Monday, September 26, 2011

Is the Doctor Really Ruining His Companions' Lives?

First of all, I'm finally, finally, FINALLY caught up on Doctor Who. I just watched my first-ever newly aired episode, "Closing Time", this weekend. Unfamiliar sensations!

Second of all, I've got some Doctor Who thoughts to post, and I shan't stop until they're all gone. Here's a sampler: I don't think the Doctor has any reason to feel guilty about screwing up the lives of his past Companions, which has been a major theme this season. 

Yes, bad things happened to the Companions in-episode or in-season, which is fine. But that's more than counterbalanced by the wonders the Doctor shows each of them when roaming across the universe. And honestly, I think almost all of them are better off for their time with the Doctor, so I don't see why he's whingeing about screwing up their lives. 

Look at the Companions we’ve seen so far: Rose, Mickey and Rose’s mum are happy, and Rose has her own Doctor, which is what she’s always wanted. Sure, they’re in an alternate universe and sure, Rose had to give up everything else in our universe to gain what she has, but she gained her dad back as well and it’s not like she ever seemed to particularly care about anything besides family. Martha’s having the time of her life, having been elevated from a lowly doctor’s assistant to Companion and then to UNIT VIP, before leaving them to run around blowing things up (in "The End of Time"). She’s married, in love and clearly happy, even if she’s not on the TARDIS. And Donna, while she’s suffered the greatest loss of any Companion, is also oblivious to it! For Donna, her life is exactly the same as it was pre-Doctor. She’s neutral.

Obviously we've yet to see what happens to Amy and Rory, but for now, I think it's safe to say that the Doctor shouldn't feel guilty about his past Companions.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Edmund Finney: Sane or Insane?

In the successful, long-running webcomic Edmund Finney's Quest to Find the Meaning of Life, protagonist Edmund has met innumerable strange people. There's the Count that speaks only in literal statements, the executioner who creates an execution-themed amusement park, the dragon who's a scam artist, a homicidal elevator operator and many more. All of these people seem to be insane from the perspective of the reader and of sane, rational Edmund, who shares the reader's values and often acts as an audience surrogate. The question is, are they insane, or is he?

If we accept that insanity is a species of craziness wherein the lunatic's values/beliefs/actions are following a recognizable pattern (e.g. slamming your face into the floor five hundred times every night to ward off the invisible goblin gods)...

...and if we accept the precept that insanity (and therefore sanity) is not a fixed concept, since sanity (normal behavior) is defined by the society you're in, and therefore sanity is relative...

...and if we accept Ray Bradbury's quote, "Insanity... depends on who has who locked in what cage"...

...might it not be the case that Edmund, who appears to be the only sane, rational person in the comic from the perspective of the reader, is actually the crazy one? He appears sane to us, but in the world of the webcomic, he's the one out of step with every other character. Folk wisdom has it that if you encounter a problem at your job, and you switch jobs six times and the same problem reappears every time, you're likely to be the one with the problem. Could this apply to Edmund, who seems out of place in every situation he enters?

Sure, he seems sane to us because we share his values. Edmund Finney's defining traits are logic and rationality, traits that most of his readers sympathize with. But from the perspective of beings in Edmund's world, he's the abnormal one. Their twisted logic and crazy decisions are the norm. What we consider rationality is strange and alien. Wouldn't it make sense, then, for them to lock Edmund up?

And that's exactly what happens, actually. In one telling comic, Hand-Farmer McGann harvests a crop of hands from the ground, then runs off into the night. The police come by looking for an escaped mental patient, and Edmund (sanely and rationally) tells them that a guy claiming to farm hands just passed by. The police call off their search and take Edmund into custody. One reading of the comic is that the police arrested Edmund because he sounded crazy telling them about McGann, and they thought he was the mental patient. My argument, however, is that they arrested Edmund because he gave the rational answer. He wasn't punished for sounding crazy by our standards, but by theirs. Even if McGann had escaped from an asylum (and we see later that the asylum inmates aren't much crazier than the outside world's inmates), the police did their "sane" duty by arresting an innocent man. Everything fits.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dear Anonymous Senior Republican Aide...

Fuck you.

Yes, you. The guy who was quoted in Politico's print story this morning as arguing against cooperation with President Obama to pass his jobs bill, saying in so many words, "Obama is on the ropes; why do we appear ready to hand him a win"?

I like the fact that you were candid, Mr. Senior Republican Aide, sir, but what I dislike is your entire mindset implied by that comment. Since when exactly is fixing what's broken in the country less important than scoring political points, a currency not accepted at any major bank?

So, my very dear friend Senior Anonymous Republican Aide, go fuck yourself. When you're done, come back and start negotiating with Democratic leaders about the best way to fix the economy!

Most sincerely,

Andy Tisdel

Friday, September 9, 2011

Student Alcohol Policy: Coda

In the last few days, I’ve been to a Student Government meeting and asked about the policy, been to a First Responders meeting and asked about the policy, and had a meeting with the Dean of Students to talk about the policy. So I think I’m on pretty firm ground here when I say that, contrary to what was reported by the Wooster Voice, it’s neither a big deal nor a big change.


First of all, the College’s alcohol policy remains the same as ever, which is to enforce state law. In practice, what typically happens is that upon a first alcohol violation, you go to the Wellness Center and have to talk to a counselor.

With regards to the Dean’s office, well… In the past, Security, Judicial Board, the Dean’s office and the Wellness Center all kept records, depending on which one a given offender came in contact with. This made it harder to detect people who seemed to be having a serious problem; it’s easier to see three violations in one place than it is to communicate between different offices and figure out that Student A has been in trouble three times. The emphasis is not on punishment, but on helping Student A; the worst punishment A will receive is talking to an alcohol counselor, which after a few massively drunken episodes, they probably need anyway.


-The College is obligated to enforce state law, and underage drinking is in fact illegal. I keep forgetting about that because it’s so widespread, but the fact is, Security enforces the law and the law says that drunk and disorderly conduct, or underage drinking, is illegal.

-You don’t actually have a right to privacy at a private school. When you step onto this campus, you forfeit your right to freedom of speech and privacy. There’s nothing illegal, in that case, about the Dean’s office having access to the fact that you came to the Wellness Center drunk the other day. We exercise free speech and have limited privacy because he doesn’t want to run the campus in a draconian manner, but there’s nothing unlawful about his ability to get that information. However, the information remains confidential to those outside his office.

-Students eschewing the Wellness Center’s care hasn’t been as much of a problem in the past as I thought it could be. The sober friends of a given drunkard tend to make the smart call, and the drunk friends get scared and take their drunker friends to the Center. This isn’t always the case, but it is very often the case.

-If you have a beer, fall down and bruise your arm, you don’t get a notification because that isn’t your chief complaint. In other words, if you haven’t broken the law and you come to the Center with alcohol in your system and another ailment, the Dean doesn’t get a notification.

-There’s no actual list that the Dean keeps. Most of the time, he doesn’t even see the first-time notifications. It’s the second- and third- time people that might have a problem that the notifications are designed for. Once again, the focus is on helping repeat offenders, not punishing them.

-Finally, the policy doesn’t extend to all your medical information. It’s exclusive to alcohol. Drug abuse, however, has to be reported to the City of Wooster.


There’s no actual change in how the College treats offenders, and there’s no change in which offices have access to what information. In addition, the Dean does not have access to your medical records via this system. He is only told when there’s a violation of law or policy, i.e. underage drinking, drunk & disorderly conduct, etc. If you don’t like that the Dean hears about your alcohol-related malfeasance, well, that’s the price of doing business when you go to a private school.

Please spread the above around as broadly as you can, and just as importantly, please spread the word that it is as safe and to your benefit to visit the Wellness Center as it has always been.

Many thanks,

Andy Tisdel
College of Wooster ‘12

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Patriots and Colts: Two Conflicting Philosophies

It occurred to me, as I was reading about the imminent end of Peyton Manning's games-started streak, that the Indianapolis Colts and their arch-rivals the Patriots don't just have a quarterback rivalry. Their philosophies on how to build a professional football team are also in direct conflict.

Indy's Incompletions
The Colts have traditionally staked everything on arguably the greatest players in the NFL today, Peyton Manning. Their offense has been tailored for a decade precisely the way that's best for him. The Colts don't have many star players, excluding Manning and defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Usually, they just in pieces around Manning and let his unbelievable brain, feet and arm do the rest. Boom, 12 wins. Boom, playoff berth.

Because of Manning's ability, the Colts have been able to squeeze by with some really crappy high picks over the past half-decade. Indianapolis arguably hasn't had an elite first-rounder since Dallas Clark (TE) in 2004. CB Marlin Jackson (2005) is no longer with the team, and subsequent picks Anthony Gonzalez (WR, 2007), Donald Brown (RB, 2008) and Jerry Hughes (DE, 2009) have all been unimpressive. Only Joseph Addai (RB, 2006) has made the Pro Bowl, and he hasn't had a 1,000 yard season since 2007.

The Colts' third- and second- round picks have also been largely crappy. Larry Tripplett (DT, 2002, 2nd), Joseph Jefferson (SS, 2002, 3rd), Mike Doss, (2003 S, 2nd) Donald Strickland (CB, 2003, 3rd), Bob Sanders (S, 2004, 2nd) Ben Hartsock (TE, 2004, 3rd), Gilbert Gardner (LB, 2004, 3rd) Kelvin Hayden (CB, 2005, 2nd), Vincent Burns (DT 2005 3rd), Tim Jennings (CB 2006 2nd), Freddy Keiaho (LB 2006 3rd), Tony Ugoh (OT 2007 2nd), Dante Hughes (CB 2007 3rd) and Quinn Pitcock (DT 2007 3rd) are no longer with the team. Jennings, Sanders and Strickland all had success (particularly Sanders, a former Defensive Player of the Year), but the rest of these players haven't had much.

Mike Pollak (G 2008, 2nd), Phillip Wheeler (LB, 2008, 3rd), Fili Moala (DT, 2009, 2nd), Jerraud Powers (CB, 3rd, 2009), Pat Angerer (LB, 2010, 2nd) and Kevin Thomas (3rd, CB, 2010) are still with the team, but only Angerer has impressed thus far.

Most teams that draft this poorly would be perennial 6-10 squads. The Colts have avoided this fate by riding their stars (Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne and of course Manning) and just letting Manning make competent players out of whoever they throw at him. Without Manning, the whole artifice comes crashing down.

(The Colts have also drafted an astounding ten defensive backs in rounds 1-3 over the past nine years. Only Powers and Thomas are still on the roster, and Thomas missed all of 2010.)

The Patriot Way
The Patriots, by contrast, are famous for signing older, established free agents-Andre Carter, Chad Ochocinco, Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth from this season alone-and drafting enough talent for Tom Brady to get by. Like the Colts, they have strong systems that they can plug players into and get results from just about anybody. Unlike the Colts, they are built to survive without Tom Brady (witness 2008, when they went 11-5 with Matt Cassel at the helm). Indianapolis, with its culture and players completely centered around Peyton Manning, is unlikely to fare as well if he misses extended time this year.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dear Mr. Romney...

Dear Mr. Romney, 

You are a hell of a lot smarter and better-informed than I am, so I'm in no position to criticize every part of your editorial in USA TODAY that came out this morning. I do, however, want to make three basic observations, based on those areas you covered where I have (some little) expertise. 

Observation #1: It's true that, on the books, the U.S. corporate tax rate looks too damn high. 

However, when you take into account loopholes, write-offs, tax credits and exemptions that corporations can qualify for, the effective tax rate doesn't look nearly as scary. The estimates I saw in some brief research seem to peg it at between 25 and 28 percent. 

Also, in the paragraph immediately before the tax rate one, you say the difference between President Obama's actions and a future President Romney's "could not be starker". If that's the case, your first examples of that difference might not want to include a proposal that the White House has been working on at least since May

Observation #2: This has to do with the paragraph on energy. You say that you'll "utilize to the fullest extent our nation's nuclear know-how" and devote time to "rationalizing and streamlining regulation". I'm not very knowledgeable about the oil, gas and coal industries, but in the case of the nuclear industry, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just experienced a major regulatory overhaul. Stirring the pot and unsettling everything there with another round of "rationalizing and streamlining" might actually be counterproductive. 
Also, "utiliz[ing] our nation's nuclear know-how" is all very well, but the 'nuclear renaissance' has been held up because of regulatory delays and the expense of constructing new plants, not any lack of enthusiasm on the President's part. He made $18 billion available in start-up loans for new plants, in the form of a Department of Energy fund. Doing more than that might not jibe with your spend-less philosophy. 

Observation #3: I'm not one to expect specifics for fixing everything in one small editorial, and I eagerly await your 59-point plan for fixing America. That said, a lot of the ideas in your column sound good, but are short on crucial details. I look forward to see you elucidating them more clearly on the campaign trail.


Andy Tisdel

Friday, September 2, 2011

Student Alcohol Policy UPDATE

I talked to a member of the student government here this afternoon, and he told me that the view of Dean Holmes having just received access to their medical records was a "common misconception". According to him, the Dean has held this power for some time now. In the past, the Dean could call up the Wellness Center and requisition the files of a repeat offender, or in other words, someone who appears to pose a danger to themselves. The rule change, this member said, is just putting the data in a more convenient position for the Dean's office to recognize repeat offenders.

While this is less disturbing than the idea of the Dean suddenly having access to students' medical records, I believe that this is still a problem for a number of reasons. Consider:

-Either way, students have no knowledge of when their medical information can be accessed by the Dean, or what criteria he uses to decide when such access is necessary. I didn't know that was possible and I've been First Responding at the Wellness Center for three years.

-The Dean gets to make the determination of when a series of alcohol-related incidents requires him to step in. Given that the Wellness Center staff is in the best position to judge when a student is having a problem, and given that they naturally have access to a student's medical history,  I would rather see them inform the Dean if they believe a student has a serious problem.

-This is because not all alcohol-related incidents are created equally. Some students visiting the Wellness Center are utterly trashed and some are not. It seems like the staff is in a better position to determine who appears to have a problem and who does not. There's also the question of, what if someone comes in with a cut on their hand and they've had a few drinks, but the cut was unrelated to the drinking? Would they get a report sent to the Wellness Center as well, perhaps unjustly?

-Either way, it's still a big problem if students believe they will get in trouble by going to the Wellness Center. The policy still provides a disincentive for students to go or take their friends to the Center, particularly if they're not informed about what the policy actually is and what each individual notification of the Dean entails. One might assume that someone with one visit to the Dean already on the books might hesitate to go back to the Center, for fear of suffering penalties. 

-Finally, the Dean's policy hinges on clear communication with the student body about what the notification is and what it entails, why students should not fear going to the Wellness Center because of it, and what repeat offenders should expect. As I said in my letter to Dean Holmes, the point isn't to convince the sober, clear-headed, rational people on campus of the policy's purpose when they're sober. The point is to ensure that students feel like they can bring their drunken friends to the Wellness Center late at night and not have their friends (or themselves) suffer negative repercussions from doing so. This requires clearer communication about those topics than the Voice article provided.

Dear Dean Holmes...

Wow, I didn't realize until I came here that this would be two "Dear Powerful Dude..." posts in two days. This one is unrelated to the last. 
This post has to do with a just-enacted policy by the College of Wooster, specifically Dean of Students Dean Holmes, which requires the Wellness Center to notify the Dean's office whenever a student comes to the Center with an alcohol-related malady. I am (formally) vociferously opposed to this policy and (informally) mad enough to bite through bricks. 
Below is a letter to Dean Holmes regarding this policy. I have already sent copies of this letter to the Dean's office (in person) and to the campus newspaper, the Wooster Voice (via email). If you are as outraged by this regulation as I am, I encourage you to write and submit your own letters to the Dean's office. He's in Galpin Hall. Go in through the front door, walk straight and it'll be on your left.

UPDATE: I have a second post up on this topic. A member of the student government told me that the Dean had already had the power to requisition students' information, and that this is an expansion of that rule rather than its inception. However, I think there are still several problems with this policy, which you can find at this link.

UPDATE II: It struck me that I should probably mention the following: In this and all subsequent posts and letters, the opinions I have expressed and will express are mine own and do not necessarily represent the views of my First Responder comrades, or the organization as a whole, or any other body to which I belong, unless stated otherwise. However, the overwhelming majority of students with whom I have spoken on this topic to date, First Responders or not, have agreed with my position and sympathized with my concerns. 

Dear Dean Holmes,

My name is Andrew Tisdel, and I have been a First Responder for the past three years. I was surprised and extremely displeased to read in the Wooster Voice today that the Longbrake Student Wellness Center will now be required to inform the Dean’s office when an intoxicated student arrives at the Center.

This rule not only undercuts the First Responders’ entire reason for existence, but it results in a clear and obvious danger to the safety of intoxicated students.

Let me explain what I’m talking about. Both Resident Assistants on campus and Security officers receive some form of medical training, similar to the training course First Responders undergo, and are able to provide medical assistance in an emergency. The Wellness Center’s nurses, who provide exemplary medical care inside the Center, are also fully capable of performing our duties. In that sense, we are a redundant institution at this College. The quality that sets us apart from other organizations is the very one that you have just eliminated, namely, our ability to guarantee patient confidentiality.

 In the past, when a student brought her drunken roommate to the Wellness Center, she could do so with the knowledge that the worst consequence would be a session with an alcohol counselor. Unless the drunkard was brought in by Security, there would be no mark on the student’s permanent record, and no outside agency would be informed. This ability to provide confidential medical care is the only reason why First Responders exist. Students can call us when they need help, and we can provide receive assistance that doesn’t come with unpleasant consequences, like being written up by Security. Your rule takes away this much-needed aspect of patient confidentiality.

However, I must emphasize that the irrelevance of the First Responders and the blatant disregard for patient confidentiality that this rule implies are comparatively trivial. Much, much worse is the danger that this rule poses to the health and safety of intoxicated students.

As I said above, the advantage of the First Responders and of a confidential Wellness Center is to give students someplace to seek consequence-free medical aid. What you have done, Dean Holmes, is to give students a real incentive not to bring their drunken friends to the Wellness Center, and thus keep them from receiving medical attention. That is by far the most important consequence of the rule change.

Students who are afraid of getting written up by Security, or who think the Wellness Center will report them to Security, are less likely to bring their friends to the Center when they need assistance. In trying to help the drunkards, these well-meaning friends keep them away from medical attention, and in so doing, put the intoxicated students’ health and safety at risk. What this new rule does is ensure that more students, often slightly intoxicated themselves, will make the wrong choice.

I believe that the rule, while unmistakably well-intentioned, is also unnecessary in the context of catching repeat offenders. You stated in the Voice that the purpose of the rule is to draw attention to students that are showing signs of alcoholism, and likened the notification of your office to a “parking ticket”. But the Wellness Center nurses already keep records of student visits in those students’ medical histories! They, and the counselors, are already well set up to ‘catch’ potential alcoholics early and give them treatment and counseling.

As for the “parking ticket”-like nature of the notification, a logical and rational person such as yourself will probably recognize it as such. But to a student who is tipsy, and who is scared because her friend is throwing up blood and it’s 3 AM and who is afraid of getting in trouble, it won’t be seen that way. That is a guarantee. It will be seen as a reason not to go to the Wellness Center and get her friend medical aid, and that is exactly what you and I do not want.

This new alcohol policy removes the First Responders’ raison d’etre, it deals a huge blow to the principle of patient confidentiality, and it poses a serious danger to intoxicated students on this campus. For all these reasons, Dean Holmes, I implore you to rescind it as soon as you possibly can.


Andrew J. Tisdel
Class of 2012

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President, 

My name is Andy Tisdel. I'm in my very early twenties, I'm in my senior year of college and I want to be a journalist someday. I'm an independent voter, although I voted for you in the last election, and I do my darndest to stay informed about the issues of the day in Washington. 

When I went to college, as the United States was careening into the Great Recession, what comforted me was the hope that in four years the economy would have improved. These things go in cycles, right? It has to improve sometime, right? That was the kind of thought that went through my head. Now it's three years later and things have scarcely improved. There's talk of a "double-dip" recession (who came up with that name? Seriously?), the jobs number that comes out on Friday will probably be disappointing (if that's logically possible) and overall, things just seem to keep on hitting the fan. 

The problem is, you seem to be focused mostly on who gets the blame for all this. 

Let me say this clearly, and in a tone that I imagine a lot of us twenty-something, liberal-leaning independents might adopt:

I could honestly give a fuck who is to blame. I don't care if the history books paint you, Speaker Boehner, intransigent Tea Partiers or God Almighty as the villain of this piece. I care about being able to get a job when I get out of school. Obviously most of that is up to me, but improving the economy is in large part up to you. 

I voted for you because you said you were going for a less partisan Washington. Three years later, this is the worst partisan environment the U.S. has had in decades. Nothing is getting done, and for a pragmatist like myself, that's the most frustrating thing plausible to see. We're to the point where you tried to schedule your jobs speech during the Republican debate on Wednesday, then had to back down in shame. I'm sick of this egregiously partisan bullshit, Mr. Commander-in-Chief, sir. 

If I could speak to you in person and tell you one thing, I would say "Get your shit together, Mr. President". On the economy, on partisanship, on creating jobs, I implore you on behalf of the American people to get your shit together and help said American people. Am I being unfair in telling you this and not Congress, who is just as responsible for the Washington gridlock as you are? Yes, I am. Life's like that sometimes. 

Get it together, Mr. President. Forget about casting blame on the Republicans and focus on results. You will have to compromise. You will have to make deals, as you have shown the ability to do. But above all, you will have to govern effectively, which right now you are not doing (in my humble opinion). 

See you next November, sir. 


Andrew Tisdel
College of Wooster '12