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26 de Diciembre 2004

raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Happy Holidays, to everyone. I am taking a vacation from thinking. However, keeping a blog produces the powerful illusion that people depend on you for their entertainment. So, I'm introducing you to some of my favorite internet goodies--although I've compared this blog to Oprah's show before, I won't be giving out anything for free. Sorry.

Radio: Two favorites. In the mid-morning, The Brian Lehrer show on New York Public radio makes me profoundly happy. This is perhaps because I am a profound NPR nerd but do give it a try.

And if you want to hear what my alarm blasts at me in Pittsburgh, try listener-supported WYEP. Before WYEP, I had nearly given up on finding any station that played consistently good music. The genres vary depending on the time of day. There seems to be a higher probability of poppy music in the morning and afternoon, and more jazz, bluegrass, and lots and lots of blues in the evening.

Favorite editorial cartoonist: Tom Toles in the Washington Post. Only updated once or twice a week though.

Another site that may be common enough that it's not worth citing: Arts and Letters Daily
This is updated daily, with generally three new articles culled from various newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals.

23 de Diciembre 2004

"China's gonna eat my lunch," they said

For my mother, who was concerned about buying stuff from China:

NPR audio clip: China's Economic Strides Are a Plus for the U.S.


hmm....that's doesn't look good...


21 de Diciembre 2004

broke and cold on Forbes Avenue

The Pittsburgh panhandlers are trekking new territory, expanding beyond the Pitt campus to new areas, like the central commercial artery of my principally residential neighborhood. I'm wondering if it's a shift in the supply or the demand curve that's producing these market dynamics--is anticipation of holiday generosity the motivating force? Or is it the handful of bitter cold days and nights that the city has seen in the past week?

My behavior has changed as well--I'm much more likely to avoid these individuals, if I can identify them far enough back on the sidewalk. I'll cross the street. I'll say I don't have any change when all I need to do to find some is dig around a bit in the front pocket of my shoulder bag. I give only if there are some coins or maybe a dollar easily accessible in my pocket. But even then...I sometimes don't want to be bothered.

I'm somewhat unhappy that I've come to respond in this way. I used to be quite receptive to many people on the streets, if I felt confident enough that they weren't dangerous. I think now it's the critical mass that's driving me away. And then I walk away, and I start justifying it with some kind of uninformed economic argument. If you give them change, that will just encourage them to stay on the street, and not seek out social services or work or whatever. Or, sometimes I go off onto a mental tangent about how charity is really a simplistic answer to things, it's the band-aid that covers up the real need, which is systematic change, in public policy and affordable housing and education and so on. Oh, and there's everyone's favorite answer--"They'll just use it to buy drugs."

But then, I start changing my perspective. Say the person on the sidewalk gets no donations on any given night, and is driven to desperation by cold or hunger or whatever. Is that desperation going to be the motivation that gets them to seek out some miraculous, rational solution to their problems? Probably not. What they're doing is already a desperate measure, and failure at even panhandling will probably lead them to more desperate measures yet. And if we're talking about an individual with mental illness, then there is even less hope.

And then, the charity-is-too-simple argument. This worries me in general, and especially amongst liberals, who sometimes act like private charity is a Republican thing. Well, yes and no. It's one thing to try to replace important government programs with private dollars. And one may fear that the existence of charitable organizations might give the policymakers the impression that the problem is taken care of. I doubt it. On the contrary, legislators might see their constituents pouring money into a cause and realize that there's an issue of serious importance there.

And at the level of me on the street with the panhandler, this is a non-issue. My giving change to that man or woman has nothing to do with progress on programs regardling homelessness and the like.

Anyways, if anyone has any thoughts to add, please do so.

17 de Diciembre 2004

Integrity II

So, I just wrote the biggest, longest, most thoughtful response to all these lovely thoughts on integrity. And then in a moment of technological brilliance, I lost my entire page of comments. Grr. I''m just going to paraphrase what I was trying to say before. I just can't write that all again.

For eons now it seems like I've been stuck in the same philosophy--ideas evaluated on the basis of their usefulness for whatever end we're interested in. So integrity at the level of the state? Sure, why not. Why is it useful? Well, consider we're talking about the nation that you live in--the policies of its government, the culture of its people, and so on determine the characteristics that will in turn decide that nation's integrity status. And to the extent that you can influence--or more importantly, you perceive you can influence--those government actions and cultural forces, the more yoked that national integrity is to your own self-judgment. So, because this notion of society-level integrity exists, and because you feel you might be an influential player in this society, suddenly your sphere of responsibility grows, and your motivation and your attention are focused on bigger and broader things than what you might see in your immediate environment. Now I'm not saying that you'd have this completely provincial little mind if we didn't invoke ideas of national integrity. I'm just saying, the existence of the concept increases the probablity that at any given moment you'll think and feel strongly about the actions of your policymakers and countrymen. If integrity were restricted to the level of the individual-- so, it's W. and Rumsfeld and Cheney's actions that we're judging now, not the judgment of the "United States"--then it's much easier to see your own behavior as completely independent of theirs, and therefore it's easier to become much less participatory in national affairs (I wash my hands of it...) That's a potential danger of the red state/blue state thing. As soon as we mentally succede from the rest of the country, that part of the country that we mentally leave behind will be free to wreck all the havoc it wants.

Now, can you play to people's pursuit of national integrity in a way that perverts the idea into some kind of jingoism? Sure. And someone from outside the society--say, OBL in his touching pre-election appearance--can appeal to national integrity to increase the audience and impact of his message. If America is proclaimed the Great Satan, well, you stop and think about that a bit, regardless of how you ultimately respond. If Dubya is the Great Satan, well, I didn't vote for him, so any further complaints are irrelevant.

So, as for the initial question, regarding whether or not nations may possess integrity, given the diverse attitudes and behaviors of their inhabitants-- National integrity is a potentially powerful concept, depending on your goals, though we should be aware of its vulnerablity to becoming an instrument of psychological manipulation.

15 de Diciembre 2004


And maybe we'll talk about dignity later. But for now, integrity. I'm fumbling around here, trying to plot the direction in which this discussion should head. At least for the present, I would prefer to avoid debates that are principally matters of semantics--so no drawn out concerns over how to properly define integrity...I know it's difficult sometimes to have a discussion without defining your terms, but bear with me...I just don't want to go there, not right now. I think what I'm looking for is something more personal. Something that betrays (once again) my psychology background. I want to know more about the circumstances under which people feel that they possess integrity, or feel that they do not, and how exactly does that feeling feel, in the year 2004, here in our heretical blue states? Is an assessment of one's own rectitude part of people's self-concepts, and if so, under what conditions? Is it a concern that pervades their daily behavior, that exerts a significant effect on their identity? Or is it a compartmentalized virtue, tucked into our interactions with particular laws or rules or domains, rather than something that pervades all our behavior?
So hopefully I'll get maximum participation on this one, because it would be interesting to hear from a variety of perspectives--religious and non-religious, analytical and intuitive, and so on. What has your experience been, as a human being raised in a society with notions that people and their actions can be good or bad, where do you feel you fit in that world? Are you amongst the righteous or the wicked, or do you see no distinction, or do you feel too apathetic to care? I leave the question open to your interpretation.

13 de Diciembre 2004


well folks, here's a live view of Pittsburgh...we've got it coming down pretty thick...

12 de Diciembre 2004


Hi people. So, I'm in the midst of exams and other such things and have a few days more of being relatively busy. Hence the temporary disappearance. When I have more time I'd like to return to the integrity/dignity conversation, I think that we could really get something interesting going there, we'll call it the Minnesota Symposium on Integrity, and we'll have guest contributors and some panel discussions and afterwards a reception with cheese and grapes. But at present I haven't really thought about the best way to stucture these scintillating integrity-related questions. But if anyone has anything spontaneous they'd like to say about that topic that's fine.

4 de Diciembre 2004


Today I continued my pursuit of pointless things.

I did, however, manage to get some dishes washed.

I wore a new pair of pants that kept confusing me because they had multiple layers of deep pockets.

I bought caramel apple cider at Starbucks and felt a double shot of self-disgust for (a) buying anything at Starbucks and (b) drinking all that sugar.

As I walked to my office on campus, I got targeted by a million aggressive scalpers trying to sell me tickets to tonight's Pitt basketball game.

I ate spaghetti.

In an act of self-indulgence I bought a CD.

I realize it's getting late.

I ponder the difference between dignity and integrity. I guess they're actually quite different constructs. I once did a google search on dignity, and got some song by Bob Dylan:

Got no place to fade, got no coat
I'm on the rollin' river in a jerkin' boat
Tryin' to read a note somebody wrote
About dignity

And so on. Dignity also seems to refer to a prominent GLBT organization, and there's "Death with Dignity", and other such campaigns. Thus dignity is considered a right, something that is society's job to help ensure that you maintain.

Integrity, that is another story. I always used to think of moral integrity as the integration of your behavior across different times and different contexts, such that your response A in situation B would be the same on Monday at work as it would be on Saturday at home. Your path is unshaken by circumstantial variation. You are you. You do what you do and be it good or bad it is constant and that reflects someone who knows what they want out of their own comportment in life. I suppose many of us know what we'd like out of our own behavior but the self-control isn't so easy.

My right shoulder is getting tense, and sometimes I get these weird sensations that crawl up the back of my neck and onto my scalp. Nothing to be concerned about, just strange.

It's a quiet night. I appreciate that. I'm going to sleep now. I hope.

1 de Diciembre 2004

*the* greatest thing since sliced bread

wow....this is funky. I've been exploring various possibilities for the research line that may end up leading to my master's work (part-way down the road to the ph.d.) and one thing that's been studied some in our lab is perceptual learning of phonemic information. So I heard a talk by this one guy while I was in Minneapolis who was doing some work with "noise-vocoded" speech. He has a website with some samples, it's kind of fun, mostly for the sound bytes (though if you're a nerd like me you might enjoy the science of it as well). Anyway here's the page: http://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/~matt.davis/vocode/ Try the noisy sentences before you listen to the clear versions; it's more fun that way. Sentence A is particularly hard...keep in mind that they were originally recorded with a British voice.