Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pet Peeves I

Generally, the abuse of language hurts my feelings. Not in a small way, but in a holistic, exhausting, and utterly frustrating way. There are plenty of ways to break the rules and be innovative, and though I'm a stickler for things like "At least use 'sketchy' instead of 'sketch' as an adjective--'sketch' is a noun or a verb," I'm generally not against innovation. But for things like argument and writing, there are rules of engagement--not even rules, just...laws.

The ways that argument works, for example, are how it works. If you break them into bits, or ignore them, you might get to think of yourself as dashingly intelligent and avant-garde, but really what happens is that your communication is broken. I've run into that a lot lately, and from people who consider themselves to be consummate discussers, gifted arguers, and proficient thinkers and debaters. These people in general tend to consider themselves capable of engaging in meaningful interactions, instead of the soapbox-stamping. streetcorner lunatic without any finesse (or often sense) whatsoever. I am not saying these people I've run into lately are stupid. Not inherently. It's just, when you don't use the language to make arguments, and you don't engage in a meaningful argument (i.e. make your argument according to basic and obvious rules of engagement), you look like you can't. Which means, basically, that you look dumb. Because you're strutting around talking about how great of a talker you are, but you're not making any headway--you're just shouting at the wind. And it's the stupidity that hurts my feelings.

So, please, everyone, start making sense. And thus begins part one of my list:

1. People who use messy rhetoric and fallacious strategies when arguing.
(a) When people take an analogy out of context on purpose, recontextualize it, and hijack the metaphor to create a rebuttal that doesn't actually rebut the original argument but makes them, for some reason, feel smart.
(b) When people read the least sensical interpretation into an analogy, and then start to argue with it on their own terms--at least half the time, this is someone finding one of their favorite straw men inside something someone else has said and then riding to town on their favorite hobby horse.
(i) When people look so damn hard for said favorite straw men that they miss the other, clearer things said/communicated.
(ii) If there aren't any other, clearer things, then these people don't really listen to a rephrase, but just steamroll along their righteous path.
(c) When people use analogies relating to their areas of expertise, and then when other non-experts try to meet them on their own terms of argument (by using an analogy), they retreat into the technical experience and jargon that wasn't relevant in the first place, and use it to create false authority on whatever analogous subject the discussion was *really* about.

2. When people are so wrapped up in their own opinions, perceptions, and speeches (rather than their arguments) that they refuse to really engage, but merely play verbal tennis about the issues.
(a) When people don't listen to what one another are saying, but instead spend all their time looking for cues and openings to trot out one or another of a previously-constructed sound chunk, rather than actually doing their partner the respect of listening and responding to what is really being articulated--on either side.
(b) When people don't make an honest effort to understand the opposing argument, but instead write it off as somehow inherently fallacious, by definition of it being in disagreement with them.
(c) When people do these things and then claim to be debating or discussing--or claim that their interactions are debates or discussion. That's like fencing with someone with both of your backs turned, each facing a different mirror--everyone gets to be very proud of his own image, but what is done is nothing short of posturing to impress, because the other person is wholly irrelevant, and utterly engrossed with her own mirror.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The wild blue yonder (this time, it is about politics)

The important things, the valuable and unassailable truths...those things are immortal.

That's what we subscribe to, when we pledge to liberty and justice--equality under the law and individual liberties for each person, no matter the sex, color, gender, orientation, race, religion, ethnicity, or any other "othering" quality. The freedom of choice is what our constitution espouses, the idea that each person is equally valid, though not the same, under the law. Law, which we hope to be (but never really is) the distillation of the true, the pure, and the right.

Something has clearly gone wrong. We've got a lesser-of-two-evils election philosophy, a binary system, a functional either-or. "Which do you hate less? Which frightens you less? Who is less likely to plunge us into a state of nuclear war, to revoke all individual rights, to ignore the Geneva Convention, to slaughter and vilify thousands upon thousands of people halfway across the world for the sake of a few extremist terrorists? Who is less likely to fly in the face of all humanitarian efforts, to knuckle under LESS to Corporate America, to exterminate FEWER species and increase CO2 emissions more slowly? Who is going to ignore the poor less, and kill fewer people through gross negligence and clear class discrimination? Who is less of a hypocrite about the way we get our produce, and who is going to ignore scientists less? Who will lie less--and how the hell can we know that, anyway?"

Maybe we're in a state of proto-revolution. Probably, Obama is not the messiah so many of us would like him to be. Who knows? Maybe Mark Morford and company are wrong, and he's actually the Antichrist. But even if the entire country crashes and burns, that does not mean we have lost our principles. What we love about those principles, what has motivated people (and still does, whether or not it's the actual reason is beside the point) to die proudly for this country, is that the things that really matter--freedom, justice, honesty, truth, respect...those things are immortal.

Just because we've royally screwed it up (or, William Goldman, screwed down) means nothing more than, simply, that. We have not killed our ideals, although we've drastically failed to live up to them. Does that mean they're not still our ideals? Does that mean we're beyond the pale? I hope not.

There are those--people I deeply respect, in fact, and more than one of them--who believe that by playing into the election at all we're just dupes. Voting for anyone, Amondson and Pletten, is buying in. And as long as we're buying in, we're failing. Maybe I'm not enough of an activist, or maybe I'm lazy, or maybe I'm just still too naive, but I believe that change may be possible. Yes, Barack Obama has chosen to use that word as his own, but that doesn't mean he'll do it. And that doesn't mean that that's what I mean when I say it.

The election is not really an election. It may be even less than it is--my personal belief is that I'll be incredibly surprised if Diebold allows Obama to win. Yes, you read that right (I do not endorse this blog but offer it merely for your judgment, or you can just google "CEO Diebold" for yourself...). It's about choosing who is less likely to be harmful in more alarming way. Yes, Obama is identical to McCain on a lot of issues. Where he differs is within the realm of individual liberties and civil rights. He's not much better, but he is better--his education plan (yes, education should be a right, if you ask me, and you did, since it's my blog you're reading) is better, and his stance on abortion is much, much better. Given two otherwise identical candidates, one of whom supports a woman's right to choose and has a superior plan for educating whatever children she may have, I'd choose the second one. Even if he doesn't *completely* support her right to choose. Even if his education plan *isn't* perfect.

What's that? It's a cop-out to give ourselves up to the inevitability of a continuing war overseas? Yes, I truly agree with you. It's a disgusting cop-out. It's heinous, and it is, as I learned for my French test today Inadmissable! Why is it a cop-out? Because it's not upholding the important value of the case, which is most easily generalized as "Justice". You can't quantify justice, and you can't have partial justice, any more than you can be sort of pregnant or a little bit in love. That, I give you. It's as unjust as hell--less just, actually, if you really want to go there (euh, so to speak). But how on earth are you ever going to achieve justice if you've got someone perpetuating injustice domestically? Isn't this why we're so down on infidelity and personal corruption in our political candidates?

So, is choosing the less unjust candidate the best way of freedom fighting? Maybe not. But I think that minimizing, to the extent realistically possible, the apparent injustice propagation potential (stay with me, we're almost there) in the POTUS domestically must bring us slightly closer, in the end, to ending our unjust international acts. Okay, you made it through that sentence.

This post has kind of run away with me.

Discuss, if you like, but civilly.

P.S. Courtesy of Simon, and quite interesting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Winter Travel Plans

Graduate: December 20
Leave Ithaca: December 21
Arrive Grand Junction: December 23 at 4pm

December 30:
Fly Grand Junction to JFK, NYC:
leave 9:49am, arrive 9:01pm

(Aaaaandrewwwww....or Kaaaaaaate)

December 31:
Fly NYC to LHR:
leave 10:25pm, arrive 1/1/09 10:25am

January 1:
Fly LHR to NBO:
leave 7:00pm, arrive 1/2 6:30am

January 17:
Fly NBO to LHR:
leave 11:59pm, arrive 1/18 6:45am

January 18:
Fly LHR to NYC:
leave 2:00pm, arrive 5:05pm

People to see: Evan, Kate, Andrew, Brian...if I forgot you, say so, quickly!

January 20:
Fly NYC to SFO
leave 2:55pm, arrive 6:25pm

People to see: Ari, family, Adam, Heidi &Co, Kiler Canyon contingent, THS contingent, Linnaea, Chelsea

By January 28:
Return to Grand Junction, there to take the General GRE

February 10:
Fly to Philly for Staging.

February 12:
Fly to Madagascar for 2 years.

Sometimes I think I may not be able to deal with this...I think it will improve when I finally have the last ticket for Kenya.

* PS Kenya Airways, why will you not accept any credit card known to man?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Flash drive

If anyone has seen my purple flashdrive in the last month, will you please tell me?

I know it's probably not out there in Internetland, but I really, really need something that I left on it.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

M'car; In-jokes, slang, relaxation, and the impossible

One thing I learned today is that you can still get embarrassed and called out by someone even when you're pretty dang sure it's not going to happen. But isn't that always the case? Well, I wasn't expecting a pop quiz on my assignment responsibilities from the Peace Corps person who picked up the phone when I called to accept my invitation. So I stumbled around and said "uh" and "sustainability" too many times. Still, they let me in. Whew.

I found out that a fairly common abbreviation for Madagascar is M'car. What I want to know, is how socially acceptable it is to pronounce it that way. Is it like saying "Ell-oh-ell!" or "oh-em-gee"? If not, how d'you say it? "Mm-car," "Micar," "Muh-kar," or "Meh-cr"? Given that you're dropping the accented syllables, where do the accents go? What's my linguistic ticket to the (second buzzword from the title) in crowd, here? Which slang (other than the Peace Corps' huge fleet of acronyms) can I use to be cool?

That's mostly an idle, intentionally silly question. But I know that I am incredibly susceptible to being part of an informed group--I like the shirts that say "Staff," for example. Makes you wonder who I'd be in The Wave (you should be able to find the second half in "related links"). I know who I hope I'd be. But doesn't everyone hope that for him or herself?

Honestly, I kind of like to say "Madagascar." It sounds so exotic and unreal. Wait 'til I get there--I bet it'll get real in a big damn hurry. I was reading the "A few Minor Adjustments" handbook that the PC sends us to read, and had my first moment of terror about this thing I'm about to go do. I read through the first, oh, 20 pages, which mostly constitute a laundry list in prose form of how hard it will be in so many different ways. Linguistically (new), culturally (new), weatherwise (new), climate (different), personal space (none), so many new people (too many), no support network, different food, different customs, being on your toes every moment of every day, being scheduled for stuff to do every moment of every day...all of these things. And more. All the sicknesses you'll get, and the changes your body will go through, the emotional stressors and the bickering and infighting that can happen when everyone's under all of these conditions. Then it talks about at site, which is a whole new can of problems and difficulties and just generally so many things that require energy to deal with that it sometimes seems like getting up in the morning is just too much to ask.

And then it gets to a section entitled something like, "Where are the Hardships?"

I was thinking, "I can deal with all of that stuff. I can do it. It'll be hard, but that's the whole point, is to go somewhere that it's so difficult that you have to grow yourself in brand new ways just to exist," but when all of that everything (much of which I hadn't even thought of) is just a precursor....I nearly choked. In my head, there was the first small voice that said, "But...there's more??? I might not be able to do that!" I think I've gotten some perspective on it now, and it helped that the section wasn't actually about more hardships but more about how to deal with them. But it didn't change that I've officially had--not a moment of doubt--but a moment of mouth-cottoning terror. Which brings it into reality, brings it all into focus in a good way. A real way. A very, very real way. And Peace Corps, for me, is (in a way) all about finding the reality.

I'm sick of the cushions around me--I'm sure I'm pretty unsuited to survive without them--I'll get awfully bruised when they first vanish. Things like heat, electricity, Internet, grocery stores. Things like "careers" rather than jobs, recorded music, lots of spare pens if I lose one. Things like cars, and travel, and out-of-season food. Most of these I feel are not intrinsically important to how I live my life, but I think some of them are, and more importantly that all together they constitute a bloc that I will be very...interested to see how I cope without.

I'm looking to relax without being propped up. Maybe this is college idealism. Maybe it's non-college idealism. Either way, I'm looking forward to trying. Except, you know, when I'm terror-stricken. Although I think I look forward to it, then, too.

The impossible has been demonstrating itself to be beautifully petaled in my life, lately. It's impossible, it is, to get what you want as chancelessly and honestly, as whimsically as I wanted to go to Madagascar. The desire was like my decision to go to Cornell--made without much information and suddenly. "I'll go there!" It would be easy to take that and make it hugely significant, except that if I didn't go here, I'm sure I would've met influential and important people, as well. That I'm happy I came here is a good thing. It promotes more on-the-fly decisions, of course. Is it intuition that guides decisions like that? Is it Pure Luck? Would I really have been as pleased, deep-down satisfied with the environment around me (I have learned so much here), if I'd gone to, say, Warren Wilson College? Things would be different. I would be different. The fact that I like how I am now (and like the ways I am still growing and changing) doesn't mean I wouldn't have become someone I like otherwise.

That's kind of a digression.

Any case, The Impossible is not impossible--people you thought were gone forever come back into your life, a country you had no chance of being sent to (but desperately wanted to go to with all the logic of a decision of the type described above) ends up having a space open in its program exactly when your Placement Officer (PO) finally gets to your file. A flower you thought was dead will quietly bloom, and though it was a slow process, your surprise when you realize is no less sudden. An artist you wanted to see perform before you left the country comes to a town an hour away from you, and plays your four favorite songs. Friends you thought were lost were merely misplaced, people you thought spurned your opinion actively approach you for advice. People demonstrate themselves fallible but not unadmirable. This semester feels culminatory. It's a good feeling to have, during your last semester at Cornell.

"Sometimes," as a friend of mine says, "the impossible happens. And when it does, it's sweet." And he is right.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Calling all interested teachers...

I just filled out a "press release" for the Peace Corps. So, for those of you in Mesa County and SLO County, keep an eye out in the Sentinel, the Free Press, and the Telegram-Tribune. I myself will watch the Cornell newspapers, and we'll see if I actually get my 15 minutes.

In other news, there's this cool thing the Peace Corps does, called the "Correspondence Match Program" through the Coverdell World Wise Schools program. What it is, is a PCV being in touch with a classroom teacher whose class(es) correspond with you--so, penpals. I'm kind of interested in corresponding with people who've been my teachers, so if any of you are reading this (very slim chance), please get in touch with me. Anyone else reading this who teaches anything at all, although it might need to be official somehow...I'd love to correspond with you.

Ideally, you could keep my letters and let me have copies when I get back, in case I write a book or something neat like that.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Got it today, and it's Madagascar.

Exactly as I'd been hoping for. I think I'm still numb.

That and very sleep-deprived. But somewhere deep inside me there's a growing jubilant shout.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Case for Madagascar, and my Fall Break

I got my "Your Application Status has been Updated" e-mail from the Peace Corps today. Checked the site, and it told me "Congratulations! You've been invited!"

Woohoo!!!! I've managed to avoid the budget-cut-induced hypercomptetive everyone-gets-deferred-for-twelve-lifetimes scenario. Knowing that I'm *that* competitive is kind of a nice feeling, as all of my "file strengthening" hasn't actually hit the office yet. Booyah. Also, though, eek, because people must really have no ag experience if I'm the best they've got. But that's okay. I can do it...yes, a little whistling in the dark, but brazen commitment and determination are kind of what it takes. Or so I hear.

So. I'm Agroforestry, Africa, Francophone, leaving the second week of February. Peace Corps wiki (where many invitees for the year so far post their invitation programs, countries, and leave dates) tells us that the only two Agroforestry (Agf) programs leaving in February to Francophone African Countries (FACs) are Morocco and Madagascar. It also tells us that Madagascar is the one that leaves early in the month. In fact, Madagascar is the only anything for FAC leaving the second week of February.

But, because it would break my heart to be set on it and then not get it, I'm trying hard to be skeptical. Things that are too good to be true are usually just that. But, we can all hope.

Hear me? I said we can all hope. Right, guys? Hem. That's what I thought.

Okay, moving on.

Fall Break is going to be a busy one. I must:
* Build a top-bar beehive (this includes buying the lumber)
* Write an outline of a big paper
* Rewrite 2 weeks of Inorganic Chemistry notes
* Study for prelim in same
* Learn the subjunctive tense in French
* Buy tickets to Kenya
* Spend time with friends from out of town
* Do my bootcamp homework
* Work a day at the library
* Spend time with other friends
* Sort through my stuff in Ithaca and start getting rid of a bunch of it in preparation for moving...
* Find out REI's Return Policy on very used stuff.
* Research packing lists and start compiling them for PC
* Research and write the intro for one of the summer papers (yes, I was supposed to have done this already, but anyone who is connected with my life at all will understand why I haven't done it yet...and it doesn't have to do with being a Bad Scientist, either, so hush.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tenner Tenner (but it just doesn't have the same ring, so to speak)

I got in touch (not by phone, but by e-mail) with my PO, who told me that the reason she was contacting me was in order to ask me if I'd be interested in changing my nomination to an Agroforestry program in a Francophone country (pretty sure it's in Africa, but it may not be). So, no science teaching. Not much French, either, given that I'd be using a local language for most of my work. Especially given that my work will be in community development, not official-language state-institution teaching.

Part of that is great, because it would mean that the cultural imperialist dilemma retreats about 3/4 of the way. Part of it is not great because it's much more intimidated to go with absolutely no idea what I'll be doing, vs. "I'll be...teaching science...".

I used to have a dilemma also about "But I have a degree in science, and no degree in Agroforestry whatsoever". But, I think generally people who apply for the Peace Corps are more likely to have an academic background than an agrarian one. So it becomes less of an "I'm betraying my obligation and just switching for fun!" than an "I have two skillsets. Now I'll be using the other one".

Plus, the more I hear about Uganda, the more it seems to be sorta dangerous. Everyone over 30 who I tell flinches and says "ooh...well, but...okay, but you're going to have to be really careful."

I think I am going to switch, but I don't have to say for sure until tomorrow. The added perk--the only two francophone African countries that I know of leaving in February (because this Agroforestry program also leaves in February) are to Morocco and Madagascar.

Well, I can dream, can't I? I'll post more when I've got more information.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Too many posts in the last few days!

But what if I didn't come back and go to graduate school?

What if I did something that I've always wanted to do--apprenticed to someone, learned to hangglide, build wooden boats, *really* handle a sword, make solar-efficient houses--something real, something useful.

What if?

What if I up and ran a lighthouse?

At what point is it a copout not only for, say my (or my family's) expectations for myself, but my responsibility to the society that's given me such an excellent education? I'll be one of the top 10% of the world's most educated people, and I'm contemplating leaving it all behind. I guess it comes down to what you believe is the valuable part of an education--the using your bit of paper to further your status in an area, using it to get a relevant job, or using the experiences for either one of those. Or is it just the experience that you then take and use for whatever you want?

Stupid futuristic, status- and what's-in-it-for-me-obsessed culture...Comments?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Niner niner

Niner niner this is Peace Corps Placement Officer 9 requesting contact with Kay-See-Squared over.

Roger PCPO 9, KC^2 not accessible, please leave a message after the beep over.

Answering Machine 228, Request KC^2 contact HQ ASAP regarding our questions over.

PCPO9, request specifics as to questions over.

Negative AM228, PCPO over and out.

AM228 over and out.


Niner niner this is Answering Machine 228 for Kay-See-Squared over.

Roger AM228 KC^2 here over.

KC^2 PCPO9 requested contact Thursday 1400 hours over.

AM228 why we were not informed before Saturday morning query bang over.

KC^2 PCPO9 requested contact ASAP over.

Roger AM228 why query over.

No idea KC^2 could be nomination change, invitation, rejection, second interview et cetera over.

Copy that AM228 it could also be checking if this phone number still works over.

Duly noted AM228 over and out.

KC^2 over and out.

(Waiting for Monday morning....harder to be patient in short scale, though I've been waiting for over a year already)

Friday, October 3, 2008

I'm not going to write about politics

Because I spend too much of my time following the current affairs of the state (and vice versa), and I really don't want to spend all my time embroiled in it all.

This last week has been a good one, if a bit of a roller-coaster.

On Monday, I found out that I beat the mean on the scary Inorganic Chemistry prelim.

I went to see the Indigo Girls on Tuesday evening with Jan, Simon, and Sophia. That was a lot of fun--my friends weren't really Indigo Girls fans, but they had a good time. I had an amazing time, and am in the middle of an Indigo Girls crush, of course. They played all four of my favorite songs: (opened with) Pendulum Swinger, Shame on You, Closer to Fine, and the final encore, of course, was Galileo. "Closer to Fine" in particular resonated with me because of the third verse's relevance to what I'm doing now, and the chorus' relevance to what I'm doing after Cornell.

I went to see the Doctor of Philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knees
And he never did marry, or see a B-grade movie
But he graded my performance, and he said he could see through me.
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free.

So I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

On Wednesday, I got a really surprising e-mail, which has thrown me for something of a loop. And, later that day, the Paper Hats had a triumph: I was cashiering at Temple of Zeus. There was a New York Times. So, of course, I made a paper hat, and then another one for my fellow cashier. He didn't want his, though, so I started to offer them as "free" with a purchase of ... anything. For a while, nobody was very interested, but then things picked up, and I managed to give away an entire New York Times. Then I went to an appointment at the Deans' office, and gave away three hats there!

On Thursday (that was yesterday), there was a fun field trip to a bee yard. I had eaten bananas earlier, but did not get stung.

On Friday, I got a teaching evaluation and apparently "Have a lot of talent".

I've been thinking a lot about the dynamics of relationships. Not romantic-ones, friendship-ones. It seems to me like any time you trust anyone a lot, that person will let you down or hurt you in some way. So, there are then three main options: do nothing, cut them out of your life, or work on forgiveness/acceptance/moving on. Doing nothing is not something that works, because pressure builds up then until one of the other two actions are necessary. Cutting someone out of your life is something that I thought, two or three years ago, would be a good idea. But, if being hurt or betrayed in some major way is inevitable, then that option implies that one will never have any long-term friends. It'll just be a series of replacements.

Which thought wearies me beyond belief.

So, the third option, trying to fix things mutually, is the only real viable one. But along with this comes the obligation of total honesty, and a lot of emotional growing and work. This is not easy. It is worth it, but it's very far from easy. I was going to write more, but that's kind of tipping my hand, since (a) I'm paranoid and (b) this blog's google-able.

Over and out.