Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I'm not a True Husker. That is, my IQ is above room temperature (Celsius)

Something called University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Character Council is launching a sort of loyalty oath thingy called the 'True Husker' campaign, wherein we're all (students, faculty, staff and alumni) supposed to sign an awful pledge to mush-headed contemporary platitudes about 'diversity'. It's not even original; it's borrowed from Oklahoma, where they, natch, call the pledgers 'Real Sooners' Needless to say, I'm not signing. Here's why you shouldn't.
A true Husker shows open-mindedness. They are eager to learn and accept other’s ideas even when they are different from their own.
  • I'm more-or-less inured to the use of they as a gender-neutral alternative to he or she, which is awkward if used repeatedly. But they is still plural number, and using it as a singular pronoun is jarring. An even-slightly-competent editor would have written.
    True Huskers show open-mindedness. They are eager to learn and accept other’s ideas even when they are different from their own.
  • but, of course, the editor would have substituted others' for other's
  • More substantively, it's codswollop. They don't really want you to remain open, for example, to ISIS's ideas. I hope. What they want is for you to be open to their ideas, and closed to contrary ideas. For example, I bet they hate my ideas.
They do not discriminate based off of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, disability, military or veteran status, age or other characteristics.
Off of? OFF OF?! Gag. How to sound both illiterate and hick in two tiny pronouns?

And their little list, by pure coincidence, is simply filched from the University's anti-discrimination policy. Just substitute "I will do as my masters desire". "Gee, this person is a convicted pedophile, but that's an other characteristic, so it wouldn't be fair to exclude them from this childcare job."

A true Husker shows respect. They show deference to their peers, and to the community.
ok but...
They do not stand for the disrespect of their peers and others.
...sounds a bit disrespectful of disrespect. And then...
They are faithful to their morals, and encourage others to become involved and engaged.
...unless, of course, your morals include, say, considering homosexuality sinful, in which case, see the non-discrimination boilerplate. "I really respect you, and am truly torn up you're going to burn in Hell because of the people you have sex with."

Etc. etc. etc. I can't stand any more of this tripe.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sex parties

Thanks to this morning's Sunday Times, I now know how to run a sex party. I have to admit, running a sex party is still not on my bucket list, but you never know when a skill might be useful. One could be on the organizing committee of an academic conference, say, and having successfully evaded all the really arduous responsibilities, have some officious chairperson say "OK, the last item is organizing the sex party. RWP, you don't seem to have anything else assigned. How about you take that on?" So there you are, stuck with it. And let's face it, if you put on a disaster of a sex party, you'll be branded as an incompetent for life, and never get to be on any other Really Important Committees.

Apparently the keys to a successful sex party are (1) candlelight and (2) not letting the men talk to anyone. See, when a man turns up at a sex party he says to himself. "Right, I'm at a sex party. Better go get some sex". And so the three or four vaguely attractive women at the party find themselves surrounded by men, while the other women, who are probably even more interested in sex, get ignored. Therefore the rule is, you can't initiate a conversation with her; you have to wait for her to initiate conversation with you. It's a bit much, but I have a feeling most men, although deeply wounded by the inequity of it all, put up with it, because sex.

If this all sounds horribly matriarchal, I expect that's because it is. Basically, the general tenor of life for a modern heterosexual white men is that if something is fun, or could be fun, they will screw with it until it becomes just vaguely unpleasant, but not unpleasant enough to make one put one's foot down and flat out refuse to participate(e.g. the opera). So, they're making American football safe by making all the really hard hits illegal; pretty soon you'll watch it because you remember it used to be fun, but can't quite recollect why. And I gather Sarbanes-Oxley has done the same to Wall Street.

It's gone way too far, my brothers. Time to reconstitute the Patriarchy (assuming it's OK with the wife)!

Lynxes in Britain

A phrase in today's Sunday Times

"Wild lynx, extinct in Britain for more than 1300 years..."

Hmm, I thought, 1300 years would place the extinction at 715 CE. How could they possibly know that? There are very few records for that particular period in British history (the Dark Ages, remember?). If we aren't even clear if King Arthur existed, how the heck do we know about lynx extinction? Internet searches give you the usual series of hops between unattributed links.

The answer is, we don't. It was originally assumed lynxes became extinct in Britain at the end of the ice age. But a 2005 paper carbon-dated a couple of lynx skulls; the younger dated to 455 +/- 20 CE (1560 years ago). And apparently a lynx might have been described in the Cumbric poem Pais Dinogad, though the translation is disputed. Pais Dinogad, which may date to 500 CE, originally was written in that long-extinct language, but survived because it was translated into the closely related medieval Welsh. 'Lewirn' in Cumbric means a medium-sized wild cat. Could be a lynx.

So the actual truth is there were almost certainly lynxes in Britain in 500 CE. And there aren't now. And there weren't in historical times for which we can trust the records, say after 1000 CE. That is what we know.

And this is what skepticism looks like.