, but if I had to guess I'd say that the conviction rate for political crimes is a small fraction of the conviction rate for other classes of crimes.

Like so many bloggers, all I can do is spout off. Not like these people who actually know what they are talking about. But that takes time and effort. News analysis, when it comes down to it, requires that you read (and hopefully understand) the news. Like I have time for anything like that. So maybe I should follow that other rule - write about the things you already know. But even there, it isn't like I keep up with breaking stories. Maybe I should though - go each week and read through Science and Nature and TREE and figure out what's really going on. You might really get some readership if you could provide content and not just random one-liners. Wow - that would be something. Actually it's worth thinking about - one day, when I have time.

Brings me to a new train of though - how long will the blogspot and the livejournal entries survive? I used to have a page on msnhomepages. My blog before there was such a thing as blogs. It's gone now, not even saved by the Wayback [whatever it's called]. That really made me sad, when I finally confirmed that it was gone forever. That sort of ephemerality makes me wonder about this stuff. I used to have an X-drive account, I had all sorts of other free email accounts. All forgotten, probably lost. I've lost the contents of my hotmail account a couple times. And a whole slew of email lies inaccessible on the old laptop.

What lasts and what is ephemera? Wikipedia looks solid, but it depends on continued input of donations. We have created enough value that I would think it's fairly secure for the time being. We are so widely mirrored that we have made a real dint on knowledge, and even if it were to cease to exist, the ripples of Wikipedia would remain detectable in human knowledge for a little while to come.

I can't believe it's November already. Where did the time go?

Friday, October 28, 2005

On the first day of Fitzmas...

Got the third post on the thread at Kos. Whoo-hoo!
Wow - John Stewart corrects Ed Helms pronounciation of Tobago. Cool.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

One more reason I don't shop at Walmart

This is just lovely -
An internal memo sent to Wal-Mart's board of directors proposes numerous ways to hold down spending on health care and other benefits while seeking to minimize damage to the retailer's reputation. Among the recommendations are hiring more part-time workers and discouraging unhealthy people from working at Wal-Mart.
Hire younger people, pay people with seniority less, and this gem
To discourage unhealthy job applicants, Ms. Chambers suggests that Wal-Mart arrange for "all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g., all cashiers do some cart-gathering)."
While I feel a little guilty linking to the NYTimes (I am boycotting them over Times Select and Judith Miller), I'm too busy being outraged by Walmart (again) than to care about being pissed off at NYT.
Waiting for Fitzmas

Well, still waiting. At least the news has gotten interesting again. It's also cool to see Al Franken out hawking his new book which, as he points out, is prescient.

I also filled out a Harris Poll survey yesterday in which they used to "i-word" - do I think Bush should be impeached, and why. Of course I said yes, and among the three reasons I listed the fact that he had abandoned his post on 9-11 and run away and hid. I doubt many people will share my opinion, but it's nice to get to say it to a pollster. More important though is that fact that they are asking it. Chris Bowers (I think) on MyDD has been asking that pollsters ask the question for months, because he felt that there was groundswell for impeachment, but if pollsters were not asking the question there was no way for people to know.

Another interesting point was made today at HuffPo - that this is worse than Watergate - 2000 American soldiers have died because of these guys actions.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Hoping for Fitzmas tomorrow. Will we get the indictments we want? Hoping for Rove and Libby. Hoping for Cheney. Will we be so lucky? Not going to be too shocked it Cheney doesn't get it. I would be unhappy if Rove and Libby got away with their treason.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Leucaena and Mora

Are Leucaena and Mora two sides of the same coin? Is this all a community assembly question? Are they both a matter of "who gets there first"?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Old Friends

I finally got around to looking up my old webpage, my blog from the days before the word blog find it no longer exists. Navigated my way through the wayback archive of msnhomepages to the link to my page - but there was nothing there. Quite sad.

On a more positive note, I have decided to make the effort to look up people. I finally caught up with Barry - ok, he caught up with me - and I've spoken to him a few times online. Spoke to Parv today, and to Sanjay last night. To round things off, I've emailed Jen Clevinger - need to email Curtis. It's amazing to see their family picture - last time I saw him, Alex was a baby - now he's 7. Curtis and Jen look pretty much the same though. What was weird was the realisation that I had never mentioned them to Linz, or never mentioned them enough for her to remember their names. And my past is full of stuff like that - people I know, people who were good friends, who have just slipped away. It isn't like I don't want them still to be my friends - it's just that distance slipped in.

Job hunting makes me want to look for people. Saw job ads at Georgia Southern - wasn't quite qualified for the position, but it did make me think of dropping Lissa a line. Another person I haven't seen since 1998. I can't believe it's been that long. It's amazing where life can take you. I ran into Ted Feldpausch at ESA this summer. People you knew pretty well and yet would have a hard time coming up with in your head. Networking is a funny old thing - something I don't understand, but I can see how it would be valuable. It makes all the difference in the world to know someone on a list of job applicants, I'm sure it does. Anything that makes a person stand out from the crowd.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Trinidad Politics

I'm back to the stage where I don't even want to read newspapers from home any more. You look at the Guardian or Express and all you see is murder after murder. I'd say I'm reminded of 1995, but the truth is, compared to this 1995 was nothing.

It's obvious that Manning is incompetent, he really isn't up to the job. I won't go as far as to say that he's complicit in the crime wave - crime tsunami, really - I don't believe that he is. But he isn't up to doing anything about it. He has been blessed by spikes in oil prices that allowed him to bring a budget full of tax cuts and other goodies. Will it be sustainable? I wasn't able to figure out what sort of an oil price it was predicated on, so the answer is "who knows". In a normal economy, driven by internal factors, this level of crime would depress the economy enough to force any government to act. The problem is that government revenue is all the more dependent on external factors, and while high crime can make foreign investors think twice about getting involved in a country, these are oil companies - compared to a lot of places they operate, Trinidad is still a safe country, even after a string of bombings.

So elections are not due until the end of 2007. More than two years away. It should be plenty of time for the government to start to crack down on crime and spread enough patronage to keep themselves in power. To be honest, as much as I despise this government, it's beyond the point where I can take pleasure in their failures in the hope that it will get them voted out of office. I would rather they do something, get crime under control, even if it meant that they were given another term in government by the grateful populace. I just don't believe that they can do anything. Manning failed in 1991-1995, and he is failing in precisely the same way in 2001-2007, or hopefully 2001-2006 (one can always hope he calls another snap election and gets voted out again, but I don't think that even he is that stupid).

So what of the UNC? Will Dookeran's election (or annointment, really) as party leader be the thing that people are looking for? Dookeran has been an almost mythical figure for a long time - Abu Bakr wanted him as interim Prime Minister after the coup, he remains the most popular politician in Trinidad and Tobago. The problem, I suspect, is one of whether people will see him as running the UNC, or simply being a new face for a party run by Bas. For the time being, Bas is still the man in charge, and everyone knows it. Not only is he still Leader of the Opposition, he is also the puppetmaster within the party. His slate was able to win control of the party executive, and he retains the support of the rank and file, and of the core supporters of the party. For the time being, the party is still his, and it looks like he wants to pull a Lee Kwan Yew and stay as "Senior Minister". I don't think that will do the trick. In order to win over the "swing voters", people have to believe that they are voting for Wins, not Bas. Too many people do not trust Bas, even though they aren't happy with Patrick.

What is interesting is that Bas' slate was able to win control of the party executive, while Dookeran's slate failed. In 2001 it was the other way around - Bas' slate failed, and Ramesh's slate won. It says something about the membership of the UNC. In 2001 Bas backed an "NAR" slate - people like Carlos John, and Ramesh backed a solidly Indian slate. In 2005 Bas picked the Indian option, leaving Dookeran to back the integrated, ex-NARite slate. And once again the Indian slate won. (Ok, maybe "ex-NARite" is the wrong term, since Kamla and the skinny man were people who stayed in NAR in 1991). What does that mean for the party? Well, like anywhere else, the party membership, the core of the party, is not the same as the people who will or may vote for it in an election. The UNC is a party of the grassroots, of the sugar worker - these are the people who have followed Bas for the last 30 years. The "NAR element" - Indian or mixed, middle to upper middle class - may be solidly within the party, they may have given their allegience to the UNC, but they are probably not as well represented among party members.

But all this is speculation based on feeling and impression, and not on any data. But at the very least, we have the prospect of the next election being Naps versus Pres!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Intellectual Immigration

There's an interesting "first person" in the Chronicle today, about a Danish academic moving to the US. In it he talks about the European "intellectual immigrant" moving to the US, and holding on, holding onto the old traditions that have been forgotten at home (like changing from brown shoes to black shoes at 6 o'clock). That I can understand - the need to find little ways to set yourself apart for fear of being submerged in the culture, for fear of becoming an American.

On the other hand, he talks about the difficulties faced in adapting to American culture, the difficulties of trying to fit in. And I realise how Americanised I am. For one, Trinidad is terribly Americanised, far more than people realise or want to admit. American television,'s a lot more of a cultural homogeniser than you realise. I suppose I realised that during the International TA Orientation at MSU in 1994. I felt pretty silly having American slang explained to me.

Then there is my childhood in Canada. I try to minimise it, but it is a huge part of who I am. The connection to Canada is strong and deep. It isn't home, but it means something real to me.

And then there is my American PhD. There is no need for me to adapt to American academe - it's all I really know beyond the undergrad level. You don't think about things like that, but I am most certainly a product of an American scientific tradition.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Job Hunting

Well, I finally got a job application out today. It felt really good to get it out, but now I don't know what to do next. I feel like, ok, that's done, I don't have to think about that again for a while...when, in reality, I've just barely gotten started.

It also makes you think about networking. Talking to Jen about applying for her former job. Thinking about emailing Lissa - I would if I thought there was any way that I could fit myself to the jobs posted by Georgia Southern. And the fact that there's another MSU grad at the school I just sent an application to. I can't say I really know her name, I can't put a picture to her face, but it's still a point of commonality - if she is on the search committee she should recognise my name, or at least my references (Pete and Tom, at least). There's a job at Toronto - it would be a great job, but I rather doubt I am what they are looking for. Nonetheless, the thing that I wonder about is whether Sean Thomas would remember me, after I bothered him at ESA this summer.

My main point is, I now understand a little better why things like ESA are important for people who are trying to get hired, get noticed. Ecology, science as a whole, is such a small world. It's a shame I have never been better at schmoozing. I know people, I think I leave something of an impression on people...but I don't know enough people, and I don't know the movers and shakers, the rising stars.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

OU Suicide Bombing (update, of a sort)

So it's been five days since Joel Henry Hinrichs blew himself up outside my building. The best source of information I have come across is the Wikipedia article, but that does not delve into the rumours that are flying around. There are verified reports that he tried to buy ammonium nitrate a few days before the bombing, but the store clerk refused to sell it to him because he couldn't say how much he needed or what he needed it for. There are unconfirmed rumours (or, at least unconfirmed as far as I can tell) that he was attending mosque regularly and that he tried to enter the stadium but was refused entry because he did not allow them to search his backpack. Whether this is true or not is unknown - I was hearing that story almost from the start, and to me it seemed like it started as speculation by the reporters on the scene. While people are now saying that "someone" saw it, I am inclined to take it with a grain of salt. I'm sure there are security cameras that recorded the whole thing, I am sure that whether he had a ticket or not is verifiable...we'll hear something sooner or later, which will contain some aspects of the truth, but probably not the whole truth.

It's still mostly sad. They replaced the bench he blew himself up on by Monday afternoon. I don't think I'd want to sit on the new bench though. What drove him to do this? The other wild speculation - whether there might be some deeper plot behind it, and the simple fact that, hey, someone blew themselves up outside my building really haven't sank in. I don't feel any real sense of danger about the whole thing. Of course, someone could have made a bigger bomb and walked into the building at 9:20 am any morning, when the corridors are packed with people, and have hurt as many people as they wanted to. There is no such thing as absolute security, just measured risks.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Gordon says that we will not be able to get back into the building until at least noon. Still cordoned off by the police. Again, it feels strange. Who was this person? What were they planning to do? Why did they choose that spot? Disgruntled botany student who was unhappy with a grade? I sure hope not.
Suicide bomber at OU?

Someone blew themselves up outside our building at OU. Rather disturbing. Was it a 'suicide bombing' or a 'suicide by bomb? It was reported to have taken place in "the courtyard near the George Lynn Cross Hall, Botany-Microbiology Building on OU's campus". Right near my office. Gordon, the department chair, reported a broken window, but no other reported damage. I suspect probably Linda's or Jia Li's office.

It was veyr worrying at first, when news reports came from people inside the stadium, who could only report on the general location based on the sound. Then came the reports of the "courtyard" at GLCH. More worrying, though at least it meant it wasn't in the building. Finally, Gordon's email clarified things - he has more information about the building than the news media (not that, I suppose, they are very motivated to report on the condition of the building).

It's mostly puzzling. It's just difficult to figure out what I feel. Oh well...

Friday, September 30, 2005

And just for Linz, here's another post to push Wednesday's futher down the page. It doesn't say much, but given all the space the headers and footers take up, I'm sure it does the job. :)
From Jay Leno via Bill from Portland Main's Cheers and Jeers on Daily Kos (how's that for a trail of evidence)
"Today a Texas grand jury indicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme. This is the most embarrassing thing to happen to the Republicans since yesterday."
Well put. Crooks, crooks, crooks. "The Republican Party: Making Kleptocrats and Mafia Bosses Look Clean by Comparison". Ok, so I lose the slogan competition.
Educational standards?

Somehow I managed to miss the news that a graduate student at Ohio State was about to defend a dissertation looking at the effects of teaching ID creationism and evolution to high school students.
The first question one should raise in such a situation is how is it ethical for the university to be involved in teaching students something that is scientifically unsupported. What sort of lapse was made by the human subjects oversight committee?

The second question is more subtle. Two of the student's committee members were the only two OSU facility to have come out in favour of ID. Ok, fair enough - people can constitute their own committees. But, the School of Teaching and Learning requires that two committee members must come from the science education programme, and that the committee members should reflect the expertise needed for the dissertation. Neither of these were true - none of the committee members met either criterion.

It makes you wonder - was it an underhand scheme by the student, or was it a cynical ploy by the committee members? You see this more and more - dishonest actions by ID'ers to try to claim scientific credentials. They (mostly) claim to be Christians, but they turn out to be using lies and deceit to further their agenda. Makes you wonder what side they're really on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

To quote kos "Holy fucking shit." Tom Delay indicted. Cool.

Finally, some good news.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Saw Eugenie Scott speak last week. Most of what she had to say was not new to me (although she put it well) but she finally explained the whole "methodological naturalism"/"philosophical naturalism" thing.

It's interesting to see what Phillip Johnson has to say about defeating materialistic science. Methodolical naturalism (= methodological materialism) is the basis of science - that you have to limit yourself to "materialistic" explanations in science. It doesn't matter whether you believe in the supernatural or not - as a scientist you need to limit yourself to known or knowable physical processes. Sure, you can propose new processes, hopefully they will be something you can measure (which is the problem with string theory, of course, because there may not be any way to measure strings). But if you move beyond methodological materialism, into the type of science Johnson wants, you create irrefutable hypotheses. Which means, you have no science, no medicine, know way to distinguishing truth from fiction.

Imagine your doctor including the supernatural in his diagnosis. If you can't rule out demonic possession, or a curse, you need to attack the matter on all fronts. Which means, I suspect, that every hospital would have to hire a few pundits (given the number of Hindu doctors). If Johnson was serious about this, he should be advocating this. I'd love to see that.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Why Baton Rouge is Still Bush Country - WaPo

I suppose not every Rethuglican is a racist or a nut. Some of them are driven by something very different - a fear of change, failure to adapt to a changing world. Much like What's the Matter with Kansas, the question of why the working class, acting against their own interests, go out of their way to support the crooked Bushite kleptocracy. Being adrift in a world you can't control, you look for a 'regular guy'. Of course, why they choose the elitist, draft-dodging Yalie is another question. But they see him as their man, for some incomprehensible reason.

How do you drag people out of their holes? This dissociation from reality is widespread. People follow leaders who lie to them and tell them what they want to hear, rally them behind the flag and jingoistic nationalism, tell them that they can embrace the simplicity of the biblical creation story as if it were the literal truth...drawing the lines in the culture war between progressives and regressives. The made-up idealised 1950s, when black people could be freely lynched, when women were not people, when my marriage and the marriage that produced me would have been illegal in parts of the US... These are the things that progressives must deal with.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

We dodged a bullet. For a while it looked like Rita was coming our way.

I wish I had tried to contact Anson beforehand. I don't know where he was. I sure hope he was home, and not in the Gulf or Indonesia or somewhere like that. I'm sure there were people in from Houston who were halfway around the world drilling for oil while their families were left alone to face Rita. It's tragic for the towns that Rita did hit, but I am glad that it did not hit one of the bigger cities where so many more people would have been affected.

That's not a reassuring way of looking at things really. I remember talking to Gus on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. To me, death and destruction on that scale is horrible, without any redeeming factor. And then Gus said that the bombing saved his life...he was a prisoner in a Japanese camp in Indonesia, and was scheduled to be shipped off the next day to a forced labour camp...a mine, I can't recall the name...that was simply a black hole, a place where no one survived. It gives you perspective. Rita not hitting Galveston and Houston means ruined lives elsewhere.

Monday, September 19, 2005

And there we have it. The way forward. Only problem is, while Daou outlined the problem, that the netroots need to go after the Democratic party establishment and the press, I don't have any idea how I can contribute to that effort...all the more since I just live here, I'm not an American or anything...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Big Questions

I suppose I write here out of a desire to be read. I'm not sure if I have anything worth saying, but that's entirely beside the point. The medium allows anyone to "publish" - without editors, without a need to have anything to say. But if you want to be read, shouldn't you try to get people to read what you write? There's the rub. The only way that I could reasonably generate traffic my way would be to post a link on my Wikipedia user page. Wikipedia being what it is, and my standing in the community being what it is, I know I would get at least a few readers. Unfortunately, it would serve to draw my Wikipedia identity closer to my real-world identity. And that might not be good. Safe to hide behind the cloak of anonymity I can be as outspoken as I want to be. Breach that security, and I become that much more visiable.

Why does it matter if my Wiki-identity is matched with my real-world identity? One reason is the whole job-search idea. Someone has posted as the Chronicle a piece entitled "bloggers need not apply". The idea that blogs are likely to hurt your job search. If blogs might hurt, then who knows how my Wikipedia contribution might be viewed...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bill Maher tells it like it is:

America must recall the president. That's what this country needs. A good, old-fashioned, California-style recall election! Complete with Gary Coleman, porno actresses and action film stars... but seriously, Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you anymore. There's no more money to spend. You used up all of that. You can't start another war because you also used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.

You've performed so poorly I'm surprised you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man.

Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire metropolis to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two Trade Centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans...Maybe you're just not lucky!

I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side. So, yes, God does speak to you, and what he's saying is, "Take a hint."
Before the 2000 elections, the NYTimes published a story about how Bush had run seven companies into the ground. Now, as predicted, he has run the country into the ground too. Granted, I never imagined he could have done so spectacular a job. I remember when Reagan was a corrupt, war-mongering failure who ran the country into recession and brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. But at least Reagan had the excuse of Alzheimer's. And, at a fundamental level, Reagan still had something of a connection with ordinary people. He was not the imperious one - he had Maggie to fill that role. Hmm - I never thought of that - George Bush combines the worst of Reagan and Thatcher, and has none of their good qualities. Well, I suppose Blair just doesn't have enough of a spine left to have anyone's bad qualities...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

John Roberts

It's really interesting to watch a little bit of the confirmation hearings. It makes me realise how easily I am convinced of basic goodness of people. It seems odd to say that, given my antipathy to people like Bush and Patrick, but it's true. I have no desire to see Roberts confirmed. Based on what I have read, he is almost certainly an awful choice for a Supreme Court justice, let alone Chief Justice. Forget about his opposition to Roe - he has shown himself to be anti-environment and, if not a racist, certainly a comfortable "fellow traveller" with them. And yet, listening to his confirmation hearings he sounds like an eminently reasonable person. Of course, that was also my reaction to Rumsfeld during the Abu Ghraib torture hearings. But then, I realise that I have a tendency to take statements (and people) at face value, at least initially. I collect and store data, and only process it later, when I need to. That really isn't the best way to read scientific articles, of course.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

I think I have entered the realm of Katrina fatigue. I don't want to see more pictures of people searching desperately for their loved ones. Granted, I have never been that big on human interest stories - I could connect with faceless crowds outside the Convention Center better than I can with stories of people scattered across the country trying to get their families back together. Somehow humanising it makes it so small that it becomes ordinary. People ge separated from their loved ones all the time, teary reunions happen in "ordinary" times. People go to great lengths to house a family made homeless by a tragedy. To me, seeing these stories makes the big picture fade. The scope and scale of destruction is almost incomprehensible. That works. Struggling to get your mind around the scale of things - the difference (and lack of difference) between 80% of New Orleans under water and 60% is something that resonates with me. People trying to carry on with their lives in a flooded city...a city flooded with toxic water. I get that.

One thing that definitely brings on denial is Hurricane Ophelia. What makes matters worse is looking at all the other storms brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. The only thing you can do is block it out.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

We love you Jon
"Now, for you people who are saying, `Well, stop pointing fingers at the president...left-wing...the media's being too hard:

No. SHUT...UP! No! This is inarguably---inarguably---a failure of leadership from the top of the federal government.

Remember when Bill Clinton went out with Monica Lewinsky? That was inarguably a failure of judgment at the top. Democrats had to come out and risk losing credibility if they did not condemn Bill Clinton for his behavior. I believe Republicans are in the same position right now. And I will say this: Hurricane Katrina is George Bush's Monica Lewinsky. The only difference is that tens of thousands of people weren't stranded in Monica Lewinsky's vagina."
--Jon Stewart

The heros
  • Jon Stewart
  • Keith Olbermann
  • Howard Dean
  • Al Gore
I wish there were more people who would call it like it is, and do it for the general good, not for their own gratification. I am so disgusted with Bush, and now the right wing noise machine is ramping up, spreading its usual lies - no, nothing is the fauls of Dear Leader. Well...maybe that's true - it's all Darth Cheney and Turd Blossom. Actually that way of thinking is probably harmful - it let's him off too easily.

On the other side, giving credit where credit is due, David Brooks continues to say some intelligent things about Katrina. So I suppose it proves that he is neither stupid nor evil, just an ideologue with some level of human compassion. Of course, I remember the good old days when Safire praised Gore and dismissed Bush. But then he fell into total attack mode, and by the time his writing was not only hackery, it was devoid of thoughtfulness and intelligence. Let's hope that Brooks continues to let humanity get the better of him for a while. Maybe some of it will stick...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Again, why I like Gore more than any other American politician:

Gore accompanies about 140 arrivals from New Orleans but declines to take credit
From the Knoxville News Sentinel

About 140 people - mostly elderly and infirm - arrived Saturday at McGhee Tyson Airport on a chartered mercy flight from hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, welcomed to East Tennessee by a bright sun and a host of medical professionals straining at the reins to help their fellow human beings without regard to whether they were on the clock.

Former Vice President Al Gore arranged the flight and was on board, but he declined to take credit for the airlift, fearing it would be "politicized."
Looks like he's the only person who heeded Mayor Nagin's call for "no more press conferences".
An interesting converation on Springer on the Radio - his caller uses the term Leadership by title only. I suppose that's a really good point. The Department of Homeland Security took over responsibility for all national disasters, took control of FEMA and dispersed it through the ranks of the new organisation. That works fine, until something happens. Then, all of a sudden, they say "no one could have forseen this" and other crap like that. It's the same refrain as after 9-11, when Condi said "no one would have predicted that they would fly planes into buildings", when in fact, they had, or like Iraq, where Rumsfeld said "stuff happens" as Baghdad was looted. And they continue to lie about troop strengths in Iraq, while Zarqawi captures a town in western Iraq. Will this now become Fallujah II? Or does he realise that the needs of the Gulf Coast (funny, how that draws your mind to the "Gulf War") will divert troops away from Iraq, and will divert American attention from Iraq?

Monday, September 05, 2005

From Atrios

It's bad enough that the preznit leaves Washington for 5 weeks, but now we know that when Katrina hit there apparently wasn't enough of any stature still in charge. When the president is away shouldn't someone be manning the phones, just in case?
Has anyone seen Cheney yet?

WaPo has a telling quote from none less than William Kristol:
"Almost every Republican I have spoken with is disappointed" in Bush's performance, said William Kristol, a conservative columnist with close White House ties. "He is a strong president . . . but he has never really focused on the importance of good execution. I think that is true in many parts of his presidency."
What is "strength" if it doesn't include execution? He's a strong leader but he isn't good at getting things done? Isn't that a bit of an oxymoron, unless of course, if when you say "strong leader" you mean "bully".

Sunday, September 04, 2005
Anne Rice in the New York Times

But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.

Well, we are a lot more than all that. And though we may seem the most exotic, the most atmospheric and, at times, the most downtrodden part of this land, we are still part of it. We are Americans. We are you.

I'm glad I got to see the city, if only briefly, this summer. We almost didn't stop - it was raining, Linz was tired, we thought we would always have a chance to come back later. Maybe we will, I hope they rebuild. New Orleans is a cultural treasure. Was, at least, and I sincerely hope will be again.
You'd think it should start getting better soon. New Orleans is evacuated, for the most part. The terrible pictures of people living in filth and dying in squalor are gone. I expected the pictures to get better, the stories to shift, ever so slowly, towards reconstruction. How wrong I was. Now the eyes of the media are shifting to the outlying towns - to St Bernard Parish and smaller towns in Louisiana and Mississippi...places that have yet to see FEMA and federal aid. Once again, I find myself unable to get my mind around these things. I'm beyond yelling. Ok, we knew already that the Bush regime was uncaring. They gutted FEMA for political and ideological reasons. But why are people still drowning in their homes? How long does it take to do something? How can bureaucracy be this hidebound and heartless?

Ok, so I am wrong. I thought I was beyond blaming things. George Wills says that this strikes at Bush's strength, at the perception that he is decisive. It's incomprehensible to me that Bush could be seen as decisive, after 9-11, when he dithered and then abandoned his post and ran and hid...but that's beside the point. For whatever reason, people saw Bush as decisive. Up until now. I still believe in the Republican spin machine and it's ability to fool people who want to be fooled. But I can hope that it opens people's eyes to the type or person they have for a President.
On Fox News this Morning Juan Williams was showing that he is not totally a mouthpiece for the White House - he was actually using language like tax cuts for the wealthy. And there was someone on the panel who said no, this won't stop Congress from making the tax cuts permanent. In addition, something I had heard reference to before - the Republican leadership tried to repeal the Estate Tax on Tuesday, while the government was doing nothing for the people hit by the hurricane.

Elsewhere - Soledad O'Brien wanders a totally empty New Orleans. Empty of the living, at least. The dead bodies still lie there, covered with blankets.

There was a striking dicrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.

ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.

Why am I not surprised. And from someone at MyDD

On Wednesday morning a group of approximately 1,000 citizens pulling 500 boats left the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette in the early morning and headed to New Orleans with a police escort from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department... The DWF agent did not want to hear this and ordered them home -- ALL FIVE HUNDRED BOATS. However, two friends were pulling a smaller 15ft alumaweld with a 25 hp. The DWF agents let them through to proceed to the rescue operation launch site...They reported to me that there were over 200 DWF agents just standing around and doing nothing. They were kept there for approximately 3 hours. During that time they observed a large number of DWF agents doing absolutely nothing. Why? Because FEMA would n ot let them HELP!

Watching CNN later that night, there was a telephone interview with a Nurse trapped in Charity Hospital in New Orleans. She said that there were over 1,000 people trapped inside of the hospital and that the doctors and nurses had zero medical supplies, no diesel to run the generators and that only three people had been rescued from the hospital since the Hurricane hit!

I can't come up with one logical reason why the DWF sent this large group of 500 boats/1000 men home when we surely could have rescued most, if not all, of the people trapped in Charity Hospital. Further, we had the means to immediately transport these people to hospitals in Southwest Louisiana.

Sheriff Lee and Senator Gautreaux - 1000 of Louisiana's citizens responded to the public's pleas for help. They were prevented from helping by Dwight Landreneau's agency, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which had been taken over by FEMA. When I learned that Charity Hospital has not been evacuated and that no one has been there to attempt a rescue, I became angry.

It was because of this that my friend and I have been trying launch boats both yesterday and today but to no avail. It looks like FINALLY the Governor has just said SCREW FEMA, get those boats in the water and help save my citizens.

I have turned into one of those people who blog by quoting other blogs. I'll get back to my normal non-existent posts eventually. The shock and horror just builds and builds.

What really breaks my heart is watching the people who are still in the midst of it. It's one thing to be horrified at the response, or rather the lack of response, from the government. It's quite another to see the people who are there, to see the stress on their faces, to see people going horrors that just don't end. How do you deal with horror that never ends? Hmm...maybe that's what it's like to live in parts of Gaza or the some of the camps in the West Banks. It's lower level, but I can't imagine what life without hope.

Aaron Neville singing Amazing Grace. People walking - walking with nowhere to go, no one to take them in. No rooms here, keep moving, or no more gas - how do we keep moving? Help from neighbouring states and neighbouring towns, but none from FEMA or the government.

Pictures of people dying - babies no longer responding, not waking up. Elderly people - hundred year olds, with no idea where they are.
Rehnquist is dead. He was 80. It's hard to say what this means now - Bush will appoint another right-wing extremist. Does he still have the political capital left now? It's hard to say. Another wrinkle in the whole matter.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

As miholo on MyDD pointed out, New Orleans was built where it should be.
Steve Gililard via kos (I should really read Gilliard more)

Well, motherfuckers, and that means you, fat ass Goldberg and your master, Rich Lowry, PNAC Bitch Beinart, the racist wannabe white Malkin and the little fucktards at LGF, Bareback Andy and "Diversity" Instacracker, all you backstabbing, fag hating uncle tom ministers, you can see Dear Leader in action. America's largest port is gone, maybe forever, gas is $5+ a gallon and FEMA is coming. Whores come faster with old men than FEMA is getting to NOLA.

How did your wartime President react? Like Chiang Kai-Shek when the Yellow River flooded in 1944, with corrupt indifference.

Bush, the man your fever dreams built into the next Winston Churchill when he is really the live action Chauncey Gardiner, has failed to everyone, in plain sight, without question. Rick Perry is trying to save his ass, but it ain't working. NOLA looks like ANGOLA and that ain't flying.
Chiang Kai-Shek when the Yellow River flooded. Wow. That's almost a classical reference. Wish I had the skill with words that these people have. Of course, here I rant without an audience - no-one but a few close relatives even know this thing exists. I could up my traffic a lot (any traffic means it would be upped a lot) by either putting it in my sig at kos (and posting a comment, for a change) or by putting a link to it at my Wikipedia userpage. But that has its own problems, because that would amount to 'outing' myself, in a place where I would much rather retain a small amount of anonymity. The whole Stromfront/Nazipedia thing was a little chilling. I'm probably not worth noticing to those types, but it's nice not to have to worry about these things.

Last night, on CNN, hearing Sanjay Gupta talking about watching Tulane Hospital being evacuated, watching healthy hospital workers being airlifted out, while patients at Charity Hospital, people being kept alive with hand-powered ventillators, were left sitting at Charity's makeshift helicopter evacuation point... Aaron Brown kept coming back to this point. The private hospital was totally evacuated, and the public hospital still had all of its patients and no electricity. What is behind these decisions? Sure, you know that the rich get preferential treatment. You know that the government cares far more about the rich than it does about the poor. These are all part of the sad reality of life. But even I find it hard to believe that the corruption goes this deep, that the people in charge of emergency relief would make a consciouis decision to rescue the people who can afford a private hospital, and leave those who are forced to go to a public hospital. This is mind bogglingly corrupt and evil. Is there another explanation for this? I sure hope so. I just can't imagine what it would be. The hospital staff at Tulane were airlifted out while the patients were left behind at Charity. WTF.

Friday, September 02, 2005

I never thought I would find someone more incompetent than Patrick Mugabe. WTF. Five days and people have never heard from FEMA. WTF. And Bush poses with these two women in Mississippi, women made homeless, looking for clothes...and he says "isn't there a Salvation Army down the road". Nope. Destroyed by the storm. But no, he doesn't know, he doesn't care. What is his job again? And this is the post-9/11 disaster preparedness???
Listening to the mayor of New Orleans on Randi's heartbreaking. Tragedy is tragedy, now matter where it strikes, but this is in the richest country in the world, this is in the world's last superpower, this is the country with more resources to throw at this than any other country in the world. How could people be so inhumane? What type of people let things like this happen and fail to lift a finger, fail to care the least about other human beings? I suppose black people in New Orleans (and white people too) are just shit that sticks to the shoes of the elite, of people like Bush - much like the Iraqi people, whose deaths matter nothing to this sick and corrupt regime.

I am beyond disgusted. It makes me sick.
I think Atrios hit the nail on the head. Soulless monsters.

These are our rulers? Jeebus help us all:

MCINTYRE: And as to your question about political, I talked to a lot of people at the Pentagon today who were very frustrated about the fact that the perception was being created that the military didn't move fast enough. And they did it somewhat as political. They thought that part of the motivation was the critics of the administration to make the president look bad.

And they seemed to question the motives of some of our reporters who were out there and hearing these stories from the victims about why they had so much sympathy for the victims, and not as much sympathy for the challenges that the government met in meeting this challenge.

And I have to say thinking about that, it doesn't really seem all that unusual that you would tend to understand the plight of the victims a little more than the bureaucrats in Washington.

BROWN: Yes, I mean, I'm glad you told us that. And they have every right to believe they believe and think the way they think. I mean, and I mean that. But you've got people who have been living as refugees. It is not hard to understand why our first heart beat goes in their direction. We'll worry about the bureaucrats later.

Only soulless monsters who'd had 4 years of kid gloves treatment from our media even begin to think it's okay to feel that way, let alone speak it out loud.

Where does one go from here?
Of course, now we have to ask...what happens when the next hurricane hits? It doesn't have to hit the Gulf Coast - what happens when a hurricane, even a minor one, hits Florida?
Paul Krugman has a great bit - not too partisan, but pulling no punches. A Can't Do Government. I think that describes things perfectly. It's heartbreaking incompetence. I never liked Bush. I thought he abandoned his post on 9-11. But that was nothing compared to this. At least it caught his attention. This one took several days to catch his attention.

Rachel Maddow is doing the Al Franken show today. Talking to a journalist who is in Iraq with the Louisiana National Guard. These are likely to be poor black people from New Orleans themselves. I can't imagine how they must feel - not only are they getting shot at in Iraq, not only do they have to make do with a lack of body armour and vehicular armour, not only are they in a quagmire of Bush's choosing...they also have to deal with the fact that back home their families may be dying or thirst in New Orleans, or getting robbed or raped by gangs, or may have drowned as their homes flooded...and all this because the government doesn't give a damn about the people. That's all it can be. They don't give a damn.

This is 'homeland security'. The cell towers failed, and they had no backup communication systems. This is supposed to be the best military in the world.

Bush said nobody anticipated the breech of the levees. In 2001 FEMA's top three disasters were a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in California, and a major hurricane flooding New Orleans. How the hell can this man lie like this? How the hell can anyone be that heartless? WTF? WTF, WTF, WTF. I am speechless.
Day 5. Who would have thought that there would be people at the Convention Center dying of thirst on Day 5? Looting, which started on Day 3, just reminds me of Baghdad after the fall, when the city was in chaos for weeks. Unlike the coup in Trinidad, things did not start right away. People started stealing food after a few days when they realised no-one was coming for them, and then other people started stealing everything else.

Bill from Portland, over at kos, has it right. While Condi shops for shoes, while Cheney is still on vacation, while... (fill it in here)...people die. Hunter's post is a must-read as well. That Fox News has turned on the Bush administration (with a few exceptions, like O'Lielly) is telling. And yet nothing is still being done.
Over at kos there are people talking about how ever Joe Scarborough is turning on the Bush adminstration. I noticed this morning that David Brooks was focussed on the fact that the victims were mainly poor and black. They say even Tucker Carlson is highly upset about the lack of action. But what does it really mean? It isn't going to get Bush impeached. People have low expectations of him, and even though he isn't even living up to those expectations, somehow people are happy with the way things are. We like it so, we free! You'da thought that was written about America in 2005, not Trinidad in 1981. Same thing though. People seem to be willing to follow "their party" into ruin.

I hope that some good comes from this - that people wake up and realise how incompetent the Bush regime is. But will they? And even if there is massive backlash against the Republicans next year, will it be enough to switch control of the House and Senate? And if it does, will it make a difference, or will it be "too little, too late"? I suppose for thousands of people in New Orleans that answer to that question is more than obvious - it's too little, too late after you have gone through what those people have gone through. How does such massive incompetence happen? Hard work.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Looking at footage of the looting I thought (and said) this is nothing, you should have seen the coup. Today I am no longer saying that. The coup was nothing. I can't believe the stories, of people dying on the side of the road waiting to be rescued, of people who think that rescue is coming but that no-one has any plans to rescue...
I suppose the job season is finally upon us. Monday brought a slew of ads to The Chronicle, several of which I think I am qualified for. But looking at job ads made me realise what my realistic job prospects are likely to be. My current 2/2 teaching isn't something I have much hope of maintaining - without the publications, I have no chance at an R1. There are two ads at liberal arts colleges that I paid serious attention to - one at a upper tier elite liberal arts college, and the other at a more middle of the road college. I'm paranoid enough not to name them, in the event that, by some strange means or other they were to somehow come across this posting.

So let's just call them School 1 and School 2. School 1 looks like a dream job - small liberal arts college with a huge biology faculty. People teach intro classes in whatever strikes their fancy. And research is required - in fact, undergraduate participation in real research appears to be a key part of their programme. I don't know what teaching loads are like, but I'm going to guess that they are 3-3. School 2 has a tiny biology faculty - maybe 5 people. Teaching loads are 3-4, 9-12 credit hours a semester, which one bonus hour for labs (i.e., a 3 hour lab is one credit hour for students, but the instructor gets to count it as 2 credit hours - which is, apparently, a lot better than many other universities). The idea of teaching somewhere where you don't have graduate students, where you have to run your own labs, is actualy somewhat appealing. And the truth is that a 4/4 could involve teaching the same class more than once, and running several lab streams - which appears to be what Bob is doing. School 2 lays out its teaching load at great lenghts, which makes it seem rather daunting, but that may be the point - to keep away non-serious candidates...I am reminded of the debate on the Chronicle fora when someone said that he didn't plan to interview Ivy Leaguers because they did not seem to be able to fathom the teaching load. Maybe School 2 is saying that up front to avoid having their time wasted by primadonnas. Who knows. Anyway, the worst thing to me of School 2 was the statement that, although faculty are expected to remain active in scholarly pursuits, this does not necessarily mean publication in scholarly journals...

The idea (or maybe ideal) of a small, close-knit community at a liberal arts college appeals to me. I don't know if it's realistic or not, but I could see myself as that kind of professor, the jack-of-all-trades generalist naturalist who can answer just about any question an undergrad brings. But then, you can be that at a big school too - look at both Pat and Pete - in very different ways, they meet the ideal. Who knows if I will get any job this year. But it's always fun to dream. I still hope that the ideal job will open up at UWI in a couple years, when Dookeran is Prime Minister and the crime situation is more in hand.

Which leads to another thought - what sort of a Prime Minister woudl Dookeran make, and would he really be the kind of person that Trinidad needs? I'm not asking, is he the kind of person the party needs (i.e., someone who can lead it to voctory), I'm not asking whether he would be better than Patrick Mugabe, because I think that's an obvious yes. I'm asking whether "Wins" is really the kind of person the country needs. That is, of course, a two-fold question - what kind of person is he really (of course, he went Naps, he must be a good person), and what sort of person does the country need right now. I'd still go back to Hudson-Philips, the tough law-and-order guy, but apart from no longer being active in politics, he's the same age as Bas. Well, there's always Gillian.
It doesn't get better. It just seems to get worse. Death and destruction - some towns in Mississippi were totally flattened. As you see the pictures you are reminded of nothing so much as the tsunami.

Katrina was a natural phenomenon. It seems likely that climate change led to warmer water in the Gulf of Mexico, but that is impossible to prove one way or the other. The destruction in Mississippi and Louisiana would have happened. But what happened in New Orleans did not have to happen. Atrios, kos and Majority Report have pointed out how the hurricane defenses were systematically underfunded, and how FEMA was gutted over the last several years. Bush is too busy with his vacation, too busy paying golf, to say anything in a timely manner. He can't be bothered to visit the affected areas. But will he show up for a rousing photo op in a few weeks as the city starts to dry out (or, more likely, in some small town in Mississippi, since that photo op will connect more with his base)? Pro-bab-ly.

Things get weirder and wierder. A 'renegade' bus makes it into Houston...loads of refugees fleeing New Orleans. Apparently those who were not in the Superdome in New Orleans were not supposed to be housed in the Astrodome in Houston. They are talking about the fact that there was no information about the buses, no information about the people on board. Granted, there are many far more important things for them to deal with at a time like that.

Destitute refugees fleeing natural disasters. It's the kind of thing that you have been hearing about for years. I didn't dismiss it as alarmist, I just put it aside as information that I could not use at this point in time. It was something you thought possible in the distant future when rising sea levels displace millions of people...or something like that.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It's really disturbing to see the aftermath of Katrina. With any disaster like this, you expect that once it passes things start getting better. With places like Biloxi, although the entire town is gone, at least you can sit and think, how do we fix this. With New Orleans though, it goes from bad to worse. I'm not talking about the looting, or the armed gangs roaming the streets. These are jut symptoms of the bigger problems. The really disturbing issues relate to the fact that they city continues to sink. It reminds me of building 'walls' and moats to protect sand castles from the rising tide. As the waves come closer you build walls, you dig ditches, and the waves stop before they hit your construction. But then comes a wave which overwhelms your construction, overwhelms your defenses, and no matter how much sand you pour into the breach, no matter how deep you dig the diversion pool, the wave still swamps you. New Orleans feels like that. Maybe once the 'tide has gone out' (the water level subsides) they can rebuild and pump the water out. But until then... I just don't know what they can do.

It hits home because I was there this summer, and because I now know someone living there.

Of course, I am blocking out death tolls and just looking at the physical damage. The damage to people's lives is too much too take in at this time.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Sure, everybody is writing about Katrina, but it's hard not to. Maybe I should be glad that I managed to stop in New Orleans and see the French Quarter. It's hard to imagine, the idea of New Orleans is the French Quarter. Just the idea of the potential damage to the city is mind boggling.

What will the human cost of this hurricane be? What will the environmental cost be? It's all the more real, having seen the Gulf Coast, it's all the more real knowing that Lisa lives there. I am assuming that she got out safely, but I honestly have no clue.

I went to bed assuming that whatever was to happen would have happened by the time I got up. I find it almost impossible to tear my eyes away from it. Things sound better - a Category 4 is better than a Category 5. The storm turned north (as they said it would). To me it looked worse, it looked like the storm had turned towards the city, but apparently this is an improvement, since it puts the city on the left side of the storm, getting its strongest winds off the land, not off the sea. They seem to think that the storm surge probably won't go over the levees...something, they said, which could have left the city under water for up to eight months.

I'm concernd about Sam too. I don't really know where he is in Mississippi, but I think he's far enough inland.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

This semester is shaping up to be my heaviest teaching load yet. Teaching these two courses isn't the most difficut thing - I could do a mediocre job, recycle my Economic Botany lectures from last year...but if I did that I would be missing the point of this "postdoc".

The biggest challenge isn't improving the lecture material - that isn't terribly difficult, although it can be time consuming. The problem is "active learning". I have finally figured out what it is - something that had eluded me up until now. Now I just have to figure out how one does it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I just realised why I am able to fix computer problems for people. Perhaps 90% of computer "problems" require only two things - patience, and the confidence that problems are generally tractable and logical. Computers may be strange creatures, but rarely are they truly malevolent.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Ok, so there is one more thing about which I want to blog. Hubbell's neutral model. It's interesting to see how it has become a lightning rod. My reaction to it was "cool". It seems like most other people reacted with "how can I disprove this?" Maybe that is my limitation as a scientist - maybe I am too willing to accept new ideas, instead of putting them through the ringer like I am supposed to...

Sure, the neutral theory bothered me. What do you mean, tropical trees are competitively neutral? Of course they aren't - any idiot can see that. But you need to look at the analogy with neutral models in genetics. Of course genes are not neutral - the point is that selection theory cannot explain a lot a what goes on in genetics. Rather than trying to explain everything through selection and adaptation, you need to partition variation into selective and neutral variation. Not only does it make it easier to tease apart the variation that matters, it also allows you do trace ancestry and relatedness, and come up with both tools to identify individuals and tools to trace the relatedness between plant Divisions. The idea that niche differentiation can explain the existence of thousands of tropical trees is pretty far-fetched. Even as simple things as light gradients in gaps are pretty hard to demonstrate. It isn't that trees are competitively neutral, it's that neutral models can explain a lot of the variation that exists. So let's refine our understanding of neutral vs. competitive forces, and make use of this information. Or not, if that's what you prefer.
Back in Oklahoma after a long trip. A long trip in which I (sadly) did none of the driving. While I have a lot to say about seeing Canada again, I would rather wait until I had the time to get into that.

I have such mixed feelings about getting this read. You write to get read, and I now have a few people who read this. But at the same time, I rarely do anything to publicise this. Everyone, it seems, is talking about their blogs - even Lindsay's grandmother has a blog now - but somehow I can't bring myself to speak up and say "me too". In part it's because I am not sure whether they know this exists or not, but there is also the "boasting" part. Linz or Carol or Molly write news, they write things that keep people informed about what's going on in their lives. I just ramble on about my thoughts - thought about what it means to blog. I should get over than and go on to write my thoughts about weightier matters - like what an idiot Patrick Mugabe is. But I don't.

So now I am on the cusp of a new semester. I have a whole pile of things to do - newsletter, preparations for two classes - and other things that I can't think of at this moment. But the thing that's really burning in my mind is the dry forest model I came up with. Pete's reaction was really cool - it was really the most interested he has ever been in anything I have shown him. I need to work on that, develop it. Pete seems to think it has the potential to be an Ecology paper. That would be amazing. But before I do that I need to (i) stop wasting time here, (ii) stop wasting time at Wikipedia, (iii) get the work done that I need to do for classes and teaching, and (iv) get my other manuscripts out. What I really need to do is to stop writing, stop this, now. Stop. Maybe in a few minutes...

Friday, August 05, 2005

On the road to Montreal. We started out on Wednesday after my dental appointment (can't bring myself to say the word "root canal") and made up up to St. Louis. Thusday too us all the way up Illinois, across a little bit of Indiana, and all the way through Michigan. Today and tomorrow we stay put (more or less) and then head off to Montreal.

I feel both nervous and excited to go to Montreal. It is with very mixed feelings that I head back into the landscape of my childhood. It will be changes far beyond recognition - that I know, without the slightest shadow of a doubt. But I want to go back and explore these places, I want to see them again, and I want to share that experience with Linz. I also want to see Montreal, I am very excited by the prospect of attending the conference, and I want to see people. In that regard I feel a little bad to drag Linz along - I think and I hope that she will enjoy the experience, but I don't know for certain.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fifteenth anniversay of the coup. I can't believe it's been that long. One of the most traumatic events of my life, certainly the biggest societal trauma I have experiences... but it seems to have fallen by the wayside, little more than a blip in history. It's still very alive and very immediate for me - somewhat more real with time as the pictures I saw become my own memories, the things I read about become things I experienced. Such is memory, I suppose.

In memorium to those who died, to those who were hurt, to the society torn apart. In memorium to the idea of One Love, which was finally trampled into the ground that day. In the days since then I have lost most of the respect I once had for Robinson, but he was still a far better Prime Minister than Manning could ever be. I cannot forgive what was done, even if the outrage no longer burns the way it once did.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Billmon's story of Iraq is both disturbing and terribly plausible. It really seems to me like a train-wreck, and disaster with no good solution. America has no way out but the coward's...and that is the worst possible withdrawal. So where does it lead?

It's really interesting to read what he had to say about the various parties. I suppose I have always had a certain amount of faith in Iran - faith in democracy, largely due to people like Friedman. I realise that most of the time Friedman is naively optimistic. But so am I - despite experience, I have faith in democracy. But democracy brought Patrick Mugabe and Shrub to power. Well - something resembling democracy, if you can count the Muslimeen, on one hand, and Katherine Harris and Diebold on the other, as part of democracy.

I suppose I have a need to believe that good will triumph over evil, that in the end things will work out. But I just don't know if that is the case. The forces of evil have the upper hand in the world today - in Trinidad, in the US, in Russia. What force exists to hold them accountable? It never ceases to amaze me the way that Americans act against their own interests, the whole What's the matter with Kansas mindset. Saw a really moving documentary on A&E about the working poor in America. How does the richest country in the world ignore such a major portion fo their population? The lack of public transportation, and the way that that lack deprives people of mobility is amazing. If you can't get places, if you are forced to live where you can get the bus, if keeping your car in running order is more important than paying for food...these are problems that are easy to solve. Things are not great in Trinidad, but you can get just about anywhere without a car. You may have to leave home at 5.30 am to get to work, the cost to your quality of life is huge - but you don't have to own a car in order to be able to earn a living.

Which is not to say that things are better in Trinidad than in the US...

Friday, July 22, 2005

Ah, the simple pleasure of working in a coffee shop. There's something about sitting in a coffee shop, near campus, that Borders simply can't match. The added advantage of free WiFi is cool too, though it is a little distracting. Actually that's part of the problem - I can sit here and blog and still feel productive. Ah well...

Can I really call this a post? It says nothing of any significance, it's just an immediate thought, something that comes over you in the moment and you want to save...and, hopefully, share. Is that what blogging is all about? To some people that's exactly what it's about. But I don't want to be the kind of person who sits around writing things that not even their friends care to read.

Writing is a habit - a habit that I have yet to perfect. Ok, I am so far away from it that I can't even talk about 'perfection' - I can only talk about basic and bare competence. It's fun. I can write even when I have nothing to say (like now). But writing should be about something. I'm not trying to re-create Seinfeld - and even that was about more than most of my postings. So why am I writing? Is it to communicate with people I care about? Not really - this isn't the sort of personal blog that people write to be read by their friends. I actually took about a year to tell anyone about it. I have a desire to write, a drive almost - but nothing to say. No great thoughts float around in my head waiting to get out. Well, maybe they are their, but they can't get past the cloud of fuzziness into which my brain has degenerated. How sad. Maybe if I wrote every day I would get better at focus and the thoughts would start to linearise themselves. Maybe, but I won't hold my breath, and neither should you. Wow - probably the first time I have addressed "the reader".

Anyway, time to get back to work...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

So what now? The news is confusing, but it appears that it was a home-made explosive device in a bottle, and the fact that it was in a wrought-iron garbage bin is what made it damaging and potentially deadly. Which means that either the bomber knew what he was doing and placed it in the metal container to create shrapnel, or they placed it in the metal container expecting that the container would hold it in. Umm...thanks a lot to the authorities for providing such useless information. But anyway...I'm sure they're doing their best - like landing a helicopter on a crime scene.

The Guardian seems to think that it was unequivocally a terrorist act - it was intended to create terror. Seems logical. If it had been a prank you'd think it would have been set somewhere less crowded.

The follow-up was bomb threats across the country. Of course, Trinidad being Trinidad, this was entirely to be expected. Of course, if the people behind this had intended to cause fear, they would probably have engineered the bomb threats the following day - it's cheaper and yet still serves the intended purpose. On the other hand, Trinidad being Trinidad, people will expect and discount such threats in the aftermath of the activity.

Makes you think though...for all the bomb threats, I can only think of one bomb, against the Ahmaddiyyas in Marabella long long ago - that one was never solved (though some people blamed the Jamaat). Will this one be solved? I am not all that hopeful.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

How do you distinguish terrorism from mayhem? The cynic's answer is: when it affects you. This affected me. I might be thousands of miles awy, but I might as well have been on Frederick Street. This isn't the same as the coup - in the coup, some people got caught in the crossfire, but for most people they could get out of the way. It isn't gang warfare with innocents caught in the crossfire. It isn't even the same as throwing a grenade into a police car. This is different - the targets were just people - the watch lady outside Maraj. It wasn't strangers - thiw was real. It doesn't matter who the people were - I didn't recognise the names, but it could just as well have been names I recognised. It wasn't foreigners. It was Trinis.

There's no one to focus your anger on. There is no al Qaeda, no Jamaat to hate... Without a single focus you feel like you could strike out an anyone. Not strike in a physical sense, of course, but strike nonetheless. It's hard to have such nebulous anger - how do you focus your anger if you don't even know whether this was an assault on society or a prank.

In the grand scale of things this was trivial. No deaths yet, two seriously injured who still have the challenge of surviving the medical system. Fourteen injured, so most reports are saying. But it's such a small place. It's equivalent to 5-600 seriously injured people if it were the US. It's a small place, it's not the type of place that things like this should happen. If someone had blown up a pipeline crossing the VM I would have been less surprised - hitting Trinidad to hurt the US has strategic value. Hitting innocent people in Trinidad, hitting random Trinidadians - well, it's terrorism, I suppose. It just didn't make sense to me before. Now it does. We need familiar concepts upon which to build knowledge. Frederick and Queen Street, Maraj Jewellers, the lady selling watches (or at least the display of watches) - these things are real, far more real than the stuff that surrounds me here, exiled in a foreign country...

Monday, July 11, 2005

The idea of job hunting is getting closer. Jobs for Fall 2006 are appearing on The Chronicle. It's a little scary - on one hand, I don't feel prepared enough, on the other, I hate the fact that I have to thro wmy hat in the ring now for jobs that won't become reality for over a year. Sometimes I think that the fear of success is as great as the fear of failure - not only is there the fear that you won't get a job, there's the fear that you will accept the wrong job, and then, after you have accepted it, a much better job will come along.

There's still a part of me that would rather postdoc than take a real job. Take another year or two after this one and try to find something that will allow you to dive full-time into research. The truth is, not only am I too old for that, but I don't want to drag Linz to another town for 1 or 2 more years, only to have to relocate again. She needs stability if she is going to figure out what she is going to do with her life. Although I joke that she can be employed anywhere that there are people, if we follow my job opportunities hers will be more limited. Life, eh?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

It never rains but it pours. So they say, so I seem to live. And since I am up past my bedtime with far too much work still undone - well, I will blog. Maybe this time I will get the hang of it and I will actually get into the habit. Maybe, but I suspect that's highly unlikely. One can always hope, of course.

They say that the way to your blog noticed is to develop some topic which is important to you, and become the place that people come for news about the topic. That idea would work well for people with one or three good obsessive interests, but for a dabbler like me I doubt it wouild get anywhere. What truly fascinates me? Knowledge, history, politics and community ecology. Of those, only in the latter area can I claim any level of expert knowledge. And sadly, that "expert knowledge" has me convinced that I know basically nothing. Oh well. Obviously, if I have a sense of how little I know I have the beginning of wisdom (with regards to that one area). But the "beginnings" of wisdom are to true wisdom what a single hair is to a wig factory.

So now you must blog. Write about nothing and nothingness, about the experience of attending the Fourth of July fireworks show in Norman. I found myself thinking about battlefields, mortars and shelling. I wondered what it would have been like to sit in your village and watch the front lines light up. I suppose if you were secure in your knowledge that the fighting was not going to come your way you could sit there and enjoy the show. But who is ever really sure enough about where battle will go. I was reminded of last year's footage of the first siege of Falluja, the one that the Americans were forced to lift. Sure, they came back a few months later and levelled the city. That story reminds me of Grozny...

Monday, July 04, 2005

Apologies to my legion of expectant fans, but this is not actually a blog posting, despite the fact that it looks much like one. It is simply a post to update the date on the blog. After all, it's been almost 3 months since I last updated this thing.

While I could blame that lapse on a number of things if I so chose, I can't say I have a good reason for not blogging. Nor do I have a reason for blogging. The resignation of Sandra Day O'Connor might be reason to blog, the to-be-hoped-for downfall of Karl Rove...but that's all been done before. I could complain about Tom Cruise. Yep, that would be a good one. I suppose you could say that's what happens when you realise that you have spent $360,000 to hear about "Xenu", the galactic tyrant who stacked hundreds of billions of his frozen victims around Earth's volcanoes 75 million years ago before blowing them up with hydrogen bombs and brainwashing them with a "three-D, super colossal motion picture for 36 days" (from the Wikipedia article). It was funny, in a sense, to realise that I had talked to that very same person, in different guises, so many times in bars. It was such a typical example of the fanatic...the person convinced that they have "hidden knowledge" ("You don't know about psychology Matt, I know about psychology"). Hidden knowledge is, of course, not available to use mere mortals. That's why you have to pay so much money to get it.

Perhaps that is why I am so attracted to the epistemology of science - because the tools for knowing are out in the open. If someone says X is the case, they have to back it up with evidence. Is science the only way of knowing? No. But it is one of the few ways of being certain (or rather, of being able to specify your uncertainty, which is much more interesting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What have I done to deserve this? How did I end up with a link on my page to a creationist web site? That's what you get for selling your soul to advertise, huh? Hmm - that's probably how I end up with ads like that - "selling your soul"?

I really am curious what would bring me such a link. I don't see anything on my page which would bring me one or the other. I have ads about blogs, makes sense since I mostly write about the idea of writing a blog. Maybe that's why no one reads this thing. Yeah - no one reads this thig because they don't know it exits, I don't post often enough and I have nothing interesting to say. Where my ads go is another issue altogether.
Watching Kos on C-SPAN (online archive) - really interesting to hear him talk...the origins or Daily Kos, his politics and the world of blogging.

It's nice to flesh out your idea of the person whose site you read every day. There is some reassurance in his age - he's a year younger than me (he looks even youner than that). Good to see one's own generation making an impact, but also good to know that he isn't as young as he looks. He's making a decent living off the web site, but not a celebrity lifestyle. That has some appeal.

Which gets back to the issue of age. I was really bothered a couple days ago when I realised that I have come to the point where my options are no longer infinite. I am well on my way to being what I will be "when I grow up". I would like to have children sometime in the next few years, and that means that any travelling I want to do would have to happen before that. But more importantly, I can't just pack up and go around the world. Not only do I not have the money...there are the "career" considerations as well. To get anywhere with my desire to be an academic I need to find a tenure-track job, and then stick with it. As is I have more chance of (some day) having summers off than I would in most other fields (albeit, summers to do research) but it isn't the same as when you were a student. Somehow I have never really let go of the idea of getting your holidays off - I have never adapted to a "real world" in which you have a few weeks of holdidays a year to play with. Teaching four days a week weighs on me - a "real" job might ask more of your time, but if you needed a week off for some reason, you could take that week off. Teaching puts you in a position of being indispensible (for the course of the semester) while being highly dispensible in the grand scheme of things.