I ate my wafer...


Reader Advisory:
This is going to be a long, rambling post. Unfortunately for all of you, I was up nearly all night working on papers, and this will make little sense…

A Brief Defense of Tobacco…

So I was sitting on the porch last night taking a break from the horrors of Medieval History, and I smoked a cigarette by myself, a rare occasion. Of course, for the simple reason that I should have been thinking about other things then, and that I should be proofreading and revising papers now, I’ve been thinking/ writing about tobacco, especially in the context of Hillsdale. Certainly, thinking about my friends and acquaintances here, I immediately associate people with certain types of tobacco: Krupa and Bodine with unfiltered Lucky Strikes, Amber with Camel Red Lights, Seraphim and Jared with pipes, Metzger with illicit Cuban cigars, or “Birthday Dunhill’s”, Prizio with “Backwoods” Cigars, sipping on a half-pint of Jack in the bitter cold of January, Dr. Tsao with Marlboro Lights, etc. As I was pondering all of those connections, I started to draw analogies of the truly great conversations that I have had here with a room filled with smoke. If you think of each person’s contribution to a conversation as a cigarette in a room, and define a good, intense discussion as a smoky room, the analogy works pretty well, as even people who aren’t talking are always present, and the quality of the conversation/ haze of smoke in the room isn’t dependant on anyone person, but the combination of several. Anyway, I realized that in the last four years I have radically changed my opinion of smoking, especially cigarettes from a generally disgusting vice of the slow-witted to something closer to a nearly perfect accessory to college life. Having said all that, I doubt that anyone would associate me with a particular tobacco item, even now, I think I can count every time that I’ve smoked alone on my fingers, and I can’t imagine smoking away from Hillsdale. All that aside:

Tobacco answers some primitive needs:
There are several authors that attempt to link smoking with a primitive desire to show mastery over fire. (I’m too lazy to go find links. )I tend to agree, every decent book on wilderness survival emphasizes the moral building, psychological boost nature of building a fire, even if unneeded for heat or cooking. It simply is reassuring to know that one is still master of one’s destiny enough to cause combustion. Think about the movie Castaway, the man is on a tropical island! He’s warm, he doesn’t really need to cook, but the value of aquiring fire to building a sense of security and control is incalculable. Watching the tobacco smoke rise, and drift in its complex patterns is part of this. So is blowing smoke rings, or listening to the subtle crackling as one draws on the cigarette, or cigar, or pipe.

Tobacco is an inherently reassuring post-stress ritual:
There is something reassuring about the simple mechanics of smoking. At least for me the whole ritual of smoking is worth more that the Nicotine. Oh, and on this topic, screw butane lighters, matches or an old Zippo is so much better. Even the most anal anti-smoking activist would associate smoking with a distinctly masculine response to stress. Last Monday night immediately after all hell breaking loose in the union I bummed a cigarette. It was my first reaction as the crisis passed, and very welcome while I was reflecting on why I had instantly grabbed the security radio and chased after an fairly large group of obviously violent men. I can only imagine how many times more comforting the whole smoking ritual is after, oh, throwing a live grenade out of your foxhole.

Tobacco complements the other vices so nicely:

Cigarettes and Coffee. Cigars and Whiskey. Pipe smoking and Brandy. Cheap cigars light fireworks nicely. Cigarettes and beer. Think about good vice-filled movies: the Blues Brothers, Casablanca, pretty much every war movie ever made, etc. Tom Hanks should have smoked in Saving Private Ryan. We all recognize this cohabitation of vice in cigarette ads; it seems that making links between sex and smoking is at the root of most of them.

Tobacco is social:
At least for me…remember, I don’t really smoke alone. What else is the stoop of Galloway for? The Union? The “Highlands” or "Mustard" House porches. Ray's Tavern, the Hunt Club, etc, etc. Why the heck else does Scott Hill, with his nearly lethal asthma smoke at parties? Peer pressure is a retarded D.A.R.E. explanation; no one has EVER pressured me to smoke, or for that matter use Heroin. I know many non-smokers that would consider smoking as a social activity as the accompany smokers on cigarette breaks, etc. Overall, the concept of cigarette break is a 5 to 10 minute social time out watching the glowing red ember mark move slowly up the cigarette while standing, either in silence or conversation with good friends.

Tobacco is for the youthful:
James Dean syndrome. It is not that my heavy smoking friends are unaware of the health consequences of smoking. Rather, everyone knows that part, but there is an undeniable, perverse attraction to disregarding the inviolable fact that every cigarette is statistically worth a couple of minutes off ones life. I can’t really imagine 40 year old adults thinking about it in those terms, but it is a powerful attraction to college students. This is in part a response to the modern anti-smoking crusade. How many of us have sat on the stoop of Galloway with a cigarette while an endless parade of IV people walks by. There is a certain attraction to being a social pariah to THOSE people.


So, as a quick follow-up to my links to Chick.com, I would like to introduce Capalert movie reviews! I especially want to warn Metzger, Sam, and the rest of you about the evils of watching WWE Wrestling. Pretty much all of capalert is funny, but I want to recommend Metzger's Favorite Movie, (which oddly scored the same as LOTR), and you have to laugh when Veggie Tales looses points for violence!. Harry Potter received an amusing bad review, but Dogma is without a doubt my favorite!


This is going to be a long post, feel forewarned.

Sam has a very good post comparing the predictions about Gulf War 2.0 to the results. I had considered writing about it, but there really isn't a point, Sam did a nice job, treated both sides fairly, I agree with him. Also Prizio has done a nice job linking to articles and whatnot about the various details, so I really don't need to do that either. So, at least for now, I bid the whole war thing farewell.

Yesterday I skipped the one class that hadn’t been canceled for Good Friday, and didn’t do a single productive thing. Instead, I slept in late, and then helped Tyler Watts pull the transmission on his beater 50’s pickup. Typically, once a transmission is unbolted, it will slid smoothly out of the bellhousing, but this one had been sitting some redneck’s yard for the last 20 years and was utterly rusted solid. To make a long story short, Tyler and his various buddies, had tried to pry the transmission out with pry bars, with no success. They really tried hard, on the order of 4 foot pry bars with really strong men, sledgehammers, hours of swearing, you name it. At this point, I came over, pried at it for a while, and eventually thought of screw-jacking the transmission off of the bellhousing. So, I bought ½” Allen headed screws that would fit the retaining bolt holes on the bellhousing, pried the transmission back the inch that it would move, threaded nuts on the bolts, and tightened the nuts to force the transmission backwards. Granted, it took an hour for Tyler and I to do all that, but in the end we tightened them down and broke the transmission free! In essence, I thought up a way to use a handful of cheap hardware to do what several big, strong men couldn’t do with brute force. It was really cool, and one of the most clever ideas that I have ever had.

After all of that, I just wasted time until about 2:30 AM when Metzger IM’d me, and convinced me to come over and drink with him. I’m glad that I went over there, we had a great time, drank heavily and stayed up until 7AM. Metzger and I have plenty of material for that kind of conversation! Perhaps the most significant thing that came out of the evening, at least for me, was a realization that I think much more about religious and philosophical matters now that I’m not buried in the daily grind of solving Physics problems. That is, for better or worse, my personal time in Physics hell stunted my intellectual growth in other fields. It was one of those nights that I am very certain that I won't look back on it 40 years as a missed opportunity to sleep normal hours! And to make life even better I woke up to the neighbors blasting "Here I go" by Whitesnake! Anyway, in honor of the Hillsdale tradition of wonderful drunken conversations I have decided to compose a brief guide to cheap alcohol. (I love epinions.com, so I will rip off some of their methods.)

The official “I ate my wafer guide” to cheap drinking.

Everything gets a rating out of five stars, but the ratings are only valid within the cheap alcohol genre, not compared to $40 single malt Scotch, or good micro brewed beer. Products are arranged by type, and manufacturer, and generally listed by price. This will be limited to the REALLY cheap stuff, no MGD, regular Bud., etc, here! Note that “butt” flavor tends to correlate to feel like crap if you drink too much. I can’t really do Malt Liquor justice, hopefully someone else can. Oh, and check this out for photomicrographs of beer.


Miller Products:

Milwaukee’s Best (Including the Light version):
This one gets zero stars, it tastes like butt cold, and its torture warm. Avoid it; you can do better for less money. When I worked at MS&G my redneck coworkers would buy a case of the Beast every Thursday night and drink at dinner, they threw me several cans at one point, which burst in my canvas tool bag, it still reeks of the stuff.

Miller High Life:

About 2 stars out of five, it’s cheap on sale at Kroger, and it is the cheapest miller product worth drinking. It tastes like corn badly, and has more weird flavors than the better miller products.

Miller Lite:
Three stars. It’s not too bad, and sometimes it is at the same price as High Life. It tastes OK, not much off flavor, but no real flavor at all. Somewhat watery. I like it better than the High Life, it seems to have slightly less weird flavor problems.

Ice House :
Four stars. Its cheap ($0.99 for the 22oz.). It has a strong flavor, but I personally don’t mind it, it doesn’t have the corn taste that the rest of the Miller line does. The best of the Miller bottom feeder brews.

Carling Black Label :
Four Stars. Yes, it seems like this is a Miller product, though it is hard to tell for sure. It definitely is NOT the same beer sold as Carling Black Label in England, as Carling sold its North American division many years ago. Anyway, it is a pretty decent beer, slightly watery, and some corn taste, but on the whole better than most of the cheap stuff.

Anheuser-Busch Products:

Natural Light:
Two Stars. It is basically Bud Light watered down. Tastes like rice, as do all Anheuser-Busch products, since they are made with rice based malt. One of the most watery brews around. On the plus side it is Carl Hammaker’s choice in cheap beer, and he does have much more experience drinking bottom feeder beer than I do.

One star. Tastes like butt, and more expensive than Natural Light (less watery though). In my opinion definitely not worth it. Buy the Natural Light before this stuff if you really need a watery rice beer. Busch exists for the high school party and redneck markets.

Coors Brewing:

Coors/Coors light
3 stars. It is on the expensive end of cheap, close to Budweiser prices. Coors is brewed with corn based malt like Miller, so it tastes somewhat similar. I prefer Coors light over regular, it tastes the same, it is cheaper, and it comes in a cool 6 pack box with the "silver bullet cans". .

Coors Extra Gold:
Four stars. I haven’t had it in a couple of years, but it was a great deal in the 30 pack from Rite-Aid. It was slightly watery, and had some corn taste, but not bad. It was a great party beer in Hillsdale once, but distribution doesn't exist now. Buy it if you can find it.

Keystone Light:

One star. Utterly the most watery beer around, they should call it a sports drink and compete with Gatorade. No real flavor problems, since it tastes like a shot of regular Coors mixed in a glass of water! It is the cheapest beer in my hometown, at $2.50 for a six pack of 16oz. cans. I only bought it once, after drinking, and then had to choke down the rest of it the next week...even tried freezing and straining out the ice to make it less watery (tastes like flat, warm Regular Coors if you do that)

Pabst Brewing:

Old Milwaukee (and Light)
One Star. Stay away from it! It has some serious flavor problems...on the order of old socks and compost. Honestly though, it is better than Josef Hoffebauer though.

Five Stars. It is one of the best of the cheap beers. It is priced at the same level as Natural Light and “the Beast”, but tastes almost as decent as the regular domestics like MGD and Bud. It is slightly watery, and it does have a corn taste, but it’s not that bad. I like the red, white and blue cans, and the “Established in 1844” label makes it fun to drink at Hillsdale.

Four stars. It has some objectionable flavors, but little corn taste. It also is about the cheapest bottled beer I've seen. I think it runs about $3.80/six pack.

Three stars. Goebel has a very odd history, it was a product of Stroh's Brewing until about 1996, at which point stroh's folded and slod some brand names to Miller, and some to Pabst. The amusing thing is, most internet sources say that neither company bought the "Goebel" brand...and neither Miller or Pabst claims it on their website, but it certainly exists. I just bought a six-pack of it in Pioneer, OH for $2.50! It isn't too bad for the money...tastes like watery PBR...hence I'm assuming that it really is a Pabst product.

G. Heileman Brewing:

Old Style:
Five Stars. Really decent beer for the money. It has less flavor problems than the other cheap ones. Keg price is less than Natural Light, cans/bottles are more. It is definitely one of the better cheap beers, but hard to find.

Josef Hoffbauer Brewing Company

Josef Hoffbauer Light

Zero Stars. The worst beer I have EVER bought. It sells for less than $5 for the 12 pack at Kroger, but don't try it; even Sam (with his malt liquor adapted palate) had trouble drinking it! Smells like mildew. I did get my $5 out of it by giving it away and watching people react to it.

Ok, I’m tired of sitting in front of the computer, so the hard liquor section will have to wait. As a quick preview: buy 100 proof Mohawk vodka, Canadian Whiskey or Kessler’s. Avoid cheap scotch and cheap bourbon. Never buy any 80 proof vodka that costs less than $10 a fifth. Oh and buy wine in a box, it is both better and cheaper than the cheap bottled wines.


Metzger's Guide to Web-Comics has unfortunately introduced me to Bruno as if I needed something more to waste time reading! Metzger did make some good points about the Sunday Comics, though i would say that in general, my tastes are pedestrian enough to enjoy Dilbert about 50% of the time. I suppose I'll blame that on my history of summer cubical-dwelling jobs.

My personal favorite web-comic is here, but I suppose that I should warn you that it may offend certain evangelical leaning Christians (I'm sorry life sucks doesn't it) Since it is the easter season, and many of us will be taking communion, I would point you towards this delightful explanation of the Catholic use of communion wafers, and also, someone should show this one to Krupa before it is too late.


"There is a special Providence for children, fools, drunkards, and the United States of America"--Bismarck

Quote of the day...from Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fischer....Perhaps the best explanation as to why Gulf War II seems to be going pretty damn well. For the record, anything that Fischer writes is worth reading, but be careful reading it on warm spring days with American flags flying in the backround, especially outside while drinking, it can bring out the hidden Nationalist in anyone.


Ahh, just finshed my “High and Late Middle Ages” Paper draft at 2:30 AM, and couldn’t sleep for crap, probably due to large amounts of stimulant chemicals. So I decided to get up early and think….

So a couple days ago I was doing some parking lot car repair, I won’t tell you for whom, as that would be less than complementary. In any case, it was a classic car not starting problem, so I attacked it with the standard blend of scientific method and “reference to the best example”, and spent 3 hours testing, speculating and thinking to no avail. It turned out to be a classic example of cranial-anal contact on the owner’s part, who had just ran the damn thing out of gas. Now, obviously, I’ve seen that before, and I asked about it TWICE and personally noted that the gas gauge was low, but reading a little above empty. Now that in and of itself would be pretty irritating, but more so than that, I had to deal with the owner continually asking questions while I worked on it, and not thoughtful ones either. Now, I tolerate technological ignorance pretty well, I mean I TA’d Science 101 for 3 semesters, but there is a limit. From thinking about it afterwards, I think that there are certain individuals that are totally incapable of understanding how to approach technical problems.

I mentioned earlier that I was using a combination of scientific method, and reference to the best example. To illustrate this, I approached the car by testing for spark, fuel, and mechanical integrity. The exact methods I used would bore most of you, but it boils down to straight hypothesis testing. Now, this particular car actually passed all three tests, (it had just enough fuel to spray a little from the injector). So, at that point, I switched to using reference to the best example, because I knew that odds were very good that I had a problem that wouldn’t yield well to adequate separation of variables to test hypotheses. Now, obviously, I’ve worked on a lot of cars, and read a great deal, and whatnot, so my next steps weren’t random, but certainly appeared to be as I asked the owner a variety of questions looking for connections. I asked about fuel mileage, acceleration, stalling, etc, etc, trying to fish enough relevant information out of the owner to go back to testing things. Now the owner of this particular car not only was incapable of thinking analytically about how the car had been running previously, she insisted on asking me endless questions about why I wanted to know things…which obviously was to build up enough information so that I could regonize a pattern and then to recall a possible failure that could cause the problem, or possble to recognize a pattern that I HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE, and think creatively enough to deal with that. In many ways, this process is very similar to an Emergency room Physician attempting to diagnose an unusual aliment. Now, I attempted to explain this in many, many ways, to no avail. Perhaps, the closest I came to a workable explanation was to compare what was happening in my mind with the movie “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise moves thorough recorded pre-cog dreams with a virtual reality interface. Now, you guys may hate that movie, and that’s fine, I don’t like it too much myself, but its not a horrid analogy fo explaining how to solve technical problems to idiots.

Now the point of telling you everything I just wrote is that I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how our minds apply pattern recognition to problem solving. And I will go as far to suggest that a measure of intelligence, across the board, in almost all fields, is an individual’s ability to combine pattern recognition with creative thought. It certainly is essential to trouble shooting technical problems. And I suspect that if I could have explained what I was doing in these terms, my hapless car owner friend would have understood, she is fairly inteelgent in her particular field. Pretty much every discipline has respect for pattern recognition in combination with creative thought, even the fine arts , just think about how art appreciation works, so perhaps this is also the way to deal with teaching low level science. I had an interesting conversation with Dr. Smith a week or two ago about Science 101, where we came to the conclusion that the biggest problem is making people that “don’t do science” deal with how to simultaneously apply rigorous scientific method and maintain creative thought. We were talking specifically when a lab experiment returns unexpected results, and I think that it’s not a horrid place to start. I am reminded that one of my greatest mentors in the sciences constantly talks about “elegance” in reference to the solutions to engineering problems, and elegance is a beautiful word for the combination of analytic pattern recognition, and creative thinking that solves technical problems. More to come on this topic later...8am class now.

Wow, I just wrote a crapload, sorry about that, and if it doesn’t make sense, just yell at me. I suspect that the brightest and the best of you will react to all the above in terms of “damn Bob’s dumb, everyone knows that”.


So, as most of you know yesterday was my birthday, and because the party lasted long into the night, I really don't feel like thinking too much today, and hence I'm writing here rather than working on my various papers and whatnot. I would like to point out that I didn't have nearly as big of night as Metzger had a couple weeks ago on his birthday, but it had some amusing moments (discussing quantum physics at 2 AM with two PhD'd Physicists, sprinting from the Highlands to Amber's house, etc, etc) Also, I love you guys but I hate finding half-full Solo cups in wierd places after people are over; if you get a drink, either drink it, or leave it somewhere normal, like a sink!. Oh, and if anyone talked to "bob327ss" on IM last evening, you WERE NOT talking to me! I didn't touch my computer from 11PM until after noon today. No wonder I don't feel like being productive today.

On a related note, most of you know that I always have a non-productive tinkering project in the works. (Locks, interfacing my laptop to my car's ECM, etc, etc, etc)Unfortunately, I'm between them right now and trying to find a new one. I will certainly take suggestions, but as of right now, the options are:

Converting my old NES into a computer....

Or building an AR-15 from scatch...(yes, its legal)


Last evening, Victor Davis Hansen spoke here emphatically defending the war in Iraq, specifically on classical grounds. I had listened to Dr. Hansen's excellent CCA speech on Patton several years ago, so I was naive enough to think that he might have a useful perspective on the current problems in Iraq. For those who weren't able to here him speak, he thoughtfully recycled his speech, or about half of it from his current article at the National Review. Read it and smell the jingoism! To oversimplify, his argument works as follows:

A. We are now taking part in a vast, glorious tradition of western armies fighting eastern powers. Specifically, "the difference between western armies and eastern armies is that western armies have always values orderly fighting", which he elaborated with discussions of the Greek's proper role in the Phalanx, vs. barbarian hordes compared to current U.S. Marines fighting orderly against the skulking, nasty, eastern, Iraqi irregulars....
(Ok, so isn't there a difference between fighting back against Xerces, or Alexander the Great when they are invading Greece compared to going 7,000 miles out of our way fight? What the hell is he thinking with this emphasis on the nature of western vs. eastern warfare? Certainly western armies, for good reason, have fought as irregulars: the OSS and French Resistance, Tito and the Partisans, our special forces in Afghanistan, our founding fathers at on April 15, 1775? As an American, I'm never happy to see American soldiers die anywhere, but can we really say that the Iraqi's are playing an unfair, sneaky, Eastern war? )

B. The war is actually going pretty well, when compared to the time lines of recent American actions such as Afghanistan, and Kosovo. (I was unconvinced by his logic here, in Afghanistan we sent the Northern Alliance to doing the dying for us, and the air attacks on Serbia never had the possibility of bogging down in house to house fighting. In the sense that we will kick Iraq's butt in 100 days, Dr. Hansen is probably correct, but I doubt that it will be as cheap a victory as our other post-Vietnam conflicts.

C. The biggest problem in the Middle East is that we don't let Israel kick the crap out of the Arabs until "the loser knows that he is defeated". That is, if the Arab armies had been utterly crushed in say, 1973, there wouldn't be a terror problem. Likewise, Dr. Hansen criticizes President Bush, version 1.0, for not going after a regime change in Gulf War I....(I really don't think anyone can be sure that the average militant mullah would be pacified by exposure to the "shock and awe" of American/ Israeli firepower. Actually, the Russians continual problems with Chechnya seem to be the best contemporary model for an inability to kill enough people to prevent another generation of terrorists from rising from the ashes. )

D. American military intervention, especially in Iraq, increases the overall well being and amount freedom in the world through crushing fascism (This was Dr. Hansen's conclusion, and it is hard to tell where to start with it...I don't think its very appropriate to cast all non-communist dictators as fascists, and I'm sure that increasing Arab hostility doesn’t increase well being in the world. Certainly our track record is mixed to say the least, but I suppose that if I accepted that we should only focus on the last 5 years, like Dr. Hansen wants to, we haven't done too badly. So I suppose that one could say that I'm just too pessimistic about the odds of not screwing up like we've done over the course of the last 100 years or so.

I couldn't stay for the entire Q & A session, so it is possible that Dr. Hansen answered some of the above concerns after I left. Overall, I really wanted to avoid discussing the war after it started, and I still am simply too tired of talking about it to want to discuss it in depth now. Although I certainly opposed the war before it started, I wasn't radical enough about it to be comfortable condemning it once American soldiers were actually in action. But Dr. Hansen, as much as I used to like him, irritated me to the point where I literally had to vent. Hopefully I can now go back to ignoring the war.