March 29, 2010

Academic Writing

I got a good tip on writing history papers from a prof today. The key is, he says, pretend that you're in a bar, and have been asked "Will the Yankees win the World Series this year?"

First up, you have to decide a position. Sure, you could say "Gee, I'm not sure," but then everyone will ignore you and you'll be excluded from further conversation. You must start with a thesis that takes a stand.

Second, for a typical paper, your audience is assumed to be your professor and fellow students in the class. They possess substantial background knowledge on the subject at hand– assume that they paid attention in lecture and did all the readings. With the baseball example, you wouldn't include in your statement anything about how baseball was invented, or why it was important, or even who the Yankees are or what the World Series is. The people that care to read your paper, already know that stuff.

What you do include is facts that your readers don't know, and facts that they know but you think are especially important to your argument. Sure, they know that "The Yankees have the best-paid players in the game," but you mention it if you believe that money motivates superior performance. Then you might mention "They've got a really hot prospect in their AAA farm team, ready to move up if needed," to include information that your readers didn't know.

Going back to the first point, only once you've established your argument should you include the best points contradicting your thesis. But you do need to address those points, as otherwise people will think you're unaware of, say, the Red Socks' great off-season trades, and you'll look like you don't know what's really going on.

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March 23, 2010

Good News, Everyone!

I got a nice thick packet in the mail today. Drew University's graduate program has accepted me. Hooray! I've not RSVP'd yet, though, as I want to see what the other schools to which I've applied will decide.

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March 22, 2010


In Okinawa, the weather is warm, it rains for weeks on ends, and everything is swept by salty sea winds. Rusty Toyotas were everywhere.

On Top Gear, the British presenters get a Toyota Hilux with 190k miles on it, and see how tough it really is. In three parts:

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March 15, 2010

Ich bin krank.

The last day of Spring Break, I got sick. It figures. Today's the first day back in classes, but I declared a sick day. When I was a younger man, I'd've just skipped out on class and not worried too much about it, but now I feel obliged to send apologetic emails to my professors. I wrote the German prof in German, of course, so maybe she'll give me a little slack. I  guessed wrongly on the proper German sentance, though.

There's a slightly weird thing with self-reference in German, you see. In English, you would say "I am cold." That does literally translate into German: "Ich bin kalt." But saying it that way implies a permanant state, in this case that you are unemotional and unfeeling. To declare that you would be happier if the thermostat went up a little (a transient state), you'd say "Mir ist kalt," which is all kinds of strange: "mir" is the first-person dative pronoun, used when you are the indirect object of a verb. "ist" is the third-person singular form of the copula. So that sentance seems strongly ungrammatical, as it has an indirect object without a direct object. Plus the copula doesn't take indirect or even direct objects. Very strange.

At any rate, I guessed that being sick ("krank") was a transient state and thus should be expressed as "Mir ist krank." I was wrong, it should be "Ich bin krank," which is the literal translation from English. Perhaps in German there is no colloquial meaning with "sick," unlike in English? ("Man, Charles Manson was sick!" Or, for that matter, "That 540 tail-grab was sick, dude!")

Also, the whole permanant state/transient state isn't entirely consistent, either. Saying "Ich bin warm," suggests that you are looking for sex. "Mir ist warm," means you wish there was some A/C. In this case, both forms suggest a transient state. *shrug*

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Stuck Brakes?

I've been struck by the similarities between the recent panic over Toyotas running away, and a similar panic in the early 90s or so, then featuring Audis. You can read all about that little event in P.J. O'Rourke's book Parliament of Whores.

Anyway, some links about the current frooh-frah. Megan McArdle has some nice graphs about the reports of runaway vehicles, with the key takeaway being the skewed age of drivers, mostly being the elderly. Car and Driver did a test of the "accelerator versus brake" issue and found that brakes win with multiple models of cars and multiple situations. (The only time the brakes didn't win was with a starting speed of 120mph; in that case the breaks caught fire and couldn't get the car slower than 10mph, which is close enough to stopped for my book.) And finally a columnist at points out the many holes in the most publicized story of a Prius driver, in that he claimed to be doing improbable stuff (e.g. grabbing the gas pedal with one hand while holding the wheel with his other hand and holding his cell phone with his third hand) and that the driver was unwilling to obey the 911 operator advising him to shift gears or turn the car off; once a police car arrived and was watching what the driver did, the car stopped with alacrity.

So, my opinion is, this is one of those stupid media-driven panics that appear every so often, being fueled by people looking to get fifteen minutes of fame or to sue somebody with big pockets, and starring a bunch of grandstanding politicians.

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March 06, 2010

Just The Facts, Ma'am.

The university's student paper, which I've been calling the "Tri-Weekly Bird-Cage Liner" for years now, runs a police blotter. Public Safety seems to spend most of their time mediating boyfriend/girlfriend disputes, collaring drunk students, and taking note of stolen laptops.

In Wednesday's paper there was a doozie.

2/25 - A person used false credit cards for tuition payments.

Now, using stolen or forged financial instruments is certainly a bad thing. But leaving morals aside, there is a practical matter: if you think using a stolen credit card to pay your tuition is a good idea, then maybe you're not really college material to begin with.

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March 05, 2010


Fridays, I'm always tired, and I generally take a nap when I get home from class. I was expecting a furniture delivery today, and called them up a few minutes ago, irritated that they didn't show. Yeah, turns out they left a card on the front door. I guess I was sleeping heavily enough that I didn't hear the doorbell. Whoops! I guess I owe them a tip when they come back tomorrow.

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March 01, 2010

On Communal Culture

One of my texts has a primary source from the seventeenth century, that makes an offhand reference to Deuteronomy. That line has a footnote. The footnote says, in toto, "Deuteronomy is a book of the Bible." I read that and laughed- who would be reading texts about seventeenth century French politics, and not know that? Then I realized how parochial I am- in my classes, there are several students from Asia. In one seminar, we had a two-hour discussion of the differences between Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism, with much debate over arcane theological points. In the class was a guy from Taiwan, who spend the lime looking back and forth at the active debaters. He didn't know a damn thing about Christianity, and was lost in the sauce. I can't blame him, either- what the hell do I know about the details seperating various branches of Buddhism or Taoism?

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