Continued Employment Is Good
I had a meeting this morning with the Dean of the Faculty, who informed me that I do, in fact, have a job for next fall. I've passed my third-year reappointment review, the first step in the tenure process.
Nothing surprising, but a huge relief nonetheless.
I also received specific instructions to not do anything that would compromise my research, and specifically not to do any more committee service. In keeping with those instructions, I'm off to a research conference for the rest of the week-- all the cool kids are going to Tucson this week. The really cool kids will be... well probably not here, but I can dream.
(I'd offer to do live DAMOP blogging, but, really, who wants to see that?)
Drink Deep, or Taste Not
I went to a debate on campus last night, on the topic "Does God Exist?", featuring the relentlessly self-promoting Michael Shermer, of Skeptic Society fame. Shermer was debating Doug Geivett, who I had never heard of before this, but who did score points by not flogging his own books.
I went to this expecting to be annoyed, but was surprised in the end. It's not that I wasn't annoyed, it's just that the manner of annoyance was different than I expected. There was some predicatable annoyance-- Geivett trotted out arguments that date back at least to Aquinas as if they were new, and said some remarkably daft things about Christianity-- but what was surprising was that both men attempted to cite science in support of their arguments, and both of them made an utter hash of it.
Geivett opened the debate, and gave as one of his evidences for the existence of God the fact that the Universe had a beginning. It's an argument with a venerable history, and he backed it up (initially) with a not-too-garbled description of Big Bang cosmology. He went completely off the rails, though, when he started talking about the "fine tuning" of the Universe in order to support life, and described how this required that matter exploding outward from the Big Bang had to be given just the right amount of kinetic energy. Um, no. It went downhill from there.
(He did use the fairly novel tactic of claiming that the resurrection of Jesus is a good proof of God's existence, saying that Christianity is unique among religions in making claims that are historically verifiable, at least in principle. That last qualifier's a doozy, though, as his main evidence is Gospel accounts of the empty tomb, and so on.
(I might buy the "verifiable" claim if he were able to show evidence of the empty tomb from, well, anyone without an axe to grind. A Roman record book noting the mysterious absence of a late Jewish revolutionary, or some such. But the claim that this is unique to Christianity is just asinine-- Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons, off the top of my head, could all make similar claims.)
Shermer started off in a slightly more promising manner, claiming the mantle of Science for his arguments. He very quickly started to lose it, though, talking about the "quantum mechanical decay of beta particles." Beta particles, being electrons, have this maddening tendency to, well, not decay. Other kinds of particles undergo beta decay, in which they emit beta particles, but beta particles do not decay.
And pretty much all of his scientific arguments suffered a similar garbling. He ran through a catalogue of cosmological theories, and his quick descriptions of them were just... off. It's like he's learned all his physics from the free subscription he gets for writing a column in Scientific American.
Honestly, it was like watching Gregg Easterbrook debate Gregg Easterbrook...
And then the question-and-answer period started. With a vengeance, as the first "questioner" got up and gave a little dissertation on how the Bible mentions the idea of an expanding Universe, and how some parameter-- the mass density, I think-- is constrained to one part in 10120. A remarkable claim, that, as there are only supposed to be something like 1080 protons in the Universe, a fact which he also managed to drag in.
And lest it be thought that only the pro-God people were idiots, the second questioner basically rattled off the plot of The DaVinci Code as if it were fact, and used it to question the accuracy of the Bible. Both speakers managed to be diplomatic in pointing out that Dan Brown's book is a novel, but only just.
As noted by Kate (I can't guarantee that link will work, as LiveJournal is all wonky at the moment), we rented The Triplets of Belleville this weekend, and watched it Saturday night. It's a delightfully odd little movie with basically no dialogue, but wonderful characters-- the dog is just perfect.
I noticed something really strange about the opening shot, though. The film starts off with a grainy black-and-white picture of a theater stage, like they used to use for really old cartoon features, and on the front of the stage, beneath the curtains, is the Einstein field equation, or a version thereof:
Rμν - (1/2) gμν R = - 8 π G Tμν
There's just no escaping physics, even in one of the oddest cartoons on record...
Close Enough Answers
Here are the actual songs from the previous mix tape post. This one was recorded during the summer between my graduation from Williams and the start of grad school, and you can sort of tell. I had moved down to DC to work at NIST for the summer, and I hadn't brought all my gear down yet, so it was dubbed on a cheap boom box (the levels fluctuate from one song to another), and using a limited selection of CD's (not even all the ones I had then, and a tiny fraction of the collection I have now). I needed something to listen to while driving back and forth between Gaithersburg and College Park to look for housing, though, and I was fairly happy with the tape, so I kept it.
Someday, in the not-too-distant future, I'm going to have to give up on the casette tape technology, and move all these mixes over to CD's or MP3's, or whatever. That'll be a big hassle, when it happens, so I'm sticking with tape hiss for the moment...
- 1)"Like a Rolling Stone," Bod Dylan. It started life in waltz time, and you can still hear a bit of that in the background. That's why most cover versions suck, particular the Rolling Stones one, where they jammed it into 4/4 time (because that's what Charlie Watts does...). Brad DeLong is a heretic.
- 2)"Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," Jimi Hendrix. Nobody can make an electric guitar sound sinister the way Hendrix could. This was used in the Steven Seagal vehicle Under Seige, over footage of a warship at sea, and that image is forever linked with this tune in my mind.
- 3)"Are You Gonna Go My Way?" Lenny Kravitz. Nobody can write a new song and make it sound like it was recorded thirty years ago the way Lenny Kravitz does.
- 4)"Start Choppin'," Dinosaur Jr.. Memorably described to me as "If Neil Young were in Sonic Youth and they were an Allman Brothers cover band." It's as good a description as any.
- 5)"Somebody to Shove," Soul Asylum. Dave Pirner is waiting by the phone, and he's not happy about it. Great driving music.
- 6)"Kitchen," the Lemonheads. I'm a sucker for songs with "Ooo bop bop" choruses. This might be good paired with "Hey Jealousy," but they might actually be the same song. Tough call.
- 7)"In the Valley," Midnight Oil. Off Earth and Sun and Moon, which was the last album that made it onto my radar. This is a really catchy song, which could've been a hit if not for the Aussie political references.
- 8)"Me in Honey," REM. The song featuring the chick from the B-52's on Out of Time that isn't annoying.
- 9)"Can't Hardly Wait," the Replacements. "Jesus rides beside me,/ He never buys any smokes." Paul Westerberg was a lot more fun when he was drinking.
- 10)"Gin Soaked Boy," Tom Waits. Off Swordfishtrombone, one of the nastiest, creakiest blues songs you could ever want to hear.
- 11)"Let it Bleed," the Rolling Stones. We all need someone for something, and Mick's your guy for most purposes.
- 12)"Cheap Sunglasses," ZZ Top. Yeah, they don't look all that great, but when you wake up in the morning, and the light, it hurts your head, you'll be glad you have them.
- 13)"Is There Any Love in Your Heart?" Lenny Kravitz. Another great driving song. I can't quite understand all the words, and I really can't sing in that octave, but who cares?
- 14)"Bushfire," Midnight Oil. Another obscure song, this one exceptionally creepy.
- 15)"Heroes," David Bowie. Whenever somebody says "creepy," David Bowie is not far off. He really sounds like he cares about this tune, unlike the Wallflowers cover, where Jakob Dylan mostly sounded bored.
- 16)"Oliver's Army," Elvis Costello. I'm sure this is about something specific, but I'm not sure what. I'm not sure I really want to know, either-- it'd probably turn out to be depressing.
- 17)"Confetti," the Lemonheads. He kinda, shoulda, sorta, woulda told her if he coulda. They don't write 'em like that any more.
- 18)"Black Gold," Soul Asylum. Every mix tape contains at least one song that was thrown on just because something had to be next, and nothing else was coming to mind. This is that song.
- 19)"Yap Yap," Keith Richards. Keith should really do some more solo stuff. Mumbled lyrics over a nice mellow groove, just the sort of thing you want from an aging rock star. Stop trying to pretend you're twenty, and get Mick to stop, too.
- 20)"(Don't Go Back To) Rockville," REM. This would be good advice, were it not for Bombay Bistro, Taste of Saigon, and the Hard Times Cafe...
- 21)"Alex Chilton," the Replacements. The ultimate fan letter. One of these days, I'll actually listen to a Big Star album.
- 22)"Be My Yoko Ono," Barenaked Ladies. Somehow, things got sort of somber for a lot of side two. This serves as a good antidote to that.
- 23)"A Mind With a Heart of its Own," Tom Petty. As long as I was putting silly songs on tape, why not? Besides, something had to be last, and I didn't have any better ideas...