Tuesday, October 30, 2007

UAMS to Southeast Arkansas: You Suck!

Toothpaste For Dinner
Yesterday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page was fairly brimming over with indignation over the state law that requires the University of Arkansas medical school to admit at least 27 students from each of the state's congressional districts. Meredith Oakley, for example, calls it "incredible." She reports on the concerns of state legislators such as Jim Hill who asked at a Legislative Council meeting whether it was possible that a C student from one district could beat out an A student from another. He was assured by the UAMS Director of Admissions, Tom South, that "That is correct."

This is blatantly disingenuous on the part of South. Dean of the College of Medicine Debra Fiser assured a Democrat-Gazette reporter that no unqualified applicants were being admitted to the UAMS program. Oakley insinuates that the law requiring somewhat even distribution of applicants is racially based, and agreed with Hill when he said he didn't want "D-students operating on me." Of course, there's no way that D students would be placed ahead of A students from another district. The worst-case scenario is that a borderline student from one district might move ahead of a slightly more qualified student from another district.

But, you might say, even that is grossly unfair. And you might be right, if medical school admissions were determined only by MCAT scores and GPA. Of course, that isn't remotely true. Medical school applicants are subject to a completely arbitrary interview process. I was formerly on the pre-med committee at the university where I work, and met with Mr. South and his staff and pre-med advisors from other colleges. At this meeting, we were told that the interviews were conducted by instructors and other doctors at UAMS. Voluntary training for the interview procedure was available for these doctors, but many of them were unable or unwilling to undergo such training. As a result, prospective applicants were not subject to consistent questioning. Students might be rejected by an interviewer who didn't think a person of their race, or religion, or gender would make a good doctor.

If Mr. South and his fellow administrators at UAMS are so concerned that the most qualified students aren't being admitted, perhaps they should do away with this arbitrary interview scheme. But doing away with such a scheme would make it impossible to admit those lesser qualified students who might have connections--you know, a rich daddy who might be willing to make a large donation to UAMS, or a state senator with a B-student son or nephew. It turns out that students from the Delta are much less likely to have a rich relative or a state representative who's a family friend. If we're going to make everything completely level, we should make everything completely level.

There is no evidence that UAMS is producing substandard doctors, or that deserving students are being forced out of state to get their M.D. It would be very simple for Mr. South to release the test scores of those who were accepted and denied admission, and to tell which congressional district they were from, without disclosing their personal information. If there truly is a problem, and the law actually needs to be changed, this baseline information is essential. Otherwise, this whole affair smacks of a cheap power grab for the UAMS Admissions Board at the expense of the Delta.

(Cartoon stolen from toothpastefordinner.com.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Lord Abandons the Rockies

Earlier in the playoff season, I ended a post with the sentence "Go Rockies!" It was before I had seen this article. Apparently the Rockies built their team around people who had professed their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal savior.

There's nothing wrong with attempting to sign players of good character; any business would be crazy not to want upstanding employees, simply as a way to increase profits. However, some players spoke of feeling that they were not accepted if they weren't part of a "God Squad." Former Rockies player Mark Sweeney told USA Today: "They have a great group of guys over there but I've never been in a clubhouse where Christianity is the main purpose. You wonder if some people are going along with it just to keep their jobs."

General Manager Dan O'Dowd has said that the Lord has had a hand in the Rockies' improbable run to the World Series. Maybe he needs to rethink that attitude, because if he's right, it appears that the Lord has abandoned the Rockies. Perhaps He is more interested in tolerance. Or perhaps the Red Sox fans prayed harder.

(Thanks to Wordster over at Faith-Based for the heads-up.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Go Ahead and Tase Me, Bro

The University of Florida campus police were cleared for their tasering of Andrew Meyer in the famous "Don't Tase Me, Bro" case. Of course they were. Police are always justified in using excessive force on citizens. Police can do whatever they want, whenever they want. This is the age of the Patriot Act and Alberto Gonzales. Don't forget it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme

Hipparchia has tagged me for The Pharyngula mutating genre meme. I saw this on Pharyngula and tried to ignore it, but one ignores Hipparchia at one's own peril. I'd hate to be the object of one of the wonky, withering posts on her excellent blog. Crooks, liars, and insurance company executives have been known to commit seppuki after reading her take-downs. I'd certainly have no chance. So, since this post is at least partly about survival:

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, “The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…”. Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

You can leave them exactly as is.
You can delete any one question.
You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change “The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is…” to “The best time travel novel in Westerns is…”, or “The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is…”, or “The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is…”.
You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form “The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…”.
You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.
Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

My pedigree:
My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-great-great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite.
My great-great-grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.
My great-grandparent is archy.
My grandparent is Why Now?
My parent is Over the Cliff, Onto the Rocks.

My version of the questions:
The best end-of-the-world novel in SF/Fantasy is: Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle.
The best “bad” movie in scientific dystopias is: Tank Girl.
The best sexy song in pop is: “Brass In Pocket” by the Pretenders.
The best alt-country album in country music is: Fight Songs by Old 97s.

To keep the meme alive, I'm passing it along to:
Aaron at Nobody in Particular, because he's becoming an expert on Darwin.
Sona at Sona Says, because she's always thinking about random stuff.
Saint Gasoline at Saint Gasoline, because he's evolution minded, and something of a trouble-maker, so he should enjoy this.
and Catnapping at The Odd Neighbor, because she's so freaking awesome, and should pass those awesome genes along to the next generation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Critical Ass

One of the benefits of writing a blog, as opposed to writing a newspaper column, is that if you have nothing to say, there’s no editor yelling at you about deadlines or column-inches. If you’ve got nothing to say, you just don’t post. Newspaper columnists have to stare down that blank computer screen and put something together, even without inspiration.

Maybe we could be generous and assume that’s what happened with Philip Martin’s Critical Mass column in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But Martin’s famous in these parts for his pretentious bombast, and this column, a critique of Steve Earle’s new album Washington Square Serenade, reaches new lows for inflated bullshit.

Martin begins by telling us how stupid we are for trying to figure out who the greatest American songwriter is—then spends two interminable paragraphs discussing exactly that (he actually mentions Kanye West and Jerome Kern in the same breath). Of course he mentions a couple of people that you’ve never heard of (okay, maybe you’ve heard of Dan Bern, the greatest American songwriter, but I had to read his tiny little Wikipedia entry to find out who he is).

Then he spends the rest of the review telling us how much he really likes Steve Earle, even though Earle’s a jerk, and how you couldn’t blame him for being an ass at that one show that one time, and how he likes this album, even though it’s really just a throwaway, a space-filler that Earle slapped together so he could cash a paycheck. Obviously, Earle’s too happy to produce an album with just the right amount of artist-y angst to make it really worth a listen, as far as Martin is concerned.

The worst part of the review is Martin’s attack on Earle for writing about being in New York, when he hasn’t been living there long. Martin writes, without a hint of irony:
Frankly, Steve, I’m kind of glad the Bowery is now Nolita, because I’ve been on the Bowery when it was the Bowery. While I’ll agree with the implication that its a shame that CBGB had to go, an electro-gilded talking blues about how the city just ain’t what it used to be seems a little awkward coming from a newly arrived Nashville Cat. Just sayin ’ it doesn’t seem all that well thought out.
Hey, Philip! You forgot! You write for the ARKANSAS FUCKING DEMOCRAT! You know—the second-best newspaper in a one-paper town? How can you write for the same newspaper as Wally Hall and still look like the biggest boob on the staff? How can you badmouth Earle for playing the New Yorker while he’s in New York, while you’re doing the same damn thing from your couch in Little Rock?

At one point, Martin writes, “I like Steve Earle, even though I think he’s always secretly campaigning to be well thought of by a certain type of New York intellectual, the kind who listens to Huddie Leadbetter and The Pogues.” Are you certain, there, Phil? Maybe he’s trying to trying to attract those Little Rock intellectuals who listen to Dan Olney and Jay-Z. Or maybe not.

For the record--Washington Square Serenade is not Steve Earle’s best work. That’d be Trancendental Blues. But it’s still an excellent album. See, Philip? How hard was that?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

So Much For That

I never really felt right about rooting for the Cubs anyway. And when I told them I hoped the Cubs won, all my friends looked at me like I'd lost my mind.

Go Rockies!