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The last couple of days

My pet bearded dragon of eleven years is on his last breath. I doubt he'll make it past the night, and if he does, I really don't want him to go on for too much longer. This is the worst I've ever seen him. He just is not reacting any longer. It's very sad to see him that way. If anyone is interested, they can read B's journal where he talks about what's going on.

Also, my mom just went in the hospital today. She's due for a second mastectomy tomorrow, and reconstructive surgery. She's supposed to be in the hospital until Monday. The good thing is that this is a routine operation, and very common. The bad thing, of course, she's at a very high risk of deep vein thrombosis (she's on blood thinner since she's developed two very bad clots in the past), and they're worried of complications from the blood thinner. The other bad thing is that neither one of her kids is with her. She's very far away, and despite my insistance on coming to be with her, she's refused. She just doesn't want me to see her in the hospital. We don't see each other very often, and she wants us to enjoy our time, and not be at the hospital.

I am not having a good time emotionally these days.

Not even the Muppet Show could cheer me up, despite the episode with Charles Aznavour.

_A Fragment on Slavery. July 1854_

If A can prove, however conclusively, that he may of right enslave B, why may not B snatch the same argument and prove equally that he may enslave A? You say A is white and B is black. It is colour, then; the lighter having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule you are to be slave to the first man you meet with a fairer skin than your own.

You do not mean colour exactly? You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule you are to be slave to the first man you meet with an intellect superior to your own.

But, say you, it is a question of interest, and if you make it your interest you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest he has the right to enslave you.

I wonder what he would say/do if he came here today to see what's going on.

After almost two years of waiting and being frustrated, I have finally decided to drop Drupal completely, and move to Wordpress. I had Drupal in my "staging , for about two to three years, and never made the live move. This was due to a number of factors:

First, it was very difficult to edit the templates. Because there's no standardized way to write templates, anyone can write them. This can be a good thing since it allows for full creativity, and flexibility. On the other hand, it can be a major pain in the neck since the likelihood of porting an existing stylesheet into the new theme is not very easy, and, having to hunt for the right code to do something is also a major PIA. Very few are annotated, and certainly they are not organized in any understandable or logical way.

Second, there really weren't that many decent templates. Most of the ones out there look like they came out of the basic template. Sure, there are some excellent sites that were written on the platform, and they were fully customized, but the template is not available for the general public.

Third, support on the forums is ridiculously annoying. For the most part, people seem to have the "geekier than thou" attitude, and a simple answer can very quickly turn into a personal attack. It's very intimidating/

And last, it was an incredibly bloated piece of software. There's a new version that's in beta right now, but I was told that it was very unlikely that it would be live anytime soon. And, if it did, it will take a few months to a year for all the modules and plugins to get ported to the new system.

I consider myself a coder, and am really good at figuring things out. But, the amount of time I had to spend in order to figure out something as basic as a stylesheet really turned me off using it any further.

So, after all this time, I decided to move to Wordpress.

First, after a few hours of looking (i am afraid to think how much time looking for decent Drupal themes) generated over 50 possible themes that I can use. I downloaded all of them, and have been testing them. Some of them are quite excellent, that I will probably end up using.

Second, the themes are very well documented and annotated within the sheet. And, they're broken into different logical sections like "404" page", "main page", "index page", etc. So you can separate out the stylesheets.

Third, after the initial setup, I have not had to use my shell at all. After I load all the plug-ins through sftp, I can customize everything from the web. While I love using the shell, it makes editing anything on the fly nearly impossible. I can activate and deactive almost anything from the web.

Fourth, there are tons of widgets, and plugins and themes, and the community seem to be relatively helpful. Sure there is the internal bickering, but it is not very noisy, and it's very easy to ignore.

Fifth, the installation took less than one minute! And except for two plugins (out of about 20 so far), only two broke on Activation, which I very promptly deactivated, and left it at that. Even the themes worked straight out of the box.

Sixth, documentation is excellent. There's some people even making videos on how to install everything.

So... that's what I've decided. It took me less than two hours to customize my new site to a relatively stable format, and the functionality that I have added through the plugins (like converting pages on the fly to a .pdf, or including automatic front page excerpts) have made the site look more and more professional. That's only taken about two hours! So, once I get everything set up, I will ask my volunteers to help me port the site into the new format, and make it live. I am sick of working on formatting and styles, and I just want to add so many new things that require the improved functionalities, and the ability for the volunteers to do their own work, regardless of my ongoing involvement.

A note here, I have tried two other CMS. One is called PHP-Nuke, which was defaced and hacked into twice with pornographic images left on the front page. The other CMS I tried was Movable Type, and I decided that that too was incredibly bloated, and the shell to web ratio for customization was too high for my own taste.

So, Wordpress you have won my heart. I hope I never have to look back at anything else, and that I can have the platform grow with my new site.

Multimedia message

Enclosed is an op-ed piece that will be sent out by the American Psychological Association about the noose incident at Columbia Teacher’s College. The piece is written by Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD, who is the current President of the American Psychological Association


APA Opinion-Editorial

This week, another college campus was the scene of a noose carefully placed to threaten, intimidate and shock. On Tuesday, a faculty member found the meticulously tied rope on the office door of Dr. Madonna Constantine, a well-respected African-American psychologist at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

This incident comes on the heels of nooses found outside the African-American cultural center at the University of Maryland, in the personal belongings of a black cadet and a white faculty member at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and, perhaps most notoriously in recent months, on the so-called “white tree” at a high school in Jena, La.

The people who employ these symbols are certainly aware of their power.

For black Americans, the noose is a potent reminder of the nearly 5,000 African-American men and women who were hanged by whites from 1890 through the 1960s.
This spate of noose placements serves as confirmation of the findings of a significant body of psychological studies showing that discrimination and prejudice persist in significant and demonstrable ways in our country.

Research has indicated that while most people believe themselves to be free of prejudice, many also harbor attitudes that may lead to subtle discriminatory beliefs or behaviors. This contradiction between self-perception and actual behavior indicates that everyone needs to be vigilant about their own attitudes—and what we might be inadvertently teaching others around us, particularly children and students.

There is also widespread agreement among social scientists that the social categorization process—making assumptions about people based on their race or ethnic group, including racial stereotyping -- is a virtually automatic and often unconscious process.

The strategic placement of a noose, however, involves forethought, planning and outright hostility. Indeed, these campus incidents are being investigated as hate crimes, and the perpetrators most certainly deserve strong sanctions that clearly condemn such despicable acts.

What does psychology tell us about the backgrounds and motivations of people who commit hate crimes? For one thing, they are not mentally ill in the traditional sense; according to psychological scientists, they’re not diagnosably schizophrenic or manic depressive, for example. What those who engage in hate crimes do share, however, is a high level of aggression and antisocial behavior.

More than just a prank

People who commit hate crimes “are not psychotic, but they’re consistently very troubled, very disturbed, very problematic members of our community who pose a huge risk for future violence,” according to "Dr. Edward Dunbar"
, a psychologist at UCLA who has studied hate crime perpetrators from a clinical and forensic perspective. Dunbar also notes that childhood histories of such offenders show high levels of parental or caretaker abuse and use of violence to solve family problems.

Alcohol and drugs sometimes help fuel these crimes, but the main determinant seems to be personal prejudice, which distorts people’s judgment, blinding them to the immorality of what they are doing.

People who commit bias crimes are more likely to deliberate and plan their attacks than those who commit other types of crimes, Dunbar adds. In addition, those who commit hate crimes show a history of such actions, beginning with smaller incidents and moving up to more serious ones.

As for those who bear the brunt of these vicious acts, they tend to suffer emotional damage, often with the hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder. Hate crimes can create intense feelings of vulnerability, anger and depression.

On a more positive note, research has demonstrated that stereotypical thinking may be reduced as a consequence of contact between people of different races. For example, research results indicate that interactions among students of different races can diminish racial stereotyping, contribute to building cross-cultural respect, and enhance social and communication skills. What’s especially encouraging about these findings is that they are particularly strong among children in K-12 learning environments. Thus, early positive experiences of diversity prepare children for the diverse world they will inhabit.

The impact of diversity is indeed complex - but for most of us, it is not double-edged. Once we can overcome any initial discomfort with new experiences, we are prepared to derive many long-term personal, occupational and social benefits.

Violence and hate crimes can have serious consequences for the mental health and well-being of victims and communities. My colleague Dr. Constantine is particularly knowledgeable about the various experiences that produce an individual who engages in hate crimes. I hope that her many years of research, teaching and advocating for cultural competence can help her to withstand this unconscionable attack. But mostly, I hope these repugnant incidents will be a catalyst for us all to become more committed to eliminating racism and hate.

Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD
American Psychological Association

Why do people do that?

I work at a very large multinational (?) investment company. I have no idea how many people work for it. I am now developing a reporting software for them using .Net technology. Overall, it's a really sweet deal. I get to work at home four days a week, and when I go to the office on Wednesdays, I'm usually in either meetings all day, or continuing work. I sit in an empty cubicle and code all day. Not too bad for someone like me.

My boss is a very sweet woman, and probably one of the most committed women I've ever met. Our team, which consists of about fifteen people, is all men except for her and myself. Almost all the upper echelons she deals with are also all men. Everytime I meet with her, she just unloads all the emotional things she's been holding for the last week. All I have to say is "So.. how are you doing?" and I have to prepare myself to sit for the next half hour and listen to her tell me sometimes tearfully about all the stress she's going through. She's literally always running from place to place, or on the phone, or in meetings. How she gets any work done at all is way beyond me.

Today, however, I discover at what price her dedication is coming. The woman has taken only two days of vacation since starting two years ago! TWO DAYS!! Good god. Isn't there a law against that? She is not married, and not involved with anyone, and lives by herself, and so of course, she's all happy to work. I ask if anyone else is asked to give up their weekends and nights and vacations to work other than her, and she says there's the boss two levels above her who is like that, but that's about it. She's actually asked to cancel her vacations so she can catch up on budgets, putting out fires, etc. etc. She's doing the job of at least three people. And, although she was promised full-time help locally, most of her team is in North Carolina which makes delegating a little difficult. And, while she was promised two lines of hires for the upcoming year, one of them was slashed because of reorganization. The other one (my line) is still possibly maybe available. Essentially, she's told to just do her job, and that's about it. Although she's an excellent manager, she's not taken seriously, and she has to ask four times for something before it gets done.

So, she's telling me this, and I said "Please don't take this the wrong way, but do you think that gender has something to do with it?" and I could see her eyes well up. She was quiet for a while, and she says "funny you should mention that, I was talking with someone yesterday, who told me she had gone to HR who is very well aware of these types of patterns." Then, she tried to back out of it, by saying that sometimes her boss works through his vacation, etc. Then, she followed it by telling me how she actually came in on her Christmas break to get work done.

I think this is the first time that I've come face to face with these patterns of blatant, not discrimination, but perhaps... what is it called? Giving different tasks and more responsibility to women than men, and expecting them to do everything with less resources. That's really disheartening to see, and I hate to see her that way. I even told her that. She was very touched, and I could seriously see that the woman is hurting, but she just doesn't feel like she can do anything about it, unless she changes jobs. I hope I never have to go through that personally. It's just not worth it. In the end, nothing is worth it. She's the only one who will feel the aftereffects of that much stress. No one else will really care.

It seems to me that my tendonitis has started acting up again, undoubtedly the result of bad ergonomic desk setup and working from home where I sit on a wooden chair all day.

My CTS started when I was doing my MA work, which was about 14 years ago. Wow. Time certainly flies. It flares off and on, and usually I can manage it with high dosages of Ibuprofen, B-6 vitamins, and some massage/electric stimulation.

To top it all off, the ulnar nerve in both elbows is exposed, so if I try to bend my elbow now, I get very sharp pain from my upper arm down to my fingers.

Perhaps I should stop typing for now.

B bought me a massaging office chair for my birthday. It's supposed to arrive today. I can't wait!

Our apartment just got hit with a strong stench of skunk. My eyes are tearing it's so caustic.

Incidentally, this corresponds to how I feel after watching the worst piece of cinematic excretion called "Frankenstein's Bloody Nightmare". I would much rather have shoved a stinkin' skunk in my ears rather than have watched this piece of monstrosity. While it completely lacked any semblances of a plot (which is not necessarily bad), the visual and aural regurgitations that took place on screen made my entire body shriek in agony, and if it weren't for the fact that I just took muscle relaxers to help with the pain in my back, I would have jumped off the couch, gone to the airport, purchased a rather expensive ticket to Pensacola, FL, flown over there, and probably taken a very expensive cab ride to go to the director's house, just to knee him in the groin repeatedly while playing music from Diamanda Galas, so that maybe he would feel the pain that his viewers have experienced watching his ordure.

Anyone how knows me, knows that I am a fairly kind person who is, for the most, rather compassionate to people's situations that justified their behavior. But, in the first five minutes of the film, after observing that it looked like it was made strictly for a class project, I said "I hope he failed the class," which was then followed by:

- I don't only hope that he failed the class, but that he got kicked out of school!
- I hope his mother beat him senseless!
- The cinematographer should be beat senseless!

and so on...

The director actually has a website, and he has the galls to criticize and rant on other films!

We got the film from Netflix, and B. actually wrote on the sleeve, "THIS MOVIE SUCKS! WHAT A WASTE OF TIME!"

Yup. My sentiments exactly. I feel like I should go take a bath in some tomato soup just to get the stench out.

Stewie's reaction to Will Ferrell is exactly how I feel right now (Sorry about the quality).

Anne Fadiman

I just got back from hearing Anne Fadiman's lecture at Clark University. Anne is an author who wrote a ground breaking book called "The Spirit Catches You, and You Fall Down". It is the story of a little Hmong girl in Merced, CA who is epileptic, and her parents who think that she's not ill, but has been touched by the spirits, and she is being prepared to be a shaman. The doctors think otherwise. The book is about that confrontation, and the ensuing "dialogue". The little girl has been in a vegetative state for the last eight years, and she's being cared for by her parents who maintain the same beliefs.

As a medical anthropologist, this is a fascinating read, and very easy and accessible to the general audience. It's now required readings for literally millions of students in all sorts of classes. The entire incoming freshman class at Clark U. had to read it.

Now, I have to admit, I've actually not read the full thing, but have skimmed it. I have resisted reading it because everytime I tell people what I do, they say, "oh, like that book The Spirit...". So, I don't want it to influence me while writing my dissertation.

At the end of the book, Anne cites Dr. Arthur Kleinman, who is a leading medical anthropologist, and cross-cultural psychiatrist. Brilliant doctor, and a personal favorite. The end of the book contains eight questions that he came up with that doctors who are faced with a cross-cultural situation can ask of their patients. The goal is to reach an understanding of cultural categories that doctors can use as a bridge with their patients.

In my experience, doctors still resist the whole idea of cross-cultural communication. Many have a very difficult time stepping out of their culture and biases to see their patients' point of view. And, patients, especially those who have not been exposed to Western biomedicine, have a difficult time translating their beliefs to the doctors. The clinical encounter then becomes a jumbled mess of miscommunication.

At the end of the lecture, I asked Anne how she has been able to convince doctors to adopt she is proposing. I have had to deal with doctors who have been incredibly resistant to even considering anything other than what they know to be the "RIGHT" way to go. And, many put their ethical and moral standards first and foremost in dealing with patients. Her answer was really not very satisfactory. She said it was not an either/or situation, but that doctors and patients need to recognize their assumptions and biases, and work through them with the other. Errr... that's really not all that helpful, Anne. As a medical anthropologist who is in the hospitals trying to serve as a cultural broker, "they both have to come to the table" is not a very useful and practical thing. She said if there's no harm in what the patients are doing (whether it be through the use of allopathic medicine or seeing a shaman), then the doctors should respect that. But what if the situation is harmful. Then what? She merely mentioned it without offering any useful suggestions.

So, while on the one hand I really like what she's done, and truly appreciate the groundbreaking project she undertook, I'm not satisfied with her conclusions.

I'm still debating whether I would use this book in a class. Maybe I should read the whole thing before I make that decision, though.

Visual Basic

I have this weird habit (talent?) of being able to hack almost any programming language, including PhP, Visual Basic, Coldfusion, etc. Actually, I got pretty good at CF, having designed two websites with it.

In this job, I have a new challenge. I have to develop an entire software that would allow integration between Excel, Access, and Visio. The best thing to make them all talk to each other is VBA. I requested an installation of Microsoft Visual Basic on my computer, and I'm determined to learn it before too long.

I want to be able to sit down and write an entire script from scratch.

Hmm... I wonder why my neighbord decided that it would be cool to just set a huge branch of dried leaves on fire. Strange. I don't think he sees me. Hopefully, he's not going to set too many more things on fire anytime soon.

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