Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Blog is Up!

On December 9th I'll be headed to South Africa. One of the goals of the trip is to keep an on-line journal of my five week trip, so I've started a new blog here and I plan to do preliminary posts soon. There are no formal posts yet, but if you click on the about tab you'll get an intro about the trip and some very good links.

I like wordpress. I tried to set up a new blog a few months ago and had trouble but today I gave myself plenty of time, and plenty of coffee, and realized that wordpress is easier than I thought. Hmmm...should I be saying this on a blog created by blogspot? Well, blogspot has its merits too, after all it's the provider who got me started blogging in the first place.

As for Ian's Blog II? It's time to move on I think. I haven't posted in over a month as my sister Emily gently reminds me every-so-often (she's such an editor). The trip to Africa is really at the forefront of everything right now, along with tons of reading and papers for school, so I think I'll retire this blog. I like the idea of having blogs end at some point and taking up new ones, maybe because one day I'll be able to mark stages in my life this way.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Don't Straight Party Vote

Bad formatting, but this needs to get out there. Don't straight party vote. They're at it again!

ELECTION ALERT: Straight Party=20Voting Trap. You may have read about this; Hereare the details and what to do about it:THE PROBLEM: "Straight party voting" on voting machines is revealinga bad pattern of miscounting and omitting your vote, especially if you areaDemocrat. Most recently (Oct. 2008), a firm called Automated ElectionServiceswas found to have mis-coded the system in heavily Democratic Santa FeCounty,New Mexico such that straight party voters would not have the presidentialvotecounted.STRAIGHT PARTY VOTING is allowed in 15 states. Basically, it means that youcantake a shortcut to actually looking at who you are voting for and insteadjustselect a party preference. Then the voting machine makes your candidatechoices,supposedly for the party you requested.Additional details follow, but first: PROTECT THE COUNT:Short video launches Black Box Voting "Protect the Count" project -more to come:Form a Poll Tape Posse - TO PROTECT THE COUNT against Straight Party Trap:0A1) NEVER CHOOSE THE STRAIGHT PARTY VOTE OPTION, because it alerts thecomputeras to your party preference and allows software code to trigger whateverfunction the programmer has designed.2) SEND THIS INFORMATION OUT TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN, blog it, root n'toot it outthere to get the word out.3) ESPECIALLY GET THE WORD OUT TO PEOPLE IN THE FOLLOWING STATES, whichhavestraight party voting options:Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina,Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, WestVirginia, Wisconsin4)DEMAND COMPLETE AND CAREFUL TESTING OF THE STRAIGHT PARTY OPTION IN LOGIC& ACCURACY TESTS.5) LOOK FOR UNDERVOTES (high profile races with lower-than-average numberofvotes cast) and flag them, post them, bring them to the attention of othersforadditional scrutiny.Details, links to documents, news stories, more specifics here: machine miscounts of straight party votes were proven by Californiaresearcher Judy Alter in the 2004 New Mexico presidential election; inAlabamaDemocrat straight party votes were caught going to a Republican, andWisconsin awhole slew of straight party votes disappeared altogether. Both DRE andopticalscan machines are vulnerable. Private contractors are involved; privatefirmslike LHS Associates, Automated Election Services, Harp Enterprises, Casto &Harris and others will program almost all systemsin the USA this November.ES&S scanners were involved in examples cited, but Diebold has also issuedacryptic Product Advisory Notice in 2006 about unexpected results from certainStraight Party option programming practices. (More: )

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm Here

It’s been close to a month since I last posted. I know, I know, this inconsistency is annoying, especially to me. But in my defense, it’s been several months since I’ve done any academic writing so getting back into the swing of it in graduate school, not to mention the exponentially longer reading lists, has kept me from sitting down to write a coherent post. The adjustment has been difficult, but I think I’m reaching a reasonable stride and I’m learning to accept the roller-coaster of self-image that has me driving to class thinking “I don’t know if I can do this,” and has me driving home from class thinking, “I so rock, what a genius I am.”

Of course when I wake up the next morning and realize I have four hundred pages to read the genius image is nowhere around. Sometimes I make the mistake of reading my past-papers, ones that I went over with a fine-tooth comb for grammatical errors and typos. I still find more! The professors are patient, circling a redundancy or a grammatical error (c’mon Ian you’re in graduate school, grammatical errors?) and writing gracious prompts in the margin. They also write things like “well put,” “good,” “good point, but remember…” and the all important single check mark that shows that my paragraph is somewhat legible. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced what these little carbon marks do to your self-esteem, but I do remember how important it is to keep looking forward and not to obsess.

The graduate-studies building is a huge, brand-new, and somewhat cold monolithic structure. I’m getting to like it, but it’s taking time. Undergrads take classes there too, and you can tell the difference because the graduate students usually have their face in a book (“read, Forest, read!”) while the undergrads chat happily as they flow to and from the dorms. The stair-case always throws me off in this building. It’s designed somewhat like a doubly-helix, two twisting corkscrews that alternate directions at every floor as if the architect had had one to many tequila shots when he designed the building. If you happen to meet someone coming down while you’re coming up it’s like an awkward line-dancing exercise to pass each other without becoming intimate. When I arrive to class after ascending the steps I’m always out of breath and disoriented. The disorientation usually continues throughout the class period.

On my piano at home sit the books I’ve read so far. Before now, if you’d shown me the stack and told me I’d tackled all that heady non-fiction I wouldn’t have believed it. Some of the works are unbelievably brilliant. Some are dense tomes that contain brain-numbing theory. Some are little thin wisps of books that pack a wallop. With all this information being force-fed into my brain it’s hard not to feel like I know less than before because of the shear breadth of material. It's like over-stuffing a sausage until the casing breaks and all you have left is ruptured casing with ground meat oozing out. But something my professor said last night helped. She said that being in graduate-school is like trying to drink water from a fire-hose, if you stand in front you’ll get knocked on your ass, so you should try to stand to the side and take sips.

But it’s difficult to take that approach when it seems that those around you are managing to stick their head right in the stream and come out with mouthfuls of water. I’m taking a class called Atlantic World Colloquium where we look at the historiography of Atlantic history (it’s more complicated than that but forgive me, I’ve been writing, reading, and thinking about it all week and need a break). There are only four other students in the class, all second year PhDs. I’m a lowly first year—first semester—master’s. It is extremely intimidating. Last night I didn’t say a word for the first half-hour, and while I did jump in with some well received points later, it took time to let the brilliant classmates extrapolate from the readings so I could get a bearing and add to the conversation. They are all encouraging, as is the professor, and I love the class (in the way you love something that decides not to kill you but mercifully lets you live instead), but it’s a bit like going to class with five professors. They all have a much larger frame-of-reference than I do at this point, and when they start explaining about how our understanding of Atlantic world can help them in their particular areas of interests, which they are so knowledgeable about, I have to sit back and listen, a little in awe.

This graduate school business makes you tired. Sometimes the fatigue is overwhelming and feels a little like exhaustion, but sometimes it’s not all that entirely unpleasant. It’s manageable fatigue (at least that’s what I think now, get back to me later) and when you drive home at the end of the day you know you’ve worked hard, your brain feels a little like corned-beef-hash but you allow yourself to listen to low-brow rock and think about what you might have said had the class gone on just a bit longer. I’m used to being tired, but this is the first time I’ve felt this mentally fatigued since I was chef. Of course that job came with overwhelming physical fatigue as well, but I realize that the concentration it took to cook for large numbers creates the same brain-drain that graduate-studies does. I feel numb in the same way.

I cooked for fifteen years. A master’s takes two. I can do this, and, believe it or not, I can enjoy doing it. One thing I have in common with the PhDs is we are all tired. It shows on all of our faces at times, probably on mine more so, but we all acknowledge how painful this process is. Part of me wants to worry that if I go for a PhD it will be more of the same. They all teach, and I don’t even know what that experience is like so that’s a whole other set of disciplines to test my stamina. But I don’t think it’s productive to worry about that right now, I just need to watch the typos, grammatical errors and try to contribute something worthwhile.

When will I post again? I can’t be sure. I always forget how cathartic this process is, just to be writing for myself. Getting this out of my head feels a bit like being cleansed, although I wish it acted more like a week-long-lasting-energy-drink. I need to get passport photos made today, and I’m already seeing myself being gurneyed on the plane to Africa in December. I can’t wait for that trip, and it’s acting as a motivating catalyst right now. So I hope to keep rambling on this blog from time to time until then, and hopefully it won’t be a month until my next post.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Quick Update (one day I'll have time for consistency)

Here is a quick update until I can manage a real post.

1)I’ve been offered a graduate assistantship for the fall which comes with money.

2)I put in my notice at the Public Library which is regretful, what a great job and great people!

3)The Africa trip in December is all squared away. Got the tickets last week and saved $500 because I’m flying on a Monday instead of a Friday. Plus I’m flying KLM which I hear is a good airline.

4)Love life: We’re not going there (don’t ask) :I

Monday, September 8, 2008

Five Ways in which Graduate School is Different from Undergrad

This is a short piece, but I've only been in graduate school for two weeks. I don't even know if you're suppose to hyphenate graduate school. Plus my dog as been couped up all day and is looking dejected so I have to go out and throw frisbee for him. As I chug along this semester there may be more on the transition from under-grad. Note to literallists: this piece is entirely tongue-in-cheek.

The chairs are more comfortable. The chairs in graduate school swivel and lean back. When you’ve made a particularly concise point that you believe has changed everyone’s conception of the subject, you can lean back and rock with your fingers inter-locked pretending to listen to the next comment appreciatively, although secretly you’re congratulating yourself for being so wise. At least until you realize that next comment is a complete rebuff of your argument and the speaker, unlike you, is actually using evidence from the text. Then you can lean forward quickly and try to find the page number, hoping that no one else in the room is listening to the argument.

You sit around a conference table. This is to make you feel more professional. Gone are the days when you would cram yourself into a little chair/desk thing like an NBA player at his 1st grader’s parents day. No, now you get to feel what the big shots feel when they “confer.” Of course, there is always that weird table-leg that positions itself between your legs, making your manhood feel compromised every time you shift your weight. The vast faux-mahogany table demonstrates the gulf between you and your peers, but it also demonstrates a loose community, kind of like holding the Zimbabwe election negotiations in the back room of Dennys.

You are committed to one field of scholarship and one field of scholarship only. Now, if reading about Atlantic trade agreements has got you cross-eyed, you can no longer go sit in a dark room afterwards gaining four credits for watching “Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!” for Cult Cinema. You must, after all that reading, go to another class and discuss Atlantic trade agreements. In fact, Atlantic trade agreement might permeate your dreams, causing you to dream you’re making a trade agreement with a unicorn from Brooklyn named Vinnie, who mysteriously turns into your fourth grade social-studies teacher.

You discover that you are extremely adept at the art of BS. Because that social-studies teacher disguised as a unicorn dream left you unable to sleep, you read Calvin and Hobbes until dawn, forsaking the reading you need to do for class. By class time you’ve read the prologue, the epilogue and the good part about the Indians rampaging against the settlers. With the well-honed skill of BS you acquired in under-grad, you can turn this small amount of reading into a long-winded discourse on the conceptual differences of clashing cultures and the wave of Euro-centric hegemony colonial trade brought with it. Don’t forget the hand-gestures, the head-nodding, the lowered voice for dramatic effect, and the brilliant regurgitation of your first point disguised as a new point.

People are better at sniffing out BS. So, that round of BS didn’t go so well. People take your claim apart piece-by-piece. A tag-team of students quotes from several points in the text that claim the opposite of your statement. Don’t worry, they could be BSing too. It’s all open to interpretation right? This should be your mantra, “everything is open to interpretation.” Say it over, and over...and over.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Because blogspot is very iffy about letting you embed video (and I'm too lazy to figure it out) I'll just post a link to this photo video I made with a cheap movie application. That's me singing folks.

The Stories We Could Tell

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Staphylococcus Redux (part 2)

Sometime that afternoon, after seeing very little life except macaws and possibly a monkey or two, we came upon a battered jeep that had been parked in the mud beside the road. We heard voices in the forest, and I determined that we should try to hitch a ride with whoever this was, because by this point my foot was screaming out in full distress. Swelling began to appear from the toe up to the ankle, and the area around my toes was beginning to show a fuchsia tint. At the time I was willing to beg for charity in any form we could get.

My companions, still less interested in my problems than I though they should be, gave uncommitted consent to my proposal. We trekked into the woods a way and found a man and a woman shooting a sling-shot into the trees. This did not seem odd to us; it was common practice for biologists in the rainforest when collecting samples. The slingshot, with fishing line attached, would send a weight over a branch. A chain saw blade would then be raised up and over the branch, and, by using ropes connected to the blade, two people could saw a branch off without leaving the safety of the forest floor. This practice required some trial and error but with practice a botanist could come away with some rare or uncatalogued specimens.

This was obviously what this couple were up to. I told them of my situation, but they were fixated on their gathering. They told us they could take us a few miles up the road, but they would be travelling in another direction once we reached that point. Fine, I thought, a few miles was better than nothing.

But they kept on gathering as my foot throbbed and burned. Putting pressure on it at this point felt like knives shooting through my shin. I found a stump on which to sit while I waited for the scientists and began pondering the wisdom of this trip to Costa Rica which I was dourly regretting at this point. What was I thinking in coming here? This was the most inhospitable natural environment on the planet. People weren’t meant to live in this place, the insects were in charge down here. I kept having an image from one of those time-lapse photography pieces, where it looks like the insects strip down the carcass of a horse in a matter of seconds. That’s how I felt, like that disintegrating horse, being eaten by something small and ruthless, returning me to the cycle of life and assuring I’d never walk in the Costa Rican mud ever again.

When the couple finally decided they were ready I struggled into the back of their Jeep. The ride was bumpy which added to my discomfort, but at least I wasn’t walking. For a few minutes anyway. The couple dropped us off unceremoniously, and as they drove away I saw very little hope indeed. We still had five or so miles to go until the next camp-site, and I was averaging about half-a-mile an hour.

There is no way of knowing how I made it that far. At some point we finally reached the coast. We had traveled roughly 50 miles in four days and may have made it back to the expedition’s camp that night if my foot hadn’t held us up. We never did make it to the intended camp-site for that last night however. By this time K. was becoming more concerned with my situation, possibly because now there were tears streaming down my face. She had also gotten a look at the foot which was in full purplish bloom. For the first time since I had met her she looked alarmed. We had only one option, and that was to stop at the quasi-resort run by the shady Texans.

We had met these folks earlier in the expedition when they zoomed up in a boat to check us out and let us know of their presence. There were three women, a mother and two daughters who had married Costa Rican men and came off as people who weren’t in Costa Rica to bask in the glories of the rainforest. Their activity had a reputation up and down the coast as not being totally legal, and they swaggered with an air of ex-pats who, for whatever reason, might not be totally welcome in their home country anymore.

But, they had beds. And they took travelers checks. This night was by far the worst of my life as far as illness and pain go. After a dinner where I could hardly comprehend any conversation I put myself to bed for a night of agony. Any sleep I managed was fraught with devilish images involving feet, toes, Texans, and mud. The Texans kept a party going into the night which made my visions even creepier, with loud cackling and drawling whispers. There was very little sleeping and a lot of writhing, cursing and not a small amount of praying.

By the morning I knew I couldn’t walk another step. The Texans came up with an idea; they would take me back to the expedition camp in their boat. I saw hope in this suggestion and actually felt optimistic for the first time in days. I began to like the Texans; they had saved me, I took back anything I’d ever suspected them of and realized that there is charity in this world, and, that humans, when need arises, are truly altruistic beings.

Then they told me their price. $100 for a twenty minute boat ride. Another $25 to cash a travelers check, plus what we owed for the rooms. Most of this came out of my pocket, although I seem to remember the other two chipping in a generous amount. I didn’t care how much it cost though, I just wanted to get back to camp.

The boat ride was horrific, every wave we hurdled brought with it unbearable pain. I spent the ride with my eyed slammed shut and my head buried in my shoulder. When we finally arrived and bid good riddance to the Texans I wanted nothing to do with my travelling partners, trekking, rainforests, sand, rivers or mud. I staggered to my tent and picked up the old guitar someone had sent the camp. I started plucking and found some comfort in my old friend music.

Soon I saw one of the expedition leaders coming out to my tent. K. had told her about my trauma, and since this team leader was a registered nurse it was her duty to check on all illness and injuries. I don’t know why I didn’t go to her first, I suppose I was in the mood to lick my wounds away from everybody. I was not in a very good place mentally at that point.

She took a studied look at my foot and determined that if I didn’t get to a hospital that day my foot would be gangrenous by morning. I complied with everything she told me and soon I was being helped into a boat for a three hour boat ride with the same characteristics as the fore-mentioned boat trip. Waves, pain, waves, pain…

Finally, at the hospital, I watched as they lanced and cut away whole parts of my foot. It wasn’t really a hospital in the American sense; it was more of a clinic. I was on my own here too, with no one to translate. At one point they injected me with something and, though I’ve always hated needles this injection was not bad at all, a small prick really. I realized soon enough that this was to test to see if I was allergic to penicillin. The real needle came out and I took it old school, bent over a gurney while the nursed admired my bare white ass.

The entire workforce of this clinic came from every desk and examination room to witness the cutting, lancing and dressing of this rag-tag gringo’s foot. After it was over I felt as if I’d been put through several wringers, but the pressure on my foot was relieved somewhat and the nurse told me I would have to stay off of it for a couple of weeks. This suited me fine. I returned to camp with these doctor’s orders and tried to pick out what novels to read while I convalesced.

Within three days the infection was back. I didn’t necessarily heed the doctor’s advice on staying off the foot. I cooked 4th of July lunch for the camp and the locals and in doing so aggravated the infection. After that, K. made sure I took my antibiotics regularly and every morning and evening she would change my dressing and wash my foot. Soon I was on the way to healing, and one morning one of the team members insisted that I return to work. I acquiesced.

It was an experience which will stay with me until I’m dead or in, what my father calls, the gaga garage. Why it was necessary to leave camp, which was uncomfortable enough, to go “rough it” in the interior still escapes me, but I’m sure it served some purpose if only to provide a long story written on a Sunday afternoon in the mid-Atlantic U.S. The episode didn’t kill me so, if the saying is true, it theoretically made me stronger. I don’t know about that. I’m also not sure about the “personal journey” theory where you find your inner strength through this sort of thing. I don’t see much in the story that indicates strength of any kind. All I know is, in retrospect, that I wish I had stayed on the beach that first day, basking in the sun, eating coconuts and reading novels.