Tina K. Russell

April 30, 2008

Gatekeepers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Tina Russell @ 10:44 am

Edge discusses boss battles. Good stuff.

Anyone who’s ever played a videogame has experienced this:

FEATURE: The State and Future of Boss Battles : Next Generation – Interactive Entertainment Today, Video Game and Industry News – Home of Edge Online

A boss defeat is trophy-style proof of your potency. We like to be pushed – paying a certain price is an important aspect of feeling worthy – but not pushed away. You want to be David slaying Goliath, but you don’t want to have to dumbly run in circles while Goliath spins around with his fists outstretched for a minute, waiting for him to dizzy so that you can get some feeble, opportunistic hits in, before retreating to a safe distance and repeating. That’s not empowering. It’s glorified, choreographed powerlessness.

I wish that, just once, one of those giant mega-bosses would turn out to be more than merely a heavily armored piñata with a loudly advertised weak point. You’re supposed to be winning against all odds, not performing in a duet.

April 28, 2008

Investing in our children

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:32 am

Bernie Sanders is an independent, socialist Senator from Vermont. He happens to be my hero. Anyway, here he writes a letter on the recent story that the United States has less than five percent of the world’s population but nearly a quarter of its prisoners.

Are Too Many Americans in Prison? – New York Times

To the Editor:

There is an important point to add. The United States has, by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country — almost 20 percent.

Unlike other industrialized countries, quality and affordable child care in our country is largely unavailable for low- and moderate-income families.

Further, many of these low-income kids attend underperforming schools and drop out of high school at very high rates. To nobody’s surprise, a lot of these ignored, jobless and poorly educated youngsters then engage in destructive and criminal activity.

Perhaps if we adequately invested in the low-income children of this country, we could produce citizens who work and pay taxes, rather than criminals who cost us $50,000 a year to incarcerate.

Bernie Sanders
U.S. Senator from Vermont
Washington, April 23, 2008

I couldn’t agree more.

The Subjunctive Mood: A Plea

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:46 am

This was written by my brother, by the way. It is also required reading.

Daily Kos: The Subjunctive Mood: A Plea

The English language has a rich vocabulary but meager grammar. Where most languages’ verbs offer subtle shades of meaning with every choice of suffix, English has only blunt instruments like “should” – our inflections barely account for person and number. So it is that evey last vestige of grammatical nuance is precious and must be cherished.

Which is why, dear friends, I bring this grave news. One of those few survivors is now clinging for its life, and at this very moment its unwitting executioners – some of them on this very blog! – threaten to let it fall away, lost forever.

That victim: The contrary-to-fact subjunctive.

It began on March 10 of this year, with Geraldine Ferraro’s asinine assertion that Obama wouldn’t have gotten so far in the Democratic primary “if he was a white man.” As a defender of the subjunctive mood and a devoted Obama fanboy, I was doubly pained to hear those words. My irritation turned to dismay and horror when I learned that she had said the same thing about Jesse Jackson in 1984, except then she said Jackson wouldn’t be where he is “if he were not a black man.”

And so the subjunctive was dead to Geraldine Ferraro.

Read the rest below the fold, or by clicking the link. Doing so is required. (more…)

April 26, 2008

Give Props to Cops

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tina Russell @ 10:31 pm

Disabled During ’68 Columbia Melee, a Former Officer Feels Pain, Not Rage – New York Times

Had Mr. Gucciardi been on campus a day earlier, he might have tales to tell of some of the things many former students remember most vividly: police officers indiscriminately hitting bystanders with nightsticks, or chasing students and beating them. As it was, 15 minutes after he arrived, he left on a stretcher, with students even then screaming obscenities in his face.

“They were calling us pigs and saying I should die and so forth,” recalled Mr. Gucciardi, who was a father of three young children at the time. He doesn’t recall those last insults with rage, but amazement. “I just felt they were very stupid,” he says, “for kids that are so smart and brilliant to be acting in this manner.”

Oh, dammit, I’m blogging too much, today. However! You, my dears, must be informed of this.

I go to a college. It is a nice college, the University of Oregon. But! I’m always hearing nasty things about the police and seeing anti-police posters and such and it makes me angry.

First of all, Eugene, Oregon is a pretty safe community, all things considered. We might like the police a little bit more if we were aware of their role in keeping down the crime that, thanks to them, we (being middle-class, educated liberals) do not experience. It’s kind of like vaccines… because they get rid of measles and rubella and other such grisly afflictions, we think they may be unnecessary, or even malicious, because we have no experience with what they get rid of. As soon as parents become “enlightened” (read: decide to put everybody else’s kids in danger as well as their own) and eschew the vaccines, suddenly–whoa!–kids start getting sick and dying from debilitating Gold Rush-era diseases. Who’da thunk?!

I am angry whenever I hear about police brutality, which is a particular problem in Oregon. I simply do not think calling cops “pigs” or saying “$%@# the po-lice” is a particularly good way of elevating the dialogue. The cops that cause problems are the ones that look down on the people they are sworn to serve and protect, the ones who mistake their role as custodians and caretakers of society and think that they are demigods dressed in blue. In order to fix the problems with police in America–including the pervasive, systemic problems, which do exist–we need to elevate the dialogue and get them to respect us, and we won’t do that by calling them “pigs.”

Thank a cop today. Respect cops; they put themselves in danger every day so that we can be safe. When you have a problem with your local police force, make your case forcefully, earnestly, and respectfully to the local community. Police have an important role in society, and by engaging with them and communicating, we can curb both the violent excesses of problem cops and the brutal excesses of the overall system.

The Word Problem

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:30 pm

Study Suggests Math Teachers Scrap Balls and Slices – New York Times

Entranced, perhaps, by those infamous hypothetical trains, many educators in recent years have incorporated more and more examples from the real world to teach abstract concepts. The idea is that making math more relevant makes it easier to learn.

That idea may be wrong, if researchers at Ohio State University are correct. An experiment by the researchers suggests that it might be better to let the apples, oranges and locomotives stay in the real world and, in the classroom, to focus on abstract equations, in this case 40 (t 1) = 400 – 50t, where t is the travel time in hours of the second train. (The answer is below.)

BWAAAA HAAAA HAAA HAA HAA! I win!

Perhaps I hate word problems because, well, I’ve got ADD, and the time it takes to figure out what the problem is actually asking is plenty of time to be distracted by something shiny. But also, I’ve had math teachers–who are, incidentally, going to Hell–insist that “word problems need word answers,” and though I’m always willing to oblige a similar reciprocation in the case of the silly question, I think operating in the perfect, Platonic world of ideas is damn fine for all my math problems. I like keeping my math and my cutting prose separate, thank you.

Seriously, math class is time you need to practice, crunch numbers, get the concepts down, not time to indulge the teacher in romantic educational fantasies. If Mei Lin needs to plant a flower garden and wants to find its perimeter, I’ll assume that, as a corporeal being, she can figure it out her own damn self. Time I spend unwinding word problems is time wasted! And if teachers can’t read my scribbles–a mere half-fulfillment of the hallowed principle of “show your work”–they can screw themselves. I’m here to do math, not write feature articles on the process.

I once had a math teacher who had us keep a “math journal” outlining what we’re learning! We got points for laying it out nicely and…. GAAAH! I can’t take it any more!

Math teachers need to love math! If you don’t love math, don’t teach it! End of story! Goodbye!

A Lobby After My Own Heart

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:16 pm

U.S. Jews Create New Lobby to Temper Israel Policy – New York Times

WASHINGTON — Several prominent American Jews have formed a new pro-Israel lobby as an alternative to traditional organizations that, they assert, often impede progress in the Middle East because of their generally reflexive support of Israel.

Officials of the new group, called J Street, say they believe the best way to bring security and peace to Israel is to help political candidates who support that country but will occasionally question some of its policies like maintaining or expanding settlements in disputed territories.

The executive director of the new venture, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in an interview that “a large number of American Jews and their friends have dropped out of the discussion about how to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors because they don’t have a home politically.” He argued that there was a need for an alternative to the traditional groups who say, “to oppose any Israeli policy is to be anti-Israel.”

He said they would choose candidates in June who are willing, for example, to express forcefully their support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue and for aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Yes, thank you, thank you. Good God, we’ve been needing this forever. Now, at long last, we can sit down and have a real discussion, like adults, about Israel. Plus, we can now get away from stereotypes that say that Jews are all of one political stripe. I never thought I’d say this, but this sounds like one awesome lobby.

J Street’s website is here. Here, you can join a Facebook group. Whooo! Prospects for peace just got a little bit brighter. Be happy!

God’s work

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:36 pm

From an interview with Canadian diplomat and philanthropist Stephen Lewis:

allAfrica.com: Africa: Activist Praises Europe, Slams U.S. on Aids (Page 1 of 2)

What is your view of the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), the 50-billion-dollar initiative of the Bush administration in the United States?

Everybody is so shocked at getting a sizeable amount of money that they forget that there are tremendous flaws in Pepfar, most of which are destructive towards women. The amount of money is not sufficient and they should be clamoring for much more instead of this endless acting as a cheerleader for the administration.

Do you have some specific examples of ways in which you say it falls short?

Pepfar still insists that up to 50 percent of the preventative monies be spent on abstinence and fidelity when abstinence clearly isn’t a choice for so many women, not only young women who are already sexually active, but women in marriage. Fidelity isn’t the problem of the women in marriage; it’s the problem of the men in the marriage … It’s an outrageous continuation of an ideological weapon wielded by an administration which is reactionary and out of touch with the real world.

Then there is the prostitution gag rule, where you can’t work with sex workers when in fact they are a high-risk group with whom organizations must work. That’s another attack on women. And then there’s the fact that you can’t do reproductive and sexual health in conjunction with work on HIV/Aids when obviously the two are inexorably linked. That’s another attack on women.

Here you have a piece of legislation where the money is inadequate and the flaws are all rooted in misogyny… in attacks on women. People are applauding it as if it’s some sort of contemporary Marshall Plan. That’s crazy and it should be seen for what it is – both inadequate and irresponsible in many respects.

I am a Christian. I have noted this before. Part of being a Christian is doing God’s work on Earth. And yet, I do find critiques on religion, like the one below, well-founded for reasons like what Lewis cited above; motivated by religion, we sometimes add little caveats that undermine what we’re trying to do.

LETTERS; Faith, Politics, and the Good Deed Factor – New York Times

To the Editor:

Yes, evangelical groups do excellent antipoverty work. They are often the first into and last out of the most dangerous, poor and abjectly miserable places on earth.

But we notice that there’s a different character to evangelical involvement on the issues of H.I.V.-AIDS and sex trafficking. When evangelical groups fight those problems, they do so by curtailing rights (usually women’s) and limiting options (usually women’s).

As a result of policies lobbied for by the religious right, 33 percent of American financing for AIDS prevention must now be directed to abstinence-only programs. Organizations receiving financing must take an anti-prostitution pledge, hamstringing their ability to provide condoms and education to at-risk sex workers.

Evangelical work on trafficking has focused more on punishing prostitution than on helping men, women and children avoid the circumstances that lead them to be trafficked into debt bondage.

Liberals are right to reject an approach that is dismissive of individual rights, prolongs suffering and hinders AIDS prevention.

Kate Cronin-Furman

Amanda Taub

New York, Feb. 4, 2008

The writers are the authors of a human rights blog.

God gave us hearts, but God also gave us brains. We have to listen to these criticisms and use our heads when we attempt to do God’s work. Remember, Jesus did not look down upon the prostitutes and tax collectors that were outcasts from society, but worked among them, as an equal, as a friend, not name-dropping his daddy or trying to needle anyone out of the way they lived. Jesus’s lessons are for everyone, and before we condemn the acts of people we do not know and are not connected to, we need to look inside ourselves and see what we need to clean up in our own behavior.

It often doesn’t help, when ministering to someone, to pretend you know the way, the only way, and you’re going to help them get there. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you do know the way, and the only way this person is going to live is by listening to your advice. You will never accomplish you goal of turning someone around if you browbeat endlessly the people you’re trying to help, telling them how and why they should change. You need to help them where they are, finding what they need and giving it. For instance, in the long term, homeless kids do need showers, clean clothes, and job skills. In the short term, however, what they need is love, understanding, and companionship. With that–and as long as you are ministering to them and not at them–the “cleaning up” part will come from them and not from you.

Sexual activity and prostitution are both complicated issues that defy easy moralization on either side. I do not think, though, that Jesus’s rigid moral codes, as expressed on the Sermon on the Mount and in his parables, kept him from ministering to and loving people he disagreed with. In general, if someone is sexually active, and you wish they weren’t, you should recognize that it’s their choice and not yours, and the best you can do is prevent them from something that is unequivocally bad, like disease, abuse, or coercion. Even if you view (and I don’t) that sex is merely a step on the way to such bad behaviors and situations, your goal should be the other steps from happening, rather than pursue an all-or-nothing strategy that fosters disease and abuse.

God gave us hearts to love, and brains to think, and when rigid ideology impedes our efforts to help people, we are failing to use both.

Help the world heal

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tina Russell @ 2:26 pm

Nicholas Kristof tells the story of Norma Raynosa, a woman who lived in southern Columbia as several relatives were killed or enslaved by ethnic warfare, of the new life she built elsewhere in the country, and why she needs our help.

Better Roses Than Cocaine – New York Times

So in June 2005, Ms. Reynosa and her husband abandoned their home and fled to the outskirts of the capital to see if they could get jobs in the booming flower industry. Colombian cities like Medellín were the most dangerous cities in the world in the 1980s and ’90s, but now they are thriving and homicide rates are well below those of some American cities.

One reason is those bouquets you buy, entering duty-free from Colombia. These days Colombia is the world’s second-largest exporter of flowers after the Netherlands, and almost 200,000 people work in the flower industry. Up to 28 cargo planes a day carry flowers from Colombia to the U.S.

Better carnations than cocaine, no?

Critics of the free-trade pact worry that it would hurt American workers. But Colombian goods already enter the U.S. duty-free; what would change is that American exporters would get access to the Colombian market.

(Colombia is pushing hard for the pact not because of any immediate trade benefit but because its duty-free access to the U.S. must be regularly renewed. Businesses are reluctant to invest in flower farms or garment factories unless they know that they will be able to export to the U.S. for many years to come.)

I hate to say it, but I accept the Republican framing on this one. We cannot turn our back on an ally. We cannot turn our back on the world.

Cohen on ethanol

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:10 pm

I’ve been one of those big ethanol skeptics for a while, distasteful of the idea of turning food into fuel during a food shortage. Roger Cohen sets the record straight by letting us know that, down in Brazil, they have a much better way of making ethanol: not from corn, but from sugarcane, and it’s more efficient as well. If your concern is for the Amazonian rainforest, he addresses that in the full article as well. It’s a great piece.

Bring on the Right Biofuels – New York Times

Hundreds of millions of people have moved from poverty into the global economy over the past decade in Asia. They’re eating twice a day, instead of once, and propelling rapid urbanization. Their demand for food staples and once unthinkable luxuries like meat is pushing up prices.

Those hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians now eating more will be driving cars within the next quarter-century. What that will do to oil prices is anybody’s guess, but what’s clear is that ethanol presents the only technically and economically viable alternative for large-scale substitution of petroleum fuels for transport in the next 15 to 20 years. It’s not a panacea, but it’s a necessary bridge to the next technological breakthrough.

The question is: which ethanol?

Right now, the biofuel market is being grossly distorted by subsidies and trade barriers in the United States and the European Union. These make it rewarding to produce ethanol from corn or grains that are far less productive than sugarcane ethanol, divert land from food production (unlike sugarcane), and have dubious environmental credentials.

What sense does it make to have a surplus of environmentally friendly Brazilian sugar-based ethanol with a yield eight times higher than U.S. corn ethanol and zero impact on food prices being kept from an American market by a tariff of 54 cents on a gallon while Iowan corn ethanol gets a subsidy?

April 25, 2008

Angry Transsexuals: Me

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:49 pm

There are often times, such as when writing my “Awesome Transsexuals” entries, that I am happy, uplifted, and optimistic about my future given the melting of old prejudices that surround transsexual people. Two major US TV shows (Ugly Betty and Dirty, Sexy Money) have positive, recurring transsexual characters, one of them (in Money) played by a transsexual woman herself. A transsexual woman is on the Hawaii State Board of Education. A few years ago, a transsexual woman in New Zealand retired from a distinguished career as a member of Parliament. Movies about transsexual people have gone from being tragic docu-dramas (Boys Don’t Cry), exploitation (The Crying Game), and wistful flights of fantasy (Ma Vie en Rose) to being triumphant (Beautiful Boxer) and sensitive (Transamerica). Thailand has all-transsexual girl bands. (Here’s another.) Here in the States, a transsexual man fronts an up-and-coming rock band, and the coverage has focused on the music and not his identity.

As you can see, I have a lot of reasons to be happy. As a child born in America, I hope to live a life rich with the same opportunities afforded to my brothers and sisters. But every once and a while, I come crashing down to reality in the face of anti-transsexual ignorance.

Letters: When Girls Will Be Boys – New York Times

But through the inevitable lawsuits, trans students may effectively force these families to subsidize the expense of refitting on-campus facilities as gender-neutral and training college medical services to provide health care that is unique and sensitive to their “new identities.” What nonsense. I shudder to think what the repercussions will be when trans students start advocating for such privileges at taxpayer-funded public universities.

Please don’t tell me that represents a plurality of the US population! I’d cry. Seriously, you don’t have to bend over backwards to accomodate trans people, you just have to give us respect. Is that too much to ask?

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