Monday, July 31, 2006

Spy Hard

This is an interesting article on corruption in the Italian national security organization. I knew the form Italian prime minister, Berlusconi, was probably pretty corrupt, and this article seems to support it. Nowadays, I'm getting my news through a European outlet (BBC) so I'm a bit surprised that I haven't really heard much about this before. Apparently, the investigation into an American rendition operation, which has been in the news, is turning up some rather provacative material. The author draws a possible correlation between this investigation and the "veil of secrecy" surrounding the American intelligence agency. While I won't express too much of an opinion on this (maybe I can be the only Benesh child left off the "blacklist"), I have to say it would interesting to know what is really going on inside the Bush administration's intelligence community. Journalistic dynamite!


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Here’s a picture of the first date of Ines and I. As you can see, I was draped in an American flag, like most times I’m trying to impress a girl. However, unlike most days I was carrying a giant club. I knew Ines would need some “convincing”, so I brought a real big stick. At first, she wasn’t so willing, but after awhile I was able to drag her home.

Seriously, though, aren’t relationships strange? Anyone that has ever been in a relationship knows how maddening they can be sometimes. If you spend much time pondering how and why relationships happen and how and why they work, there is a good chance you’ll come up with no good answers, at least that’s my experience. I can’t really explain or predict the way relationships work. While I’ve kinda given up on understanding human coupling, there are quite a lot of academics investigating this stuff. Surprisingly, there are many things that are predictable about relationships, most of which fit well within the context of evolutionary theory. For example, the concept of beauty and attractiveness is more or less universal. Men like curves (no surprises there), which are indicative of the ability to bear children. Women are far more attentive to the face of men, particularly the extent that it is friendly. Women also like rugged features on men’s faces, which is indicative of how much testosterone a man has. Perhaps most interestingly, women are attracted to power and status, even if they themselves are powerful and successful. Dating companies, through experience, know that pairing a woman with a less successful man will almost never lead to a relationship. Further, divorce rates are higher amongst couples in which the woman is more successful than the man (she being the one instigating the divorce usually). There is may be a cost associated with being in a high-profile relationship, however. High status, wealthy, powerful couples are more likely to cheat. At least TV shows seem to reflect that aspect of high society quite well. Besides these more or less tangible aspects of beauty and attractiveness, there are other subconscious signals we use to judge members of the opposite sex. Men rate women that are ovulating as more attractive on the basis of smell alone (i.e. after sniffing a sweaty t-shirt). Conversely, women can judge whether a man’s MHC genes (important in immunology) are a good fit with hers on the basis of his sweat. Wild, huh?

I could go on and on; this is such an interesting field. The evolutionary biologist in me wants to ponder how the listed observations may serve to increase fitness (admittedly, though, it is impossible to do manipulative experiments on humans, so some of the actual fitness consequences of, for example, cheating are ambiguous). Research on relationships has yielded results that aren’t necessarily PC and they may be at odds with many people’s romanticized notions of love. But think of why love has been romanticized by poets, intellectuals, and artists…because it is so amazingly beautiful and complex. Even though anthropology, psychology, and biology are explaining more and more of the concept of love, it is still easy to be mystified by the how and why of it. I know I still am.

Sprinklers at Mattilanniemi

It is 5 in the morning and I just said goodbye to a very good friend of Ines and I. She (Katri) is moving from Jyvaeskylae (I don't have the umlauts on my keyboard) tomorrow. Of course, we had to celebrate her last night in town. I'll spare the details, but we ended up dancing in freetime, a club that plays a lot of rock music. The timidness of Finns still amazes me. They are so reluctant to dance (by comparison, I'm eager to dance). After a lovely night out, I enjoyed the 25 min walk home. The temp was around 14 C, which is pretty brisk in just a t-shirt. As I was walking through the Mattilanniemi portion of campus, the sprinkler system was on. I have been through this area many, many times at all different parts of the day, and I have never seen the sprinklers on. It made me think about different things (why there is even a sprinkler system, why I never noticed it, and how I can avoid getting wet). But I also thought, everything needs a bit of help to grow. So Katri, in your new adventures outside Jkl, don't forget about your old friends here and don't be afraid to ask for some help and might just help you grow. The same goes to everyone else: try new things but don't be afraid of asking for some help. Best of luck Katri!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Pizza the Band.

For those who don't know, there is this interesting band called "HORSE the band". Over the past few months I've grown quite fond of them even though most people would find their music rather unpleasant. Basically, it is metal with some strange, high-pitched synthesizer thrown in. As others have described, it sounds like The Mario Brothers (nintendo) formed a metal band (Mario lead vocals, Luigi guitar, Princess on bass, Toadstool on keyboard, and Bowser on drums...other lineup suggestions?). Anyways, this post isn't to tell everyone to go and listen to their music. Nope, instead it is to direct people towards this post from the band. While in the middle of a tour, they had a life-changing experience with pizza. Basically, they ate some pizza that was so good, it inspired them to drop off the tour and write some new songs...about pizza. I'm certainly a fan of pizza, but I've never had pizza that inspired me artistically. After reading their post, you might think that they were just joking or on some drugs. I mean who's gonna actually write songs about pizza? Well, you shouldn't doubt the lunacy that is HORSE the band. They recorded an EP about pizza (named 'pizza' apparently) and will be releasing it in about a month. I suppose they should be admired for following their artistic vision, even if it is about pizza...

Today "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" was released in Germany. I watched it with Barbara and Johannes. The plot of the 150 minute-long movie was a bit of a disappointment to me because the different strands were pretty hard to follow and the story was very similar to the first part. Dramaturgy? Negative!
Well, at least the bad guys are uglier this time:).
I guess, it was even worse to watch for my two companions because they haven´t seen "Pirates of the Caribbean 1". Most of the film rolls downhill (if you´ve seen it, you´ll know what I mean) What I hate about movies are open endings! Now I have to watch the third part as well, in which Keith Richard plays Jack Sparrow´s (Johnny Depp) dad.
Maybe one movie about Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl (a ship) was enough. Do you know any sequels which are as good or better than the previous flick?
Perhaps I was expecting too much of a film that´s based on a Disney ride.
I still like Johnny Depp a lot though.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dice Wars

Check out this flash game that Luki sent to Ines and I. It's called Dice Wars and it works like the old board game Risk. You're a set of dice out to conquer the other dice that are a different color. Basically, when you have more dice on a square then you should attack the square with less dice. The number of new dice you get every turn is determined by the number of territories you occupy. It takes some "strategery", as our president say, and a bit of luck. Be is totally addictive, so don't try it unless you have some time on your hands.

By the way, does anyone remember Risk? It was a favorite board game of my older brother. He and his friends would have games of Risk go on for hours, and if they didn't finish in one day, they would keep the board setup intact to finish it on subsequent days. Every now and then a rogue house cat would destroy the setup causing people to argue about who was gonna win (imagine the dialogue..."c'mon, I controlled all of Europe and Africa...all you had was Austrailia and half of Asia...and not even the good part of Asia, just Siberia"). I also played Risk every once in a while, but it was never my favorite. I was more of a Monopoly man, which when you think about it basically has the same premise (conquer the world in Risk, conquer the business world in Monopoly). Anyways, by the time I was an adolescent, Risk could be played on the computer saving us lots of time spent rolling dice over and over again. Maybe that's why I seem to enjoy dice wars so much.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Highs and Lows

Mood: Bummed
Music: Slipknot, self-titled

There is a great Simpson’s quote about the so-called MTV generation. Lisa says that “nothing can upset us, we’re the MTV generation. We feel neither highs nor lows”. Homer responds by asking “what’s it like?” to which Lisa answers “eh”. Everyone must occasionally wish that feelings were not so powerful; that we could somehow walk an emotional middle ground. Of course, we can’t really do that. We’re human and we feel (though I think that if some parts of the brain are damaged we lose certain emotions). Emotions are on my mind because over the span of a weekend I experienced both giddy highs and de-motivating lows. On Friday, I got my MSc diploma in the mail. It feels great to see your name next to the term ‘Master’ (in English or Finnish). Further, my thesis was graded as laudatur (excellent), so my self-esteem was sky-high. I was ready to celebrate. Fortunately for me, the celebration took the form of a visit to a summer cottage with friends for the weekend. At the cottage we enjoyed sauna, beer, sausage, boating, bad fishing, jagermeister and perfect weather (see pic for what the lake looked like in the middle of the night). It was just a great time. As everyone knows, though, the highs don’t last. I came home on Sunday evening, turned on my computer, and checked my emails. I received an email about one of the manuscripts I had written from my Master’s research and submitted to a scientific journal. It was rejected. This was a first for me. The first two manuscripts I had written were published in the first journals I submitted them to (after considerable revision). Well, this email killed my weekend high. The worst part about getting a manuscript rejected is that the people who reviewed the paper need to justify their decision to reject the manuscript. That means they are free to say rather unflattering things about your work. For example, one reviewer stated that my knowledge of the literature was “poor”, and that I was “trying to make the best of a bad job”. Ouch. Criticism is a part of life, but it isn’t something that is easy to ignore. I’m bummed now, but hopefully I’ll get over this and get this work published somewhere. Just need to re-motivate myself…


Friday, July 21, 2006

For all the people who want to see me suffer, I told the dentist´s assistant to take a picture of me while the dentist was doing what dentists do. Unfortunately, the picture didn´t turn out so well. I look ridiculous and realised: A dentist´s assistant is no photo artist. Anyways, she wasn´t really surprised when I asked her to take a picture. Which surprised me. If you need a laid-back dentists who knows what he´s doing, I can give you his phone number.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I can´t write the kind of highly philosophical stuff Dan wrote, though I get 32.200 results if I google my name. Today I had a oral surgery and I bought a fan (It´s so hot here). That´s about all the interesting things I experienced. Check out the picture of my new fan. Watch out, John Lennon is hidden on there.
Self-identity in the 21st century

The search for an appropriate and comfortable identity is a journey that everyone must undertake. At some point in our lives we need to address, consciously or not, the questions of what we’re gonna do and what we’re gonna be? After making such important decisions we act on them. We pursue goals, adhere to certain lifestyles, and build careers. Through such actions and experiences we should build some kind of identity for ourselves. But how can check to see if our own perception of our identity is concordant with the notions of the world? Luckily, modern technology has provided us a way to tackle this vexing problem. Of course, I’m referring to the Google search engine. What better way to see how the world views you than by googling your own name and seeing what pops up? I can’t propose such a technique without trying it out, so let’s give this a run-through with my name.

The Google search returned 37,500 sites (apparently there are more Beneshs than I ever imagined). Since I don’t have the time to go through all of those (who would?), I’ll just consider the first 10. Only 5 of the first 10 actually refer to me (#1, 3, 4, 5, and 6), but at least I’m dominating the top 5. The 1st, 5th, and 6th sites all deal with my Fulbright scholarship to come to Finland. The third site is the only one dealing with my 4 years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and I’m just a name on a long list of honors program people. The 4th site is a link to the issue of the Journal of Parasitology containing my very first paper. In my opinion, which seems to be in contrast to the workings of google’s search algorithm, this should be first. This link involved the most work by me to bring into existence. In any case, from these Google search results, what can we conclude about my identity? Well, as a fairly biased judge, I would consider myself a nerdy (see UNL honors program) parasitologist (duh) that for some reason ended up in Finland. Yep, it sure seems like Google nailed my identity, and, further, it lets me know that my notions about who I am are more or less right. The system works! this single case. I wouldn’t be scientific minded if I didn’t consider some of the drawbacks. For example, in my case the 2nd paper I published is nowhere to be found. Why? I don’t know, but I guess Google doesn’t value it. It deals with molecular evolution, so I guess I can’t rightly consider myself a molecular biologist (which is probably a good thing). I suppose most people would consider this approach pointless if they work on and accomplish things that just don’t make it onto the internet. To this critique, we must remember the age we live in, the information age. If the high points in your life don’t make it onto the internet, then you gotta get with the times! Finally, people with extremely common names may scoff at my method as the Google hits will hardly ever be about them. Take this as motivation. Try to be the best damn Joe Common-name ever! Try to become an internet mogul. Competition is generally a good thing (the American in me talking there).

Ok, I’ve been writing this too long. Anyone who wants, point out the faults in my quickly reasoned theory.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

As most of you know, I´m working for a regional newspaper in Kassel (central Germany). If you are interested in reading some of my articles, check out Unfortunately, it´s only in German and you can only see the articles I´ve written in the last weeks.
But check out the website anyways, because my friend Barbara is one of the webmasters and she´s doing a great job.

Been together too long...
Over the past 2 years or so, we have had many great ideas for books. Perhaps near the top of the list is a book entitled "You know you've been together too long when...". Basically, the book would be a compilation of observations about a maturing relationship. Hopefully our observations are universal, and can thus be humorously viewed by other couples. Here is a spattering of examples (perhaps we can keep posting these here, so we don't forget them):

You know you've been together too long when...
  • you think that jogging together is a good idea.
  • you start using one laundry basket.
  • on shopping trips together, time is decided beforehand.
  • you share a favorite cocktail (e.g. White Russian).
  • you both know the answer to the question: Where is Nebraska? (In the north)
  • you don´t mind sleeping next to the wall.
  • he stops being bothered by her beauty products in his flat.
  • she buys beauty products for him.
  • she recalls names of parasites in conversation.
  • you make mix CDs for each other and don´t care about the romantic value.
  • you start a blog together.

Yep, as Ines hinted this is about the most discordant yet potentially mind-blowing blog in cyberspace. We're smashing together different universes (parasites - rock, men-women, American-German) into one little blog. While I can't promise anything profound (it has been a couple years since my last philosophy lecture), I will try to blog (isn't it weird how the internet has spawned new verbs...think 'google') about a variety of things from gentle political musings, to gross-out parasite stories. Naturally, like any blog, the space will serve as a podium to rant about things from daily life I find annoying. This is my first foray into the blogosphere, so I have no idea what to expect or exactly what I should be doing. Nonetheless, I anticipate that this will become one of the greatest blogs of all time, in all modesty, so check back every once in awhile.

End communication.

-Dan aka parasiteboy

Hallo, Hello, Hey, Moi, Heippa, Cheers, Salut,

this is Dan´s and Ines´ new blog. Now we can share everything that´s on our minds with the whole world. But we especially created this blog to let our friends know what we are up to. So Dan will mainly write about parasites, and my part is the Rock´n Roll thing :)) Be prepared for many thrilling stories. :)

So long
rock on
frau rockt