May 2007

When asked about W.’s refusal to sign the Kyoto accord Condi Rice had this gem to offer, “the president of the United States was not elected to sign treaties that are not in America’s interest.”
I’d argue that preventing the human-induced degradation of our environment into one that is incapable of supporting human life (even Americans fall into this category) is absolutely in this nation’s interest. But hey, I’m just in the majority on this one, and not one of W.’s yes-men who love their jobs so much they are willing to disavow their responsibility to uphold the will of the citizens.
Today’s has to have been the worst seminar I’ve ever been to. I knew it was going to be bad since the faculty host was an emeritus. The only speakers these old guys ever invite are other old guys. They have conversations about bran and taking care of their dying loved ones.

So I bust my butt to get here from Seattle after a great weekend with M., to be the first one in the room. The talk was about hydrophobic/philic influences in inter and intraprotein interactions. Yawn. I could’ve done without this. I’m already falling asleep after the drive and I am severly disinterested in protein dynamics or kinetics altogether. It took a very long 15 minutes to start fighting the sweet slumber that was calling my name. Another 2 minutes and I lost it. I tried everything but could fight it no longer. The next thing I knew my neck snapped up and it was 4 minutes later. Well that’s convenient.

The speaker was the worst I’ve ever seen. The accent was hard enough to get past, but throw in some stammering, some “uhh-uhh-uhh”s along with some scientifically dated (read irrelevant) subject matter and you’ve got today’s seminar. Who cares about free energy changes anymore?

At one point he spoke about some experiments that had been running whose results would either support or refute his theory. It was then that he offered the high-point of the seminar. He said, “A post-doc was doing these experiments, but uhh, then he died, suddenly. It’s a nice story and I’ll tell it to you later.” Well he never did tell the story. Then I began thinking about my own mortality and my goodness have I really been here that long, that by the time I get to a post-doc I’ll be at the “suddenly dieing” stage? I need to get to work.

From the NY Times:

“Only one-quarter of high school students who take a full set of college-preparatory courses — four years of English and three each of mathematics, science and social studies — are well prepared for college,”

Well that’s understating the obvious. I just got back from an office hour where I spent 10 minutes trying to explain to a third term sophomore how to find the equation of a straight line, given two points that lie on it. I won’t even go into the mass hysteria that ensued when they had to use an equation with a sum in it. I may as well have been asking them to transcribe The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire into sanscrit.

From the same article as above:

“In 1999, Clifford Adelman, then a researcher at the federal Department of Education, found that the strength of high school work was the most important factor in determining college success, even more than the socioeconomic status of a student’s family.”

If this were in fact true, I would be an understudy fry slinger right now, not in my hmpth year of graduate school working on a phd. I probably had the worst high school record in the state in my day. The shop class kids (all of them) graduated with higher rankings than I did. But then I performed quite successfully at the college level. High school did nothing to prepare me for that. My socioeconomic status during my formative years also would have me wearing a paper hat today. Indeed I am an interesting outlier.

This probably violates all kinds of rules, but it’s just too good not to. I got evaluations from last term back today. I’m leaving out the great majority of them which go something like this: “I hate chemistry, but C. is great. He could turn things back on time, I didn’t know what to do.” Here are some of the highlights:

What needs to be improved?:

-More clowns, less trophies.
-More porn! Please!
-Fun level.
-Post-labs suck.
-Fairer grading, please. We are only beginners!
-And about 30 complaints about hard grading and turning back labs late.

What is your opinion of the instructor?:

-Excessively strict on grading.
-Personable and smart, although he grades reports like a totalitarian.
-Really hard grader
-C. is the man!
-He can benchpress 260 but only 20 in the power clean
-No weaknesses. Very respectful and approachable.
-He has nice eyes but a weak jawline.
-Very personable and knows his sh!t.
-Obviously very smart and knows what he’s doing.
-He’s a nice guy-maybe he just had a bad term?

So the results are in. I’m a nice guy who’s lazy and smart, but grades hard. Maybe we should just ask M.

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W. has vowed to use his veto power to strike down any bill that contains protection for gays under the hate crime amendment, essentially condoning violence against people based on sexual orientation. He says that people should have the religious freedom to criticize the gay community’s liffestyle and choices. Hmm. His interpretation of his own religion (and let’s be clear that he is motivated solely by his own religious beliefs and couldn’t care less about anyone else’s) also puts worshiping any god other than his on the same footing as homosexuality. So where’s the religious freedom to criticize other religions? Oh that’s right, they are protected. And it isn’t even protection against verbal criticism that is sought. They want protection from hate crimes that endanger the lives and well being of US citizens. W. says that it’s ok to direct hate crimes towards gays? And uses religion to justify it?? Huh? I’m completely baffled.

Hate crimes against people with disabilities will also be stricken down with the amendment. I have yet to hear a justification for this, but I can only imagine how horribly twisted the logic will be. Why don’t we cordon off some land and we’ll put all of those “citizens” that the founding fathers didn’t really intend to have full rights, but had to include in the constitution and bill of rights, on it. We’ll give it a name that evokes the diversity of all of those misfits, but highlights their underlying unity. How about: The United States. Yeah, and then we’ll take all of the “real citizens” (white, heterosexual, non-disabled males of western European descent) and put them in their very own shangri-la where they can unite in their disdain for everyone else. We’ll call it…Kansas. Or Alabama.

So last week Big Boss Man asked me, quite rhetorically, what I’d like to do first, now that we have our theoretical details hammered out, in terms of “experiments.” I said that vibrational relaxation would be a good starting point because if our theory can’t handle that, then what’s the point. To which he said something along the lines of, “Interesting. Why don’t we try this other thing though.” Fine. I get started deriving the proper expressions for the action of laser pulses within our framework. This week BBM says, “Instead of this other thing, why don’t we look at vibrational relaxation first.” Hmmm. Granted he had several reasons for wanting to do so that I had not thought of, at least not consciously, but darnit that’s what I wanted to do in the first place. I was right and I knew it. I just didn’t know why to the full extent. But isn’t that how science advances? Through creativity and intuition (ie subconscious decisions), coupled with reason and logic?