Tuesday, July 29, 2008

All the girls I knew were smart

There's been a lot of talk in the past few years about whether or not girls can cut it in math and science.  Apparently, there's a huge disparity right now, and that's something we need to address.  Well, I'm nursing a theory and I want to share it here on my soapbox.  At least a little nugget.

Here's the nugget: boys are romantic; girls are practical. 

I'm not trying to say anything controversial.  I'm just a guy voicing an opinion from his own experience.  I don't know whether those traits derive from nature or from nurture.  I just think they're there.  If you think about it, you might see the connection and you might agree with me.  As a brief example, how many women fight "for the principle of it"?  How many men?  As a counter-example, how many times have we seen a mother explode with anger when somebody threatens her baby?  How many times have you seen a man explode with the same ferocity?

If you think about it, you might or might not agree.  Either way, let's keep being friends, shall we?  Let's not waste time fighting about it like two romantics from Victorian England with honor to fight for.  Neither of us will be more likely to survive longer because we won this fight.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chemical Religiosity

In the interest of being fair-minded, I thought I'd point you toward this interesting article, which suggests that one's "capacity for transcendence" depends on the level of one's "concentration of serotonin receptors."  I don't really know what that means, but the last paragraph explains it, I hope:

[T]he researchers see the evidence as contradicting the common belief that religious behavior is determined strictly by environmental and cultural factors. They see a biological underpinning for religiosity, and it is related to the neurotransmitter serotonin.

So there you have it.  Science trying to explain Religion.  Interesting, if nothing else.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Don't Understand the World

But neither do you, so let's be friends.

I just finished reading Michael Crichton's travelogue Travels.  During the first hundred pages or so, I loved it.  He talked about the trials and tribulations of medical school and his own issues with being a doctor.  These are not dissimilar to the qualms I've experienced about being a lawyer.  And I could also relate to his feelings of isolation for appreciating a broader spectrum of life than did his classmates.  Not "better"---just broader.

The next hundred pages or so were equally interesting: they dealt with his experiences traveling throughout the world.  Climbing Kilimanjaro, visiting Shangri-La, smoking pot in Thailand.  I found it fascinating and thrilling, inspiring even.  I wanted to go out and experience this city, my temporary home.  Just find some random place to stick my head in and taste the life blood of Federal City.

Then I got bogged down in the last hundred pages or so.  He shifted from talking about his physical travels to talking about his metaphysical travels.  He learned how to see auras, travel on the astral plane, and channel some higher level of himself.  He even experienced an exorcism.  These are phenomena with which I am distinctly uncomfortable, and so the reading was very slow and difficult.  But I slogged through it, and I'm glad I did.

The last chapter of the book is called "Postscript: Skeptics at Cal Tech."  In it, he defends his belief in and experience with the paranormal.  He essentially argues that Science and Faith are not opposed in some epistemological battle for explanation and power;  rather, Science and Faith are opposed in much the same way that Christianity and Roman Paganism were opposed in the first century C.E.  It's not a difference in a way of thinking; it's a difference in what you think.  He notes:

Science offers a picture of the world, but its picture is not to be confused with the underlying reality itself.

And later:

This, in essence, is the problem with the scientific view of reality.  Science is a kind of glorified tailoring enterprise, a method for taking measurements that describe something---reality---that may not be understood at all.

Science is very good as far as it goes.  It has certainly produced powerful benefits.  It would be crazy to abandon science or to deny its validity.

But it would be equally crazy to think that reality is a forty-four long.

Before you start thinking that Dr. Crichton, a Harvard-trained physician, has gone all crazy Left Coast on you, he concludes the essay:

The fact is that we need the insights of the mystic [or theologian or philosopher or psychologist] every bit as much as we need the insights of the scientist.  Mankind is diminished when either is missing.

Many scientists and "rational" thinkers deny the value of religion except as a safety blanket.  "Where is the evidence?!" they demand, often adamantly.  But the uncomfortable truth is that we only need as much evidence as we think we need.  We accept the Pythagorean theorem because our eighth grade math teacher told us about it.  Sure, there's evidence out there to prove it, but have you looked it up?  Have you read Pythagoras's notes?  How do you know there isn't some vast conspiracy of math teachers with some strange goal?  Because you've decided---consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously---that your eighth grade teacher's word is enough.

And non-religious thinkers decide---consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously---that their Sunday school teacher's word is not.

The merits of your position and mine may never be "known" while we're living on earth.  But that's OK.  I'll try to convince you that I'm right and you try to convince me that you're right.  Why can't we still be friends?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

I'm a big fan of some of our justices on the United States Supreme Court.  I generally like Clarence Thomas, mostly because of his audacity to be a staunchly conservative black man in a hugely public position.  Whether I agree with his ideas or not, that alone is worth my respect.  I also like John Roberts and Sam Alito, though I think mostly because of their upbringings in blue collar and immigrant families, respectively, and their rise to the most powerful tribunal in the nation.  They represent the American dream.  Most of the justices on the Supreme Court right now represent the American dream, and I can dig it.

What I can't dig is acting like those accused of committing crimes and the police are on equal footing.  The New York Times today published an article about America's exclusionary rule, which basically says that, if the police break the law when they're coming after you, then the State can't use whatever evidence they find because of that illegality against you in court.  Apparently, some of our more conservative justices (the article mentions only Scalia and Roberts, but I'm sure Thomas and Alito are on board as well) are starting to think that's maybe that's not a good idea.  Apparently, we need to help out the police.

Or maybe not.  The United States government has a budget with 13 digits.  That's $2,900,000,000 for FY2008.  My wife and I have a personal budget with only five digits: $x0,000.  But there's more.  Let's say I get under investigation for some tax crime.  The U.S. has U.S. Attorneys and all their staff trying to prosecute me, with IRS special agents investigating me, and the advice of the DOJ Tax Division helping out too.  If we assume that just one person from each organization is chasing after me, that's three highly qualified and experienced people going against me, a law student with almost no experience in the courtroom or in police investigations.  Maybe I can retain a lawyer, but the chances that I can afford a lawyer who specializes in tax criminal defense---to help even out the playing field---is pretty slim.  We're talking about David and Goliath.  And I'm David.  Only I don't have any stones for my sling.

The only stone for my sling is the exclusionary rule.  Take that away, and I've just got a string.

Brokeback Rant

Does anybody remember March 2006?  That spring, I was living in Brownwood with my wife, working for a family lawyer, and spending most of my weekends hanging out with our best friends there, who happened to be from Wyoming.  In the fall of 2005, the movie Brokeback Mountain, with Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams came out and caused a lot of controversy.  (Mostly, I think because we were all trying to figure out whether we'd cheat on Anne Hathaway with Heath Ledger.)  Then in March 2006, Crash won the Oscar for Best Picture, and the author of Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx, got so upset that she wrote a scathing critique in the Los Angeles Times the New York Times U.S.A. Today Newsweek U.S. News & World Report London's Guardian of the "conservative heffalump academy voters" who chose Crash for Best Picture instead of the movie based on her short story.*  At that time, I had seen neither movie, and didn't really have any intent to see either.  I find that "Best Picture" is generally a euphemism for "Least Fun Picture."

But last fall, I watched Crash with my wife and loved it.  (Then again, I'm a sucker for anything that's about race relations.)  Then tonight, Brokeback Mountain came on Bravo, so we watched it.  And I have to say: I agree with the conservative heffalumps living in Los Angeles.  Crash, while maybe not the best movie ever, was just a better movie than Brokeback Mountain.  Before you close this window and call me a homophobe, listen to my complaints.

1.  No Development of the Relationship.  I expected more buildup toward the relationship between Jack and Ennis.  Instead, one night, Ennis gets drunk, forgets to go back out to the sheep, and sleeps inside the one-man tent because it's cold.  While in the tent, Jack reaches around and grabs Ennis's hand and--boom--you have a twenty-year-long relationship.  Even James Bond has to work harder to get laid.  Since we're talking about two cowboys in 1960s Wyoming, I expected a lot more buildup, a lot more desperation.  In Crash, the central aspect of the film was the intersection of all these lives, and the movie painstakingly establishes those intersections in every scene.  The relationship in Brokeback Mountain just didn't get developed enough.  In fact, most of my complaints center on the relationship.

2.  Unrealistically Sexual Relationship.  Apparently, Jack and Ennis's relationship, though it lasted 20 years, was mostly about sex.  When Jack comes back to Wyoming to see Ennis four years after their first tryst, the very first thing they do is kiss passionately.  In what becomes a boring pattern, Ennis didn't really introduce Jack and Alma.  The two cowboys couldn't even be around each other in mixed company for fear of jumping each other's bones and revealing the true nature of their relationship.  We've all known men and women who hid sexual relationships for years.  Are they less passionate than Jack and Ennis?  At any rate, the physical aspect of their relationship clearly was key.  If anything, the movie furthered the stereotype that homosexual relationships are only about sex and not about enjoying each other's company and learning to navigate life's tricky river together.

3.  Too many plot lines and conflicts that never got resolved.  Did Jack's wife ever figure it out?  What happened after he stood up to her dad?  Why did he cheat on her with another rancher's wife?  Why not with the rancher, who was clearly making a play at him?  How come only Ennis's older daughter ever came to see him?  Why did Ennis take his own shirt back at the end?  And what does Ennis swear to Jack?

4.  Movie with a Message.  I HATE movies that are made because the people who make them only want to make a point or convey a message.  Especially when they want to convey a controversial message.  ("Look at me--I'm so controversial!")  Crash is like that, but it's saved from being hated because I like stuff that deals with race relations.  Example #2:  I liked The Kingdom;  I hated Syriana.  If your movie happens to convey a point, that's fine.  Just don't make the whole project about telling me something.  I felt like the idea was to make heterosexuals see that homosexuals are "just like you."  Eh.  Didn't quite work for me.  Rent did a much better job.

That's it.  Thanks for reading my rant.  If you got this far, email me and I'll give you a coupon for half off my legal services after I pass the bar.




*For those of you who wonder why I struck out all those American newspapers: I found it very cowardly and generally un-admirable that Proulx wrote her report in the Guardian.  If you have a problem with something in America, don't complain to people in Paris London about it.  I'm all about free speech, but I dislike people who complain just to complain.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Go Rangers

It hasn't been this much fun to be a Rangers fan since . . . since the summer of 1993.  (The strike of 1994 ruined baseball for me until last year.  And last year wasn't fun.)

And I haven't appreciated a Ranger as much as I appreciate Josh Hamilton since the days of Pudge.  Now Mr. Hamilton just needs a cool nickname.  Any ideas?  I'm thinking "Second-Chance Sam" is too cheesey.  Where's Chris Berman when you need him?

Anyway--the Rangers were down 4-2 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th tonight, when Michael Young singled in Ramon Vazquez, setting the table for Hamilton's walk-off homer.  The final score?  5-4 Rangers.

We probably won't make the playoffs, but we can enjoy beating the Angels any day.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Two Items of Note

1.  Washington, D.C., is the kind of city where you kinda always wish you had your camera.  I was walking today around 5th & Pennsylvania NW looking for lunch with my group of computer trainees.  We stopped at an intersection, and I glanced off to my left.  There, rising behind the squat office buildings, stood the Washington Monument.  I kinda wished I had my camera so I could post a picture for you.

2.  Washington, D.C., is at the latitude where the sun comes up really stinkin early.  Back home, I always got up 15-30 minutes before sunrise, usually about 6:00.  Here, my alarm goes off at 6:30, and my bedroom is ablaze in (what I would call) mid-morning glory.  For the second day in a row, I nearly had a heart attack when I woke up in such a bright room, thinking I had grossly overslept and was going to get fired from my summer internship.  Thankfully, that hasn't happened (yet).  Strangely enough, the sun sets late, too, usually after 9:00 p.m.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The New Capital Punishment: Sterilization

One day when I was a paralegal, I was thinking about how a background in psychology would really help a judge or lawyer.  After all, wouldn't you better be able to tell when people are telling you the truth?  Then I realized that law is, at its essence, applied psychology.  So here is some interesting psychology about the death penalty*:

In their comprehensive study of homicides, the leading evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson note that most homicides between men originate from what is known as “trivial altercations.”  A typical homicide in real life . . . begins as a fight about trivial matters of honor, status, and reputation between men (such as when one man insults another or makes moves on another’s girlfriend).  Fights escalate because neither is willing to back down, until they become violent and one of the men ends up dead. . . . .

. . .

Incidentally, this is why the death penalty may not deter murder.  The logic of the death penalty assumes that most murders are premeditated.  A potential murderer carefully and rationally weighs the costs and benefits of the act, and decides not to murder if the costs outweigh the benefits.  This might describe a fictional murderer on Columbo, but not real-life murderers, who do not stop to think before escalating their trivial altercations into fatal fights.

The logic of the death penalty also assumes that execution is the worst fate possible.  From an evolutionary psychological perspective, there is something worse than death, and it is the total reproductive failure that awaits any man who does not compete for mates in a polygynous society.  If they compete and fight with other men, they may die, by being either killed by the other man or executed by the state.  If they don’t compete, however, they will definitely die, reproductively, by leaving no copies of their genes.  So they might as well compete even at the risk of death; the alternative is much worse.

So you see, capital punishment may not deter because death is always a risk when choosing to enter any activity.  Interestingly, this may explain why sterilization seems so cruel and inhumane.