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Archive for April, 2009

This would be awesome.

NEW YORK (AP) — Keith Olbermann says he’ll continue to pressSean Hannity to follow through on an offer to be waterboarded as a benefit for the families of U.S. troops.

The MSNBC host says he’ll donate $1,000 for every second Hannity can withstand the technique. Waterboarding has been at the center of a debate over whether the U.S. has tortured prisoners. Olbermann calls it torture; Hannity says it is a fair and necessary interrogation technique.

I’m gonna guess Hannity chickens out on his boast.

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Count longtime ABC journalist Sam Donaldson as a prominent nutjob. On the Sunday morning program “This Week,” he expressed his desire to be at Fidel Castro’s deathbed so he could ask Fidel at his dying breath whether he was responsible for the Kennedy assassination.

Yeah, you read that right. And if you don’t believe me, just check out the video clip.

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Walking Wii-wounded

I enjoyed this story in the NYT about the rising incidence of Wii-related injuries, mostly due to repetitive stress injuries and other muscle aches and pains.

In the moments after I felt the pop in my left shoulder, the sensation I felt was not pain. It was panic. How exactly does a 40-year-old man explain to his wife that he might have torn his rotator cuff during a midnight game of Wii tennis?

So, I’ve never been there myself, but then again I’m still relatively young, agile and fit. I’ve encountered my share of Wii-related aches, usually felt the day after a particularly length and/or intense session of something like hula-hooping on the Wii Balance Board.

Of course, that’s not to say I haven’t suffered my own painful Wii-related injury.

A couple of years ago, not too long after I got the Wii, I was bowling in Wii Sports. I had probably bowled dozens if not hundreds of games by that point, all without incident, until late one night I finally self-inflicted Wii damage.

Being left handed, I usually keep my phone in my left front pocket for ease of access. Anyway, I was in the middle of a game, bowling left handed, when suddenly I felt a tremendous surge of pain in my middle finger.

Evidently, I had my arm just a little too close to my body when I did my throw, and managed to slam my hand into the phone in my pocket, managing in the process to smack a hangnail. It hurt like something else, especially since I basically smashed my hangnail between the Wiimote and my phone, so it started to bleed. At least the pain subsided quickly, and the hangnail never got infected.

I’ve probably done something like that a few other times, but it was just that one time when I had the misfortune of having a hangnail and connecting with it just right.

Fortunately, I’ve never experienced any significant Wii-related property damage, unlike the anecdotes that abounded shortly after the console’s release. The only real damage I ever incurred was when I had a friend over to try it out, but I hadn’t installed the replacement wrist strap that was supposed to be stronger than the one that originally shipped from Nintendo. As a consequence, when my friend took a might cut in Wii Sports baseball, the deficient strap broke, sending the Wiimote flying. It took out a large Venetian blind, but it was fortunate both that it took out one on the end, meaning it didn’t leave much a gap for sunlight to burst through, and it was lucky that it hit the blinds, since the alternative was to hit the wall, which probably would have destroyed the Wiimote, or to hit the sliding glass door behind the blinds, which would’ve either broken the glass, smashed the Wiimote, or both.

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An interesting story from Macworld about how the United States lags behind much of the world in terms of broadband usage and speeds.

It’s pretty shameful to think most home users are fortunate even to have the option to pay high rates for download speeds in excess of 10 Mbps, give or take a couple of Mbps, when 100 Mbps is already the norm in countries like South Korea.

And this definitely makes me a lot more resentful of having our cable bill double last month after our low introductory rate expired and we had to start paying full price.

Still, I think there’s a lot to be said for viewing broadband access as the contemporary equivalent of electrification, and the emphasis should be on making it universally available, with much higher speeds and regulated prices.

Communism is soviet power plus broadband internet access.

Or something like that. At least, if we want to update Lenin for life in the twenty-first century.

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Reading a story about the drunk driver responsible for the car accident that killed Angels rookie Nick Adenhart and two others last week, I came across this description of the rehab program the driver, Andrew Gallo, underwent following a previous DUI arrest.

As part of Gallo’s plea deal on that arrest, he went to the Bible Tabernacle, a rehabilitation facility in Canyon Country, Calif., which is also a Christian ministry. Bible Tabernacle uses faith instead of therapy to heal. Mario Harper, who runs the facility, said its intent is to put discipline back into men’s lives.

Gallo was required to stay at Bible Tabernacle for six months, waking each morning at 5:30, reading his bible for 90 minutes, then working each day as a grounds crew member, raking leaves and taking out trash, among other tasks.

I’ve never heard of this form of rehab before, especially for alcoholism and other forms of addiction. I know it’s not uncommon for churches and other religious groups to sponsor treatment programs. But, sheesh, substituting religion for therapy?

For one thing, alcoholism, like other forms of chemical dependency, is a disease. So while their “discipline” might be a part of treating the addiction, it seems negligent to fail to educate alcoholics about the nature of their disease, and to not offer them the kind of therapy that might help them manage their disease more effectively.

Reading the program description from the Bible Tabernacle site, I’m no more encouraged that the program is really equipping its patients for recovery.

Our Canyon Country Ministry, The New Life Institute, was founded in 1979. Over 100 men are housed, fed and given the Gospel of Jesus Christ every day. Canyon Country uses a Biblical approach to rehabilitation. By offering spiritual guidance based on the Word of God, guest residents prepare to re – enter the working and social environments with confidence.

Guest residents read the bible every morning, attend Bible studies every evening and receive spiritual guidance on a daily basis. They work in departments ranging from the front office to the kitchen in preparation for the day they leave the ministry. Many opportunities are provided to learn the skills required to become productive members of society.

The Bible Tabernacle founder, Pastor Fred Hilst, believed that the self-contained environment of the facility (an 11-acre ranch away from the city) would help those in need of spiritual guidance to focus on the Word of God. As the name New Life Institute suggests, this is a place where thousands of men have started on their way to a new life with the Lord Jesus as their Savior.

In fact, that description makes it sound like the focus is solely on Christian evangelism. Rehabilitation seems like an incidental goal. Clearly this is a program of faith healing, quite literally.

I have no qualms with making bible study, religious instruction or other such faith-based components an element of recovery. If it helps someone cope with demons, I’m not one to question that.

But it still seems irresponsible to make that element into the totality of rehabilitation and recovery. I’m quite appalled that a court would recognize this program as a suitable course of recovery as part of a plea agreement (though, admittedly, the details of the plea deal are sketchy). It just seems irresponsible to let a drunk driver have non-treatment “rehabilitation,” when the dangers of relapse are great, and the possibility of a relapse could cause serious injury or death to others.

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Here’s a blurb of an AP story reporting on an uptick in the proportion of African Americans playing in Major League Baseball.

NEW YORK — The percentage of black players in the major leagues increased to 10.2 percent last year, the first rise since the 1995 season.

The sport had reached an all-time low of 8.2 percent [emphasis added] in 2007, according to Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

Now, I’m going to presume that Lapchick’s actual report says something like, “The sport has begun to rebound from its low point of 8.2 percent since annual statistics for racial composition were first collected in 19XX.”

At least, I’m going to hope Lapchick’s report says as much.

Regardless, either Lapchick or, more likely, the unnamed AP reporter who wrote the story really botched their figures.

After all, today, 15 April, is Jackie Robinson Day in baseball, commemorating the sixty-second anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier.

And as we all know, before Robinson first suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers way back in 1947, there were no black ballplayers in the majors. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

So, assuming your historical memory stretches back a bit further, which is hardly a reach for MLB and its aficionados, it’s quite obvious that baseball’s “all-time low” percentage of African American players was its pre-1947 level of absolute zero.*

I suppose it’s always possible the reporter (or Lapchick) has simply chosen to regard the entire pre-integration era of baseball as statistically dubious, and it giving it the rhetorical equivalent of a giant asterisk for not permitting some of the finest players of the time to play due to the color of their skin. That would be an awesome and eminently defensible stand to make.

But, I still think it’s more likely the reporter just got really sloppy and failed to include an important detail as a point of clarification. In journalism school, that kind of factual error usually garners an automatic F.

* Baseball fans with an even keener historical memory know that Moses Fleetwood Walker, along with his brother Welday Walker, actually predated Robinson by more than half a century, though their careers were very brief, but those old American Association records are often not given equal treatment as “major league” by many.

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Practical advice for anyone teaching a course for the first time: always have a backup plan whenever planning to use any equipment more complex than chalkboard and overhead projector.

The very first time I gave a lecture, some three years ago when I was a TA in a survey of twentieth-century Europe, I had planned to screen the excellent documentary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Jan Němec’s Oratorio for Prague, to fill about half an hour of my lecture on Eastern European upheavals in 1968. Now, this was Week 9 of a ten-week course, and virtually every week the professor used the “smart classroom” to show movies and the like. And every time previously, the equipment hadn’t given her any difficulty. Naturally, when we tried to set up the VHS tape to play it in the latter half of my lecture, the electronic nerve center of the classroom suddenly forgot how to communicate with the overhead video projector, meaning we had no way to watch the documentary. A quick call to Classroom Support Services only revealed that for whatever reason the equipment wasn’t working, so the best workaround we could manage was to relocate to a room down the hall for the second half of class. We were told the room would be vacant then, though we got lucky when, at the break in the middle of my lecture, we moved down the hall and discovered that there was, in fact, another class scheduled in that room, but by happenstance it had finished half an hour early that day.

I was fortunate in that situation to have had a professor and another TA available to try to sort out the technical difficulties and find an alternate arrangement. But I was also fortunate that I had spent an inordinate amount of time writing my lecture and knew it pretty well, so when I had to pare it down on the fly to account for the time lost in moving between classrooms, I was able to make the adjustment. Incidentally, my ability to maintain my composure in the face of such a major snafu garnered a very favorable comment on the professor’s formal evaluation of my lecture.

Still, when it came time to utilize technology in my own classroom this quarter, I didn’t allow myself much margin for error. In a perfect world, I’d be able to get into the classroom well ahead of class to set everything up and do a test run, leaving me with some time to seek technical support or make alternate arrangements.

But in the real world, that’s often not possible. As much as I wanted to monkey around with the equipment the day before my first class, there was always another class using the room when I checked. And there’s always another class using the room right before my own, which means at best I can start setting up maybe seven or eight minutes before class.

I tried that today, when I was planning to screen Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin as an illustrative work to go with my lecture on the Revolution of 1905. I got in the room as early as the previous class allowed to set up, only to discover that the computer and DVD player that are part of the “smart classroom” package require an equipment key, obtainable only from Classroom Support Services. If I had had a TA, I could’ve delegated her/him to go get a key at the beginning of class, since I wasn’t planning to start class with the film. But I didn’t, and I also only had about five or six minutes to improvise a solution. No one in the department office down the hall had a key, so I had little choice but to scrap my plans to show the film today and lecture for two hours. I was fortunate that I actually finished writing my lecture for Thursday over the weekend, and I had the thumb drive with said lecture in my pocket, so I raced downstairs to print it in the lab, then started class.

It actually probably turned out better this way, since I had just the right amount of material to fill the two-hour class, and it was probably more easier for my students to follow the path from 1905 to 1917 in a single lecture, rather than splitting it over two classes. Plus, now I’m done lecturing for the week, and Thursday I just have to show the film (I have the magic key, so it’s not on me at this point if any other glitches foul things up!) and lead discussion, which is a lot less taxing on me.

But, undoubtedly, there’s a lesson in this that I should probably be prepared in case of technological disaster when it comes time to screen the other two films I have planned this quarter. Also, I was incredibly fortunate to have had another lecture ready to go.

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