Obligatory Halloween Post

Traditionally, this is my favorite day of the year.  I have a strong love for the macabre.  Normally, I'd spend the evening traipsing from one haunted house to the next dressed as one of my favorite fictional characters.  However, it looks like it's not to be this year.  I get paid once a month, so by the time the 31st rolls around, I'm usually fairly destitute.  So, this Halloween has become a literary affair.  While others are out getting deliciously frightened or ogling girls in whorish costumes, I'll be on the couch reading "'Salem's Lot."

In the meantime, I leave you with this:

Happy Halloween!


New Appreciation for My Old City

I grew up in Dallas.  I hated Dallas when I was young.  I hated the people, the city, and the overall lack of any redeeming qualities.  After all, this was the home of J.R. Ewing and his rapacious relatives.  I'd always dreamed of leaving and in 1996, the US Navy made that dream a reality.  I ended up in Honolulu - a dream for most, but the high cost of living and the lack of roads out of the state made it something of a nightmare.

Fast-forward six years.  I came back, not to Dallas, but to the Dallas area for college.  In the northernmost reaches of the post-millennial suburban sprawl, I found myself surrounded by the same J.R. Ewing clones and the need for a personal exodus resurfaced.  By this time, I had a job with a major corporation and the only exit led to Oklahoma City.  The less said about OKC, the better...

Throwing caution to the wind, I left that job and landed back in Dallas to finish grad school and take a job at the Dallas VA hospital.  The city seemed to have greatly improved since I had last lived within the city limits, but I wasn't sure if the changes were legitimate or if Dallas was just more comfortable than OKC.  Regardless, the DART light rail meant that we wouldn't have to get a second car and we live within walking distance of what may be the largest used bookstore in this sector of the galaxy.  The changes seem to be real.

Today, inspired by the biannual media circus known as election year, I started looking up liberal and conservative cities.  I was shocked to find this report (WARNING: it's a .pdf), which lists Dallas as the 32nd most liberal city in the US and the most liberal city in the state.  Austin, a city that is often perceived as a bastion of southern liberalism, ranked a paltry 93.  Take that, smug Austin hipsters!  Further investigation into this discovery revealed this 2007 Time Magazine article.  This article actually discusses the transformation, saying that, "gays have played an important, less noticed role in Dallas' evolution." 

I knew the city had an active gay/lesbian scene, but I was surprised to learn how influential it has become.  The county even has an openly lesbian sheriff, but it doesn't stop there.  The city has recently revamped and expanded the Arts District with a $275 million Center for the Performing Arts.  While I don't give two squirts of piss for the performing arts, it is nice to have that sort of cultural touchstone in the city.  The article touts this and a few more architectural additions as reasons "why Dallas is more attractive to gays than, say, dowdy Austin."  This tells me that, while Austin may retain it's image of hippie-based liberalism, Dallas has adopted a more art house, black turtleneck-style of liberalism.  That's fine with me.  At least art house people tend to bathe.

So, it appears that Dallas has undergone a rather dramatic change since I fled the city in November of 1996.  And I have to admit, I'm very pleased with most of the changes.  Sure, we still have a lot of ignorant people who still think a large truck is the cure for a small penis, but at least the city is more tolerant and open-minded than it was in my childhood.


The War on Free Thought Continues

As I was lurking on Facebook today, I noticed that a member of my grad school cohort posted a link to a Yahoo! news article.  This article discusses how the Iranian government has restricted the teaching of certain social sciences and humanities in Iranian universities.  I wasn't able to find a complete list, but the targeted subjects include law, philosophy, management, psychology, political science, women's studies, and human rights.  According to Abolfazl Hassani, an official in what passes for education in Iran, these subjects were chosen because they are "not in harmony with religious fundamentals and they are based on Western schools of thought."  Huh...

So, let's speculate wildly about why these subjects were chosen.  Banning women's studies and human rights addresses some of Iran's social ills.  After all, you don't want any oppressed and subjugated people thinking that they're being oppressed and subjugated.  Political science because there's nothing scientific about Iranian politics (or ours, for that matter).  Philosophy because you don't want people thinking freely, especially not in a country with "laws" based on religion.  Law because you don't want people to accidentally discover a loophole that gives them a minor bit of legal freedom. Psychology because, well, fuck those whiny-assed oppressed people. And management because the Tehran Wal-Mart is running smoothly as is, thank you very much. 

And since when is philosophy strictly the domain of Western thinkers?  I'm guessing Iranian leaders haven't heard of Sun Tzu, Dōgen Zenji, or Siddhartha Gautama. No? Okay, let's go a bit more modern. What about D. T. Suzuki? No? Mr. Miyagi?  Nothing?  Wow.

I'm certain that this is backlash over the largely university student-led political protests of 2009.  I guess banning these subjects will help Iran keep up the appearance that everyone is happy and totally not gay.  Personally, I don't care what the Iranian government or clergy do to harm themselves or their nation in the long run.  Who I'm concerned for are the Iranian students who want to get an education and expose themselves to ideas that test their preconceived notions of life and the world.  Where are they to go?  I would say here, but this new wave of American conservatism would likely do everything in their power to prevent that.  Tough break, Iranian students.  There's always England!


Satisfaction is the Death of Desire

Forty-nine years after being formed as a team and 38 years after moving to Arlington, TX, the Texas Rangers are finally going to the World Series.  As a former die hard fan of the team, I'm happy and excited for them, but I'm also feeling a little betrayed.  Why couldn't they have done this ten years ago, when I actually gave a moderately large-sized shit?  It doesn't really matter because I highly doubt this will ever happen again.

Modern baseball, like so many other things, is a greed-based enterprise.  Free agency has closed the book on the glory days of the sport when hometown heroes like Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, or Harmon Killebrew were fixtures in their home ballparks.  These days, players and management alike are always jockeying for the next big thing.  Players endlessly seek more money and management looks for the best players to tempt with large salaries, which are passed on to the fans in the form of ticket prices and astronomical parking fees.  I'm looking at you, Ghost of George Steinbrenner.

So, even if this Rangers squad goes on to do the impossible and wins the World Series, the team will likely be parted out like an old Ford during the off season.  The greatness that has been achieved this year will be diffused all over the American and National leagues as people forget that a winning team is worth more than the sum of its parts.   In fact, winning the World Series makes the dissolution of the championship team even more likely.  Once the ultimate championship has been won, what's left to accomplish?


Famous People with Anthropology Degrees

Last night, I read a post by Yoshi, a dear family friend.  In this post, he commits the egregious error of asking if Giada De Laurentiis could "could tone down on the cleavage."  After admonishing him in a chat window and explaining that her cleavage is replenishing the ozone layer, I looked her up on Wikipedia.  As it turns out, she has a degree in social anthropology from UCLA, making her even more desirable.  This also got me thinking about who else out there has degrees in anthropology.

There's a few that I already knew about.  For instance, I knew that Kurt Vonnegut (my personal god) had an MA in anthropology from the University of Chicago and I knew that Jeff Corwin graduated with a BS in anthropology from Bridgewater State.  But if the Food Network pin-up has an anthropology degree, who else has/had one?

After an exhaustive Google search in excess of three minutes, I found this list. I had only heard of five of the fifteen people populating this list. However, I was shocked to see Billy Graham there.  Exactly how does one study anthropology and then go on to be one of the most prolific evangelical ministers in the world?  I had always been raised to see missionaries as our enemies - a continuation of the European colonialist agenda.  I feel like I did when I learned that Yamamoto Isoroku studied at Harvard.  I can only rationalize this by thinking that Graham didn't pay much attention in class.  At least Gary Snyder's presence on the list softens the blow somewhat.

The fabulous Hugh Laurie has a degree in archaeology and social anthropology.  Thandie Newton, an actress I'm not sure why I recognize, studied social anthropology at Downing College.  Ashley Judd supposedly minored in anthropology, which wouldn't normally be enough for me to include her.  However,  a former colleague once told me of a celebrity gossip rumor that Ms. Judd would pass out something called "mute stones" to certain people on set.  Apparently, if you were the recipient of one of these stones, Ashley was revoking your privilege to speak to her.  Well, Ashley, if ever you decided to hand me one of your little stones, it would promptly be set on a high-velocity collision course with the back of your head.  I'm just sayin'.


If You Don't Understand It, Ban It

No one is going to argue that smoking is a filthy habit.  However, this neo-fascism that has arisen among the ranks of non-smokers goes too far.  When I see commercials showing teens using Jackass-inspired tactics to encourage people to quit smoking, my first reaction is to reach for a cigarette.  However, I understand that continued smoking will make it harder for me to live the kind of life I want to live.  What to do?

Enter the electronic cigarette.  I'm not going to waste time and space explaining them here.  If you don't know what they are, Google them.  Anyway, the Mrs. and I have both been almost completely tobacco-free since we started using these things more than six months ago.  Her asthma attacks have been greatly reduced and we don't smell like my grandmother's dentures anymore.  Life is good, right?  Not so fast...

I came across this article today on WebMD.  As a scientist (or something resembling one), I was shocked at the lack of empirical evidence in this article.  The doctors quoted continually say things like, "We cannot say they are good or bad because we don't have any scientific proof," and, "There are no clinical studies of long-term use of these products."  However, despite this dearth of clinical data, the FDA seems to be seriously considering banning electronic cigarettes. 

Dr. Norman Edelman, the chief medical officer for the American Lung Association, asks, "What happens to someone who stops inhaling the tars of cigarettes and just inhales nicotine? We don't know."  And yet the article states that "the Nicotrol inhaler is an approved smoking cessation device."  Well, what's the difference, Dr. Edelman?  Is it because one is regulated and the other one is not?  Is it because the propylene glycol vapor is dangerous all of a sudden, forgetting the fact that it's been safely used in night clubs and theatrical productions for decades?  Hey, here's a crazy idea: why not regulate the electronic cigarette just like the nicotine inhaler?  Oh, you don't want to go through all the cost and trouble of those pesky clinical trials?  Fine, regulate it like tobacco.  Just keep those damned tobacco taxes off of the electronic smokes since they're not a tobacco product. 

Why is it that even our supposedly finest scientific minds are subject to the knee-jerk reaction of banning what they don't understand?  Isn't it the role of the scientist to study and to understand?  Maybe I'm missing something here.  I'm sure there a lobbyist at work somewhere in this tangled mess.


Let's Try This Again...

I've had blogs in the past, but like so many Americans, I'm too lazy to stick with it.  I've had this blog up for quite some time now, but I've been too lazy or too chicken to add anything to it.  Well, I'm going to give this another shot.  Please forgive the dull background and layout.  If I actually stick with this one, I might have my wife design something lovely again.  Historically I've been a colossal waste of her time and talent.