January 26, 2010

Economics for the MTV Generation

This one goes out to my brother-in-law:

The discussion seems accurate, from what I recall of Econ 101 & 102.

Hat tip to Megan McArdle's blog.

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January 21, 2010

Foot In Mouth Disease

I mentioned that I'm in one class all about the Thirty Years War, and another class about Early Modern Europe, so the former is a subset of the latter.

In the former class today, I mentioned something I'd learned in the latter class. The professor looked displeased and changed the topic. Afterwards, one of the other students took me aside to give me some useful intellegence.

The professors of the classes had been married. They are now not married. The process of becoming un-married was apparently rather rough on all the students in the department, what with the two professors having screaming arguments in the departmental offices and all. So the word on the street is that students should do everything possible to avoid mentioning one to the other. Now I know.

Amusingly, the person that told me about all this got a letter of recommendation from each of them. When asking for a LoR, the professor typically asks "Who else is writing one for you?" My friend was apparently quite evasive in answer to that question.

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January 19, 2010

Shame, Shame

"According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously."

In 2006, I was a Marine. I vaguely remember news reports of a triple-suicide of prisoners at Camp Guantanamo. It was discussed by the guys, like any kind of military news; the consensus was that one of two things happened.

First, the guards might have been grossly incompetent. Three suicides in one night in a prison where the cell "walls" are chain-link fence, suggests that the guards were playing spades rather than going on patrol. They were Navy people, so we were willing to hypothesize total lack of discipline.

The other possibility was that the three prisoners were murdered, probably while being tortured. We gravely shook our heads at that. The Marines are proud of how we have treated prisoners; the various scandals have almost all involved Army personnel, who Marines are always willing to suspect of incompetence and indiscipline. We are shamed that there was one prisoner mistreatment scandal, that came out before Abu Gharib was publicized, when an Iraqi in Marine custody died. In that case not only did a couple of guards go to jail, so did the Officer-In-Charge. Quick quiz, how many Army officers have received so much as a written reprimand for abuse? Let alone jail time?

Anyway, we were deeply suspicious of the deaths, but we were busy, and the news moved on. This evening, I came across a long but very illuminating article from Harper's Magazine. They point out the inconsistencies in the official report, and have a by-name, on-the-record interview with the sergeant of the guard for that sector's perimeter. This is non-trivial information, as he was given a direct order to never discuss this stuff. From the article, he doesn't seem to be a disgruntled troublemaker making up lies, and there are enough holes in the official story to drive a truck through. I'm not a forensic scientist, but I get to wondering about how did three guys tie themselves hand and foot, shove rags into their own throats, tie masks on, and then hang themselves? And while the theory that hard-core jyhadists might commit suicide in such a way as to make their captors look bad is, at least, not totally implausable, the Harper's article has several sources that directly suggest that no prisoners were found dead in their cells; rather, they died somewhere outside the regular prison, and were hustled to the medical center in a off-the-books, never-logged vehicle. That's the damning bit.

As always, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. Specifically, the article's main source went to the Justice Department after the Bush presidency ended. Instead of making a clean breast of it and taking the easy opportunity of blaming their predecessors, the Obama people re-buried the investigation. That is why I titled this post "Shame, Shame". Shame once for what was done in our names. Shame a second time for neglecting the chance to, if not atone, at least punish the guilty.

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January 13, 2010

Books All Over the Place

If anyone actually cares what I am studying:

I'm taking "Early Modern Europe" covering 1600-1789. We're looking at the development of the modern state. It should be interesting. The class is located in a strange room, in the law school's building. It's got three tiers in a semicircle, with two doors. I suspect that the room was designed for debating and public speaking.

Next up is "The Early American Republic" covering 1789-1848. (Notice how that date lines up with the prior course?) That one has a bit of a throw-back in that we're going on a field trip. Just like high school! The reason is that the instructor is a War of 1812 specialist, and there are bunches of relevant sites nearby. That professor is also teaching one of the "Discovery Seminars" this semester. Those are one-credit hour pass/fail courses, meeting once a week for one hour with no homework. The idea is to expose underclassmen to other fields; so each department has a Discovery Seminar, with competition to make it seem cool to lure students to the department. Anyway, this guy's class is called "Pirates!" He admitted being annoyed that there are no actual freshmen or sophomores in his class. Apparently that subject was exciting enough that all seats were taken by upperclassmen. Perhaps UB should only allow underclassmen to join the Discovery Seminars? Not my problem, I suppose.

For my seminar, I signed up for "The Great War in Europe" whose dates should need no explanation. But when I got there, the professor apologized and said that there had been a copy-and-paste error in the course catalog, and this course was actually "The Thirty-Years War" and if we didn't like that we could get the hell out. Me, I am more interested now than I was when I thought it was about WWI. The Thirty Years War is unusual in that it actually did last for the specified number of years, as opposed to the Hundred Years War, the Seven Year War, the Eleven Years War, and probably a few others I've forgotten about. For those who don't recall offhand, it ran from 1618-1648, and of course partially overlaps with the Early Modern Europe class I'm taking. They even have one book in common, which will save me money and reading time.

Lastly, I'm taking German 102, not because I love studying languages, but because I have to. Sadly, my schedule this semester precluded taking Chorus. I feel a but guilty about that, because I talked a girl I know into joining it, despite her nervousness about never having been an organized singer. Ah well, I hope my friends have a good time singing without me.

I also am at only 14 credit hours. I don't want to take another history class: I'll be reading 400-500 pages per week as is, and then of course writing papers and doing an hour or so of language drills a week. This is why I don't go to parties. I'd like one more credit hour, though, as you need to have 15 credit hours to get on the dean's list. And gym classes don't count, otherwise I'd be in Intermediate Backpacking already. Or maybe Ballroom Dancing. Either way. At any rate, I am on the lookout for an easy-looking class to top off my schedule.

For Christmas, I got myself a subscription to Amazon Prime, making a single payment in exchange for getting everything I order from Amazon.com delivered second-day air. I'm getting all my textbooks from them, at substantial savings over the university bookstore. I feel a vague twinge of guilt in that two of my friends are full-time employees of university bookstores, but I assuage my guilt by realizing that I saved about $100, even including the cost of Amazon Prime. Prime also lets me do more shopping online; two-day shipping replaces a trip to the store in a way that seven-day shipping does not. I got a new potato masher, a new watch, and a replacement baking rack that way.

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January 10, 2010

Homework Time

Classes resume tomorrow. I'm already starting on my homework.

Annoyingly, when printing my schedule out this evening, I discovered that I'd scheduled two classes back-to-back (i.e. ten minute break) that are located distantly enough to warrent a twenty-minute travel time. I am thus fiddling my schedule the night before class starts. This is not as prepared as I'd like to be. I had to drop a Greek History class in favor of Early American History; both are interesting subjects, but I know more about the Americans than I do the Greeks. I was also forced to drop Chorus as it conflicts with the new class. That annoys me, as I enjoy having a musical outlet. Woe is me. I could rejoin my church choir, except that their rehersal time conflicts with class as well. I guess I'll just sing in the shower.

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January 07, 2010

Nice While It Lasted

My flatmate has just returned from his vacation home. This is unfortunate, as with him gone I'd managed to keep the apartment clean. Not neat, but clean. It was nice having a kitchen that didn't attract vermin…

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What To Do With Your Christmas Tree In January

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January 03, 2010

Paperwork Shuffle

My grades are finally in. One is listed as a "J" which I had to look up: it means "Invalid Grade Submitted". That professor is taking a sabbatical to India for the upcoming semester, so I'd better get on his case post-haste.

I also filed a little form called "Request for Degree Conferral". I'm so excited, I did a little happy dance around my room. There is now enough space in my room to do said happy dance, as I finally got around to cleaning up all the notes and books I had strewn about during my writing of term papers.

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Maintain Flexibility

I had been planning on going shopping today. The falling snow (two feet and still coming) is telling me "Why don't you check the pantry, you can figure something out."

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